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About this poet

Carol Muske-Dukes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1945. She received her MS in 1970 from the State University of California at San Francisco.

Her most recent book of poems is Twin Cities (Penguin, 2011). Her previous collection, Sparrow (Random House, 2003) was a National Book Award finalist. Her other books of poetry include: Camouflage (University of Pittsburgh, 1975); Skylight (Doubleday, 1981); Wyndmere (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985); Applause (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989); Red Trousseau (Viking Press, 1993); and Octave Above Thunder (Penguin Books, 1997).

Her books of prose include two collections of essays: Women and Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1997); Married to the Icepick Killer: a Poet in Hollywood (Random House, 2002); the novels Dear Digby (Viking Press, 1989); Saving St. Germ (Viking Press, 1993) Life after death: a novel (Random House, 2001) and her most recent book, Channeling Mark Twain (Random House, 2008).

Among her awards are the 1979 Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award of the Poetry Society of America, a 1981 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, an Ingram-Merrill grant, a Witter/Bynner Award from the Library of Congress, and several Pushcart Prizes.

A regular writer for the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post, Muske-Dukes has also taught in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of California at Irvine, and the University of Virginia. She is the founding director of the PhD Program in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California.

She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she served as the state poet laureate from 2008 to 2011.

Selected Bibliography

Twin Cities (Penguin, 2011)
Sparrow (Random House, 2003)
Camouflage (University of Pittsburgh, 1975)
Skylight (Doubleday, 1981)
Wyndmere (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985)
Applause (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989)
Red Trousseau (Viking Press, 1993)
Octave Above Thunder (Penguin Books, 1997)

Channeling Mark Twain (Random House, 2008)
Life after death: a novel (Random House, 2001)
Saving St. Germ (Viking Press, 1993) 
Women and Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1997)
Married to the Icepick Killer: a Poet in Hollywood (Random House, 2002)
Dear Digby (Viking Press, 1989)

An Octave Above Thunder

                                       ... reverberation
                              Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
                              He who was living is now dead
                              We who were living are now dying
                              With a little patience.

                                            --T. S. Eliot,
                                            "What the Thunder Said"


She began as we huddled, six of us,
in the cellar, raising her voice above
those towering syllables...

Never mind she cried when storm candles
flickered, glass shattered upstairs.
Reciting as if on horseback,
                   she whipped the meter,

trampling rhyme, reining in the reins
of the air with her left hand as she 
stood, the washing machine behind her
              stunned on its haunches, not spinning.

She spun the lines around each other,
her gaze fixed. I knew she'd silenced
a cacophony of distractions in her head,
              to summon what she owned, rote-bright:

                             Of man's first disobedience,
                                        and the fruit...
                              of the flower in a crannied wall
                              and one clear call...

for the child who'd risen before school assemblies:
eerie Dakota rumble that rolled yet never brought
rain breaking over the podium. Her voice rose,
                        an octave above thunder:

When I consider how my light is spent--
I thought of her light, poured willy-nilly.
in this dark world and wide: half-blind, blind,
a widening distraction Getting and spending
 we lay waste our powers...Different poem, a trick!

Her eyes singled me out as the wind slowed.
Then, reflective, I'd rather be / a Pagan
 sucked in a creed outworn / than a dullard
                         with nothing by heart.

It was midsummer, Minnesota. In the sky,
the Blind Poet blew sideways, his cape spilling
rain. They also serve! she sang, hailing

as I stopped hearing her. I did not want to
stand and wait. I loathed nothing so much
as the forbearance now in her voice,
              insisting that Beauty was at hand,

but not credible. I considered
how we twisted into ourselves to live.
When the storm stopped, I sat still,

Here were the words of the Blind Poet--
crumpled like wash for the line, to be
dried, pressed flat. Upstairs, someone called
                   my name. What sense would it ever

make to them, the unread world, the getters and spenders, 
if they could not hear what I heard,
              not feel what I felt
              nothing ruined poetry, a voice revived it,

From An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems, published by Penguin, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Carol Muske. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems, published by Penguin, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Carol Muske. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Carol Muske-Dukes

Carol Muske-Dukes

Carol Muske-Dukes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1945. Her poetry collections include Twin Cities (Penguin, 2011) and Sparrow (Random House, 2003), a National Book Award finalist.

by this poet


Awake suddenly and afraid, I looked down from my
high window into the spinning prism of snow, past
the new flattened macadam to the white meadow below.

I watched the drifts cover the tall grass, where in
Summer, rabbits and whip-poor-wills hid from eager
slingshots and family-size plots


He rode “no hands,” speeding
headlong down the hill near
our house, his arms extended,
held rigid away from his body,
our small daughter behind him
on the bike in her yellow sunsuit,
bare-headed. She held on to him
for her life. I watched them from
above—helpless failed brake

                     -- Morituri te salutamus.
                        Los Angeles Times, 1927

Maybe it's not the city you thought
it was. Maybe its flaws, like cracks
in freeway pylons, got bigger, caught
your eye, like swastikas on concrete stacks.

Maybe lately the dull astrologies of End,