December 27, 2021

Grant Quackenbush


MFA programs have turned poetry into an occupation, and a joke—have weakened American poetry, have desecrated it into artifact instead of the result of a soul’s progress in solitary devotion. [They] have turned it into one more subject in a university or college or private scam operation …
—Franz Wright

Arguably the worst decision I ever made was to go into the poetry biz.
Biz isn’t the right word though since there’s no money in poetry.
Clowns make more peddling balloons, and they don’t shell out x
dollars per year to read books where x is over 50,000 at New
England University. 200K to put some bullshit BA on your CV!?!?
Fuck that. It’s better to have no degree and work at a drive-thru.
Going off to college as an unwitting teenager to major in art
history or literature or cultural anthropology because it sounds
intelligent is stupid. Most likely you’ll graduate with debt up to your
jugular just to be able to count in French: un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq …
Kids, don’t pay to study the humanities. They’re a financial trap.
Learn a skill that’s actually marketable, like mixology or auto-
motive repair, neither of which require an overpriced education.
Now, combine the absurd cost of tuition with the growing problem
of censorship on college campuses and it’s no wonder normal
people (if you just got offended you’re a politically correct schmuck)
question the value of taking classes taught by wackos high on Mary J.
Remind me again what I was talking about? Oh yeah: my genius deci-
sion to become a poet. Not only is it impossible to generate cash—
that is, unless you’re handed an award and land a gig at some big
university—but if you’re a conservative your career will go poof.
Vanish. All this is to say this is the last poem I’ll ever write.
Why invest time in something that will only lead to a dead end?
Xerox the above and distribute it, then, because no academic
yearbook of a press will ever publish it for fear of inciting a mob
zookeepers couldn’t keep at bay. If asked who wrote it, say: No idea.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021


Grant Quackenbush: “This poem is part of a series of nine double abecedarians and is the last poem from my forthcoming book, Off Topic. I finished it around February of 2020 and haven’t written a poem since. Nor do I ever plan to again. It simply isn’t worth the investment, especially nowadays with cancel culture in full effect. That said, I’m surprised the poem and book were published due to their iconoclastic content. But as thankful as I am, it’s now time to move on.” (web)

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November 18, 2020

Grant Quackenbush


I like to pretend I’m a billionaire.
It takes the edge off being broke.
When I wake up in my shoebox room
which I share with a family of rats
(I hear them at night
playing Scrabble in the walls)
I say: I choose to live this way. I like rats.
When I go to work and the boss
tells me to move faster or I’m fired
I think: I could buy this shitty company
and sell it to China if I wanted.
Lah di dah dee, trah lah lah.
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart,
drove a 1979 Ford pickup.
Henry Ford lived modestly in Michigan.
Look Ma! I’m Henry Ford
living modestly in Brooklyn!
I’m wiping my ass with wads of cash!
I’m the richest schmuck in America!
And no one knows it but me.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020
Tribute to Service Workers


Grant Quackenbush: “I’ve been working in the service industry since I was seventeen years old. I’m now 31. Mostly this has involved working as a bus boy or dishwasher in restaurants. During that time I began to write poetry and eventually got my MFA last year from Boston University. But now, after having gotten my MFA, I’m back to working in the service industry: I’m bartending at a hotel in Tribeca. Working in the service industry has affected my poetry by making it more raw than the average poem. I also try to use common speech and punctuation, and strive to make my poetry accessible rather than opaque and academic.”

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August 14, 2015

Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2015: Artist’s Choice


Photograph by Aparna Pathak


Grant Quackenbush


Goats are reported to have been liberated on the Auckland Island group in the second half of the nineteenth century as food for castaways.
—Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand

Then Goat bleated unto Ram: “Sacrifice
your kid Billy, whom you love, for to prove
your loyalty. Shove him off the ledge of
the ruin on Vert Mountain; let him fall
from your care into the green-green pasture
of my shelter, where he will wait for you.”

And so the next morning Ram slipped away
from the thatched pen in which he slept and was,
unbeknownst to him, being kept. Biting
down on the palm twine that divided him
from the tall order he divined, he yanked
toward his heart and released the bowline knot.

I will multiply your offspring tenfold …
remembered Ram who, looking at his kid
sleeping between two square bales like slices
of bread, had his doubts. Bowing his pale, horned
head, Ram mouthed a prayer to Goat so that,
had rounder eyes been watching, they’d have thought

he was chewing cud. “O Goat,” he began,
“forgiving and all-knowing Goat, how white
your beard must be, how bloated your belly …
Give me the strength to send my kid Billy
three-hundred feet through the clear morning air,
cold as it may be. For though my forehead

is thick rock, the brains behind it are clay;
they want me to ask if there’s any way
you can take this cup from my cloven hands,
my hoof-shaped bleating heart. But, since there’s not,
fill me with your will. Place it on my tongue
like a strange berry, hard yet soon to be

jelly. I’ll eat anything, even if
it kills me: rhubarb, cactus, my own flesh
if I was hungry enough … O, spare him!”
Finished praying, Ram nudged Billy awake
and the two set out for the mountain where
Ram was to offer Billy up, or down.

After thirty minutes of traversing
over thorny, flowerless brambles and
gopher holes ransacked by snakes, they arrived
at the switchbacks that led to the ruin,
and stopped. “Um … dad?” asked Billy. “Where’s the grass
you spoke of last night? The red grass you said

I’d eat for breakfast? My stomach’s bleating
and my legs are shaking. I feel as though
I’m about to fall over.” “Come, my kid,”
answered Ram. “Let us go up this hillside
to see if we can see the grass below.”
And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the summit of the mountain
and saw the skeleton of the ruin
or the ruins of a skeleton—bones
piled so high Ram wondered how many
other goats had taken the plunge, and died—
Ram told Billy to go out on the ledge

above the verdant valley and look down
to get a view of the ground. “I’ll be right
behind you,” he explained, “but I’m afraid
I cannot follow you.” Confused but not
troubled, wide-eyed but bat-blind, Billy stepped
onto the concrete beam as if walking

the rotten plank of life, his knees knocking
together like a colt’s trying to stand
in its new world governed by gravity.
“Don’t look back,” Ram warned, “or you might see me
for who I really am: not Ram, but Lamb,
less a goat than a sham.” Then he lowered

the log of his neck and took a deep breath
and began his accelerated charge
when a cigar-choked croak that ricocheted
off the crags and clouds bellowed, “Hey! Dumb goats!
Get the hell down from there!” Peering over
the edge of the end as if staring out

an open penthouse window, Ram noticed
the source of this unintelligible,
goatish voice: the hairless, hornless monkey
who’d been feeding them for the past two weeks
and who was now running up the switchbacks
like the blinding sparks of a burning fuse.

Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2015
Artist’s Choice Winner

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Aparna Pathak, on her selection: “I read all the poems quite a number of times and enjoyed all the philosophical, mythological, psychological or personal ways in which photograph has been interpreted. Some poems were highly emotive while others had beautiful imagery and imagination. There were quite a few poems about fears of a parent or a child, but Grant Quackenbush’s ‘Ram Tested On Mount Vert’ grabbed my attention. The very first line gave me a judder and kept me inquisitive and interested till the end even though I was aware of its mythological connection. The dilemma of mind and heart touched me immensely. Lines like, ‘Ram was to offer Billy up, or down,’ creates suspense and ‘over thorny, flowerless brambles and gopher holes ransacked by snakes, they arrived at the switchbacks that led to the ruin, and stopped,’ creates anxiety. The use of simile in ‘his knees knocking together like a colt’s trying to stand in its new world governed by gravity’ is remarkable. The ending lines leave reader thoughtful. It is a well written poem where every stanza is well composed.” (website)

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