• Burnt Breakfast

A Grammar Workshop | By William Doreski

The New York School of Poets

has become a grammar workshop

meeting in the diner’s back room.

Ashbery parses favorite

intransitive verbs, Joe Brainard

diagrams complex sentences,

Koch weighs the weightier nouns,

Barbara Guest fondles prepositions,

James Schuyler handles conjunctions

with his usual pastel flare.


I’m not a member, not allowed

to overhear deliberations meant

to inform the aesthetic elite.

But they hired me to sit outside

and check credentials against

a guest list and bounce all

frustrated Boston wannabees

lacking skyscraper perspective.


Here’s Frank O’Hara sporting

a sheaf of lunch poems thick enough

to feed a battalion of readers.

I recognize him at once

and wave him down the passage

past the grill and deep-fat fryers.

He looks happy as Clarabelle,

his fatal accident forgotten.


When the workshop ends, a clutch

of empowerment exits, grinning.

I enter the room to empty ashtrays

and cart away the coffee cups.

The air still tingles with wit.

Next week if they won’t let me in

I’ll bug the room and record them.

They would probably approve

of this gesture to early Auden,

the spy a dramatic trope

ripened by taking a risk.


William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Mist in Their Eyes (2021). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.

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