Michael Cantor


The Elements of Style

In formal writing, the future tense requires shall for the first person, will for the second and third. The formula to express the speaker’s belief regarding his future action or state is I shall; I will expresses his determination or his consent. A swimmer in distress cries, “I shall drown; no one will save me!” A suicide puts it the other way: “I will drown; no one shall save me!” In relaxed speech, however, the words shall and will are seldom used precisely; our ear guides us or fails to guide us, as the case may be, and we are quite likely to drown when we want to survive and survive when we want to drown. —The Elements of Style, Strunk and White

I know that I shall scream to all who pass,
“I’m fucking drowning—save my ass!”
And hope they never heard of William Strunk,
for if they have, I’m fucking sunk.

Canon Fodder

I’ll stay within the canon, that seems wise,
no need to entertain the middle-browed—
and keep it safely banal—not too proud
or sexual; eschew the lewd surprise
that is my trademark; carefully disguise
all ribald instincts so that the formal crowd
in made-to-measure wear can bear its loud
support of Petrarch Opens Laura’s Eyes.

Perhaps a different tale of courtly love?
Or focus on Demeter, and good rhymes?
(A reworked myth has won it several times.)
But wait—I think for this year’s Nemerov
I’ll celebrate the pure, exquisite bliss
of Dante, finally banging Beatrice.


Michael Cantor’s full-length collection, Life in the Second Circle (Able Muse Press, 2012), was a finalist for the 2013 Massachusetts Book Award for Poetry.  A chapbook, The Performer, was published in 2007; and his work has appeared in The Dark Horse, Measure, Light, Raintown Review, SCR, Chimaera, The Flea, and numerous other journals and anthologies.  He was also a finalist in the Nemerov (twice), Richard Wilbur, Able Muse and Robert Penn Warren poetry competitions, and won the New England Poetry Club Gretchen Warren and Erika Mumford prizes.  A native New Yorker, he has lived and worked in Japan, Latin America and Europe, and presently resides on Plum Island, north of Boston on the Massachusetts coast.