William Varner

I took a poetry workshop in college taught by a graduate student. Up until then I thought poetry ended with Whitman. She handed out a copy of John Balaban’s poem “Words for my Daughter” and I stood up and said “wait, this guy teaches here?!!” I left right then to find him. I never really did meet him. But I’ve been loving contemporary poetry ever since.

Contact info: varnerdotwilliamat at gmail dot com

Accolades: Third Prize in the Erskine J. Contest from Smartish Pace (2010)


    • Boston Review
    • The Cincinnati Review
    • Vallum
    • Harpur Palate
    • Green Mountains Review



Your honor, my client wishes to plead
Both guilty and not guilty. This has nothing
To do with any kind of moral wrongdoing.
That’s between him and God, or a higher
Power or whatever it is he believes.
You see the unemployed and convalescing
Like to see mug shots in their local paper
Today’s most viewed article comes compliments
Of the Sunshine law, police public relations, blind conscience.
Now it is my understanding that the arresting officer
Worked all week long on his affidavit
Keeping it safe from the pigeons
And their shimmering oily water necks
They’d snatch it in an instant
The lieutenant said. And I believe him
To a point, but my point is
That the wetland we pass on the main road
To the courthouse is spotted with gray branchless trees
Murdered by too much water. Who
Is to blame? The clouds that brought the rain?
They eluded apprehension long ago, and we are left
With groundwater’s refusal to testify and taking the fifth.
No, there is no way to know
What is and isn’t to be prosecuted
In the court of spiritual misdemeanors.
I say let my client walk, your honor
Punish him with the knowledge
That there is no way to teach
His children right from wrong.

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a typo that became a literary publication


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