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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Willis

'Author Spotlight' - Poet Winston Derden

Every now and then we shine the spotlight on some of the authors who really float our boat. Poet Winston Derden is one of those; you'll be sure to see his name pop up across our blog, in features etc. Not only that he's a thoroughly good egg and always has a positive word or some encouragement to throw in our direction! : ). Here's a quick Q&A and three poems to enjoy...

Winston Derden is a poet and fiction writer residing in Houston, Texas. His poetry is published in Barbaric Yawp, Soft Cartel, Plum Tree Tavern, Backchannels, New Reader Magazine, MONO (and X), Book of Matches, and numerous anthologies. He holds a BA and an MA from the University of Texas, Austin.


Describe yourself in one sentence

I’m a seldom-asked-question guy in an FAQ world!

How did you learn that language had power?

I grew up in a military family — always moving. I discovered that the kids at each new school could accept having not seen you before, but immediately recognized if you spoke with an unfamiliar accent. I learned to listen until I could imitate the local speech and thus fit in.

Where do you find most of your inspiration?

I think more in terms of motivation than inspiration. My motivations largely come from interacting with the world around me, nature, politics, social conditions, relations with other people.

What’s the last book you read?

Colette Retreat from Love

If you could spend the afternoon with any poet living or dead who would you choose?

Hard choice. Early on, I would have said Charles Bukowski. Now, probably Denise Levertov or Frederick Seidel.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything what would it be?

Be patient with yourself, trust your impulse to create and improve, don’t let fallow periods make you despondent, use them to reload through reading and listening to music. You’re a writer. That isn’t going away.


by deed and thought and beauty

(for Gregory Corso)

In the ground only eighteen years

when I found your place at the feet of Shelley,

downslope from Rome’s Aurelian Walls,

at the southeast border of Cimitero Acattolico.

Leafy dowdy, tousled as your hair,

a mislaid wreath of laurel, scruffy

as Keats’ stone is kempt and clean,

as Gramsi’s is revered, river stones

pebble by pebble

aligned in a line of white.

The autochthonic spirit

ironic here, as Keats and Shelley

inhabited this ground long before you

arrived Beat from self-afflicted beatings,

alcohol a haze,

needle a razor on vein

and brain,

seed profligately begotten,

ink on wind


Doing up the undone

with a message in stone:


is Life

It flows thru

the death of me


like a river


of becoming

the sea.


naked with a dictionary,

she illumines my afternoon

tracing the etymology of pudenda

(a “Miller’s Tale” margin gloss)

and finds a New Latin

neologism from a root

that means “to be ashamed,”

a proto-Bowdler proxy to subjugate

a word derived from Old Latin: cognitus,

“cognition, knowing,”

adapted in Old French as cointe,

“clever, pleasing,”

or queinte in Middle English,

“known, canny, cunning,”

(or something sounding similar)

which she reveals to me on rising

to evidence the only cause for shame

lies in the marginal intervention.

Reading Billy Collins

I saw I was into his rhythm tricks,

or we swam in the same rhythm river,

he in the laureate waters,

though I’d seen the same movement

ripple through Robert Fagles’ translations

of the Iliad and Odyssey, not to mention

the smooth-laid lines of experience sublime

floated by Tony Hoagland, or those

acerbic absurdities trickling from Frederick Seidel:

iambics with anapest intercalations,

to ease the stress of regimentation,

the occasional line ending

soft to start the next on an accent,

that broken foot no accident.

All rights. Winston Derden.

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