Tim Seibles

Tim Seibles

Tim Seibles is an extraordinary poet and dynamic reader. He has been honored with many grants and awards, including an Open Voice Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center.

Born in Philadelphia in 1955 to a high school English teacher and a biochemist for the Department of Agriculture, Seibles’s love for Greek and Roman mythology and dreams of writing science fiction novels were balanced by a driving ambition to become a professional football player. Drawn to Southern Methodist University for football, he found his way to poetry there as an undergraduate; then, after a decade in Dallas teaching high school English, he cashed in his pension and went on to take an MFA in creative writing at Vermont College. One of his early teachers, Jack Myers, proclaimed Seibles “a natural, gliding up in long sleek poems, crooning the creamy and glamorous politics of need.”

Seibles’s streetwise, syncopated poems zero in on such wide-ranging subjects as basketball, sex, dogs, race in America, and the inner thoughts of cartoon characters. As “This is not a poetry of a highfalutin violin nor the somber cello,” wrote Sandra Cisneros, “but a melody you heard somewhere that followed you home.” Reginald McKnight testifies, “…you’ll at times feel bruised, at times made love to. I read a lot of poetry. I’ve never read poetry like this.” Seibles moves, as he says, “between the polarities of delight and rage.”

In addition to his five books of poetry, most recently Hammerlock (1999), Seibles’s poems have appeared widely in journals such as The Kenyon Review and Black American Literary Forum, as well as in the anthologies Outsiders, Verse and Universe, In Search of Color Everywhere, A Way Out of No Way, and New American Poets in the 90’s.

Seibles lives in eastern Virginia, where he teaches in the MFA Program at Old Dominion University.

Poetry Center Reading:
Spring 2004 (with Honorée Fannone Jeffers)

Each Letter

When a woman is killed
the cicadas go looking for their shells
and put them on again and climb
back into the earth and the year
returns to February. And if
the air is chilly
she feels it – in fact, if you
put your hand on her arm
you would know she still remembers
how touching changed the weather,
how a hand skimming the wrist
was once a window
opening onto a better season
where people did better things
than be lonely, where the wind
was a river of candlelight
pushing the blue silhouettes of trees.
It doesn’t matter that everyone
thinks she feels nothing – in fact,
she prefers it like that because
more than anything else, right now,
she feels tired and would like
a moment to herself
while she tries to remember
the name of her sister.
But each letter is so heavy
that carrying a whole word
to the front of her mind
is hard, so she stays there
remembering the warmth of honey
between her toes, with her blood
not humming, with the sound
of the name almost always coming to her.

From HURDY-GURDY (Cleveland State University, 1992)


++++++after the L.A. riot,
++++++April 1992

In my countryppthe weather
it’s not too goodppAt every bus stop anger
holds her umbrella folded her
face buckled tight as a bootpppAlong the avenues
beneath parked cars spent
cartridges glimmerppA man’s head crushed
by nightstickspppsmoke still
slides from his mouthppLet out wearing

uniformsppphyenas rove in packs
unmuzzled and brothers strain inside
their brown skinspplike something wounded
thrown into a lakepSlowly
like blood filling
cracks in the street slowlyppthe
Presidentpparrivedpppphis mouth
slit into his facepLike candles seen
through thick curtainsppsometimes
at nightppppthe dark citizens
occur to him

like fishing lamps along
the black shore of a lakeppplike moths
soaked in keroseneppand lit

From HURDY-GURDY (Cleveland State University, 1992)

The Caps on Backward

It was already late inside me.

City air. p City light.
Houses in a row.

14-year-olds.p Nine of us.

Eight voices changed.p Already rumbling
under the governance of sperm.

But his voice, bright as a kitten’s
tickled our ears like a piccolo.

So, we’d trill ours up-What’s wrong, man?
Cat got your balls?
p And watch him shrink
like a dick in a cool shower.

Every day.p Bit by bit.p Smaller.

I think about it now-how bad he wanted to be
with us pppp how, alone with the radio

he must have worked his throat
to deepen the sound.

The blunt edge of boys pppp teething on each other.
The serrated edge of things in general.

Maybe he spilled grape soda on my white sneaks.
Can’t remember.

But I knocked him down, gashed him with my fists.

It was summer.p A schoolyard afternoon.
Older boys by the fountain.

Yeah, kick his pussy ass.

Nobody said it, but it was time.
We knew it ppp the way trees know shade
doesn’t belong to them.

The low voices knew.
And the caps on backward.

It must go something like this:

First, one cell flares in the brain.p Then
the two cells next to that.p Then more and more.

Until something far off begins to flicker.
Manhood, the last fire lit before the blackening woods.

The weak one separated from the pack.

The painted bird.p The bird, painted.

From HAMMERLOCK (Cleveland State University, 1999)