Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Feature: Mike Finley Day 4

The DANCE of the DOG

The knees bend like spurs
Spun round from the
Rattling steps, shake off
The wood-stove fever
Stored from the
Floorboards through the
Night, race past the pump
To the edge of the
Cleanshorn field where
Only the day before an
Army of corn held sway.
Now on tiptoe, now
Trotting gingerly row to
Row, the pink tongue
Flagging, the keen eye
Swerves to the suggestion
Of movement, surveys the
Swath of harvest slack-
Jawed. The creatures of
The plain are dazed in a
Changed world, but he who
Sleeps on a burlap sack
Where the cinders spit is
Proud to the tooth: I am
I, he thinks, dog, and
This is my country, and
This the might of my

Artwork and Poetry © Mike Finley

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Interview Question

Tell us how you got started writing poetry.


I started at age 15, writing hostile poems in detention after school. My first big thing was a “thee” and “thou” poem written to a cuspidor (spittoon). In the end the poet drinks the spit. Hotcha-cha!

As a teen poet I wanted to be mystical, sexy, rock n roll, Jim Morrison/Rimbaud. Check out my first cover (link) – dig the perm.

This sainted image was my best shot at wooing women. I saw it as a way for a guy without much power to clap a little armor on.

Poets live forever, remember – it's the dumbfucks who die and rot in the ground.

I was never anti-literate or deconstructionist. I was an English major, and I liked Keats, Blake, Shakespeare, etc. But I was lost in that heady archaic language. I needed the moderns to calm me down.

Much of my writing then was like emotional special effects. If I could make you urinate involuntarily, I was onto something.

In my twenties I was caught up in the Offset Revolution (.pdf). Cheap paper presses (like InstyPrints) meant anyone could publish a magazine. So I published about 600 poems plus some books and chapbooks, got a rep as an up-and-comer. I calculated I was one of the country's top 1000 poets – about #772 to be exact.

But in 1977 I crashed, realizing that sensible people hate poetry. They hate obscurity. They hate know-it-alls. They hate fancy language. They hate “the poet” being loftier than other folks.

It broke my heart, but it was all true. So I began casting about for a better model than high muckymuck.

I became a servant-poet. My job was to tell people what was going on, not in my head but in their lives. I saw “The Godfather” and thought poets should be like Brando, solving problems people bring to them. A resource to the family, the community.

So I started writing for other people, developing a theory that if the “gift” in a poem is not obvious and useful, then the poem sucks.

It's not a bad ars poetica. Poets in the new model were functionaries: comedians, essayists, historians, journalists, teachers. If it didn't help somebody, somehow, don't do it. Keep your soul to yourself, like your gym locker, or your hands.

People still didn't care, of course. One illumination doesn't alter a huge and largely true perception, that poetry is lame. But I tried.

Increasingly, my poetry migrated to prose. Take away the line breaks and the hatred starts to lift.

I wrote about 100 books between 1980 and now. I still haven't found an audience, after over forty years of looking.


  1. A proud dog. But why should we care? About a dog? Well, because a poem has settled upon him and made him more than a critter among critters. He is a personality, moving in jerky bursts through the short, peripatetic lines. Bonded to place and master, his presence also has an impact, also impresses. And he is *seen*.

    This is such an action poem, full of life.

    The interview also impresses, with its droll honesty. "Urinate involuntarily" -- he actually said that thing!

  2. So many poets today are pissed off. Isn't it refreshing to hear of one who is pissed on?

    What a thing upon which to make one's stand.

  3. Impressive interview! I like a poet who gets IT and is honest about it. Looking forward to reading more.

  4. Proud to the tooth:

    anyone that writes like this has a kind heart

  5. The poem established such a physical space, a temperature, and an atmosphere, I was there, ready for the pitch. The interview was like a poem, too.

  6. interesting write and the artwork is great