About the dead man and poetry

I previously posted this poem in 2010. I was asked yesterday if I knew about Dead Man Poetry. So here is my effort to emulate the originator.

This particular form of poetry was developed by Marvin Bell and his Dead Man Poetry. Mr. Bell explains it in his own words:

The Dead Man poem is a form I created a few years ago and then couldn’t shake. Dead man poems come out of an old Zen admonition that says, “Live as if you were already dead.” But you needn’t feel remorse. The dead man is alive and dead at the same time. He lives it up, he has opinions, he makes bad jokes, he has sex. Is he me? No, but he knows a lot about me. Dead Man poems come in two parts. Each line of poetry in a dead man poem is a compete sentence, long or short.

The form is comprised of two sections. One is titled “The Dead Man and …” and the second “More About the Dead Man and … .” All lines are written as sentence lines and enjambment matters quite a bit. The first two lines generally turn back on each other. The two versions seem to discover or expose different things about the Dead Man, one more internal in nature, the other external.

With apologies to Marvin Bell!


Live as if you were already dead.
– Zen admonition

1. About the dead man and poetry

The dead man is not a poet for he does not comprehend
the shades and nuances of meaning.
Even though he cannot understand, the dead man utters
words with weight.
Arcane in life, the dead man is the papyrus upon which
is written the prose of time.
For him time has no meaning other than dividing day from night.
He has always been and will always be the digger of incantatory
graves, the filler of assonance holes.
The mere existence of him does not create meaning for his
translation into thought lacks content.
In thought the dead man is described by lyrical cantata and
linen shrouded psalms.
There is never music in his rhyme for his speech is not
connected to the song of the universe.
Whenever there is hope, love, vision, purpose: he consumes
them from a burial ash urn.
Lacking the eyes to see other than his self, he has shunned the
visceral meat of satisfaction.
Living is not a choice or an occurrence for in living there can
be supreme gratification without desire.
Yet, for him the skill to convey profound emotional insight is
a death march through a literary nightmare.
He cannot perform his work since he has no ability to create
the most indistinct utterance of sound.
He has become a scapular shell of dried skin hanging in an
ancient stony chapel, weighted down by the chant of hooded
vicars who would utter those poetic verses he could not scribe.
The dead man has become the succulent pupa of belief that shares
no today, no tomorrow, only the injustice of the past where
there is no poetry of life.

2. More about the dead man and poetry

The dead man never could be a part of a slam.
The dead man could not produce a readable chapbook.
His only concern is the stillness and breathlessness of cold marble.
For him the dank earth is a Ginsberg elegy.
The Dead man could not withstand the withering wind of criticism
without disintegrating.
Never having acuity has given him no useful verse.
It could not be said of him that he had a poetic wisdom tooth for
dead man had lost his teeth.
When dead man is want to reason, he fails not understanding
the why.

© 2010, Donald Harbour

I write because

A poetry prompt group in which I participate, We Write Poems, wants us to write a line poem about: “I write (because).”  There are many reasons why one writes, however the greatest is most likely an inner urge that needs satisfaction and the pure pleasure of putting thought to written word. So here are my thoughts, some of them, the others I will keep to myself. I like to be a little unpredictable.


I write to express my contentious and clamoring inner voice.
I write to better understand humanity, the world, and our place in it, and why emotion becomes an insipid event for those who do not understand poetic verse.
I write to define how life’s emotions impact our relationship with self.
I write to paint a vivid memory upon the wheel of time.
I write to fulfill the artistic side of my nature with creation my canvas,
words my pallet, and poetic form my brush.
I write to leave a lasting evidence of my journey through this moment of existence.
I write so that my words might be a light for others to find their way.
I write to satisfy a natural urge, as one needs food to survive, poetry is the  sustenance to my soul.
I write to say somethings that need to be said and are better said in a poetic verse regardless of where the chips fall.
I write because Gaea and I find it is a spiritual experience that enlightens us together.
I write because there is wonder in the diversity of words and their challenging meanings.
I write because I find camaraderie, and appreciation in the company of poetry and poets.
I write because other than my darling wife Luscious, poetry is my literary mistress full of beauty and gratification.

©2012, Donald Harbour

The Soul’s Poetry seeks Absolution

I once faced this world bound and cast in a pit
of despair.
Words saved me.
I do not claim poetry,
it has claimed me for good
or worse.

The ache with in pounds upon my soul
seeks absolution through its complaint,
those observed moments of life
where truth
meets the lie.

As oil and water separate,
knowing the difference

What I feel is not given to know.

You would not understand.

You would walk along the sandy beach
looking only at the placid surface
of that which is me beneath the waves.

Never knowing the depths.

Never knowing the leviathans there.

My greatest fear is that
there is more.
Something in the dark depths of me
that must be,
should be written.

My greatest fear is that you will never
Reach out and grasp a drop of this water.
These salty tears that would give meaning
to the poetry
I was given to give.

The fear that you will pass by these words and
they will die
as each sunset does,
never to be seen again.

Will you
remember only the sunset?

©2011, Donald Harbour

In dreams of thee

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the best known autho...

Edgar Allan Poe

All hurriedly she knelt upon a bed,
Upon the quiet mountain top.
For her the fair and debonair,
For her this rhyme is penned.
And in thine eye a kindling light,
The agate lamp within thy hand.
So sweet the hour, so calm the time,
The night, though clear, shall frown.
Than that colder, lowly light,
When the hours flew brightly by,
Than to love and be loved by me.
And thus the words were spoken,
By him who, as he pens them, thrills to think,
How often we forget all time, when lone,
In dreams of thee; and therein knows
A soul that knew it well.
Only this, and nothing more.


This form of poetry is called a Cento. It uses lines from poems by another poet, in this case Edgar Allan Poe, to create a poem. I do hope that he will forgive me and take back the raven now perched above the chamber door. The following is a list of the Poe poems as the lines were used from first to last “In dreams of thee.”

Al Aaraaf
The Sleeper
A Valentine
To Helen
Spirit of the dead
Evening Star
Annabel Lee
The Bridal Ballad
To Marie Louise (Shew)
To One Departed
The Happiest Day
The Raven


The magical joy of poetry

Writing a poem has no form or fancy.
The words tumble across my mind,
Falling, fluttering as snow flakes
On a barren field of conversation.
I am struck by the pose of a tree,
A jagged sentinel, it watches,
As it has watched the long count years.
Its song in the breeze whispers to me,
Words spoken in raspy coughs and sighs,
Rattled in the tenuous verse of leaves.
I write its words, sonorous wisdom,
These words spoken on the wind.
A poem does not require thought,
It exists in the moment of its creation.
The waters of its spring flow in tendrils,
The lines course across the paper
Pooling in a readers heart and soul,
There the conversation takes life,
Living in the magical joy of poetry.

© 2011, Donald Harbour

Lost to Time

Amid the pounding –
Of the past’s distant rolling thunder,
Memories are shattering in a shower of tinkling glass.
These mirrors of our lives reflect –
Who we were,
Who we’ve become.

A glass menage –

A fun house of distorted images,

Forms warped by the very substance
Of tomorrows reflections.

Night’s dark shadows cast.
Lying flat upon the landscape of this moment,
This yesterday.
Sentinels of our passage
Toward the inevitable threshold
Of eternity.
Smiling on a fools errand
The soul reclines
Upon a promise of salvation.
There are times when
We feel lost in the cauldron of creation,
Walking into the fog of ones kismet,
Feet dragging to slow the step.
There is no stopping along the way,
A pause is movement
Facing destiny.
So we continue,
Our path littered with life’s sparkling gems,
The mist of existence surrounds us,
We pass and become lost to time.

©2009, Donald Harbour