Published on Academy of American Poets (

Appeal to the Grammarians

We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we're capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we're ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn't bounce back,
The flat tire at journey's outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, "See, that's why
I don't like to eat outside."


Reprinted from Overnight by Paul Violi. Copyright © 2007 by Paul Violi. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press.


Paul Violi

Born on July 20, 1944, in Brooklyn, Paul Randolph Violi grew up in Greenlawn, New York. He studied at Boston University, from where he graduated in 1966 with a BA in English and a minor in art history. He then joined the Peace Corps for a short while, during which time he made maps and did survey work in northern Nigeria. Violi then traveled through Africa, Europe, and Asia before returning to New York City, where he began attending readings at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. He also began working in journalism, first for local news station WCBS-TV, then a number of newspapers and magazines.

In 1970, Violi left New York City for Briarcliff Manor, New York, where he remained for many years. From 1972 to 1974, he served as managing editor of The Architectural Forum magazine and worked as a freelancer at Universal Limited Art Editions. It was during this time that he published his first poetry collection, entitled Waterworks (Toothpaste Press) in 1972. His second collection, In Baltic Circles (Kulchur Press, 1973), was released the following year. From 1974 to 1983, Violi, as chairman of the Associate Council Poetry Committee, organized a reading series at the Museum of Modern Art. He also cofounded Swollen Magpie Press, which published poetry chapbooks, anthologies, and a poetry magazine.

During his career, Violi authored several poetry collections, including The Tame Magpie (Hanging Loose Press, 2014), Overnight (Hanging Loose Press, 2007), and Breakers: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2000). Even though he was influenced by the New York School and considered by many to be a second generation New York School poet, Violi eschewed these labels and sought his own forms—poems that often appear as indexes, glossaries, travel brochures, cover letters, and dialogue snatched from the streets of New York City. The poems, which have a casual, conversational tone, gleefully exist in the world of satire, exhibiting a deadpan humor that doesn’t waver even in moments of pure absurdity and surprise.

David Lehman writes, “Violi is one of the most inventive poets around. The results are vital, brash, and often very funny. ‘All poetry is experimental poetry,’ Wallace Stevens once declared. Violi joyfully honors this edict.”

Violi’s honors include the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry, the Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant, and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in addition to poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and New York Foundation for the Arts.

Violi taught at Bloomfield College, The Dalton School, New York University, State University of New York at Purchase, and Stevens Institute of Technology, among other institutions. At the time of his death, he was teaching at Columbia University and The New School in New York City.

He died April 2, 2011, in Cortlandt Manor, New York.



Paul Violi: Selected Poems 1970-2007 (Gingko Press, 2014)
The Tame Magpie (Hanging Loose Press, 2014)
Overnight (Hanging Loose Press, 2007)
Envoy: Life is Completely Interesting (The First Cut, 2006)
Breakers: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2000)
Fracas (Hanging Loose Press, 1999)
The Curious Builder (Hanging Loose Press, 1992)
Likewise (Hanging Loose Press, 1988)
Splurge (Sun Press, 1981)
Harmatan (Sun Press, 1977)
In Baltic Circles (Kulchur Press, 1973)
Waterworks (Toothpaste Press, 1972)


Selected Accidents, Pointless Anecdotes (Hanging Loose Press, 2002)

Date Published: 2007-01-01

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