4 Questions: John Yamrus

by CS

What is your earliest memory?

i remember the colors.  the red and white stripes of a t-shirt i wore when i was maybe 5 years old.  the bright blue patches i had on the knees of my pants.  the green of the grass out behind the church where i was an altar boy.  it’s the colors that stick with me the most.  even to this day.  here’s a poem i wrote not so long ago, from my book DOING CARTWHEELS ON DOOMSDAY AFTERNOON, and it’s dominated by colors…

New York just

the same.

i remember
as a kid
everything was
grey and brown

like the old movies,

and my uncle
had this
2nd floor
with a single bulb
hanging from a wire
at the top of the stairs.

i remember the night
someone dropped
a bag of bottles
down the steps,
and the neighbors yelled
and my uncle yelled back
and the soft greys and warm browns
felt safe
and we lounged around
in the alleys of the universe.

no, New York’s not
the same.

nothing is.

except for maybe
that old girl,

What was your first acceptance/publication?

i lied my way into getting published.  i was just a relative kid and me and my buddy who were both aspiring writers, were talking about the double whammy we were running into with the magazines.  you see…editors are dopes.  sheep.  they’re all afraid to take a chance.  and when i’d send something off to a magazine, they’d almost always write back asking where i’d been published and what awards had i won.  well, without them, the answer was nowhere and none.  it got to be a running joke with us.  so much so that one night he and i were finishing off a bottle of vodka and we were standing on the corner of Oliver and Wakefield streets and we were (as always) talking about our lack of publications and awards…and he looked up at the street sign…grabbed the bottle of vodka…and said to me…”here, i award you the Wakefield Prize!.”  The next morning, when i sent off my usual batch of stuff to the magazines, i included the note that i was recently awarded the prestigious Wakefield Prize and would they consider publishing my work.  well, a couple of weeks later, i got a letter in the mail from an editor of a fairly large poetry magazine, saying he heard about my winning the Wakefield Prize (congratulations!), and he’d like to publish some of my stuff in his very next issue. so much for editors.

Print or electronic?

Print. electronic’s a waste of time and gets absolutely no respect.  i don’t care how small or shitty the magazine is…if it’s print, it wins out over electronic every single time.

Do you write while listening to music, and if so, what do you listen to?

Right now, it’s Charlie Gracie and also the Mississippi Sheiks.  music’s a big part of my poetry.  Miles Davis.  James Brown.  1950s Doo Wop groups.  old stuff, mostly.  here’s something from one of my books:

driving toward Lancaster,

route 222,
listening to James Brown.

James Brown,
who at times could care less for lyrics…

James, who once said:
“if you ain’t got
enuf soul,
let me know,
cuz i got soul to burn”.

James, sweating, singing,
dropping to the floor…

and i look out the window
to my right
and see two farmers
hands on hips,
next to a dark blue

staring down at a cow
that’s wedged
up against a fence.


like it backed up
in the face of death
until it
couldn’t back up

and the farmers
are probably wondering
how in hell
they’re gonna get that thing
in the truck
before it rains.

and James Brown


music’s all around me.  my latest book, CAN’T STOP NOW! is filled with stuff like that.  people always ask me what do i listen to when i’m writing, and i always answer “nothing”…or, everything.  it’s always there.  always on.  just like me, i guess.

John Yamrus has published more than 1,300 poems in print magazines around the world. He has published 20 books (2 novels and 18 books of poetry). His latest book, CAN’T STOP NOW, is available from Epic Rites Press or Amazon.