Robert West grew up in Henderson County in western North Carolina, and now lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where he teaches in the Department of English at Mississippi State University. His poems have appeared in Christian Science Monitor, Poetry, Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, The Best American Nonrequired Reading (2013), and elsewhere. A recent poetry chapbook is Convalescent (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Other chapbooks include Best Company (2005) and Out of Hand (2007). A former editor of The Carolina Quarterly and Blink: A Little Little Magazine of Little Poems, he is now associate editor of Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures at Mississippi State University. His edition of The Complete Poems of A. R. Ammons is forthcoming from W.W. Norton. With Jonathan Greene he is co-editor of Succinct: The Broadstone Anthology of Short Poems (Broadstone Books, 2013).
I first encountered the work of Robert West when I read some poems he had printed in the January 2002 edition of Poetry magazine on the Poetry Foundation site. They seem to me an example of what is best in the modern epigram: witty, terse, rhythmic and memorable. They may be light – some have been printed in LIGHT poetry magazine – and they may have “little to say” (see the poem Another below), but they are polished nuggets in a tough nutshell. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Brief Poems by Robert West
1. THE PLAGIARIST
Careless of his debts, he never credits
submissions to the magazine he edits.
2. THE TAXIDERMIST
Her father’s dead at last, the lout—
but now he’s all she writes about.
3. THE ASSASSIN
His verse means less to the world of letters
than the bad reviews he gives his betters.
1. THE AUTEUR
He pointedly avoids the few
who pay to see his point of view.
2. THE PORNOGRAPHER
His art? To make a spectacle
of this, then that, receptacle.
3. THE BOX OFFICE KING
Why should he care what critics say?
The lemmings line up either way.
You told me I looked well today,
and maybe you were lying,
but every time you look my way
I do feel less like dying.
If art is long and life is short,
as all the classics buffs report,
then middle-aged as I now am,
it’s “So long, art! Hi, epigram.”
I write little poems, having little to say.
Though no less than some who go on and on anyway.
1. Maybe Then
You always say you will, but don’t.
Just once, you liar, say you won’t!
You sent half what I asked you to,
you there with cash to flaunt.
Next time I deal with you
I’ll ask for double what I want.
I never send my books, it’s true.
Know why? You’d send me your books too.
For more translations of Martial see my brief poems Martial post.
“A failing . . . ”
When someone likes to crow “Your problem is . . . ,”
odds are he doesn’t know he’s told you his.
Your doctor says you’ve reached it,
but you think he’s full of crap.
Tomorrow you’ll go join a gym.
(Just now you need a nap.)
A Crank Bids the Annoying Optimist Adieu
The best, you always said, was yet to come.
And sure enough: you’re finally dead. Ho-hum.
Robert West on Twitter with links to numerous poems.
Robert West’s Professional Biography page on the Mississippi State University page.