ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Fred Pollack

The Connoisseur

Bad artist: what I do is good.
Good artist: everything is flawed.
I struggle, get better;
being “good” means eventually knowing
what’s wrong. (The latter is
what mediocre artists tell themselves.)
But all of them, even the mysterious good,
create with every brush- or keystroke
and every drink or toke
a meta-work, a paracreation
that keeps both self and inspiration flowing:
a rationalization
for what they’re doing now and always did,
why it doesn’t change, can’t find a style,
settled too early, doesn’t appeal
to peers, sells only to the stupid …
And this invisible anguished oeuvre
is what the kibitzer God collects,
Who has no taste at all.

On the Same Page

I thought in this one I would bemoan
the burning or mere emptying
of libraries – by Christians, Wahhabis,
Nazis, and currently those
who correctly fear that certain books
could drive them or their children
sane. Then I realized
that as so often happens a more
subjective intuition underlay
the public, moral, world-historical,
despairing theme. That the strangely
cool and sustaining desert I
imagine is my usual home-
away-from-home; the refugee
librarians carrying a few torn
and treasured codices beneath their arms,
my spokesmen. They expect this.
The metaphors of others are a cross
they have to bear, besides the clinging smell
of ashes that accompanied them here.

The trauma of the younger bookman turns
to tears; which, says the elder,
are better than affected ataraxia.
Hysterics then transform to anger: “How
can you not despair?” The other, plucking
thorns from a cactus pear, locates
a cave and scans the skies
for rain. “The collective mind,”
he says, “is but a shadow of one’s own.
If yours has contradictions, that of the masses
will be a steaming hell. The reverse
is also true.” He leads the youth, who still
protests, to shelter. “Was our work, then,
for nothing, or only for us?”
“The answer lies before you,” says
the master. “We weren’t strong enough
to stop them, which means thought was not.
Someday it may be. In ages past,
you know, the sea was here; in times
to come a verdant wood will fill this spot.”

Then from the cave, which holds a pure
and secret stream, they watch,
upon the waste below, some wanderers
disport themselves among the rocks.
One has the features of a goat, one the horns
of a bull above a philosopher’s brow.
There are dwarf warriors with spears; a goddess,
her tunic travel-stained, her diadem
concentering the sun, her gaze amused;
an African, an Eastern sage;
a dragon scout. The elder scholar recognizes
companions of the mind of Tiepolo,
and to the younger’s “Are they gods?” replies,
“No doubt; for gods, like us, are emigres.”
“Will they hurt us?” “Not,” smiles the master,
“if we share our water, and otherwise prove
our reality.” But the youth again
despairs, and snaps, “We may also find
that premature equanimity,
a glut of reason produces monsters.”

Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS (Story Line Press; the former reissued 2022 by Red Hen Press), and three collections, A POVERTY OF WORDS (Prolific Press, 2015), LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018), and THE BEAUTIFUL LOSSES (Better Than Starbucks Books, September 2023). Many other poems in print and online journals (Offcourse ’08 through ’22). Website:

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