Donald Morrill

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:

Spring 2011

Enemy Infant

The red coals pouring into the infant’s mouth

No

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

No

The coals of revenge and the clans of clarity

The separatists the occupiers the old seeking wise

    silence

The infant’s father staring out from whetted blades

The widower waiting tables for the nation of his exile

No

The infant grown up see how tall the night marching

See the gangs ground into rebels to season distant

    headlines

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

      shape;

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.

Sing how.

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)

Shim

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,

to ourselves.

From AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SKY (Mid-List Press, 1998)