Poor-Mouth Jubilee

by Michael Chitwood


“No book about happiness has made me half as happy as I was made by Poor-Mouth Jubilee, Michael Chitwood’s sublime book about sorrow. Chitwood gives sorrow all its due respect — and no more, so the book is often laugh-out funny in its wisdom. Don’t pray for the sick, Chitwood instructs, ‘They have their own problems.’ And Poor-Mouth Jubilee pulses with the exhilaration of being alive.” —Andrew Hudgins

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“Five or six times in the volume, we encounter the word “understory,” that thick bushy place from which deer, wrens, and cardinals appear to the attentive speaker like signs of answered prayer. One of the delights of Chitwood’s work is its rich imagistic fidelity to the natural world of North Carolina with its joe-pye and jimson weeds, where crows “sail to the ground and walk like priests in their cassocks.”—Pater Makuck, The Hudson Review

“No book about happiness has made me half as happy as I was made by Poor-Mouth Jubilee, Michael Chitwood’s sublime book about sorrow. Chitwood gives sorrow all its due respect — and no more, so the book is often laugh-out funny in its wisdom. Don’t pray for the sick, Chitwood instructs, ‘They have their own problems.’ And Poor-Mouth Jubilee pulses with the exhilaration of being alive.” —Andrew Hudgins

“Chitwood seems to be a Buddhist interested in comparative religion, who hails from Appalachia, or he’s a motorcycle-riding philosopher taking dictation from nature, writing its gospel with his trusty crow-quill pen. Facing both personal histories and the fates of nations, Chitwood proves that wit and ongoing exploration of the possibilities of prayer make excellent bedfellows. These poems have at their heart a luminous and generous emotional lucidity.”—Amy Gerstler

“At a time when ‘religion’ is too often misrepresented by literalists and scorekeepers, all through Poor-Mouth Jubilee we’re reminded that genuine belief (and doubt) resists the sound bite. The moment we try to articulate a thing as ineffable as faith, we’re reduced to formality, and too often to formula. This brilliant poet resists such facile — and anti-Scriptural — recourses, paradoxically noting the poverty of his own expression, which for this reader is a richness rare in current poetry.” —Sydney Lea

“In Poor-Mouth Jubilee, Michael Chitwood restores the make-it-new excitement of the first Imagists. Clean, clear, precise, and moving, his poems are free of rhetorical excess and posturing. His concerns are the natural world, family, friendship, health, and the gift and loss of these. Call it the Muse, call it Holy: the Spirit that endows this poetry is evidence of inspiration.”—Mark Jarman

“Michael Chitwood is a poet who is deeply rooted in the things of this earth: trees and flowers, birds and animals, other people’s overheard conversations and stories, and the huge variety of objects surrounding us in daily life. At the same time, he is also a profoundly religious poet. This makes him able to write poems that contemplate our mortality, as so many of the verses in this volume do, with great delicacy, precision, and empathy.” —Wendy Lesser

A Tupelo Masters Series Book

Michael Chitwood’s seventh collection of poems is tremendously varied in shape and pace, from terse, reflexive aphorisms to rangy narratives.

Chitwood says of his new book, “During life struggles, well-meaning people often say ‘I’m praying for you,’ or they offer a secular equivalent. The poems in Poor-Mouth Jubilee explore that sentiment and the ways we use language to understand the myriad forms that intercession might take when asking the big spiritual and emotional questions. The poems in Poor-Mouth Jubilee are ghost stories, both holy and profane, and the ghosts have their motorcycles, their shotguns, and their public address systems.”


mchitwood225Michael Chitwood has worked on a construction crew, in a textile mill, and for a highway department; he is also the author of seven volumes of poetry and two books of essays. Having graduated from the only high school in rural Franklin County, Virginia, he earned a BA in English at Emory & Henry College and went on to work for the University of Virginia Medical Center as a science writer and editor for Helix magazine, meanwhile earning an MFA. For a number of years, he was a science writer and editor at Duke University Medical Center and Research Triangle Institute; he is now a professor at the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.

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Go in Fear of Abstractions


It’s summer now.


But I’m thinking snow,

the snows of yesteryear


with three crows gliding in.


As they alight

Chinese characters form against

the snow’s rice paper.


Wellness.  Beauty.  The Divine.


They are there so suddenly,

blindingly black on white.


But now no snow.

No snow now.



Don’t Complain


I would like to know the dumb joy

of trees, their misspelled love notes,

bs and ds facing the wrong way

and still they are standing.


I think they like their feet wet.

They can stand in a sob all day

and in the evening not think once about lumber.


They invite bees to tickle their genitalia

and bees oblige.


They carelessly grow the fruit of knowledge

and will let it rot to a fare-thee-well.


Some have winged seeds

that clot the mouth of the downspout

and make a black spunk so rich

one or two will live.



Never Take Your Own Advice


Two male cardinals are having at it

in the front yard.

They collide in mid-air, two red fists.

When they take a break

and rest in separate dogwood trees,

their taunts and threats

are rendered in the sweet liquid notes

of pebbles plinking into water,


reminding me of yesterday at dusk

when I walked out to the pond.

A chevron of geese flew over silently,

no blustering honks,

just the whirring of their wings

which they continued to employ

because I was there.



Three Dogs as the Figure of Death


They have found the sunny spot in the yard.


They are in relation, triangulate.


They are like loaves rising, their warm bodies in ferment.





Here Here and Here


The truth is


Say what you will





I see the one most forward as the prayer of the other two.


Fur is its own reward.


They can smell me thinking.


State Bird

The feet of the state bird were used at the throat of the ceremonial robes of natives, oracular clasp at the voice box,

shouts to Walt Whitman, his yawp cranked, hip hop language line, the stuffed state bird wired to his wrist for a portrait,

John James Audubon, deadly painter, still life of the state bird recorded, male and female in the Eden his bird shot preserved,

the state bird in the state tree like a brilliant idea in a green mind, Democracy in the cerebrum of a slaveowner, pink Wallace Stevens deep in the wood of his office reading actuary tables,

on the windshield, the state bird shit of the state bird,

for this line I have imagined Emily Dickinson needed to keep a linen handkerchief embroidered with the state bird in the third drawer of her
bureau and daily she studied it, her rapid eyes like frightened Beads,

in a diary entry of Shiloh, of Antietam, of the Wilderness, of Gettysburg, of Cold Harbor, no mention of the state bird,

unable to access file ,

the state bird was a compromise in the bicameral legislature,

how would you like to wake up to find your talons stuffed with arrows
and laurel, sporting a Yankee Doodle breastplate and a beak full of

and now the state bird comes to my feeder; I have used his hunger to
gain a pleasant glimpse and he is fed,

William Carlos Williams once sutured up a state bird, performing the
surgery wearing only an old housecoat and his horn-rim spectacles,

Teddy Roosevelt kept a state bird caged and fed it with tweezers,

thirty one state birds were approved by voice vote,

in a flit across the road, this state bird found the state’s official
protection to be no match for the bumper of a late model Caprice and
he has since merged with the macadam in such a flattened form as to
become an actual icon if such a thing is possible which it seems to be here
on Alternative 58 just shy of Dudley,

the state bird is non-migratory,

there was discussion and amendment to the motion of the state bird,

Robert Frost was a dead eye with a sling shot and once killed
and plucked a state bird only to have it fly off later in a poem,

the state bird must consume one-third its weight in insects each day; on
warm summer afternoons the bugs are like nuggets of melting caramel,

Sylvia Plath hated the state bird, hated state, hated the word bird, hated
its red wings and their excitable flutter,

68 yea, 32 nay,

Thomas Jefferson taught a state bird to mimic the opening bars of a
Copland fanfare,

in local news, a Duplin man was fined $200 and court costs for killing a
state bird; the man claimed that he was not intending to kill the bird
but merely to shoot up his neighbor’s unsightly piece of lawn art,

the state bird prefers the understory, its own kind, its actual foot on an actual limb, its local claws, local wings, local beak and local song.