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John Caddy
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John Caddy







over 330 pages

Milkweed Editions

March 2008

NEW! With Mouths Open Wide: New and Selected Poems (March 2008)

The Color of Mesabi Bones
Winner Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Minnesota Book Award

Morning Earth: Field Notes in Poetry
Eating the Sting

Presences the Blood Learns Again


At first I wrote poetry. Then, with magazine publication, I began to be introduced as a published poet. With book publication I allowed myself to be simply a poet. My love for words and rhythm is as strong as my love for Earth. For me, maturing was a process of discovering what I was ‘for.’ I found that to stay sane I had to create things—poems, furniture, sculpture—and I had to be helpful to people. So I became a teacher and poet. I was part of the protest movement during the Vietnam War, and wrote many protest poems. That war broke my heart, and nearly my spirit. Students of mine died there. I lost America then, lost all the happy myths I had grown up with.

To survive I went into the north woods with some equally disillusioned friends and began Sundog Environmental Learning Center. I did not write for some time. But the woods did their thing and helped me heal. I began writing again, about trying to grow up in a family of heavy drinkers where anger was glacial and pervasive more than hot. Poet Tom McGrath encouraged me to include the working life of the mining town I’m from. These poems eventually became The Color of Mesabi Bones, which I kept dropping and coming back to. The subject matter was intractable.

In the late 70s, my wife and I returned to the city, and I began doing lots of woodworking and writing again. In 1984 jazz composer Pat Moriarty, choreographer Susan DeLattre, and I won a Studio X-2 Experimental Collaboration grant to perform my poem-cycle The Heronry, as jazz, dance and spoken word. In 1986 I won Milkweed Editions’ Lakes and Prairies Award, which included the publication of Eating the Sting and The Heronry in one volume. I began again working on Mesabi Bones, and began to apply for grant monies. In the late 80s, health was a struggle which culminated in a cervical fusion of four vertebrae.

In short order, I then won a MN State Arts Board Fellowship in Poetry, the Loft-McKnight Award in Poetry, and the Poets & Writers Writers Exchange competition, which sent me touring the country coast to coast. In 1989 I won the Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship, and late that year, Milkweed editions published The Color of Mesabi Bones, which garnered many reviews and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry and the Minnesota Book Award. At the same time we built a house on ten acres we had purchased in 1978.

In early 1994 I had a kind of writing epiphany; poems flowed out of me like water from a faucet for two or three months. It was the best time of my life. Then, in May, I had a stroke. The whole world changed. Suddenly I was no longer left-handed; my damaged brain retained no concept of “left.” Since then I have been hemiplegic (paralysis of left side). Unbalanced. Typing has become one-handed, slow. My right side gets beat up; I’ve had carpal tunnel surgery. I did recover enough that I can walk, with a lurch. I was delighted to discover I could still make poems, and found that I had passed through my anger and my healing and it was time to write poems in celebration of life. Since my stroke I have written four books and published two of them. Finally I have an excuse for failures of memory: brain damage. And the parking isn’t bad.

My speech is not what it was, and it was with fear that I began public poetry readings again. But people have been wonderfully generous to my clumsy tongue, and I have done many readings since, both here and in Britain.

In 1998 I began writing a small Earth poem every weekday morning, which I then emailed to subscribing classrooms in my Self-Expressing-Earth program at Hamline University. ) I found the discipline of having to write and immediately share a poem both frightening and surprisingly do-able. If you write poems long enough, you don’t need to rewrite much. But the key to this new practice was celebration, for the poems were all in response to gifts I had received from Earth that morning or the day before. The gifts are gifts of beauty, surprise, laughter, intricacy, and sometimes painful lessons, which are a joy delayed. To begin, I just did this practice in eight-week school-scheduled stints; since 2001 I’ve written and emailed the poems year-round to a steadily growing list of friends, classroom teachers, and subscribers who read about the project in magazines or newspapers. Morning Earth poems now whisk themselves off to five continents.
In 2003, Milkweed Editions published a collection of these poems as
Morning Earth: Field Notes in Poetry.

My latest collection of poetry was published in March 2008. It is With Mouths Open Wide: New and Selected Poems (Milkweed Ediitions). The book is half new poems and half selections from previous books.

In August 2005 the www.Morning website went online. It is intended as a resource for earth education, focusing on the connection between arts and ecology. It is now, in late 2007, some 400 pages large, and has been visited by a half million people from more than 100 countries. I have researched and written every page; truly a labor of love.

click for information about John Caddy's Books



Eating the Sting

from Eating the Sting

Caught in the snapped circle of light
on the cookshack oilcloth,
an upright deermouse holding yellow
in her fine fingers
like an ear of black-striped corn,
a wasp I'd slapped dead earlier.

She stares, belly resonating, round above
a scatter of brittle wing, bits, a carapace—
she has already eaten the stinger—
stares at me, still,
something thrumming in her eyes

beyond herself, a mouse stung
onto an edge as far from cartoons
as the venom she's chewed into food.

She cocks a fawn ear now,
trembling poisonchanger,
caught in the circle of light
I've thought myself in at times,

but never sure, I ask her softly how
she does it, if I can learn this turning
of sting into such food as startles in her eyes,
learn to suck pain into every sense
and come up spitting seeds, force poison
to a tear held fierce between my lips
and whirl it into tongue which sings, but

here I've come too loud: She drops the husk,
fusses whiskers with her paws, kicks
a scrap of wing aside, and whispers
thanks for the corn,

steps backward off the table
(and so potent she is with wasp)
flips a circle through light and
lands running on her leaf-toed feet.


Learning Ketchup

from The Color of Mesabi Bones

Dinnertime: Digestion dependent on the man's
forbearance, the woman ready to be accepted
or be flayed, children wan and seated,
the formal requirements of Table.

The boy sits nearest the man, in his reach.

Tonight, meatloaf and potatoes, creamed
corn, homemade bread, lettuce, dills,
the ketchup bottle, tall and narrow-necked.

Table is the place for all to learn eating
from the man, who never grasps how
they can be so blind to his correction.

!—The boy hammers the end of the bottle again, no
ketchup, !— hammers, no ketch—the man abruptly
snatches it away, shows him How, rapping
the bottle neck against the edge of his hand.
It doesn't work. Doesn't work. Doesn't! The man
lifts the stubborn open end to his eye, stares it

down while a quirky deathwish in the boy's arm
bypasses his brain and calmly reaches across plates and
openhanded almost nonchalantly pops the bottle bottom.

Table frozen, forks halfway to mouths—a sudden red
gluts the man's right eye. The boy will die. Knows it,
can't believe—but cannot hold his laugh, the woman
squeezes her mouth but explodes, brother, sister
all rocking, rocking, and finally the redeyed man himself
cannot but laugh and laugh, the boy unbelievably alive,

the man for once himself the fool, for once seeing red and laughing




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