David Southward


The Dog Walkers

I watch them from a window at the gym:
his coltish Boxer, eager to explore
the hind-parts of her Golden Labrador,
strains at the harness, pulling with such vim
the poor guy’s hauled into a tug-of-war—
as if the Boxer now were walking him
in circles around the Lab. With leg and limb
caught between spiraling leashes, soon all four
are tangled in desire’s warp and woof.
He looks embarrassed, kneeling to unweave
the damage. But she laughs! His Boxer’s goof
has won her over; both act less aloof;
and while the dogs, well sniffed, make signs to leave,
she rattles off a number to retrieve.

Advice for Poets

Write what you want to read, they say.
It sounds like good advice—
but what if your taste in poetry
has never been precise?

I’m awed by Milton’s epic sweep
and Dickinson’s compression;
equally wowed by Housman’s poise
and Plath’s white-hot confession.

The belted joy of Whitman’s song
can bring me to my knees;
more quietly, I’m moved to tears
by Rilke’s elegies.

It’s fun to exercise one’s brain
on Donne’s ingenious riddles—
then strip down for a cleansing dip
in Frost’s New Hampshire idylls.

After a dizzying metrical flight
with Poe and his raven love,
I revel in the down-to-earth
free verse of Rita Dove.

Give me a twenty-first century voice
with wounds still raw from the street!
But pair it with a ballad rhyme’s
relaxed, ancestral beat—

with Stevens’ meditative depth;
a sculpture like Millay’s;
Blake’s fervor; plus the restlessness
and wrath of Terrance Hayes.

Write what you want to read? Okay,
but what does the crystal ball
advise for writers like myself—
who want to read it all?

David Southward teaches in the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His chapbook, Apocrypha, was published by Wipf & Stock in 2018; a full collection, Bachelor’s Buttons, is new from Kelsay Books. David’s poems have appeared in Light, Measure, Stoneboat, THINK, and the anthologies Van Gogh Dreams and Love Affairs at the Villa Nelle. In 2017 he was awarded the Lorine Niedecker Prize from the Council for Wisconsin Writers (selected by Tyehimba Jess) and the Muse Prize from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (selected by Mark Doty). In 2019 his poem “Mary’s Visit” won the Frost Farm Prize for Metrical Poetry. Read more at davidsouthward.com.