Donald Morrill made his double debut in 1998, first with a collection of essays called A Stranger’s Neighborhood, and later that year with At the Bottom of the Sky, a book of poems, which the poet Frank X. Gaspar described as “agile, muscular language that brings both poet and reader closer to a sense of what it means to live in our complex, beautiful, and unforgiving world.” He has since continued to prove his artistic versatility, with three more non-fiction books, as well as a second book of poems, With Your Back to Half the Day (2005). The poet Sidney Wade writes of that book, “With high lyric gifts in his back pocket, Morrill stands on the shore and throws question after question into the sea of contradiction that is our contemporary reality.”
Morrill’s most recent publication, Impetuous Sleeper (2009), is a collection of essays regarding wakefulness and the virtue of being awake. Poet Lia Purpura notes that the book “delights in extravagant kinships: the measured and the spontaneous, the elegant and the unabashed, the metaphysical and the earth-bound.” Morrill’s work has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, and has garnered several prizes, including the Anne Halley Prize from The Massachusetts Review, the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Award, the American Library Association/AAUP Best of the Press Award, the Emerging Writers of Creative Nonfiction Award, the Mid-List Press First Series Award for poetry, and The Missouri Review Editors’ Prize for Nonfiction.
A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Morrill attended Drake University and the University of Florida. He has taught American Literature and Culture at Jilin University in the People’s Republic of China, and spent a year as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Lodz, Poland. He has also served as the Bedell Visiting Writer in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and currently teaches in the Low-Residency MFA program at Antioch Los Angeles. Formerly the poetry editor for the Tampa Review and the University of Tampa Press Poetry Series, he currently he serves as the Secretary and Southeast Programs Representative for AWP (Associated Writing Programs). Morrill is Dana Professor of English and Associate Dean of Graduate and Continuing Studies at the University of Tampa.
Poetry Center Reading:
The red coals pouring into the infant’s mouth
The infant’s mouth in the raider who pours
No the mother gagged and forced to witness it
Then raped and shot the milk of her murder
The coals of revenge and the clans of clarity
The separatists the occupiers the old seeking wise
The infant’s father staring out from whetted blades
The widower waiting tables for the nation of his exile
The infant grown up see how tall the night marching
See the gangs ground into rebels to season distant
Azaleas bursting from palace barricades No
No only the infant
The infant and its wail was there ever such a peace
(Let’s talk too much…)
Let’s talk too much and wake up tonight and worry
how we get human every day.
Let’s argue for the point we were going to make long ago
and forgot in words that change the room’s dimensions,
whose shame is ours and imperceptible to others
holding forth, interrupting the unexpected.
Let’s scramble the midnight eggs with gossip
and sit in the cinema at 9 a.m.,
whispering that mood where everything could become a poem
(not unlike the money in your pocket
suddenly flying into the river,
becoming the river, becoming
a back stiffening when the sun finally rolls off it
and then bliss ambiguous).
Let’s not so much flatter giants
(who aren’t ordinary as their tells and wiles)
but joke with them like hapless governors, old lovers kept in
they own questions, too, and might
let those disappointments slip.
Yes my broken-windowed friend,
the burrs in Dante’s fur need combing out
like the struggle to submit to each voice we might call mine.
And there’s the old story we wanted told of childhood
that was another frank resistance to the now-shorter life.
On the corner, in that slight at the counter,
and the sense of luck
like a traumatized muscle,
the still beautiful abounds.
Even if boredom seems the way of all flash.
Shall we go down in flaming acquaintanceship?
Shall we balance our blood?
Let’s isolate the matter
neither liquid not solid nor certainly gas.
Let’s help ourselves to the problem.
From WITH YOUR BACK TO HALF THE DAY (Anhinga Press, 2005)
On a street where walking
means you’re crazy or for sale,
a man on foot waved
a white flag tied to a twig.
My surrendering side
still drives around his block,
part of the rush hour where
we grow up and try to live.
In these times, I hear a name
banished from a collegial mouth
and wonder, Is this us,
vagrants on judgment’s stoop?
In crossed legs of seated officials,
I see heartbeats kicking slightly.
The sky seems the same
horrid headline as last year, the mirror
a petition for change I’ve inspired
but refuse to sign. Once,
under a house propped on jack posts,
the boy who used to be Yours Truly
swam in dirt, his mother above him
on a ledge of grassy twilight,
magnanimous in her permission.
I remember that between
the floor joists and each post,
wood shims, cobbled on the spot,
helped to level up the house
poised for a new foundation.
A home in air. And a boy beneath,
refreshed and blackened
by his imagined ocean!
So simple to swim in our dirt, as dirt…
From that man waving his dead branch,
what answer would solve us?
They day floats like a house
needing a shim to be righted,
words, deeds, we offer—
sometimes gracefully—or withhold,
keeping things uneven,
From AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SKY (Mid-List Press, 1998)