|John J. Ronan publishes poetry regularly in national reviews and journals. Recent work appeared in Confrontation, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Southern Humanities Review, Portland Review, Big Muddy, and Tar River Poetry. Poetry has also appeared in Folio, Threepenny Review, Hollins Critic, New England Review, Southern Poetry Review, Louisville Review, Greensboro Review, Notre Dame Review, NYQ, et al. He is active in many poetry organizations, including Poetry Society of American, AWP, and Mass Poetry. A new collection, Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown, was published by The Backwaters Press in 2017; the book is a homage to New York City and American pluralism, and about which Rhina P. Espaillat said: “I’m rejoicing in the kind of poetry intended, not exclusively for the solitary reader communing with himself, but also – and maybe principally – for the larger Self…”
An earlier book, Marrowbone Lane, was named a “Highly Recommended” book by The Boston Authors Club in 2010. 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. Linda Pastan, former Poet Laureate of Maryland, has said 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 and media awards Ronan has garnered are a Silver Cindy, a Telly, and an Aurora Gold. In addition, he has translated and published work by the renown Uruguayan-French poet, Jules Supervielle. John used part of his NEA stipend to support a television program, The Writer’s Block, and for other writing projects in Gloucester, MA, where he was appointed for a term as Poet Laureate in June of 2008. 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.'” 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.” Early in 2001 Pudding House Publications announced the appearance of a new volume in its Greatest Hits series: John J. Ronan: Greatest Hits 1975-2000. The series, edited by publisher-poet Jennifer Bosveld, included such nationally acclaimed poets as Gary Fincke, Carol Morris, and Mark Halperin. 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. John J. Ronan’s poems included below are: “The School of Not Moving,” “In the Basement,” “On the Oubangui,” “The Parlor,” “At the Museum of Modern Art,” and closing with “Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown,” a tribute to the pluralism of New York City, and the nation, and the title poem of the recently published new volume; click on the titles for sound. Read more at the Poetry Society of America.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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.
On certain isolated, indifferent days
a bright bar of light will strike
clear across the basement.
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 lapsed
décor idea, stored there 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.
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 mission, a mosque.
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 oldest of the grand houses along Washington
Dates from ‘84 and is one of our parlors,
A mansion with wraparound porches and bay windows
Built by a fishing magnate, a great man,
Himself 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.
Photography’s third floor, the brochure
Announcing pioneer artists and old
Prints of the liquid labial school –
Albumen silver, gelatin silver.
Turning a corner, you’re stopped dead
By Eugene Cuvelier: Will, in a bare
Wind-tangled tree – who knew
They were saying everything in 1860?
And by Auguste Belloc, whose 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
Individual in dress and piercings and hair,
Who with simple syntax gasp “Ooooh!”
At the early evolution of photography, a process
Demanding silver and somewhere else.
As the funnel of everyone in Times Square 42nd Street
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
And the motley, mustered public 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 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,
a girl in a green hijab who quits
her Misbaha, nods at the matching habits,
smiling saints panhandling
the parish – the buxom beauty who pulls
open her purse, offering 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 Street
perfumed and stage-painted, twirls
on arrival, greets the hardboy’s attitude
with a teasing parade of school plaid,
half-and-half harlot, ingénue,
in salsa, sour grape, Tabu,
Opined widely by a man who makes 23rd Street
his mute partner blush back,
a blonde by the busty mater, opposite
his signing hands and the black habits.
An icon-minded, common commute
Flourishing below Fashion Avenue
in GAP and caps, Jets, Giants,
Puma, Nike, and tapestry pants,
in the sexy matron, the sibyl, who speaks
with sly and cryptic, wisecrack sadness:
“A known fact: apart. Anonymous,”
During a door delay in which a pigeon, 18th Street
engaged in a serious, moral mission,
preens onto the car, the pride of Chelsea,
an urban bird who avoids the eyes
of travelers, they in turn avoiding the bird
behind pickets of print and posture.
The nuns, surrounded by trousers, smile.
The bumpkin, gaze behaving, smiles.
The worldly pigeon, a positive nodder,
fronts the speechless woman who figures
food with a brown bag at her knees,
and witness-wise, dumb as destiny,
fate or whateverhappenshappens,
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 intently
at a dark wood of girders and graffiti,
bristles, bosom and big rings:
“The only rebuttal’s 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,
a tightly fused and multi-tracked
Suite for City in Clickety-Clack.
At Christopher, a drunk curses Christ, Christopher Street
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 Street
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 steely woman sends
down a candle, the candle slow
to return in grudged transfer, glow
soft on the row of stoic handlers,
godgift and galoot, gangbanger,
faces awake in dim, driven
epiphany, grace held and given.
The hardboy’s forehead flames with lipstick.
The blowzy bird runs from a kick.
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 Street
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 Street
with help from the hardy nuns, good-bye
to the quiet signers who nod and stand,
fire quiet hand-in-hand.
Riders, their rides ending or begun, Chambers Street
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.
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, our close
going on the warm, coincident cars.
Gloucester, MA 01930
Copyright (c) 2020 by John J. Ronan