Nutshells – Brief Poems by Robert West

westrRobert 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.

 

nutshells

Brief Poems by Robert West

THREE POETS

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.

***

Echo

A lone
voice

in the
right

empty space
makes

its own
best

company.

***

THREE DIRECTORS

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.

***

Nutshell

I like
my

idea of
you

better than
yours

and like
yours

of me
much

more than
mine

***

Convalescent

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.

***

Apologia

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.”

***

Another

I write little poems, having little to say.
Though no less than some who go on and on anyway.

***

Lyric

Beauty be-
comes

you, he
sings

as he
strums

his six
strings

***

AFTER MARTIAL

1. Maybe Then

You always say you will, but don’t.
Just once, you liar, say you won’t!

(II.xxv)

2. Cheapskate

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.

(IV.lxxvi)

3. Reply

I never send my books, it’s true.
Know why? You’d send me your books too.

(VII.iii)

For more translations of Martial see my brief poems Martial post.

***

“A failing . . . ”

A failing
star

a faded
scar

a three-
quarter-time
phrase

on
a faraway
guitar

***

Matthew 7:1-5

When someone likes to crow “Your problem is . . . ,”
odds are he doesn’t know he’s told you his.

***

Middle Age

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.

 

 

nutshells

 

LINKS

Robert West on Twitter with links to numerous poems.

The Poetry Foundation page on Robert West.

Robert West’s Professional Biography page on the Mississippi State University page.

Ted Kooser on the poem Echo

Kathryn Stripling’s blogpost on Robert West.

Some Robert West poems in the Alabama Literary Review.

 

westr

 

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2 thoughts on “Nutshells – Brief Poems by Robert West

  1. Those first appeared in Poetry (“Three Poets” and “Three Directors”), Alba (“Nutshell”), Able Muse (“Convalescent”), Light (“Apologia” and “Another”), Still (“Lyric”), and Alabama Literary Review (“After Martial,” “‘A failing . . . ,’” and “Matthew 7:1-5”).

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