Kevin Craft’s Vagrants & Accidentals

This luminous book makes my heart happy. It takes up big themes–like identity, loss, space and time–and fastens them to the page with the smallest of details, precise and exact, that flare up in the imagination, opening into fissures that grow wider and wider with each rereading.

I’ve known Kevin Craft for about 20 years, we once shared an office at Everett Community College, and we both wrote our poems and shared them while wrangling our way from part-time English instructors to full-time, from newbie probationers, to tenured faculty, to …well, you get the picture. He’s still there, and despite a full plate of family, teaching, travel, and somehow managing to be executive editor of Poetry Northwesthas continued to write. And so, this book, Vagrants & Accidentals, which is the seventeenth book in the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series. You can read more about him, and a sampling of his poems, at Poetry Foundation.

Here’s a poem that I keep going back to:

Old Paradox

Consider that a single grain of sand
cannot be arranged so as to form
a heap.

Consider that it’s difficult
if not impossible to discover the exact
moment a tadpole becomes a frog,

the precise instant al dente
loses its bright tooth. At noon I am
half in love with you, half distracted

by the dishes in the sink.
Now the soul: tell me where is it
that split-second before

and after the old woman who is mother
and grandmother and cousin
to those assembled in a hospice room

kisses her own immigrant grandmother
on the cheek as she leaves that Napoli
she left long ago

forever in the past? In dying, does she
take the flyswatter with her,
does every cell turn off at once?

One death permeable as grief,
another obdurate: they lean against
each other, accumulating

mass. On a scale of extravagant
to frugal, we fall everywhere

Kevin Craft, Vagrants & Accidentals (University of Washington Press, 2017)

Kevin Craft, “My Clone”

“[By the estate of poetry], I do not mean the estate over which the poetic imagination rules, whose bounds we do not know. Each poet has nothing more than a right of entry to it, and a patch of ground which he is at liberty to cultivate….by cultivating his holding each poet adds to the world of poetic imagination, and that therefore it can never be regarded as completely embodied — reason for discouragement and hope, and an earnest of the continuance of poetry.” Edwin Muir, The Estate of Poetry (1)

It had been awhile since I googled my friend, poet and editor extraordinaire Kevin Craft. It was a rewarding experience. Since our paths have diverged, his work on Poetry Northwest has continued to expand a well-deserved reputation. Here is a poem from his first book, Solar ProminenceMay there be many more.


frowns when he finds out he’s not alone.
Was grown from cells
scraped from the inside of my cheek.
I’m nobody’s second string,

he insists to the talk show host
egging us on. (Loud applause
from the studio audience.) I’m a self-
made man, not the other

way around. Steely-eyed and neatly
groomed, he’s as brash
as a dressing room mirror.
Backstage he takes me aside.

Nothing personal, he admits, running a hand
through his long black hair.
They put us on to air our differences,
is all. Thought I’d play ball.

He does, in fact, play soccer
in the Italian leagues.
He was shipped at cell’s first division
to a western fertility lab,

so that we grew up on opposite coasts, a case
of nurture versus second
nature. He is savvy
beyond his years and makes me seem

thwarted and unsure. And now he sniffs
at the guestroom cabernet, smoking a fat cigar.
Is this what it means to turn the other cheek?
Perhaps, he says, stretching

out on the double bed as if
he counts the same sheep I do before sleep
or reads the Dadaists for moral instruction.
As for second guessing, he adds,

you’re not the only one.