Poets Online Archive
January 2007

I have been forced by circumstances lately to think back on my years teaching young adults, so when I heard Garrison Keillor read "Kryptonite" by Ron Koertge (from his book Fever, Red Hen Press, 2006) on The Writer's Almanac recently, I immediately thought, "That's one I would have used in class."

Not that it's a kid poem. Not that it would be a bad thing if it was a kid poem. But we know how that works.

I'd ask my students to think of some fictional heroes - comic book or literature - and we'd talk about what might get boring about being them or being with them. And after we had hacked at Batman (out every night), Harry Potter (enough with the headaches, finish off Voldemort) and the crew, we would read this poem and talk about using them for poetry.

Of course, the sophisticated Poets Online readers will certainly turn this month to loftier fictional heroes, but same idea. Probably best to choose someone admirable, special qualities (powers?) will help, name recognition makes it easier for all of us - then turn that hero upside down. Following our model, you might want to bring another character to mix things up.

More about this prompt and previous ones, as well as your comments and things ars poetica at the Poets Online Blog.

ron Koertge

Ron Koertge grew up in an old mining town in Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi River. He has lived in California for many years and has been on the faculty of Pasadena City College for more than 35 years. His poetry collections include, Fever, and Making Love to Roget's Wife.  He also teaches in the M.F.A. Writing for Children Program at Vermont College and is the author of The Arizona Kid, Where the Missing Never Stops, and Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, all of which were ALA Best Books for Young Adults.

In his own words... "As a child, I was very ill with rheumatic fever as a child. It is a very dangerous disease, and often left its victims with heart trouble. That isn't true for me, but being all by myself for three months (in bed, no exercise, no stimulation of any kind) made me a broody, look-inside-myself kind of kid. In graduate school, I read a French critic who said poets are made by being ill as children. Lo and behold, I became (and still am) a poet..."    
more about Ron by Ron


No longer wears that polo shirt with the one zigzag stripe
It’s a suit now and a silk tie with several bright zigzag stripes

He still shy of an adult’s height but bless his puzzled self
Does not seem to have that short man syndrome

As you imagine he spends his life in a bluish cubicle
One of those huge plastic protectors separates

The five wheels of his black vinyl adjustable task seat
(At its greatest height) from the tweedy no pile carpet

He still often asks the obvious in that oh-my-gosh way but
His deeper voice makes his co-workers not wince so much

When he shakes your hand he shocks you with his static
At the water cooler someone has always just taken the last cup

He is never early and never late and as you thought they would
His bosses always speak in that muffled musical cool jazz way

So it’s no wonder he doesn’t understand the company’s purpose
At the company picnic he is (of course) the last one chosen for sides

When he walks onto the field with his mitt everyone looks at the others
Then at their spouses who smirk and shrug on the cracked bleachers

At exactly 65 years of age he’ll be roasted at a little banquet
Get a little gold watch if they still make them and pats on the back

One by one at 9 PM everyone will toddle home as odd piano
Tinkling becomes slightly audible and he will stand there

In the center of the floor admiring the mirrors and the chandelier
With his arms at his sides only his feet and short legs move

As he turns in profile and walks off

Michael Z Murphy


You worked well for Cinderella, I have to give you that.
Changed her world with a glass slipper, dosed her with liberal
swishes of magic dust, pink with sparse bits of metallic for extra touch.
We need to talk. Cinderella was your heyday.
High times for fairy godmothers. White glove era,
Foo-foo ball gowns of layered organza with blue ribbons.
Honey, it ain’t happening.
We’re not feeling you anymore,
You’re at the low-down.
Twenty-first century:
Pumpkin Carriages, Out.
Pimp our rides, In.
Rat in tuxedo as coachman, Jeers.
Rodent stuck on sticky paper, Cheers.
Midnight curfew? Please.
Watch us ..we dance in clubs with kaleidoscope
table-tops, hips vibrating , getting jiggy.
A glass slipper does not rock our world.
Our eyes roll as we search the dance floor.
Your old bent wand cannot produce a single
Prince Charming in the state of New Jersey.

Leigh Mackelvey


I wanted to marry the best of the best,
A hero with good looks and charm
Who could conquer the world.
And what would I get from my lover?
A chance to relieve the world’s problems.
Converse with world leaders
And the right to stand and applaud.
I found he has little time for the children.
No time for hours of privacy,
Cozy nights,
Visiting with neighbors, or
And neither do I.
Life is a compromise.
I can’t complain.

Ellen Kaplan


His kind, they said, never amounted to anything.

The kind he was included being kind when sober,
and almost tolerable when not.
His kind kept the mills running during the Great Depression,
and worked sun-up to sun-down as productive tenant farmers,
He and his buddies fought WWII in Europe and Pacific islands,
coming home to rebuild this Nation after all that shit.

Drinking during the Thirties helped him forget
the goddamned lack of education he needed for a good job
A life lived during the struggle from Civil War's destruction
leaving a sorry economy for raising families
His fate was sealed in eighty years of no money for learning;
caused by rich property owners keeping wages and taxes low.
His constant drinking took away the gossip about her,
a wife, who, often, left her kids to shift for themselves.
She, a lonely bored housewife needed to romp
with mill hands who worked nights, played days.

Those of his kind still living, are old and worn out,
after providing new values to their kids and grandkids.
By the end of World War II, his offspring were educated
for top jobs in careers; the things he missed out on.
Still drinking a bit, his kind never complained,
but took it on the chin; grateful for the changes.

F William Broome

Déjà Vécu

Here in the library, surrounded by the heroes
that never let me down, I never read anymore.
I sit in the one old upholstered chair of cracked leather.
I look out the big back window at the trees.
I write in my notebook.
I watch the young girls who walk around
and talk secretively to each other at a table,
the same way they did when I was their age.

That's what I like about the library, and Huck
and Holden and Gatsby and all the others
who are waiting patiently for someone to give them
fresh air and light and breath. It is why I sit facing away
from the computers and DVDs and draw a sketch
of a girl that seems familiar, that I've drawn before.

Charles Michaels

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