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Michael McFee

Michael McFee received a BA in 1976 and an MA in 1978, both from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

He is the author of numerous poetry collections, including We Were Once Here (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017), Shinemaster (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006), and Plain Air (University Presses of Florida, 1983). He is also the author of two essay collections, including The Napkin Manuscripts: Selected Essays and an Interview (University of Tennessee Press, 2006).

Of his work, Kathryn Stripling Byer writes, “Michael McFee’s voice gravitates toward place, its complications and cast iron realities.”

A recipient of the 2009 James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South, McFee teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Selected Bibliography


We Were Once Here (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017)
That Was Oasis (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012)
Shinemaster (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006)
Earthly (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001)
Colander (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1996)
Sad Girl Sitting on a Running Board (Gnomon Press, 1991)
Vanishing Acts (Gnomon Press, 1989)
Plain Air (University Presses of Florida, 1983)

Appointed Round (Mercer University Press, 2018)
The Napkin Manuscripts: Selected Essays and an Interview (University of Tennessee Press, 2006)

By This Poet



Its perpendicular
tilted, falling forward,
this oblique stroke
between lines of verse
or fractions’ numbers
or month/day/year
separates & connects
parts of some whole:
its diagonal can also
offer us alternatives
like his/her, and/or,
a skinny twig partway
between limb & ground,
like me not quite vertical
or horizontal, a slash
leaning into stiff wind.

Cast-Iron Ghazal

My mouth won’t ever forget her skill with a skillet,
my father’s mother, cooking
with her mother’s skillet.

Looking deep into its heavy antique mirror, I see
her wedding day: white dress
and this coal-dark skillet.

Heaven was bacon’s sizzle waking my ears and nose.
Or was it one of her chickens 
slow-frying in the skillet?

Her husband once took it hunting without asking:
she said she’d bust his skull 
with that upraised skillet.

Fire-born bell whose clapper was a plain dinner fork,
juicy fauna and flora notes
rang out from her skillet.

I see early widowhood, cooked-for children gone:
darkness lends its seasoning
to every cast-iron skillet.

She hid its teardrop handle inside her strong grip
when pouring red-eye gravy
from one lip of the skillet.

What went into the oven as batter we two mixed
came out as cornbread glory,
steaming amen in a skillet.

Black as her Bible, black as her once-maiden hair,
black as a panther howling
at midnight, this skillet.

I see her funeral day, the kitchen filled with food
not made by her, no flame
kissing the empty skillet.

I say McFee into its circle, hear her savory voice 
giving back the family name 
from her (now my) skillet.


U’s mate, O with a new root,
the one capital letter
which probes below the base line,
here’s to the quirky beauty

of its tail, that fluent tongue
stuck from a wide-open mouth,
that elegant half-mustache
parted quickly toward the east,

that antique handle we grasp
to lift up the monocle
of our alphabet’s monarch,
that final flourish of the quill.