February 10, 2021

Ron Koertge


Show us on the map where you often lurk.
Don’t be afraid. It’s just the two of us.

Would a cigarette help? A soft drink?
Start with the woodsman’s hut? These places 

here and here and here—what are they called?
Take your time. I can offer you money,

and a new identity. Why even hesitate?
Look, this wristwatch belonged to my father. 

It’s yours if you tell the truth.
Those sites I asked you about earlier—

your favorite was Bridesmaid’s Dress.
Don’t embarrass us both by pretending.

Name your most frequent visitor.
That’s right. Now we’re getting somewhere. 

Pretend I am young and innocent. Say to me 
exactly what you would say to her.

Do you think you can fool me? And we were 
getting along so well. I’ll ask another way.

This item of intimate apparel is called
a galvanic bonnet-with-blue-cornflowers.  

Put it on. Now point to Grandma’s house. 

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020


Ron Koertge: “When I read that wolves had been reclassified as a protected species, the poetry apparatus I keep well-oiled turned itself on. When it comes to writing, and I tell my students this all the time, I’m a big believer in ‘What If.’ So what if hunters couldn’t hunt? What might they do instead?” (web)

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April 9, 2018

Ron Koertge


Isn’t there always a bird in the airport?
Here’s one who got by without a passport,

surprising the uniformed TSA folks,
and setting off a lazy series of jokes

about flying for free. This sparrow
navigates the crowded, narrow

lanes that lead to the waiting 747s
about to penetrate the local heavens.

We wait and watch and read
and listen to the nearby child plead

with her parents to do something
about the poor bird reappearing

now here now there but clearly
scared and lost and probably

an orphan! The parents say, “Hmmm.”
So the child, flushed and overcome,

takes matters into her own hands.
Breathing hard, she stands and scans

the sun-shot, glassy cage we’re in.
She’s off, nearly as fast as her twin—

the bird in question. At first it’s cute:
a kind of game called LAX Pursuit:

she dodging totes and roller bags,
the other swapping zigs for zags.

And then the bird careens into
a wall resembling something blue

out there. The child’s scream
shatters each vacation dream

and brings the dreamers to their
feet to stand and mostly stare.

The cops show up. They close
around the scene, blue shadows

who whisk the child away.
The parents tag along in disarray.

Someone with a handkerchief
disposes of the lost and brief-

lived bird. Magazines reopen,
someone checks her suntan lotion.

The dreams return: a turquoise sky,
drinks that stun, fish that fly.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

[download audio]


Ron Koertge: “I was writing poems that were so easy-going they could have been prose. When that happens, I fall back to fixed forms and fool around with sestinas and villanelles and things like that for a while. The incident in the poem—a bird more or less trapped in an airport waiting area—made me want to be trapped in a very fixed form, so couplets stepped up. Some of the rhymes fell into place. With others I’d look for a likely word then a less likely but more interesting one would volunteer. Sometimes things just work out.” (web)

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October 11, 2017

Ron Koertge


Once my friend Rusty and I saw that movie, we couldn’t think of anything else. Sometimes we wanted to go to the moon in small space suits and surprise them. Other times we wanted to be Cat Women. The possibility of a new and feline gender made us queasy and excited. We fantasized about pouncing on our schoolyard tormentors and tearing their throats out with our claws and fangs. Then we would change back into boys with baseball gloves who were interested in Marilyn and Becky, pretty girls in our grade who wore fuzzy socks. But we weren’t just boys. We were Cat Women, too. We prowled on our way to school. We ate only fish sticks and drank only milk. We thought some day we would marry girls like Marilyn and Becky but never tell them that we, Rusty and I, dreamed the same dream every night: on the moon with our Cat Women friends: playing with a ball of yarn, grooming each other, watching for a rocket ship which we hoped would never come. 

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017


Ron Koertge: “I love movies and see about 50 a year. In theaters. DVDs and Netflix aren’t part of that 50. I see a lot that way, too. I’m always available for a poem, or at least that’s the idea. There’s a cool video rental place in South Pasadena called Videotheque. Big old place with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of DVDs. They also have a poster outside; it’s under glass like in an old-fashioned Orpheum or Rialto, and it changes every few weeks. One evening there was the poster for Cat Women. I could feel the warm breath of the muse, so I just stood there for a while. I thought about the poem a lot, stroked it in a way. Then pretty soon—presto: There it was.” (website)

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August 3, 2016

Ron Koertge


That letter you received last Tuesday, the one with
the official seal, was not meant for you. We hope
you have not read it.

We know you like to put things off. Perhaps
the letter is lying on that yet-to-be-paid-for coffee table
with the coupons and bills?

We hope so! The letter was meant for another citizen
who resembles you in many ways, but who is not you.
Only you are you.

Destroy the letter now! You do not have to drive
to the Fortress. A note will do. No one will come to
your house with a Taser. No one will hurt Sasha,
who is a good dog. We trust you.

If you have read the letter, well, it disturbs us that you
know more than you should. A little knowledge really
is a dangerous thing. Any knowledge, really.

You have been a good citizen up until now, the tapes
show that. Do you know how to forget? Let’s try that
first. Before the other. Simply put the matter out of
your mind.

Continue leaving for work at 7:50 every morning and
walking Sasha in the evening after dinner and before
the curfew. Once you’re sure you have forgotten,
write and tell us.

We know how difficult it can be, remembering
to reassure us that you don’t remember. It’s a fine
line, isn’t it? But it can be done.

Others have, and most are living happy and productive lives.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos


Ron Koertge: “I’ve lived in the L.A. area since 1965. Sure, I came for a job, but I’d been to L.A. briefly and it struck me as wonderfully indifferent to what I did, whom I slept with, what I wrote. For somebody from a little town, that seemed like paradise.” (web)


Ron is the guest on Rattlecast #47! Click here to watch …

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August 1, 2016

Ron Koertge


She appears during my office hour, says a name,
and asks if I remember her son.

“Victor. Sure.”

“Did you know he died?”

That makes me sit up straighter. “Jesus, no.
I’m so sorry.”

She shows me a handful of poems written
in the lilac ink he adored.

“He wrote these in the hospital.
Were the other students kind to him?”

“It was a good class.”

“He talked about it a lot.” She grips a double-strand
of pearls. “I promised him I would stop by.”
I stand to shake hands. Then walk her to
a door that opens to the usual pandemonium:

the insults and flirting and threats of the living.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

[download audio]


Ron Koertge: “I’ve lived in the L.A. area since 1965. Sure, I came for a job, but I’d been to L.A. briefly and it struck me as wonderfully indifferent to what I did, whom I slept with, what I wrote. For somebody from a little town, that seemed like paradise.” (website)

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June 12, 2015

Ron Koertge


The lady at the reference desk just called
to say that Seven Lamps of Architecture
finally came in, so even though it’s raining
I have to put on my turquoise polo because
picking up a new book is a little like
meeting someone for the first time, though
I certainly don’t want Ruskin lighting my
cigarette and asking where I found a shirt
that so perfectly matched my eyes, the way
Oscar Wilde did last week.

I wouldn’t even read Ruskin if I didn’t have
to. He was the jerk who thought all naked
women were going to look like the marble
statues in museums. So when Effie Gray
turned out to have pubic hair he was horrified
and the marriage was never consummated.

Well, I’ll tell you what, Johnny. I’ll drive
over to the library and pick up your book,
but if I don’t like what I see muy rapido
it’s back where you came from. And if
you thought industrial England in 1862
was ugly, wait’ll you see the bottom
of a book drop on a day like this!

from Rattle #13, Summer 2000

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March 31, 2015

Ron Koertge

Q & A

Q: Do you ever borrow from other poets?
A: Absolutely. It’s not larceny, it’s homage.
Q: Critics have said your poems are like Frankenstein’s monster, disparate pieces badly sewn together that end up lurching out of the laboratory and eventually frightening a young woman brushing her blonde hair before going to bed. What’s your response?
A: Say, that’s not bad. Would you mind repeating it slowly?

from Rattle #46, Winter 2014


Ron Koertge: “Tucson, Arizona. Graduate school. 1962. Gerry Locklin shows me some poems of his in The Wormwood Review. The whole magazine knocked my socks off and I said to him, ‘I’ll bet I could write poems like these.’ He said, ‘Give it a try.’ I wrote a few, showed them to him, he gave me some advice, and I put them in the mail. I was 23 or so then, 73 or so now and still at it.” (website)

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