Four Poems from Stuart Dybek

Last Wednesday, November 9, 2016, fiction writer and poet Stuart Dybek visited Virginia Tech for a mid-morning craft talk on campus followed by an evening reading of his short story “Córdoba” from the collection Ecstatic Cahoots (2014) in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center.

Here are some quick thoughts from the craft talk, Wednesday, November 9, 2016:

On quoting his good friend Ray Carver, “I couldn’t write fiction if I didn’t write poetry.”

On the idea of short-shorts and flash fiction:  “Art is always looking for something new to do,” Dybek said. “For me, I never really set out to change anything intellectually. I would get to a point in a straight-ahead story where a digression would appear…Straight-ahead narratives give us a rational world…If I followed the digression, I would lose the straight-ahead story [. . .] It took me somewhere I didn’t know I was going to go. That was the start of the form [flash fiction].”

On following the digression, breaking the straight-ahead narrative for short pieces:  “It was how we told stories in my neighborhood,” Dybek said. “I heard them [told] that way and that was something I was trying to repeat.”

Dybek’s work “move[s] easily between the gritty reality of urban decay,’ John Breslin wrote in the Washington Post (1990), “and a magical realm of lyricism and transcendence linked to music, art and religion.” Breslin says that Dybek’s work is linked by “a common desperation and a common hope.”

Stuart Dybek is a second generation Polish-American writer of fiction and poetry. He attended Loyola University in Chicago for his MA and received his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His collections of poetry include Brass Knuckles (1979) and Streets in Their Own Ink (2004). His works of fiction include short story collections Childhood and Other Neighborhoods (1980), The Coast of Chicago (1990), Paper Lanterns and Ecstatic Cahoots (2014). He is the recipient of honors and awards such as the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the PEN/Malamud Prize, a Lannan Award, and several O. Henry Prizes.

His work has appeared in the journals Poetry, Tin House, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and of course, the minnesota review.

In celebration of Stuart Dybek, here are four poems from an archived excerpt of the minnesota review, Number 15, published in the fall of 1980 by Duke University Press.

  • KID

Teena says

he’d be nice

if he cleaned up

his vocabulary.

Why girls like him

who knows,

not being one

& glad of it

if it means

some creep

calling you bitch

at the beach, as in

“Whataya want on your

hotdog, bitch?”

Ruthie says

at least he talks

like he thinks,

Kid’s philosophy being

It’s all bullshit.

Pam, the astrologer

always asking everyone

their exact moment of birth,

who Kid tagged

Miss Whore-O-Scope,

predicts: “In a few years

Aries like him

lose their build

to boozing.

Don’t think ladies

don’t check out

guy’s asses.”



Kid rides her home

holding hands

while the Clark St. bus

delivers Saturday Night —

punks in leather, drunken warriors,

queens, who got on glittering at Diversy,

slumping by Wrigley Field.

At every stop he jounces

against her

cushioned by her breasts,

inhaling her perfumed hair spray,

each block closer to the only destination

he’s dreamed about for days,

a sagging Hide-A-Bed

draped with a Navajo blanket

on a screened backporch

behind the room where her grandma snores the death rattle.

Two hours later he’s alone

riding back

the way he came,

a spade with a gold cross earring

passed out against him,

his razor scars like secret writing,

an empty wine bottle

rolling under the seats

slouched men groaning with each stop,

a midget crying in the long backseat.

Kid keeps sniffing

his hands

wondering if anyone

has noticed the delicate

bouquet of cunt

he’s carrying

religiously as a bride.

He peeks around.

They’re all too out of it.




Painted stuck.


Ropes frayed, weights lost

in the sash.

It must have crashed like a guillotine.

They replaced the pane

with cardboard.


Opened opposite a wall.

Whoever lived here left

burnt matchsticks

in the shape of a man,

his erect penis as long

as his arms and legs,

beside a seashell ashtray

on the sill.



Each day a bit more constriction

until it’s more comfortable

with the tongue protruding like this

and even possible

to propel oneself

backwards like a squid

by constantly giving

the raspberries

Kelsey Schurer is an MFA fiction candidate at Virginia Tech. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry. She is from Jacksonville Beach, Fl.  Pottermore has sorted her into the Gryffindor house and her patronus is a wild cat.


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