Forrest, how old were you when
you first started writing poetry?
I wrote verse in elementary school
and wrote one bad poem in college,
(I don't suppose there's a copy
anywhere) and then started writing
again unexpectedly in 1979 when
a piece wanted me to write it
in the laundromat. I was about 35
years old then.
As I got divorced and started flailing
after various women, I wrote more.
The night I decided I was a "poet",
I was with a singles' group in a place
that was giving out door prizes, and
I won a briefcase. That confirmed
it for me.
What exactly is poetry?
One day I was riding the bus home and
an old woman next to me asked what
I did. I hesitated, then told her I was
a poet. "Ah", she said, "You tell
There are all sorts of word games people
like to call "poetry." I can't call the
'Dictionary Police' on these people; but
we just aren't talking about the same
Truth, if you really want to get under her
skirts, is poetical.
Truth is not a proposition; it is not any
collection of propositions; it isn't even a
"thing." Better to talk about a state of
understanding where we're grasping for
something without our mind. Sometimes
we can say what we mean with some
"true" proposition, or if the truth
we're dancing with doesn't fit into our
language, we might just have to get wild.
The big truths are too emotional,
metaphorical or paradoxical to
to let some formal statement hold
them down. Even if you have a
whole mob of statements from a big,
book about everything, the truth is
too much for it. It takes a human
being to open the book and be its
truth for a while.
A poem is a song designed to be
spoken. Songs have the advantage
of music, and can get away with
being simpler. Poems have
the advantage of greater freedom,
to be more disorderly, complex,
diverse in subject.
Not all truths are willing or able
to fit into a poem. But a free use of
metaphor, even a whole stew
of mixed metaphors, will let you say
things a respectable prose statement
would be afraid to try.
Why do you write poetry?
It's a gift. "If you bring forth
what is within you, it will save you.
If you don't bring forth what
is within you, it will destroy you."
Besides, as Stephen Gaskin said,
telling the truth gets you high.
Do you write novels?
I've done that. Science fiction,
better than many things I've seen
published, but not quite right, so far.
Is poetry as we know it dead? With
the electronic media, poetry slams,
etc., it certainly seems to be changing.
What is its future form?
I don't have the faintest idea and
I don't think there's a "we" that knows
what "poetry as we know it" is.
I don't know the form of the next
poem I'll write, or whether Id like
anything called "poetry" twenty
years from now, and it doesn't matter.
Does society really need poets?
Like a dog needs fleas. Society really
needs to be poets, but it's so hard
to practice without a license.
Do you come from a family
No. My father wrote light verse, had
a copy of Clement Wood's rhyming
dictionary that I liked to read. He
took to poetry in his old age, but
he didn't have long enough to do
What impact will the life
of Forrest Curo have on
lives of the future?
The life of Forrest Curo is part
of something larger; it is not something
isolated that could affect anything at
all apart from everything else.
What impact is it having now?
What a silly question! If I could
decide what kind of impact I would
have on anyone, would I make a
Are you satisfied with the direction
your life has gone?
We've failed and our civilization
appears headed straight for hell.
Aside from that, I'm perfectly content.
When you die, is that it? Or
will you get to return and finish
anything you haven't, write a
few more poems?
A good poem is like a
pearl; it happens because a
particular piece of sand has gotten
under our shell when we were
ripe for it.
You are married to a wonderful
poet, Anne Curo. Do you help
each other write poetry?
She wrote one of my best lines.
But normally we don't edit each
other, except for prose.
Would you change parts of your life
this very moment if you could
wave a 'magic wand'?
No doubt I'd do things entirely
differently, and could end up
Why are poets seemingly poor?
Poets are seemingly poor because
people don't have the sense to
envy our great wealth.
Do you think a poet should read
their own poems in public or leave that
to others after they die?
I enjoy reading to people who want
that, but it doesn't happen often.
Why did you move back east?
A couple years ago Anne and I went
to Pendle Hill, a Quaker publishing,
spiritual and intellectual center near
Philadelphia, for one school year. I
hoped to experience something
like a Quaker yearly meeting, only
longer, and this was in fact what
I found. I'd still be there, if it
were up to me, but my current
assignment is to find that same
spiritual intensity in this less
Are you or have you written
I expect I'll still be thinking
about it when I die.
Who are your favorite poets,
living and deceased?
Jesus, Rumi, Margaret Atwood,
Richard Wilbur, Paul Simon,
Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan,
Jaques Ellul, who probably never
thought of himself as a poet, and
occasionally was horribly
wrong-headed, but tickles my head
like no-one else, Ursula K. LeGuin.
Certainly Anne Curo, and a few other
people you probably never heard of and
maybe a few I don't remember at
And which (if any) have had
the biggest influence on your work?
Probably Margaret Atwood, but I
don't know if there's any obvious
resemblance. I was doing my
ex-wife's homework, analyzing
a poem, so I picked Margaret
Atwood's 'Tricks With Mirrors'
and ended up wanting to write
things like that.
When you write, are you
'being helped by the spirits
of all the poets that have ever
lived or do you create, alone?
All the poets that have ever lived
were helped by the same spirit
that helps me. And I still have to
do it myself, then fix the mistakes.
Are poets more sensitive
than other people?
Someone asked LoVerne Brown
this, and she said that being able
to write poems about things that
bother us made us tougher than
other people. She didn't know
how non poets managed to get
through their suffering without
turning it into poetry.
Why is homelessness in the
United States growing at such
a rapid rate?"
The country is possessed, and
poor people have increasingly been
William Stringfellow wrote, in 1964:
"While the poor are confined to their
ghettos, more and more space is being
diverted in the city to luxury housing.
In part the exodus of the middle class
contributes to this; it is also an
accommodation to the interests of the
utilities, builders, insurance companies,
banks, some unions and universities,
and other heavy investors in real estate.
For principalities [in the apostle
Paul's sense] such as these it is more
advantageous to redevelop the city
for the rich than to rehabilitate it
for the poor.
The illusion is maintained and
reiterated that public policy in
the city in employment, housing,
transportation and the like is
determined by the political
administration elected by the
voters. Therefore, public policy
is supposedly orientated toward
the welfare, safety, prosperity
and freedom of the person. But
one does not have to live in the city
very long to discern that the
electe4d political administration
exercises only a very modest
discretion in questions of public
It is not just that politics
is often corrupted, but that the
effective power to determine public
policy is exercised by the great
principalities, institutional powers:
investment, commerce, industry,
education, labor, and the like, and
that policy as a result is oriented
toward the profit and survival of
There has also been, since he wrote,
a persistent effort to make this
society more frightened, more
mean-spirited, more punitive and
hard-hearted, culminating in Bill
Clinton's decision to help the
Republicans drive poor women and
their children into desperate misery,
in what was called, "Welfare Reform."
In my day, 'street people' were romantic
adolescents in search of Bohemia. Old
alcoholics were housed in cheap hotels
downtown. Then those hotels were
closed, and the welfare system got
a little meaner, and the State hospitals
were emptied, in hopes that nursing
home operators could make windfall
profits servicing former inmates.
Suddenly we had "homeless people"
but at first these were alcoholic men
and people too crazy to go to a social
worker. Then, as rents went up and
the monthly checks went down, you
started seeing disabled people in
wheelchairs, and old people, living
outside toward the end of each month.
In the years since welfare was
'reformed', many mothers have
coped by crowding two or more
families into one-room apartments
but those less fortunate went
straight onto the streets, lived
in hiding to avoid losing their
children, but all too often had them
stolen by "protective services"
that wouldn't spend a penny to
house them safely with their mothers.
Stringfellow again, 1973: "The failure
of conscience in American society
among its reputed leaders, the
deep-seated contempt for human
life among the managers of society,
the moral deprivation of so-called
middle Americans resembles, at
has been observed, the estate
described biblically as 'hardness
of the heart.' This same condition,
afflicting both individuals and
institutions (including nations)
is otherwise designated in the
Bible as a form of demonic possession."
A metaphor? If you like.
If you could offer a 'one
sentence suggestion' on
how to house, feed and clothe
every person on earth, what
would it be?"
Love your neighbor as yourself.
If you could be the first poet on
Mars, would you?
As humans become more
machine where will our
souls end up?
Where is your soul now?
If poets/artists are the creators
of heaven upon earth, why do
so many mirror our 'darker sides?'
I don't remember seeing that
in the job description. Mine went
something like this: "Prophet/poet.
Tells truth, gets taken for crazy,
tries not to let it go to his head."
Other poets are no doubt on
Is war a natural progression
of evolutions course?
War has been a natural
consequence of our evolution
and a force that shaped it.
For most of pre-history, war was
almost ceremonial. Two groups
might come together, yell and
throw rocks. When someone was
badly hurt or killed, that might
be the end of it. They were
establishing boundaries, not
trying to exterminate their rivals.
Between raids and battles, hunters
found disputed territories dangerous,
and so these became places where
game could survive and replenish.
As people became more organized,
they became more national and
inhumane about war. Territory
could be permanently settled, or
conquered. Food could be stored
for a long campaign; enemies'
supplies could be destroyed; whole
tribes could be readily killed or
enslaved. Warfare started driving
our cultural evolution, not always
in good directions.
War has contributed to the variety
of people in the world, by keeping
different groups separate and also
brought separated cultures into
contact. It's amplified a whole
stew of cultural traits, some good
and some bad.
The contemporary effect of war,
at our present level of technology,
is to corrupt everything. To accept
it as a means toward securing
any good whatsoever is to be
fooled, and ultimately corrupted.
I've tried to stop our nation's war
against Iraq; I'm one of a small
group of other San Diego Quakers
who still demonstrate regularly
against it, every Tuesday morning
on a couple of busy downtown
corners. But I never expected
to be able to actually prevent
or stop it.
The war itself is a misfortune;
our involvement in it is a consequence
of our national karma, and that
karma is bad and getting worse.
Are some of us 'old souls' and if so
what does that mean?
I heard someone once who
claimed to be 'an old soul',
but I felt she was just set in
her ways. I don't remember
all of this current life, nor do I
think I'd benefit from dwelling on
it. I've only recently reached a
point where I know anything
worth remembering, and I'd like
to remember that. But I might
need to forget some of it to
Do you believe in 'accidents' or
is everything 'meant to be'?
Accidents are parts of the
story God is telling us.
Why are so few poets famous?
How many different rock groups
can you remember?
Poems by Forrest Curo
You're being asked
You're being asked
to leave the flames of Hell;
you have done well
and been well done.
Why have you put yourself here?
Can't you accept yourself
without proving yourself
Can't you forgive yourself
as you'd forgive others
if you dared?
Your Daddy's calling; it's
time to come home
I used to love the rain
It goes back to my childhood
my mother wouldn't let me out in it
at first; and then it was a treat
to feel it plopping on my waxy yellow raincoat
under the big bright hat like a fireman would wear
or a fisherman out at sea in a hurricane,
drops falling splat splat in the puddles--
water out of the sky--how amazing
and how grown up to be walking in it
all by myself.
I used to love the rain, even
when I came home from the storefront Methodist
church my parents thought would be good for me
full of Noah and the fire next time
daydreaming of water over the ditch
up the hill and into the driveway, water
over the curb, into the basement,
water up the front stairs
and the door, flooding the whole world
to the windows; then we could all go around in boats.
I always loved the rain
in the Bible, falling
with loving impartiality;
the real rain would remind me of it
and make me smile; the air felt clean
as if it were already done washing
and on a rainy night you know
the psychic power lines are buzzing
so anything can happen, anything--
When you're an overpromised failure at college,
inside-out and shriveling with loneliness,
you might venture out on a sleepless midnight
to find a wandering stranger at the doughnut shop
(holy-eyed and ranting of past lives he'd seen you in)
to invite you to a mansion in the Berkeley Hills
where a young woman fifty thousand years old
waits to initiate you into mysteries;
anything can happen on a rainy night
when you need it to happen, when the time is right;
you can move in to protect
a woman you're mistakenly in love with
and adore her from afar in her own living room;
you could steal her a Christmas tree
thirty years ago when I did it
though I wouldn't recommend that anymore;
(The rain came down in drops crowded together,
every drop like a fishbowl, the wind tearing
at the world while I sat cozy inside the window.)
I always wanted it to rain; I wanted
to feel the angels washing me clean again
for another start, another adventure,
or maybe just the simple love of the rain.
There was a time, once
when a decent person might love the rain
and it wouldn't have to mean someone was shivering;
it wouldn't have to mean people sleeping in wet clothes
with no mommy to put them in a hot bath
so they wouldn't catch their deaths out in all that.
I have seen my country ruin itself
in a frenzy of wilful ignorance;
I have seen mercy despised, cruelty accepted--
heard men like ants prattling of freedom
to create wealth by picking each others' pockets--
I have had to learn to live
by swallowing indignation
but beyond all that
they have stolen my rain
and that is not even mine
A Cat Meditation
He's sitting in the living room,
all tangled up, staring
at a perfectly empty spot
on the floor. I wonder how
do they get into those
can he spring if anything
comes out? I wipe
my nose on his hand and he tells me
he's hunting the Great Mouse.
How shall we live in the
There is still time
to laugh and turn the music up louder
We have a fine living room
to sit and read reports
on flames here, flames there
The house is burning, we say
We can buy wine, and chocolate
to make our last hours more comfortable
We have computers, and stories
of that old hero/villain game
The holy egg sleeps
in a bedroom full of smoke;
we are afraid to touch the doorknob
We are learning to draw pictures
of the house burning around us
Our brothers are burning;
and turn up the music
They hit themselves and their women
and anyone that scares them
to show they are not afraid
and hope a man will come
to protect them and their kids
Woe to the useful
Some decorate their bedrooms
and some huddle in hallways
There is money being made
as the house burns
We might rush into flames
to rescue the innocent
to find them merely the helpless
stinking of oblivion
We can talk awhile with friends
as they make their tidy beds
in the burning house
We would flee for some
shriveling in the heat
of embers falling, falling
as we watch
The Egg gives birth in fire!
There, seek Wisdom's child
cradled in ashes
What's my Job?
All my life I am saying
"What's my job?!"
and taking whatever I hear
as maybe the Answer
My job is being crazy,
having a headful of ideas
that have driven
and making antibodies
My job is
having no job
to put before our
job with the Big J.
Everytime I think
I have an answer to
the American Question:
"What do you do?"
it turns out sooner or later
I'm laid off from every Idenity
Some day people say
The answer will be
I'm a Flower sneezing
in the spring air
Commentary on a line from
even for an instant
"Cut modesty's throat
with a knife!"
Don't be humble
You can't be nearly
when you know
It is God's truth
you are given
The Lord has need
of a donkey,
of a donkey
she came down
from the cross
met the Torah and wept
Not power of death and fear
but power of seeds erupting
grace and life
Death squad sadists
fell to the the ground
and rose again
in filth and ashes
before tv cameras
All the world saw her
coming in clouds and glory
the censorious stared
in unmistakable lust
fell to our knees in shame
She smiled down on all
"Now, now, dears
Run along and play"
An Open Letter to God
It's not that you are altogether
guiltless, judged by our standards–
There are murdered corpses heaped
beyond the dreams of Presidents
and you made us capable of that;
this is nothing to the pyramid of bodies
left by disease, starvation, accident–
which you invented, and made us fear.
If we escape all that, we fall
gradually to slow, still-twitching rot
preserved in nursing homes, pickled
like the still-breathing accomplishments
of some superstitious funeral technology,
the brain and guts discarded
while what remains still moans, unheeded,
for death, or fear of death; this is justice
for wanting to live more than is good for us.
You have not, I fear, made us
as intelligent as I'd like,
though we are clever. I will give you
credit for the Father of the Neutron Bomb
and the mute, inglorious Edisons
of the punji stick; we all know
sufficient examples of human cleverness.
You have given us enough fear
to keep us turning in our beds;
this is a necessary part
of the mechanism that runs us
til it unwinds, or drives us
against the wall at the end of the freeway.
I am grateful–You know I am–
to have escaped so much, and of course
to have enjoyed so much being here.
I am grateful for religion, though I think
you ought to have made a disease
transmitted by self-righteous hatred–
I guess you did; we call it "patriotism"
or "politics", or sometimes "religion."
We may die of that. Even I,
who know so many people to love,
have noticed a great many others;
I hear you need them to make a world
but I fail to see the necessity
when they drive by with radios pounding;
and there are other things people do
that probably do not justify
my wishing they were dead, or living elsewhere
(We could improve this place immensely
with only a little mass-murder
though I'm not supposed to mention
things like that;
we know there are little things
I do that no-doubt annoy
some people into almost-murderous rage.)
I am glad to be here tonight,
awakened by chronic anxiety
to write this poem, and listen
to drunken voices yelling:
"Wake up! Wake up! Har har har!"
I believe you mean me well; I've been told
that, and I really do believe it.
If I were good, I could call you "Daddy"
and fear nothing, in this world or any.
If I could talk to you, and trust you
like a friend, undistracted
by your power to maim, torture, or worse
life would be so much easier.
Meanwhile, I think of chess pieces
put in their box, and I
wonder if I want what's good for me
and of course
I thank you for this poem.
Forrest Curo (~1987)
Painting by Forrest Curo