Featured Poet: Dave Malone
I was born in Rolla, Missouri. My family moved around quite a bit when I was a kid, and we landed in rural Kansas when I was six. My younger sister and I spent some amazing elementary school years there amid a farming community. Our home was out in the country in a remote development. From my bedroom I could see Tuttle Creek Lake. To the south of our property were some empty fields with crab apple trees, and down below our home was an old creekbed with fossils in it. There were coyotes that howled at night and came up to the back door, so it was a very magical place to live.
In addition to nature, reading was one of my interests. I read Dr. Doolittle, Encyclopedia Brown, and A Wrinkle in Time. When I was in fourth grade, my teacher taught our class haiku, and that was a transformational moment for me. (If interested in hearing more about that, I talk about it in my recent newsletter.)
My poetry, including much of that in my new book Tornado Drill, has its origins in rural life, in nature. In addition to my Kansas roots, I have deep familial Ozark roots. In the 1870s one of my ancestors, Jonathan Brown, found a spring on his property, started a health resort, and per his daughter’s suggestion, named it Siloam Springs after the healing pool in the New Testament. I spent summers and holidays in Howell County and attended seventh grade at the then newly formed Liberty Junior High and High School in Mountain View, Missouri.
I appreciate this opportunity to be featured in Elder Mountain’s blog, and I want to share that a major component of successful writing is the willingness to revise. (I highly recommend Ted Kooser’s delightful book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual.) Most of my poems go through about seven or eight rounds of heavy editing, with lots of “sleep-on-it” time in between sessions. On occasion, some poems may get only three revisions, but other poems may get as many as thirty.
My graduate school mentor, Matt Brennan, (who is still kindly mentoring me!) has been a steady influence over the years in terms of helping me or inspiring me to turn okay poems into solid ones. And lately, a fellow Ozarks poet, Paulette Guerin Bane, and I have been doing poem exchanges and critiquing one another’s work, which is quite wonderful.
I also believe that a little bit of cross pollination is a good thing. What I mean is in addition to reading a bunch, one should spend a little time dabbling in other genres—as long as it does not distract from your main course. You have to be careful. But if done properly, it can help your cooking skills (your primary genre) to branch out and try new things. I have always loved film, so I continue to make short films and poetry films—one of which, Remember (with Isaac Protiva), was recently featured at a festival at East Carolina University.
Lastly, I like the joke that “rhyme doesn’t pay.” But that isn’t necessarily true. I have an amazing group of literary patrons who support me and my work. Their monetary support supplements my other income and gives me not only financial legitimacy but spiritual and creative-writer-purpose-legitimacy, too. I’m so thankful for them.
Featured below are seven poems from Tornado Drill.
Beneath the school desks, our legs angle
and lean like autumn crickets.
Dust motes float and sparkle
above the tongues of our sneakers.
To distract ourselves from the howling windows,
we till the flooring tiles with fingernails
scrubbed clean of bottled glue
and the remains of Mrs. Nelson’s
no-bake cookies. She booms, “Quiet,”
and invites the great silence.
We don’t wish to hear
what is a low hum at first—
just an evening tractor laboring
several farms over—but then
the earth roars and the sky paints
the classroom windows cocoa.
Some of us scrape wings together and squeak.
Others weep. I scramble to the glass.
—originally published in Portage Magazine
We left our tent to hunt
the early morning light,
a lonesome doe
in the dark woods
approaching without sound—
just the hint of presence,
We trekked into the shadows
unsure of our footing
and gained a cemetery of moss,
and with our eyes blind like the dead,
we felt our way to higher ground,
fists groping for the roots of pines—
until the hillside shook
with the stomp of the unknown.
The recycle truck rolls past my office at noon.
I know one of the gals who works at the plant—
a hilltop-thin brunette who banked her dimes
for Loretta Lynn albums when we were kids.
From time to time, I see her at the post office
where she throttles bills under her thumbs.
Or at the mechanic’s where her knowledge
trumps his, an off-Jack in Pitch.
She lost a husband to the twister last April.
Sometimes, I wonder about her
as she brooms the recycle room floor—
those scraps of paper, debts and to-do lists,
downed confetti of our town’s recent past
she sends away to the paper mill.
—originally published in Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozark Studies
Fifi Gets Placed in Timeout
because she lapsed in judgment
and clawed a mural in the Scando sofa.
The cat’s front feet give little fight
when she is placed beside the bath
and made to sit for ten whole minutes—
tough for any feline and more so for her,
a high-minded Calico with plans
of rearranging the living room furniture.
Her adversary, Dawson, a slobbering boxer,
escapes penalty because he ignored
Fifi’s amateur artwork. He lies
at the front door on a Pier One rug
where he puts head to paws
as if nothing ever happened
and nothing ever would.
—originally published in Every Day Poems from TweetspeakPoetry.com
Taco Hut Closing Tomorrow
inked by an aging hand
with nervous cursive
on crooked cardboard
in the yellowed window.
You were ten and very old.
You leaned over the taco meat,
shredded cheddar, iceberg lettuce.
Your nose puckered into a heart.
You cried, dried tears, then ate.
Walk in the Woods
At once whatever happened starts receding.
Last night I walked the woods
lit by the final moon of the month.
Days don’t count here
beneath the centuries-old pines
where my grandmother took her solace
1on hard farm days, passing up
the washboard or jam-making
for the eternal whooshing
of the forest as much serenity
—originally published in Spindrift
I startled the great blue heron
when my kayak scratched stones
in the river’s low summer water.
With little effort, like the way
one takes off shoes, the grand bird
flapped long arms, held steady,
until she found the shore opposite me
and slipped into the sycamores
below the bluff. She stayed there
a long time, longer than my life.
—originally published in Right Hand Pointing
If interested, below are ways you can connect with me and my work. The best way is probably my free newsletter. Please feel free to drop me a line anytime; I’d love to hear from you!
You can preorder Dave’s book, Tornado Drill, here.
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If you’d like to support Dave on Patreon, visit his Patreon page.
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Dave Malone was born in Rolla, Missouri, and grew up in Kansas and Missouri. He received an undergraduate degree from Ottawa University and later a master’s from Indiana State, where he worked with poet Matthew Brennan. He is the author of six books of poetry, and his newest volume, Tornado Drill, is forthcoming from Aldrich Press in 2022. His most recent poetry film, Remember, with Isaac Protiva, was featured at the 2021 Downeast Flick Fest in Greenville, North Carolina. Dave sends out a free monthly newsletter and can be found online at davemalone.net or on Instagram @dave.malone.