poem index

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.

Barbed Wire

Ralph Burns
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 thousand
Different kinds, undulating loops,
Half round and square--Reynold's Web,
Preston's Braid, Meriwether's Cold-

Weather Wire, Shellaberger's Long Zigzag,
Walking Wire, Curtis's Ladder, Visible Lace,
Arch and Leaf, Descending Beads, Staple Barb,
Open Diamond Point, Sproul's Twins,

Elsey's Ribbon, Brink's Buckle, Ellwood's Star,
Flute and Rib, Spool and Spurs, Joined Saucers,
Tie through Eye, Body Grip,
Blake's Knee Grip, Underwood's Tack--

Unloved, unloving; that to name these
Does no political good, but as precision
Is polemical, against vague statement
And circular evasion, as the sharp angle of sun

And crossed wires together body forth a spark,
It is some kind--cold, unmusical, utterly itself,
Keeping cattle in, or the enemies of sheep
Out.

From Mozart's Starling, by Ralph Burns, published by Ohio Review Books. Copyright © 1990 by Ralph Burns. 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

1

Flap, flap went the mind of the bird
Who flew out of my grandmother's attic
Like heat in the creases
Where air used to be.  One week
Of summer was all that house
Could take of my brother and me.

			Years later,
After she died, someone, my aunt I
Think, arranged for her to be driven
poem
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
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