Christopher Buckley was raised in Santa Barbara, CA and educated at St. Mary’s College (BA), San Diego State University (MA), and the University of California Irvine (MFA). He teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California Riverside.
He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry for 2007-2008 as well as NEA grants in 2001 & 1984, a Fulbright Award to Yugoslavia, four Pushcart Prizes, and the James Dickey Prize from Five Points Magazine for 2008. He has twice received the Gertrude B. Claytor Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America as well as the John Atherton Fellowship in Poetry to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and an artist’s residency at the Ucross Foundation. His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Antaeus, American Poetry Review, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Seneca Review, The Sewanee Review, Quarterly West, New Letters, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, and POETRY. For 2006, he was the winner of the City Works National Writers Award, San Diego, and he is the recipient of the Kennth O. Hansen and Vi Gale Awards from HUBBUB.
Buckley is the author of eighteen books of poetry—Last Rites l980, & Other Lives l985 (Ithaca House); Blue Hooks In Weather 1983 (Moving Parts Press); Dust Light, Leaves l986 &Blossoms & Bones: On The Life and Work of Georgia O’Keeffe l988 (Vanderbilt Univ. Press); Blue Autumn 1990 & Dark Matter 1993 (Copper Beech Press/Brown University), and A Short History of Light, Painted Hills Review’s book contest winner, 1994. Camino Cielo appeared from Orchises Press in 1997, Fall From Grace from Bk Mk Press/University of Missouri Kansas City, 1998, Star Apocrypha from TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press 2001, Closer To Home: Poems of Santa Barbara: 1975-1995 from Fountain Mountain Press, 2003. The Sheep Meadow Press has published SKY, 2004, and AND THE SEA, 2006. In 2008 Flying Backbone: The Georgia O’Keefe Poems was published by Blue Light Press and Tupelo Press brought out MODERN HISTORY: Prose Poems 1987-2007.
Buckley was the winner of the 2009 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry for ROLLING THE BONES, published by The Univ. of Tampa Press in 2010. WHITE SHIRT was published by the Univ. of Tampa Press August, 2011. Varieties of Religious Experience will appear from Stephen F. Austin University Press in Spring 2013,
Buckley has published creative nonfiction in Crazyhorse, Santa Barbara Magazine, The Denver Quarterly, The Poetry Miscellany, Creative Nonfiction, Cimarron Review, The New Press, Hubbub, The Montserrat Review, River City, Santa Monica Review, The Florida Review, FUGUE, and Rivendell. Cruising State: Growing Up In Southern California, was published by the University of Nevada Press, 1994. SLEEP WALK, a second book of nonfiction, was published by Eastern Washington Univ. Press in 2006.
He is the editor of On The Poetry Of Philip Levine: Stranger To Nothing, Univ. of Michigan Press, l99l, and, with Christopher Merrill, What Will Suffice: Contemporary American Poets on the Art of Poetry, Peregrine Smith Books, l995. For l991-l992, he was Poetry Editor for The Pushcart Prize, Vol. XVII. With Gary Young, he edited The Geography of Home: California’s Poetry of Place (Hey Day Books, 1999) and with David Oliveira & M.L. Williams, How Much Earth: An Anthology of Fresno Poets (Roundhouse Press, 2001). In 2004 Eastern Washington University Press published A Condition of the Spirit: The Life & Work of Larry Levis, edited with Alexander Long. In 2006, he edited Homage to Vallejo, Greenhouse Review Press. In 2008Alcatraz Editions published Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems & Poetics from California, edited with Gary Young, And in 2011 The Backwaters Press in Omaha, NE published ASPECTS OF ROBINSON: Homage to Weldon Kees, edited with Christopher Howell. He is presently editing Messengers to the Stars: a Reader and New Selected Poemsof Luis Omar Salinas for Tebot Bach’s Ash Tree Poetry Series, due in 2013.
His criticism, reviews, and interviews appear inAmerican Poetry Review, AWP Writer’s Chronicle, Crazyhorse, The BloomsburyReview, Poet Lore, The New Leader, Quarterly West, the Denver Quarterly, South Florida Poetry Review, New Virginia Review, and Pequod. He contributed the entry on Ernesto Trejo to the Dictionary of Literary Biography: Chicano Writers Edition, Second Series, and on Thomas McGrath’s Selected Poems to Contemporary Literary Criticism Yearbook,# 50,1989. His essay on Charles Wright’s Xionia is collected in The Point Where All Things Meet, Ed. Tom Andrews, Field Editions, 1995; an essay on Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End, “Sounds That Could Have Been Singing” appears in Charles Simic: Essays On ThePoetry, Ed. Bruce Weigl, Univ. of MI Press, l996. For Charles Scribner's Sons American Writers series he has contributed the essays on Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Luis Omar Salinas, and Peter Everwine. Appreciations: Reviews, Views, & Interviews: 1975-2000was published by Millie Grazie Press, 2001.
Among many anthologies, his work is collected in: the Bread Loaf anthology Poems For A Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry, Univ. Press of New England, l993; Bless Me Father: Stories of Catholic Childhood, Penguin l994; Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond To The Nuclear Age, Coffee House Press, The Second Set, Indiana Univ. Press, 1996, Komunyakaa & Feinstein editors; Verse and Universe: Poems About Science and Mathematics, Kurt Brown, Ed., Milkweed Editions, 1998, The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review, Norton, 2000, The POETRY Anthology, 1912-2002, Ed. Joseph Parisi, 2002, and The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best poems from Thirty Years of The Pushcart Prize, 2007.
At the beginning of this summer I got the chance to sit down and chat with one of my favorite writers, professors, and editors, Christopher Buckley. Not one to shy away from giving his opinion, Chris is wonderful to interview. Lob one over the net and he’ll slap it back at you with enough english on the ball to spin your head! He is, in a word, brilliant. Chris’ friends and partners in the crime of the written word read like a Who’s Who of contemporary American poetry. And now, as he retires from teaching, he is poised to take his rightful place as an elder statesman of arts & letters. But fear not, Chris is by no means heading out to pasture. His newest collection, White Shirt (University of Tampa Press), is stunning, and I have it on good authority that he is about to embark as the Founding Editor-in-Chief of a new literary journal.
Here, then, is a far too short in my opinion, hour and a half long conversation with Chris and myself presented as audio with slides and THREE new and previously unpublished poems by my professor, and my dear friend and compatriot, Christopher Buckley. Enjoy!
Creedence Clear Water Metaphysical Reflection
B.A. in English, 21 or 2,
first year teaching Jr. High
and not near enough sense
to buy a breadboard, gas-stingy
Volkswagon, to not dump
my first paychecks into a 1969
Plymouth Roadrunner—383 V-8,
Hurst 4-on-the-floor, and all
the ridiculous creature comforts
of bucket seats, white vinyl landau roof,
blue metallic paint, chromed wheels,
and a Craig 8-track stereo tape deck.
Years of comparative deprivation
driving a 1959 rust bucket Bel Air
covered in Bondo, retreads slick as seals,
had rendered me senseless, left me
with a teenager’s glitzy mind-set
measuring happiness in yards of chrome,
in the percolation of Saturday night
radical cams and air inductions revving
in my synapses.
I drove around
the southland for hours, replaying that title track
from Creedence’s “Green River” album,
though I knew that Fogerty had to be
singing about somewhere beyond
the dry river so named in Orange County;
but I couldn’t have cared less as it blasted out
the wind wings, as the chassis and every
blood cell shook with a steady rumble,
that muscle car guzzling gas
and glorious time.
what I was thinking . . . on the other hand,
since the point, upon reflection, seemed to be
not to do any thinking, I’d have to say
he had no more idea what the hell I was up to
than I did? I was a walking/driving advertisement
for the uselessness and absolute failure
of the long-term positive effects
each and every “steadying influence”
was purported to have on the young . . .
add to that the myth of angels guarding
our direction, helping us make reasonable decisions
And though I could get scratch,
burn rubber 1st to 2nd, and 2nd to 3rd,
I was floored when I filled up
at the Atlantic Richfield station,
handing over $8.27 for a tank of ethyl.
That car was, in the long and short run,
a lead-sled—too heavy to pop a wheelie
or beat someone off the line dragging
half a block on State Street as the light
blinked green. But when I stood
on the accelerator, the engine almost jumped
off the motor mounts as I hit the top end
faster than anyone with any sense
should ever want to.
One day, stupid-sober
in the afternoon, on an empty back road
in Cathedral City—named, once again,
for God-knows-what, there being no
Cathedral within 90 miles of that sand pit—
I took my college buddies Croal and Vander
for a spin in my new ride. Rolled to a dead stop,
slotted in “Green River,” volume cranked
up to 12, revved the V-8 to the red-line
on the tach, and as Fogerty began
to wail at siren volume “Welllllllll . . . “
I popped the clutch and punched it—
tattooing both my pals with the yank-back
of the seat belts, half way to whiplash
as I gunned it 3rd to 4th, windows down,
Creedence blaring with that hard-hitting,
high-manic double-twanged driving lead
reinforced with a gut-thumping bass
as we blasted to 85 mph before I eased off,
howling through the roof as if I’d just
established all the evidence we’d
ever need to prove the existence
of the soul—
sand and grit flying
in the windows, into our eyes and teeth,
our breath coming up short
as our sublime collective ignorance
had us smiling away for the whole half mile,
flying through our lives as if we would be
20 something for the next 40 years.
On the 8th Anniversary of the Beginning of the War in Iraq
Today, among many things, I am sure the clouds have
mislead us . . . as if all we needed
was a little drifting— as if the singing of birds was,
for example, selfless.
Even the breeze, with its transparent wing, returns
with a purpose, innocently enough.
And one argument with the sea is much like another—
the map to life everlasting
available only as it crumbles daily around the edges
of the waves, if we believe
the smoldering intimations of dusk . . . and beneath
the moon it’s anyone’s guess
if anything leads back to that old street, a calm light
burning in the doorway.
I want to genuflect on the sands, surrender peaceably
before five kinds of certainty
descend upon me and the sea’s ink sinks in my veins
spelling out nothing beyond
the implacable chaos of our atoms suspended in some
doubtful mist, haphazard packets
of light recycled against every airy configuration, each
invisible high-wire act
we should have felt closer to all along . . . . So far,
everything looks as if it’s been
to hell and gone across the Anatolian plains, your childhood
home, the 20th century,
a small contentment of dust remaining on the acanthus,
the cat sleeping under the porch,
a small harbor, boats tethered against the wind, chalk marks
on a worried blue . . . the yellow
stars hanging above the clothesline, glistening—if there is pity
in the cosmos, it is not for us.
The Interpretation of Dreams
I don’t know what to think . . .
sitting under the sea-grey acacia,
fog streaming through the gaps
in the pittosporum hedge—
I’ve reached that point
where the Dr. says
a cigar is just a cigar—
I have to give up.
Yet in dreams
I come out punching, bobbing
and weaving in 3/4s speed,
a little bounce still left in the legs . . .
and, though well past my prime,
I still take the mound, shaking
rust from the rotator cuff,
and tossing warm-ups find
the arm’s still live enough to burn
a fast ball by the lead-off man,
direct a little chin-music at
the clean-up hitter, then break
off the curve for strikes. . . .
I’m sweating and twisting, rescuing
myself, digging through the residual
ash tugging in the blood
for the last decade or so.
there is the one in which I lift off
the sidewalk and float over
the pines, fifty feet above the tiled
Spanish roofs, the stands of eucalyptus,
then wake feeling half-way relieved,
as if this is a preview of things to come,
as if there is something in fact to come . . . .
Still, I don’t understand why my father
keeps showing up, making the case
that he’s finally self-conscious,
though he must mean “self-aware,”
who was only ever concerned
with himself. I was happy to let him go
who was never there to begin. He believed
firmly that the clothes make the man,
and ran up charge accounts
at Silverwoods and Tweeds & Weeds—
Florsheim Imperials, French Cuffs,
a rack of knit ties—while I went
to school with holes in the bottoms
of my high-top tennies, and my mother
wore one red cloth coat for years.
He believed anyone in a suit,
and that accounted for business partners
who stole him blind, the excesses of
Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover,
the defeats of Adlai Stevenson and
the popularized racism of George Wallace.
Exceptions were Nikita Khrushchev
and John F. Kennedy, one who hated God
and the other who, as grievously,
was an intellectual—and of course Fidel
was a bad man in his beard and rumpled
My father believed
in The Junior Chamber of Commerce
absolutely, and nominally, but less
actively, in Jesus. He appears
(my father, not Jesus) at various
stages of his life, wearing the snazzy
sport coat and tie of the times to impress
on me he knew what he knew, shaking
his wrist to wind his Rolex, calling attention
to his gold college ring form Humboldt State.
Last time he appeared I launched
three left jabs and a right cross
but connected only with air—
loss of hand speed, leg strength
is the only way I could explain
it to myself as he was an easy target.
I don’t feel things are working out
here—it’s like a TV with only one station
wired in by the state, except perhaps
now that my cat, Cecil B, is coming back
to me. When he was alive, 5 nights out of 7
I was rescuing him from a strange house,
or from the street, keeping him from
skunks, fights with feral toms,
cactus spines, double checking
to be sure I’d not left him
behind—all the predictable
anxieties of daily life
in play, just caring after
my ornery boy.
Most nights he slept
next to my head on his own pillow
and we probably shared the same
uneasy streets. For two months after
he died of cancer, I had no dreams
of him; but now he returns and
I collect him up each night in my arms
and take him home so he can lie by me
and be contented on the couch,
and that seems to have knocked down
10% of the pain of his loss, though
I go around every day conscious
of his absence, wondering what there is
to understand beyond death?