John Skoyles has published seven books of poems and five of prose. Poetry: A Little Faith; Permanent Change; Definition of the Soul; The Situation; Inside Job; Suddenly It’s Evening: Selected Poems, and Yes and No, all with Carnegie-Mellon University Press. Prose: Generous Strangers, a collection of personal essays; a memoir, Secret Frequencies: A New York Education; an autobiographical novel, A Moveable Famine: A Life in Poetry, The Nut File, a fiction/nonfiction hybrid; and Driven, a memoir in travelogue form, published by MadHat Press.
He has taught at Southern Methodist University, Sarah Lawrence College, Warren Wilson College (where he directed the MFA program) and Emerson College. He has also twice served as the Executive Director of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.
His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry, The Paris Review, The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, Harvard Review, Slate, and the Yale Review, among others. His awards include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as fellowships from the New York and North Carolina Arts Councils. He became a member of the Order of the Occult Hand while reviewing books for the Associated Press. He is the poetry editor of Ploughshares and a member of the Writing Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.
Alcatraz: An Anthology of Prose Poems. March, 2023. Edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. Gazebo Books. “The Death of Zero” and “Mail Art.”
SALT. Number 4, 2023. Edited by Christopher Buckley. “Love and Death.”
On the Seawall. December 6, 2022. Review of Yes and No by Chard DeNiord.
Discussion of Louise Gluck’s “The Wild Iris” — a conversation with Dawn Skorczewski. American Imago: Psychoanalysis and the Human Sciences. Volume 79. Number 1. Spring 2022.
“The Heart Has Reasons” published on the Best American Poetry Blog. https://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2021/11/the-heart-has-reasons-by-john-skoyles.html
Seven minute video interview with Nancy Mitchell of Plume Poetry:
Yes and No. Collection of poems. Fall, 2021.
“John Skoyles’s poems in Yes and No are lucid and rigorous; they are transparent and clearly and beautifully wrought; they are familiar and familial, welcoming and embracing; and they are at the same time, in the same breath, utterly mysterious and inviolable. Each of them is a gem of human intimacy and human awareness.” —Vijay Seshadri
“The poems in Yes and No enact a lively dialogue between self-acceptance and self-rejection. They embrace the past without regret or nostalgia while enhancing the present with imaginative alternatives, many of which are exemplified by people dear to the poet who managed not to define themselves too narrowly, to find a space for wishes that experience failed to fulfill. The result is a poetry that both honestly confronts disappointment while remaining free enough from the needy ego to make room for play.”
— Carl Dennis
“Unwritten” and “Prayer at the Masked Ball” in On the Seawall. Fall, 2021.
“The River Twice” forthcoming in Barrow Street.
Essay: “My Mother’s Letter: A Taste of the Upper Crust” in The Smart Set. January, 2021 https://www.thesmartset.com/
Six poems: “Friends in Dreams”; “It”; “The Blue Sea Motel”; “Alphabet”; “The Revenants”; “Last Words, Last Rites, Last Acts,” in Plume (October 2020). https://plumepoetry.com/21487-2/
WBZ Book Club: Jordan Rich reviews Driven
March 5, 2020 Youtube
Review of Driven: December 16, 2019: The Wall Street Journal:
Five years ago I picked up John Skoyles’s memoir of his life as a poet because of its irresistible title: A Moveable Famine. Happily, Mr. Skoyles is a serial memoirist, and this year’s addition to his lengthening shelf of self-reflection, Driven, is even better. Narrating a single day’s two-hour commute to the two-bit college where he teaches, Mr. Skoyles is joined by some unexpected passengers—his parents, both long dead, and an ex-girlfriend—and meditates on what’s past and what will never be past. — Daniel Okrent
From THE MILLIONS: A REVIEW BY MATT SEIDEL December 3, 2020:
Auto Fiction: A distinctly American genre—not to be confused with Autobahn Fiction, in which the cars drive much faster and run on diesel—which goes back to The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road. “Like everyone with a long commute, I leave parts of myself along the way,” says the narrator of John Skoyles’s Driven. The narrator, like the author, is a poet and professor…oh wait, is this actually autofiction!?! No matter. Like his memoir A Moveable Famine: A Life in Poetry, this conceit-powered novel is witty and wistful:
I have always kept my distance, stayed in the middle lane, as a good motorist should, maybe guided by the wrong driving instructor, who taught that only as aesthetic phenomena are existence and the world really justified. Then again, maybe The Birth of Tragedy was an inappropriate driver’s manual.
(Fear and Trembling was my manual as a teenager trying to exit a Giants game in northern Jersey.) Driving down memory lane, as it were, the narrator is joined by spectral passengers from his past—parents, an old flame—on his 100-mile trip from Truro, MA, to the ominous darkness of an urban parking lot: “Tomorrow, a man who left the Cape in the morning for Boston will be cited for driving by himself in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane on Route 93 and will swear he is not alone.” Liquor too is a ghostly presence, with the dry narrator conjuring up memories of mammoth martinis and the dive bars that broke up his commute for years. Indeed, On the Wagon could be an apt title for this superb, plaintive ride of a book.
October 19, 2019:
WCAI Interview with Mindy Todd about Driven. NPR’s The Point
“Blame” in On the Seawall. August 4, 2020
“The Letters” in Copper Nickel. (Fall, 2020)
“The Second Olga” in The Paris Review. (Spring 2020)
“Sitting for an Artist” in The Smart Set. Essay. (April, 2020)
“In this Painting” in Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche (Summer, 2019)
“The Heart Has Reasons” in The Atlantic (April 2019)
“Self-Help” in POETRY, (May, 2019)
“No Thank You” in The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice (Norton, 2019)
“Friends in High Places” in The Plume Anthology of Poetry 7
Driven. MadHat Press, 2019. Prose.
Driven is a travelogue in which the narrator reviews his life in the course of twenty four hours. A professor at a small college hopes for something different to happen on the last day of the academic year. And it does. When he leaves his home on Cape Cod for Boston where he teaches, he enters a world both real and imaginary. Two of his passengers are his dead parents. The third is the love of his life from years ago. He navigates issues of loss, class, fame and family as he passes familiar landmarks, stops at the same coffee shops, recalls the dance at the dump, the stories of barflies and entrepreneurs, eccentric colleagues and his newfound sobriety. Is it fiction or nonfiction? That depends on whether or not you believe in ghosts.
John Skoyles’ Driven is a series of evocative miniatures that explore the past, memory, and how we reconcile our ambition—our intimate drives and what drives us. Skoyles is also well aware of what we can’t control, how we are not always in control, how we are sometimes passengers driven by others. These stories are gorgeously rendered lyrics, mature in their observations, and breathtakingly sublime in their imagery. Skoyles writes prose odes to loss, impermanence, to saying goodbye, affirming a life well-lived, a life filled with friendship and love. — Denise Duhamel, author of Blowout and Ka-Ching!
An obsessive, eloquent, bittersweet, tragicomic, and utterly persuasive meditation on the relationship between loss (the marker of human existence) and imagination (the marker of art). — David Shields, author of Reality Hunger and The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power.
Someday I will write a book as good as John Skoyles’ Driven, I told myself in a dream. I awoke next to Skoyles in his car, laughing, weeping and marveling at his talent and grace as a writer. I plan to buy many copies of Driven and give them to friends, that they may learn what the human spirit holds and how it travels. — Pablo Medina, author of Cubop City Blues and The Island Kingdom.
Imagine a book that captures the charm of Grace Paley, the deadpan-ness of Thomas Bernhard, and the anagogical play of Joy Williams. Impossible? No, that’s John Skoyles’ Driven, smashing the barriers between the here and the afterlife, the real and the imaginary, illness and health, youth and old age—all the tidy, unsatisfying categories we’ve constructed to trek through the day. Brilliance! — Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship.
Driven is a tender account of matters sorting themselves in the autumn of life. It inspires an awakening, which is to live well, to pay attention to every fraught atom of sorrow and joy, and to be grateful. Skoyles shows us the intricate way moment meets memory, as his meditations on his life reveal a sensibility that is all too rare. —Afaa M. Weaver, author of The Government of Nature and Spirit Boxing.
“The Alchemist” in Brevity, edited by Dinty Moore. January, 2019.
Interview with August Smith– Woven Tale Press: http://www.thewoventalepress.net/2017/10/26/wtp-writer-john-skoyles/
“His Shirt” in The Yale Review. Summer, 2018.
“My Mother, Heidegger, and Derrida” in The New Yorker. July 24, 2017.
The Nut File: full-length fiction/nonfiction hybrid by Quale Press.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Poet and Emerson professor John Skoyles’s new book, “The Nut File’’ (Quale), is a curious miscellany. It’s made up of bits of fiction, nonfiction, and the found: small stories, observations, obituaries, academic e-mails, memos, police logs, and personal kernels of wisdom, longing, and regret. Skoyles, who can be both open and wry, writes of a murderer sitting in the bus seat behind him, of bonking his head entering an exit, of academic fires and feuds. There are good questions: “Could there be a memory behind the choice of every mistaken word?” And pithy lines that vibrate with humor and truth: “Life is, after all, just one person after another.” Taken together, the assemblage takes on the messy heft of life. — Nina MacLaughlin GLOBE CORRESPONDENT JULY 14, 2017
THE NUT FILE captures a world desperately trying to make sense of itself, the frantic regions of lives lived, including that of the author, whose portrait is drawn by the selection and composition of the assembled stories. Comprised of original as well as appropriated material — obituaries, academic emails, private notes, micro-fictions, literary excerpts, weird memos, police logs, hard news, dear Johns and autobiographical confessions — the entries range from the absurd to the grave, from the ambiguous to the bombastic, from the ironic to the tragi-comic. Patti Smith at Allen Ginsberg’s deathbed, a portrait of the founder of One Finger Zen, a Joyce scholar gone mad, tabloid headlines announcing the deaths of Papa Wallenda and Brendan Behan, Chinese proverbs, stories of escaped murderers, cruel nuns and customer experiences at the Cuddle and Bubble spa on Valentine’s Day are all glimpsed in THE NUT FILE. Many voices speak throughout this collection: those of friends, relatives and strangers. Some stories and anecdotes come directly from Jimmy Cannon, Truman Capote, Harold Clurman, Isaac Dinesan, Jim Harrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Georges Perec, and Mary Heaton Vorse, among others.
Available from Amazon and Small Press Distribution:
Book Review: Suddenly, It’s Evening “It may be evening, but it’s not yet night.” By Joyce Peseroff, Contributing Editor, The Woven Tale Press
SUDDENLY, IT’S EVENING: SELECTED POEMS, John Skoyles (Carnegie Mellon, 2016). 112 pp. $16.95 INSIDE JOB, John Skoyles (Carnegie Mellon, 2016). 72 pp. $12.25.
John Skoyles has had a long career as a poet, memoirist, novelist, essayist, editor, and academic. The title of his selected poems, Suddenly, It’s Evening, has a valedictory sound. (Disclosure: he and I share a publisher, and I taught at Emerson College while he chaired the Writing, Literature and Publishing program. Editor’s Note: John Skoyles is also a contributing editor to the press.) Many poems in this collection feel elegiac, written in the voice of a man whose understanding of the world has left him sadder but wiser. He’s a poet of sorrows rather than griefs, and deep affection more than hot love. Among his subjects are family, marriage and divorce, friendship, illness and mortality, the perils and pleasures of a full glass of whiskey, and the neighborhoods in New York City and the outer Cape where he grew up and where he settled. Skoyles’s language is conversational and his tone often wry, seasoned now and then with a dash of surrealism. He builds his poems as carefully as a comic builds a joke, and ends each adroitly with a sharp, unexpected, yet thoroughly satisfying turn.
Both Suddenly, It’s Evening and Inside Job divulge a lifetime’s acquaintance with what can and cannot be restored. On one side is friendship, parenthood, family history, and roots that dig into nourishing soil. On the other is time and its attendant erosions. John Skoyles notes it all with compassion, modesty, and grace.
Read entire review here:
Copyright 2017 Woven Tale Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.
OCTOBER 2016: SUDDENLY IT’S EVENING: SELECTED POEMS. https://www.amazon.com/Suddenly-Its-Evening-Selected-Carnegie/dp/0887486150/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
OCTOBER 2016: INSIDE JOB: NEW POEMS. https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Job-Carnegie-Mellon-Poetry/dp/0887486142/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
“No Surprises,” “Granville,” “Despair,” “Portrait of a Portrait Painter,” “Inside Job,” and “Academe.” Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Spring 2016, Volume 10, Number 2. “Skoyles dips deep into archetypal themes through images of personal experience to achieve an effect that is evocative and moving.”
“Johnny London: A Memoir.” Five Points: A Journal of Literature & Art. Winter 2016, Vol. 17 No. 1. Listed as one of the Notable Essays in Best American Essays 2015, Jonathan Franzen, editor.
“And Then Something Like This Happens: On the Poetry of John Skoyles,” essay by David Rigsbee in Not Alone in My Dancing: Essays and Reviews. Black Lawrence Press, 2016.
Inside Job: Review by Daniel Klawitter http://www.newpages.com
- John Skoyles
- Carnegie Mellon University Press
- October 2016
- ISBN-13: 978-0-88748-614-2
- Daniel Klawitter
“The proper study / of monkey-kind is man, / and the true study / of man is shenanigans.” So writes the playful, keen-eyed and accomplished poet John Skoyles in the poem “Evolutionary Shenanigans” from his fourth book of poetry, Inside Job. Inside Jobis divided into three untitled sections, and the poems run the gamut from the autobiographical to sketches of literary figures like Jorge Luis Borges and Grace Paley.
This book was a real delight to read: full of carefully-crafted poems written in short, lyrically condensed lines with a nimble rhythm and cadence. And there are plenty of amusing “shenanigans” throughout this book I assure you. Take, for example, the poem: “Best-Selling Poet Threatens My Love Life.” The poet’s new girlfriend (who runs a pet store) calls him up to rave about another poet she has just heard on NPR that made her laugh and she wants her boyfriend to agree that this poet is funny. However, the author does not share her admiration, confessing to us his real feelings:
To me, the poet’s best
are few and far between
but it’s hopeless to quote
the Times review:
with him it’s never a line
that counts, but always the anecdote,
the one about.
But in order to preserve the relationship with his girlfriend, the poet decides to withhold his criticism, for he has learned from certain “tricksters”
like Frost that there are ways
of telling the truth, and I resort
to one of them: a lie.
“Yes,” I say, “Hilarious!
Are we on for tonight?”
Other poems in the collection, just as playful, have more of a metaphysical bite, like the poem “Someone, Somewhere” about the author’s grandmother who is certain that somewhere:
there exists a little girl
jumping rope who never lands
on a crack, who curtsies
in a pretty dress after singing
When, when, when
while the rest of us fade
into age. Even a corpse
casts a shadow, Grandma
used to say, and she was not
a student of Swedenborg
or Blake, but a maker
of meatballs, a baker of cakes,
a lover of steak who swore
when she carved a roast
in their presence.
The weird, suggestive, and evocative depth of the poem above (and others like it in the collection) has to me something of the uncanny flavor of another poet I admire, Charles Simic. However, Skoyle’s work seems more contextually grounded and while it flirts with ambiguity, he is also not afraid of the starkly declarative gesture, as in the poem “Capitalism,” which ends with the character of publicity stuntman James Moran saying: “It’s a sad day / when a man can’t fly a midget over Central Park.”
If you like poems that are alternately funny, wry, in-your-face, tender, hard-nosed, philosophical, witty and musical, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Prairie Schooner’s Poetry New in Review:
The poems in Inside Job range from intensely autobiographical lyrics to brief historical portraits of literary figures like Grace Paley and Jorge Luis Borges, to obituaries of idiosyncratic characters such as heavyweight boxing contenders and inventors of candy bars. The tone is often wry, sometimes wistful, and always compassionate.
PLOUGHSHARES BLOG: The Neutral Corner.
October 23, 2015: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/discovering-milton-resnick/
May 1, 2015: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/the-neutral-corner-michael-hofmanns-where-have-you-been-and-gottfried-benns-impromptus/
July 3, 2015: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/the-neutral-corner-nicholas-fox-webers-the-bauhaus-group/
13 poems in the American Poetry Review. January/February issue 2015. Cover photo by Shef Reynolds II. Painting by Emilia Dubicki.
David Rigsbee’s essay on A Little Faith, Permanent Change, Definition of the Soul and The Situation is published in The Cortland Review: “And Then Something Like This Happens: On the Poetry of John Skoyles.”
The Associated Press’s Ron Berthel: POET OFFERS LITERARY FEAST IN A MOVEABLE FAMINE
WGBH-TV ‘s Greater Boston panelist Jabari Asim chooses A Moveable Famine as a “must-read book of the summer.”
LIBRARY JOURNAL lists A Moveable Famine in Top Indie Fiction: 30 Key Titles Beyond the Best-Sellers List for Spring/Summer 2014.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY gives A Moveable Famine a starred review and makes it Pick of the Week.
Los Angeles Review of Books: “John Skoyles’s supremely enjoyable A Moveable Famine…” February 8, 2017
The List in Plume
How My Wine Turned to Water, an op-ed essay in The New York Times
Autobiography in The New Yorker
After Tanikawa; He’s Had It; and The Beech Forest in Hotel Amerika
Cyborg Shenanigans in Devouring the Green: Fear of a Human Planet, an anthology edited by Sam Witt.
Music Appreciation in B O D Y
A Stay at Yaddo in Five Points, reprinted in Poetry Daily
Nice comment piece in the New York Times. Stay the course. It’s worth it in the end. Take care.
It is well worth it. Take it a day at a time. Be well
Nice piece in the Times.
One Day art a Time.
I hope you’ll come to understand that drinking was not your problem; it was your solution. AA could provide a solution to your living problem. It has for me for over 32 years, and without it I would have gone crazy, killed myself or gone back to drinking years ago.
Loved your piece in the Times Op-Ed. Six-plus years into my own journey. Be well!
Just read your piece in NYT and loved it. The greatest lie alcoholism tells us is that sobriety is an awful experience; I used to view sobriety like a stint in prison. But it turns out alcohol is the prison, and freedom is greater than we can possibly imagine.
well said Clara….I watched the last half hour of Flight the other night….for the tenth time…and at the end when Denzel, in prison, having admitted his guilt claims to his fellow inmates that he feels free….despite his 5 year sentence….that really rings home for me, because I no longer carry around that ball and chain…at least for today…and I feel free as well
Me too I know you will make it. Read your article in NYTimes. One day at a time.
In re: How My Wine Turned to Water: What a good friend you have in her! Good luck. One day at a time.
hang in there.
I have 34 years in aa
life never better!