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Mark McMorris

Mark McMorris was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1960. He holds several degrees from Brown University, including an MA in creative writing (poetry) and an MA and PhD in comparative literature.

His collections of poetry include The Book of Landings (Wesleyan University Press, 2016); Entrepôt (Coffee House Press, 2010); The Café at Light (Roof Books, 2004); The Blaze of the Poui (2003), which was selected by C. D. Wright for the 2002 Contemporary Poetry Series and was also a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Black Reeds (1997), winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series prize from the University of Georgia Press; Moth-Wings (1996); and Palinurus Suite (1992).

McMorris's critical writing has appeared in Poetry and Pedagogy: The Challenge of the Contemporary, Xcp: Crosscultural Poetics, Tripwire, and The Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies. His fiction has appeared in publications such as Ancestral House: The Black Short Story in the Americas and Europe, Callaloo, Conjunctions, and elsewhere.

A two-time winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series, McMorris has been the recipient of various honors, including The Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry. He also received two nominations for the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 1999 and 2000.

He has taught at Brown University and University of California, Berkeley, where he served as the Roberta C. Holloway Visiting Professor. He is an associate professor at Georgetown University, where he has taught since 1997. At Georgetown, he served as the director of the Lannan Literary Programs from 1999 to 2003 and 2004 to 2005 and of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice from 2006 to 2009.

Mark McMorris

By This Poet


Prayer to Shadows on My Wall

Soon the rushlights will go out in the flesh
of sympathetic bodies once close to my own hand
and I will go to my hammock, thinking of little
except the numbness that alone makes bearable
the wind's twisting. I want atoms to separate
like hairs or dust onto the heads of my daughters.
I want to violate the edict that traps my hunger
in cages and away from her rough shoulder 
and once to be enough for this and all the loves
that flicker through my bedroom before sleep.
They keep me awake, and tonight they are fierce
as whips or as needles to make the skin crawl.
I want to drift like the poui in a southerly wind
and settle where I need to before the faces erode,
my appetite of iron caulking the egg-shell heart.

Dear Michael (2)

The wound cannot close; language is a formal exit
is what exits from the wound it documents.
The wound is deaf to what it makes; is deaf
to exit and to all, and that is its durable self,
to be a mayhem that torments a city. The sound
comes first and then the word like a wave
lightning and then thunder, a glance then a kiss
follows and destroys the footprint, mark of the source.
It is the source that makes the wound, the wound
that makes a poem. It is defeat that makes
a poem sing of the light and that means to sing
for a while. The soldier leans on his spear.
He sings a song of leaning; he leans on a wound
to sing of other things. Names appear on a page
gentian weeds that talk to gentian words, oral
to local, song talk to sing (Singh), and so
he goes on with the leaning and the talking.
The wound lets him take a breath for a little
because it is a cycle of sorts, a system or a wheel
a circle that becomes a wheel and is not a sound
at all, the idea of a sound and the sound again
of an idea that follows so close; say light
and then is there light or a wound, an idea of being
itself in the thing sound cancels. Is there ever a spear
a soldier that leans in, a song that he sings
waiting for a battle? This soldier is only a doorway.
Say that book is a door. I say the soldier
and the local, the word and the weed, the light
and the kiss make a mayhem and a meeting.
So then that the voice may traverse a field
it transmits the soldier on a causeway to the city
leaning on a spear and talking, just after the wound opens
that never creaks and closes, and has no final page.

Dear Michael (25)

If poetry is not bread

to fortify the righteous

is it because we miss

in it the savor of contest

the whisper of blessing

over a martyr's name

the light of sacral plans

to take the citadel once

and for all, or give it up?

On the original streets

lit by the sun of nineteenth-

century novels the workers

are gathering to march

for their dignity and bread.

The planters did not die

of happiness. Other exhibits

show their meadows

their horses and women

the English sunset in lands never more than a sigh

like a vowel far from home.

We ask too much when of

the little that we have.

In good health fondly yours.

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