poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Ralph Burns was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1949, and received an MFA from the University of Montana. He has published six books of poems: Ghost Notes (Oberlin College Press, 2001), winner of the Field Poetry Prize; Swamp Candles (1996); Mozart's Starling (1990); Any Given Day (1985); Windy Tuesday Nights (1984); and US (1983).

About his work, the poet Mark Jarman has said, "If Albert Camus wanted to know what was American in our poetry right now, what showed the breadth of our language and the honesty of its utterance, what was the best of American langue et parole, I'd show him Ralph Burns's poems."

Burns has published in many magazines including The Atlantic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, and Field. He has won a number of awards including the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Award for the Best First Book in Poetry, and received two fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

He edited Crazyhorse and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Fishing in Winter

Ralph Burns
A man staring at a small lake sees
His father cast light line out over
The willows.  He's forgotten his 
Father has been dead for two years
And the lake is where a blue fog
Rolls, and the sky could be, if it
Were black or blue or white,
The backdrop of all attention.

He wades out to join the father,
Following where the good strikes
Seem to lead.  It's cold.  The shape
Breath takes on a cold day is like
Anything else--a rise on a small lake,
The Oklahoma hills, blue scrub--
A shape already inside a shape,
Two songs, two breaths on the water.

From Us, by Ralph Burns, published by Cleveland State University Press. Copyright © 1983. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From Us, by Ralph Burns, published by Cleveland State University Press. Copyright © 1983. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Ralph Burns

Ralph Burns

Ralph Burns was born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1949, and received an

by this poet

poem
Two or more strands twisted together,
Oxides and baser salts, admixture
Of carbon, metal of lash and scourge,
Strung like a virus, barbed intervals,

Stapled by hand to bois d'arc poles,
Woven by machine, "devil's rope"
Of vast interior plains,
Of meadows bruised by their own

Amplitude, barbed wire of a
poem
This elephant keeper shoved a hose up
The ass of an elephant every day. He
Told a man. The man said, So why don't
You quit? And the keeper said, You have
To understand: elephant bowels are fragile,
You only spray a little and shit flies
All over. . . .  And the man said, I
poem
--after Simone Weil
After my student went to the doctor to
Check out the rash speckling his
Right hand and found out he had
Leukemia, that the cancer had spread
Into his lungs, then where did he go?
I've called his number several times.
Flat-bottom boats light in water.
Brown brack and