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Feature Poet: Derick Burleson
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Derick Burleson

Derick Burleson’s latest book of poems is Use (Calypso Editions, 2012). He is also the author of Melt (Marick Press, 2012), Never Night (Marick Press, 2007), and Ejo: Poems, Rwanda 1991-94 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000). His poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, Poetry and The Smoking Poet (Summer 2010, Issue #15), among other journals. He teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and lives in Two Rivers.




Derick Burleson speaks:


I’m in my eleventh year teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the students in our MFA in Creative Writing Program this past year are among the best I’ve ever seen. Anywhere. I have an MFA from Montana and a PhD from Houston and our current students are as strong as my classmates, many of whom have gone on to have stellar writing and teaching careers, were at that stage in their development. As you’ll see from their poems, stories and essays, the students here are among the most talented and hard working group of writers you’ll find in any community.


Our MFA program has a storied past, founded in the mid 1960s by “The Flying Poets.” A group of graduates from the Iowa Writers Workshop -- Edmund Skellings, Robert King, Donald Kaufman, and Lawrence Wyatt – moved to Alaska and became the Flying Poets when they rented a small plane and flew throughout Alaska reading their poetry to high school students. Their purpose was, " to show young students that literature was a living process and not the '”museum of the printed page.”


The frontier spirit of Alaska still infuses the program, and our students have come to Fairbanks from every region of the continental U.S. to write and to study literature seriously for three years, and to experience the wildness and extremes our far northern community and boreal forests have to offer. They not only survive, they thrive.


Our MFA Program was recently named one of the top 25 underrated programs in the nation by The Huffington Post, and the article quite rightly says: “There aren't many places better than scenic Alaska for aspiring poets and writers to get some serious reading and writing done.”


In the past year, two of our poetry students were named as finalists for the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and one of our fiction students was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Prize. Our students are currently publishing in nationally recognized journals, and we are all very happy to be featured in this special edition of The Smoking Poet.


Midnight in the Garden


So much longing here among the rows

every plant reaching for sun in a short

season. The peas want blossom and bees

and something sturdy to climb the carrots


want deeper. There is so much secret in you.

Twilight late June and dawn again soon.

A voyage awaited us all seed to leaf flower

and seed again. The garden of possibility


where everything is a miracle of sun

transformed to sugar where love and root

and water come together beneath horizon

and what happened here before between


and between. When you take your beloved

in your arms this night hold her as if for

the last time. There is hunger out there.




I’m still alive though all the birch

leaves have fallen and it’s frosted

hard three times now. I’m still alive

and my lilac trumpets darken to

specks of maroon inside though

my leaves are edged with yellow

bright as the fire hydrant they

planted me next to last spring.

Sunset earlier each night and soon

snow. You can still know me.

Most of my friends have died.

You can still know me for a few

more days before I wilt and become

a palimpsest of myself under snow

and twilight. How do I feel? I am

the pale moon. I am the violet

edge of green aurora. I am still

alive. How do I feel? You know

I’m poisonous enough to kill

don’t you? You know my poison

keeps me alive in what breeze

there is until the trembling stops?



Late April


Sun off snow speared my eye

and the river shattered back

into itself. Or out of itself

into ocean into air and bank.

Some trees perished then

swept along along until they

became someone’s wood.

If this is the season of rebirth

why do I feel flayed nerves

twitching exposed like the twigs

of that birch surfacing over

there on the other side of the river?

If this is the season of green

where is it oh where do I go

to hear wren song warblers

ready to nest? Out of itself

the river swept towns clean

off the foundations they had

clung to for human generations.

Out of itself the river roared

welcome to salmon at sea.

Snowmelt ice splinter

sun the knife honed on tilt

wedged a voice into wind

wind into birds returned.







Inside you there is storm is silk is wind

inhabiting words spoken blue ago

before the long storm coming is kind

inside you I lose myself in new snow


Inside you the silk is cloudwind is sky

is snow subsuming blue is blind shadow

inside the silvered moon inside the cry

trees make when storm and moon begin to grow


Inside you me inside you blue nothing

no time no mind wandering far along

the where silkseam joins snowstorm  to circling

words is sound is willow in wind is song


Inside you I am no time a pure taste

of shadowsnow is fire is distance

inside a black feather is wind in space

moonflame corona is nowcloud  is since.



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Summer 2012 Issue