American Poets: Michael Earl Craig

by lizard

When I stopped in to Shakespeare & Co. last weekend, I was surprised to see a new book of poems (titled Thin Kimono) by Montana author Michael Earl Craig. As I was purchasing the book I asked Garth if Michael would be reading any time soon from his new collection. Apparently the reading had already come and gone. Boo. But I was glad to hear the reading was well attended.

Since publishing his first book Can You Relax In My House with Wave Books in 2002, Michael Earl Craig has become something of a fascination in the local literary scene. Put simply, he’s a strange dude—a tall, lanky man who makes his living shoeing horses in Livingston, Montana, Craig is the antithesis of the stereotypical poet. And his poems? Well, the label that most accurately approaches the oddness of his poetic work is Surrealism, but in one of the new poems Craig (sort of) addresses what he thinks about the label that’s been most closely associated with his poetry:


The nitwit danced with the congresswoman
at the spring picnic.

I went down to the river to take a good look at it.
I stood on the bank and said “God, if you do exist—”

A handsome puppet passed, dragging its puppeteer by the hand.

Also a Pekingese wearing a University of Mobile sweatshirt.

To those people who are always talking about “surrealism”
can I suggest opening your fucking eyes?

If you do this, you will see mothballs. And a green nightgown.


Craig’s poems are difficult if you try to extract discernible meaning from them. Instead you have to accumulate sometimes disparate impressions and reflect on the resonance they create placed next to each other. Here is another poem from Craig’s new collection:


I don’t know how to behave but
I know what I believe. I believe
That if I stick my head in the oven
I won’t take it out. I believe in
Corduroy couch cushions. I believe
in digging a tunnel with a small
silver spoon. I believe in tunneling
with this spoon under the city
and never giving up.
I believe in after-breakfast naps
and Russian roulette—
Russian roulette while eating ice cream
as I watch the evening news.
I believe in the evening news.
And I believe in celebrity.

I believe in those photos
on the web of Putin playing doubles
Ping-Pong, outdoors, in his Speedo.
(Find those.) I believe in haircuts
and bubble gum, and putting my face
down into a pillow or cushion,
and that when I do this I will see
the future, plus other cultures, most
of them, and I’ll get work done
that couldn’t be done another way.

I believe in tacos and mortification.
I believe that all people fall
into one of two categories: Doonesbury or Farside.
Well, or Andy Capp. Andy Capp type people.
They’re everywhere.

Michael Earl Craig is weird, and that’s a good thing. It would be easy to write him off because of this, though, and that would be a mistake. By weaving his strange impressions of our culture and our world he illuminates the absurdity that does exist everywhere, like Andy Capp type people. The image of Putin, for example, is totally ridiculous, but pictures of Putin shirtless riding a horse have been seriously reported on the evening news (the news that Craig believes in).

Absurdity is everywhere. Craig offers his unique window into how he processes these absurdities and uses them to produce bizarre poems where anything can happen. It would be worth your time checking him out.

  1. kathleen

    There is NOTHING quite like hearing Earl recite (which seems like the wrong word … Perform?) “Hand Polished”
    2 of us laughed to tears at this poem at an old reading at Shakespeare and then noticed everyone else … Oh so serious … Listening intently. He didn’t mind. Was bemused. Said “I never know how my writing will affect people.””Hand Polished,” with its waitress annoyed at the customer is a favorite as is the whole book “Can You Relax …” Look for him at Book Fest, he said, though I don’t see him on official schedule.

    • lizard19

      kathleen, were you at the touring reading series that happened up Butler Creek five or six years ago? when i first arrived i found out there had been a car accident, and i remember talking to Michael after the readings were done, and he sort of embarrassingly admitted the guy who sped off the road and hit a tree was a friend of his.

      it was one of the best overall poetry readings i had ever attended.

  2. if there is one thing i like most about michael earl craig’s work it is that it is uncategorizable. i see legions of asst profs and graduate mfa’s in complete confusion.

    this pleases bears

  3. lizard19

    i updated the post to include a video of Craig reading at Butler Creek.

  4. Lincoln74

    Check out local poet Dave Thomas

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