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Poetry and Poem Sampler

John Ronan continues to publish poetry is national reviews and journals.  Recent work appeared in Confrontation, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Southern Humanities Review, Portland Review, Big Muddy, and Tar River Poetry.  Earlier poetry appeared in Folio, Threepenny Review, Hollins Critic, New England Review, Southern Poetry Review, Louisville Review, Greensboro Review, Notre Dame Review, NYQ, et al.  John is especially proud, given his Irish-American background, of poems in The Recorder, the journal overseen by Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and others.

A new collection, Marrowbone Lane, was published in January, 2009 by The Backwaters Press.  Copies are available at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon.  In 2010, the collection was named a 
"Highly Recommended" book by the Boston Authors Club.


From the back cover of Marrowbone Lane: "Like the crows he describes in one of his witty, wry poems, John J. Ronan casts a 'cold eye on life, on death.'  These edgy, intelligent poems brim with emotion without ever nearing the sentimental.  Ronan revels in life and laments inevitable time, but does not wallow.  An Irish American steeped in dark joy, Ronan reveals roots in Yeats, Heaney, Mahon and others.  'To exist and then not to exist - it's a raw sort of humor,' he writes.  In his work we see both the raw surface and always, always the humor.  These poems are a joy to read."

Linda Pastan, former Poet Laureate of Maryland, wrote of Mr. Ronan's work: "Very good indeed: original, assured, just a touch sardonic."  And from Tim O'Brien, the National Book Award winner: "Terrific - tender and moving and beautifully written."

John was named a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in 1999-2000 and has also been a Ucross Fellow and Bread Loaf Scholar.   Among other writing awards are a Silver Cindy, Telly, Aurora Gold, NECTA, Mayor’s Poet, et al.  His work includes many poems set in Gloucester.  In addition, he translates and has published work by the renown Uruguayan-French poet, Jules Supervielle.  John used part of the NEA stipend to support a television program, The Writer's Block, and for other writing projects in Gloucester, MA, where he was appointed Poet Laureate in June of 2008.

THE CATCHING SELF The Catching Self appeared in fall of 1996, a collection of twenty-four previously published poems. Carol Dine, the author of Trying to Understand the Lunar Eclipse and Naming the Sky, wrote that "From Ronan we get perception, humor, and language: 'A fly orbits your forehead/ understudy buzzard/ the underworld's national bird.'"

Copies are available from Barnes and Noble for $8.95.

THE CURABLE CORPSE The Curable Corpse appeared in December, 1999. The book's twenty-one poems had been published individually in San Jose Studies, California Quarterly, The Recorder, and other journals. Rhina Espaillat, author of Where Horizons Go and winner of the prestigious T.S. Eliot Award, says that "Ronan has a rare gift for the apt, unexpected phrase, the startling but accurate detail … Word of a new book … is very good news."

Copies are available from Barnes and Noble for $8.95.

JOHN J. RONAN: GREATEST HITS 1975-2000  Early in 2001 Pudding House Publications, now Kattywompus Press, based in Ohio, announced the appearance of a new volume in its popular Greatest Hits series: John J. Ronan: Greatest Hits 1975-2000. The series, edited by publisher-poet Jennifer Bosveld, includes such nationally acclaimed poets as Gary Fincke, Carol Morris, and Mark Halperin. Each chapbook contains twelve poems, biographical notes, and the author's introduction to the work.

The series is by invitation only. Ms. Bosveld is enthusiastic:  "The series celebrates poetry's place in our culture. It honors artists whose lines elevate America …" John is very happy to be a part of the Pudding House stable of writers!

Copies of Greatest Hits are available for $8.95.

An anthology,  Sad Little Breathings and Other Acts of Ventriloquism, features two of John Ronan's award-winning poems: "Nuance with Moose" and "The Five Stages of Grief."  The poems were chosen by Heather McHugh, who introduces the volume,  from over 1,700 entries.   The anthology was published by PublishingOnline in the fall of 2001. 

Poems are included on many websites, including Black Cat Poems, an online collection of fine poetry featuring poets from around the world.

John Ronan's poems included here are: "The School of Not Moving," "In the Basement," "On the Oubangui," "The Parlor," "At the Museum of Modern Art," and "Lex Julia de Adulteriis."  The sample closes with a long poem tribute to the City of New York:  "Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown."

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The School of Not Moving


Hands flat on his greywacke lap,

Pharaoh’s unfazed by city traffic,

Gabby guards, the bell of children

A gallery back as they meet the mummy.


Similar stillness marks the stern

Gravegood gods, the case of cats,

And hard headrests chipped from sycamore

Fig that would surely slow time.


The children charge, scend of the present

In a playful, plaid dash.  They fog

And print the glass, they tickle toes,

Cry ‘Cookie!’ at canopic jars.


Only their flight to the future, ancient

Rome restores the ka of calm,

As slow, time-killing tourists,

Stiff as stelae, breathe easy.



In the Basement


On certain isolated, indifferent days

a bright bar of light will strike

clear across the basement.

It’s like Newgrange or Stonehenge, except

the basement’s not aligned with anything.  

The light finds something to do.

It probes bundles of books, the white

washing machine, lingers over

Christmas bins, spots the wine

and LP’s, a swing set,

half-empty cans of Artisan Apple

and Pewter Blue, the last happy

décor idea, stored here in the dark.

Turning around, you notice the dull,

narrow window that allows light

to angle in just right, without warning,

an accident really because of how

the house sits oddly on its plot,

because of the drifting position of cloud,

because of sun, the season, and the trees.



On the Oubangui


Guides poled and guests paddled,

The bare-backed crew working currents

As the rest of us stroked slowly,

Wake and water snakes trailing

Our canoe on the broad Oubangui, border

Of Congo and a former French colony,

La Republique de l'Afrique Centrale,

Five desperate degrees above the equator.

The shortwave radio crackled static:

'Snow in the Dakotas,' 'Season's Greetings,'

And on Christmas, 'Dean Martin has Died.'

Tourists toasted with palm wine

The voice, the Rat Pack, Vegas -

A fond belief in booze and crooning,

Remote as we were, on a river in Africa.

The first morning we had pushed into mist,

Splash followed by the splash of crocodiles,

On the tributary Mboumou.  Second morning,

A portage past rapids and the start

Of a week on the big river west

Of Kemba, mud and a mile wide.

Many hours passed without hailing

Another dugout, then suddenly dozens

Would appear near the next village,

Where we'd stock up on water and wine,

Either bank of the bending river -

Or if the radio warned of rebels in Congo,

The next north, hugging the Republic.

A post office and goats, gusts

Of children, chickens, a mosque and mission,

Animated gab in the taverns, our topics

Christmas, Amore, and small arms.

The guides would buy cassava bread

And fish and bake the fish on the bank,

Saying grace by day to Le Seigneur,

By night in Sango to mahogany and the moon.



The Parlor


The oldest of the grand houses along Broadway

Dates from ‘84 and is one of our parlors,

A mansion with wraparound porches and bay windows

Built by a magnate, a great man, who may

Himself have been buried from home, in the former custom.

Many evenings there are crowds of people and cars,

So a stranger would think party, again as earlier,

Though absent the orchestra and alcohol - or only sometimes

A pint flask pressed in a corner, a cello.

Mornings, the stranger would guess brunch, an awards

Ceremony for civic pride held in the restored

Structure, the women’s hats and silk bows

Another throwback.  Like the calm, serious conversation,

The white leather guest book, and the garden.



At the Museum of Modern Art


Photography’s third floor, the brochure

Announcing unfamiliar artists and old

Prints of the liquid labial school –

Albumen silver, gelatin silver.

Turning a corner, you’re surprised, stopped

Still by a Cuvelier: will, in a simple

Wind-tangled tree – who knew

They were saying everything in 1860?

And by Belloc, whose staid sitter, unnamed,

Presents nevertheless with pride and attitude.

In ’99, Gertrude Kasebier

Speaks of attitude and self and hope,

As after her White, Modotti, Albers,

And Ilse Bing, if you can believe it, in the 30’s.

For perspective, the curators include Cygnus

By the Henry brothers, Paul and Prospere:

Star-spatter, lightyears wide,

Shot to correct our relentless spin,

No sliding lines of time trace 

But points of light stock still –

Each like a faint magnesium flash

Sparked by someone looking back.

As certainly, in Cygnus there are other cities,

Sunday afternoons, Modern audiences

Particular in dress and piercings and hair,

Who with syntaxed awe gasp “Ahhh!”

At the early evolution of photography, a process

Demanding silver and somewhere else.



Lex Julia de Aldulteriis 


Ancient, family-value law damned adultery, passion's

sacrifice of lineage to libido, among high born and noble Romans.

Angry parents could kill their own daughter and her peckish patrician.

Cuckolds might kill the man and spare the spouse, but must as good citizens,

sue for divorce the wench wife or be flogged as pimps in collusion.


Usually, a woman forfeited one third of her domestic portion,

dowry as well, and was banished to one of the farthest islands.

Mr. Promiscuous, lucky to be alive, lost half his possessions

and was also sent to a distant island, though the text of Julian's

imperial law sagely states: not the same island.



Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown


As the funnel of everyone in Times Square             42nd St.

cascades down the station stairs,

pace and urgent purpose damming

briefly at turnstiles before cleaving

into streams for an 8th or 7th Avenue

train, an A Train, the Two,           

and while quick, diverged currents, hot

and breathless, pick platforms, stop

to listen for slivering steel drums

in the wait for translation to work or home,

here, at the side of a narrow island  

forty feet under ground,      

with a wind-rush and rattle that drive

away agile, enterprising mice,

Ett Tag, Bir Tren, 

Mmoja Treni, Een Trein,

Premier Train, Jeden Trenovat,

the red One Train halts.

A mustered public, potluck, steps

forward, hushed and obscure, hips

shifting at doors in slide-by

witness, separate bodies white

and yellow, brown, black and tan,

pocked or whiskery, whiskeyed, wan,

green, gray, big or bone-house,

the meek, mouthy, angry, lost -

a tourist who trails maps and binoculars

jamming last onto the crowded car.

App-trance and defensive doze,    

deft conventions of eye and elbow

mind the tribes.  A breath brushes

your strapping hand.  The platform passes.


Tumbled from the scrum of Penn Station,               34th Street

a handsome hardboy’s followed by nuns,

louche in their blue loafers, who start

with the tame tourist, a fresh mark, 

move to a laptop on a clenched lap,

a plugged hummer, a patient cop,

smiling saints as they panhandle

the parish - the buxom beauty who pulls

open her purse, continuing slowly

to a witness of rapt women as she throws

dimes into the can, clink, clink:

“The thing of it is, here’s the thing,

the reason.  The reason being: yes.”

Eyes rise to Viva Las Vegas!,

Absolut, a scratched Cadbury ad:

Amy + Elvis – together at last.


Morning unfolds.  A uniformed girl,                   28th St.

perfumed and war-painted, twirls

on arrival, greets the hardboy’s attitude

with a teasing parade of school plaid,

half-and-half harlot, ingénue,

scented in sour grape, Tabu,


Opined widely by a man who makes                      23rd St.

his mute partner blush back,

a blonde by the busty mater, opposite

his signing hands and the black habits.

A gently defined, common commute

below Fashion Ave., spelled out

in GAP and caps, Jets, Giants,

Puma, Nike, in tapestry pants,


in the sexy matron, the sibyl, who speaks

with weary and resigned, wisecrack sadness:


“Anymore, forsaken.  And apart.  Anonymous,”           18th St.

during a door delay in which a pigeon,

bent on a serious, moral mission,

preens onto the car like the pride of Chelsea,

an urban bird who avoids the eyes

of travelers, they in turn avoiding the bird

behind pickets of posture and print..

The nuns, surrounded by trousers, smile.

The bumpkin, gaze behaving, smiles. 

The practiced pigeon, a positive nodder,

fronts the speechless woman who figures

food with a brown bag at her knees,

and witness-wise, dim as destiny,           

fate or whatever happens, happens,

eats seeds from her open hand.


Lights flicker.  The train, in fits,                  14th Street 

limps to the Village, St. Vincent’s.

The sage woman, staring intensely

at a dark wood of girders and graffiti, 

bristles, bosom and big rings:

“The only rebuttal?  Love.  Longing.”

The cars start.  Peeper skews

to Viagra, Visit the Brooklyn Zoo,

listens to chatter blend with brat-

happy prattle, the porn plot

girl who giggles like tickling and sways,

sailor, to the rock and roll of the train,

mix with tin clinks of a can’s

conjured coins, the cluck of nuns,

whole rests from the help-meet

whose pigeon pecks at sunflower seeds,

tightly fused and Ives-like     

Suite for City in Clickety-Clack.


At Christopher, a drunk curses Christ,                Christopher St.

easy credit, his mother, the Mets,

warns of the end of the world and laughs.

No one gets on, no one off.


The train stops short of Houston,                     Houston St.

stops in the sealed tunnel.  Engines

stop, dull lights die

as bodies breathe an undivided sigh.

Lights on.  Off.  Tense

whispers worm the blind silence,

the stage stripped to underlying time,

a long, long loss of light.

When a Zippo’s flicked at the far end

of the car, the wise woman sends

down a candle, the candle slowly

returned in grudged transfer, glow

soft on the row of stoic handlers,

godgift and galoot, gangbanger,

faces awake in pitch-driven

epiphany, grace held and given.

The hardboy’s forehead flames with lipstick.

The blowzy bird runs before the wick.

Lights.  Jerk of cars.  Lurch. 

Shoes shuffle, buttocks touch,

breasts and elbows, corps de ballet

in brave, awkward, standing balance.


During the usual shift and witness,                   Canal St.

the school girl, in gimmick innocence,

leaves with hardboy and his target heart.

“Scratch and match!  Tartan.  Tats.”

The bird, confident that symbol solves          

for self, takes a seat after Canal.


At Franklin, it’s good-bye to the bum, who rises      Franklin St.

with help from the hardy nuns, good-bye

to the quiet signers who nod and stand,

firing silence hand-in-hand.


Riders, their rides ending or begun,                  Chambers St.

are off and on, fungible, one.

You, with your field glasses and guides,

you become everyone too, quietly beside

yourself in witless, wondering joy,  

no longer alone, no longer on the way,

available day arrived at last,

myriad, American.  The platform passes.                                  

Ett Tag, Bir Tren,  

Mmoja Treni, Een Trein...

One: existing whole in a sphere,  

a numen or essence and no more.

The reason?  The reason being: yes,

the breath and brush of necessary witness,

superposition of drunk and dove,

an oracle, blue loafers, love

struck in fugitive communion, close

going on the warm, coincident cars.




Box 5524 Gloucester, MA 01930
fax: 978-281-1739

Copyright (c) 2014 by John J. Ronan