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About this poet

David Baker was born in Bangor, Maine, on December 27, 1954. He was raised in Missouri and has spent more than forty years of his life in the Midwest.

Baker received degrees in English from Central Missouri State University before earning a PhD in English from the University of Utah in 1983.

His first collection of poems, Laws of the Land, was published by Ahsahta/Boise State University in 1981, followed by Haunts (Cleveland State University) in 1985. Since then, Baker has published several collections of poetry, including Scavenger Loop (W. W. Norton, 2015), Never-Ending Birds (W. W. Norton, 2009), Treatise on Touch: Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 2007), Midwest Eclogue (W. W. Norton, 2005), Changeable Thunder (University of Arkansas, 2001), The Truth about Small Towns (1998), After the Reunion (1994), and Sweet Home, Saturday Night (1991). Swift: New and Selected Poems is forthcomming from W. W. Norton in 2019.

Baker is also the author of three books of criticism: Radiant Lyre: Essays on Lyric Poetry (Graywolf, 2007), Heresy and the Ideal: On Contemporary Poetry (University of Arkansas, 2000), and Meter in English: A Critical Engagement (1996).

About Baker, the poet Linda Gregerson says, "[He] writes with the distilled, distinguished attentiveness only the finest poets can reliably command," and Marilyn Hacker has called him "the most expansive and moving poet to come out of the American Midwest since James Wright."

Among Baker's awards are fellowships and prizes from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, Poetry Society of America, Society of Midland Authors, and the Pushcart Foundation.

A resident of Granville, Ohio, he is currently a Professor of English and the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing at Denison University, where he serves as poetry editor of The Kenyon Review.

Selected Bibliography


Scavenger Loop (W. W. Norton, 2015)
Never-Ending Birds (W. W. Norton, 2009)
Treatise on Touch: Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 2007)
Midwest Eclogue (W. W. Norton, 2005)
Changeable Thunder (University of Arkansas, 2001)
After the Reunion (University of Arkansas, 1994)
Sweet Home, Saturday Night (University of Arkansas, 1991)
The Truth about Small Towns (University of Arkansas, 1998)
Haunts (Cleveland State University, 1985)
Laws of the Land (Ahsahta/Boise State University, 1981)


Meter in English: A Critical Engagement (University of Arkansas, 1996)
Heresy and the Ideal: On Contemporary Poetry (University of Arkansas, 2000)
Radiant Lyre: Essays on Lyric Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2007)

Why Not Say

What happened. This terrible breaking, this blow. Then slow
     the dogwood strewn like tissue along the black road.
No the busy pollinators the breeze in the pine shadows
     in the aftermath where I drove back there. And two bones
of smoke lifting ahead along the shoulder in the high new
     green weed-bank running beside the asphalt. No
I had come from my father. Nothing more common nothing more
     than such. I could not breathe for the longest time
over and again. There was something deadly, she said, in it.
     Of the genus buteo, as b. harlani, as Harlan’s red-tail.
Blocky in shape, goes the book, blood or brick-red but white
     I am sure underneath, white along its wing, which was not smoke
but rising now one bird. I was coming back and couldn’t breathe
     and him bruised torn bedridden tubed taken to the brink
by his body and carried aloft. There he had fallen.
     This is what happened said the medical team. Fallen:
and ripped aortal stenosis in the process of their repair.   
     No the white bird strained, as trying to lift, to a slight
dihedral, the deepest deliberate wing beats, and barely
    above the snow-white-lipped grasses and the shoulder
until I thought I would hit it. It happened or
     it did not, in the way of my thinking. And now why
I saw. Two lengths of snake helical and alive in the talons
     heavy there, writhing, so the big bird strained for the length
of time that it takes. Like the oiled inner organs
     of a live thing heaving in shreds, the dogwoods
the doctors, and did I say the horrible winds all before.
     Now the air after storm. The old road empty. Swept white,
by blossoms by headlights, my father hovering still:
     why it flew so close, why it was so terribly slow.
I think I hoped it would tear me to pieces. Lift me,
     of my genus helpless, as wretched. And drop me away.
I turned back to the animal. No it turned its back to me.


Copyright © 2017 by David Baker. Used with permission of the author. “Why Not Say” originally appeared in American Poetry Review.

Copyright © 2017 by David Baker. Used with permission of the author. “Why Not Say” originally appeared in American Poetry Review.

David Baker

David Baker

David Baker was born in Bangor, Maine, on December 27, 1954. 

by this poet

The moon tonight is
the cup of a
     scar. I hate the moon.
     I hate—more—that scar. My love waited

one day, then half
the next. One 
     cyst drained of fluid that looked,
     she said, like icing for

a cake. Red-
laced, she said, gold,
      tan, thick, rich. Kind of


        urchins spread. They want enough room
on the seabed, along the black basaltic
jet of offshore reef, sun-pied, out-swept, or
down along the darker overcrowded

urchin barrens, to quiver their hundred-
plus spines and not encroach or be encroached
or preyed upon, pulled, ripped



We came to the island. We stayed in the house.
Rain and sun. Bougainvillea. Pink cedar.
How many shadows slipped along walls
or whetted the leaves of century plants?


We saw clouds from the windows. Far boats.
You left the bed and came back shaking.
Your mother, her