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Jim Moore


Jim Moore was born on June 22, 1943, in Decatur, Illinois. He began writing in the mid-1960s and received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and his master’s degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He then began teaching at a junior college in Moline, Illinois. After witnessing his students get drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, Moore decided he wouldn’t continue to accept the teachers’ deferment. He sent his draft card back and refused his conscription; consequentially, he was sent to prison for ten months in 1970. While there, he taught a poetry class to his fellow inmates, an experience that is addressed in his first three books.

In 1975, Moore experienced another life-changing incident. He was at LaGuardia Airport when a bomb exploded, leaving twelve dead. Moore wrote, “Since then, I have felt that life is much more than the interruption of plot than about plot. What choice did my poetry have, but to reshape itself around these interruptions? I try to see as clearly—even calmly—as I can how things are. Sadness is at the heart of this clarity, but strangely, consolation as well.”

In 1976, Moore received a grant from the Bush Foundation, allowing him to travel Europe and live in London for several months. That year Moore also published his first book of poems, The New Body (University of Pittsburgh Press). Since then, he has published a number of poetry collections, including Underground: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2014), Invisible Strings (Graywolf Press, 2011), and Lightning at Dinner (Graywolf Press, 2005).

According to the New York Times review of Underground: New and Selected Poems, “Jim Moore’s poems are an artful amalgam of humor and fierce attention, suffused by a passion for ancient Asian poetry. Like his sage poet-teachers he grasps the quiet power of white space, knowing that what is unsaid is often just as crucial as what is.”

Poet C. K. Williams writes, “Jim Moore writes of history, of love, of pain, of the intimate revelations of a consciousness alive to itself.”

Moore has won four Minnesota Book Awards and the 2002 Loft-McKnight Award in poetry and has received grants from the Bush Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts Boards. He has twice served as the Edelstein-Keller Distinguished Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and is a teacher in the MFA program in Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, as well as a frequent visiting professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He divides his time between Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Spoleto, Italy.

Selected Bibliography

Underground: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2014)
Invisible Strings (Graywolf Press, 2011)
Lightning at Dinner (Graywolf Press, 2005)
The Long Experience of Love (Milkweed Editions, 1995)
The Freedom of History (Milkweed Editions, 1988)
The New Body (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976)

Jim Moore
Photo credit: JoAnn Verburg

By This Poet


Almost Sixty


    No, I don't know

the way to get there.
    Two empty suitcases sit in the corner,
if that's any kind of clue.


    This spring night,

everyone at the party
    younger than me
except for one man.
    We give each other the secret password.


    Tears? Of course, but also the marsh grass

near the Mississippi:
    your whispers and mine,
and the dog's long contented sighs.

Twenty Questions

Did I forget to look at the sky this morning
when I first woke up? Did I miss the willow tree?
The white gravel road that goes up from the cemetery,
but to where? And the abandoned house on the hill, did it get
even a moment? Did I notice the small clouds so slowly
moving away? And did I think of the right hand
of God? What if it is a slow cloud descending
on earth as rain? As snow? As shade? Don't you think
I should move on to the mop? How it just sits there, too often
unused? And the stolen rose on its stem?
Why would I write a poem without one?
Wouldn't it be wrong not to mention joy? Sadness,
its sleepy-eyed twin? If I'd caught the boat
to Mykonos that time when I was nineteen
would the moon have risen out of the sea
and shone on my life so clearly
I would have loved it
just as it was? Is the boat
still in the harbor, pointing
in the direction of the open sea? Am I
still nineteen? Going in or going out,
can I let the tide make of me
what it must? Did I already ask that?

Diptych: My Bracelet


Before going to bed I take off my bracelet. It is meant to protect me. A dancer gave it to me: for decades she has known sorrow and beauty. Beloveds have come and gone. Mountains and forest fires. Lives that might have lived through her, but didn’t. Lives that do still live through her. I go to sleep, protected by her love, even though now my wrist is naked. All of you who have lived with the mysterious succession of love and grief, of dogs and dances, of yoga and tears: all of you will know just what I mean.


There is sunlight and a staircase ending at the sky. There are electrical wires, a black cable. Then the sound of the train going away. There is my bracelet made of jasper that Peggy made for me. The river and the sweetness of going down to the river. There is all that darkness rushing under the arches of the old stone bridge. The waiting darkness. The patience. There is the going away: let’s get that straight once and for all. And the new waitress, her hand shaking, the tattoo pulsing at her neck, “And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.”

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