And There Is No More – But Lots More of Poet, Christopher Locke

Christopher Locke

Christopher Locke

In January 2007 I was preparing to lead my first Recovering Words poetry writing workshop at The Orchard, a drug and alcohol recovery centre on Bowen Island, offshore West Vancouver. I was looking for poems on addiction from an addict’s point of view. I had found a chilling one called Half-Hearted Moon from the section The Addiction Poems in Patrick Lane’s book Go Leaving Strange (2004) but I wanted to find another. (At that time I had not found what has become an invaluable resource: Last Call – Poems on Alcoholism, Addiction and Deliverance published by Sarabande Books in 1997.)

Since I didn’t have a chemical dependency I was feeling vulnerable about trying to convince recovering addicts about the power and relevance of poetry for their recovery. I was afraid I might be laughed out of the room. (Somehow I had managed to ignore the devastating impact of alcoholism and food addiction in my own family.) As a diversion I picked up a copy of The Sun, the literary journal from North Carolina, that had arrived that day. Without thinking I opened it up and read this poem:

New Weather

There is no horse,
smack, h, tar, heroin,
china. No more oxy, percs,
Percocet, Vicodin, Vikings,
V for Victory. There is
no more coke, blow,
white, cane. There are
no more raves, parties,
throw-downs, shindigs,
soirees, or get-togethers.
There is no bliss, blissed
out, stoned, fucked up,
higher than a mother fucker,
nod, nodding, passed out.

There is no more vomiting,
bile, dry heaves, drool, spit,
cursing, clenching, blood,
crying, weeping, shaking, sweating,
sheets wet as a full bandage.

There are no more highs,
exquisite lows. There are
no more evenings collapsing
into morning, the horizon
rolling up its sleeve
to bleed pink and red
against the kitchen window.

And there is no more
me looking at you
from the doorway, trying
not to sway, defiant,
insisting I’m not gone,
I’m fine, OK, no problem,
got it together, straight, sober,
right as rain.

Christopher Locke, The Sun, January 2007
(With permission)

I was gob-smacked. Life had dropped what I needed right into my lap. A poem of such visceral intensity from someone who was obviously writing from a first-hand experience. This was as good an example of synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) I had ever encountered! All I remember from that workshop is three of the poems I used: Lane’s Half-Hearted Moon, a poem of Rainer Maria Rilke from the Book of Hours (III, 1) and Locke’s poem. And a line one of the participants wrote: An addiction is loving what will never love you back. Yikes, the horrifying truth of that.

For a number of years Locke’s poem was a mainstay of my workshops. (For Locke’s background for the poem see the interview with him below.) I used the line And there is no more as a prompt for participants to write from. And so many wonderful and varied poems have come from that prompt. And many of its lines haunt me still. Especially these ones:

There are
no more evenings collapsing
into morning, the horizon
rolling up its sleeve
to bleed pink and red
against the kitchen window.

The contemporary American poet Tony Hoagland  claims in a wonderfully provocative essay  in Harper’s (Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America) that real live American poetry is absent from our high schools. He adds later: This is more than a shame, for poetry is our common treasure-house, and we need its aliveness, its respect for the subconscious, it’s willingness to entertain ambiguity; we need its plantive truth-telling about the human condition…

Heck, Tony,  it’s absent (except in songs) from huge areas of our culture and perhaps because it was never made relevant and alive in high school for many. But when I read a poem like Locke’s to participants in my recovery workshops a lot of the glazed-over looks break and bodies move on their chairs. Something bigger moves into the room. People will often exclaim: we never keard a poem like that in high school! For sure!

Hoagland says: We need the emotional training sessions poetry conducts us through. We need its previews of coming attractions: heartbreak, survival, failure, endurance, understanding, more heartbreak. I have seen the truth of this time and time again in my recovery workshops. A gritty, real-life poem like New Weather packs a punch to the ears and heart! Some part of the participants moves inside a poem and the poem moves inside them and something shifts. They feel known and seen through the experience of another. They can begin the journey back into the world. Yes, poetry can change and even save a life!

For a number of years I tried to track Locke down on the net but I couldn’t find him. But when I tried again in 2012 I found his website and his book End of American Magic published in 2010 by Salmon Poetry out of Ireland. And we connected by e-mail. In recent weeks I have found his poems everywhere it seems and his website says he has had poems accepted in a 100 magazines! He has a poem in the most recent issue of Canada’s ArcPoetryMagazine; in the Northern Cardinal Review, on-line from Canada; and in Rattle’s daily on-line poetry feature. And he has a new book out – Waiting for Grace & Other Poems!

locke[1]I asked Christopher a few questions by e-mail a few days ago. Here are his responses:

RO When did you write New Weather? What triggered the poem?

CL: I wrote “New Weather” about seven years ago, maybe eight. A few
years prior to writing it, I had come back from shoulder surgery and had a real
tough stretch of what I refer to as an oxycodone free-for-all. I began taking
true inventory of my life, and started looking not only my post-surgery struggles,
but all the other drugs that had haunted me through high school and into
college, post-college, grad school, you name it. I realized in my 30’s it was
about either growing up and being the father and husband and man I wanted to
be, or it was about dying. It’s as simple as that. And I decided I like very
much being on this Earth, I liked loving and being loved, and that, especially
now that I had two daughters, I had a contract with them—it was my sworn duty
to protect them, and I could never do that until I protected myself.

RO: What role has poetry played in your recovery?

CL: Poetry has allowed me to decipher my past choices, and it also allows
me to reinforce, or keep in check, those healthy choices I have not yet made
but plan to. And I think this is all possible because poetry scrubs raw the
things drugs keep gloriously hidden; exposes them without the mute button of
daily distraction getting in the way. To stand unvarnished and process yourself
more clearly is pretty darn refreshing.

RO: How would you describe your poetry?

CL: It’s narrative free verse, if you want to get technical. But I
view poetry really as a “felt-thought”, if that makes sense. My work has its
surreal moments; I like metaphors that recast our views and perceptions of this
bent world. I always hope it’s at least interesting. I struggle with that doubt  on a regular basis.

RO: Who have been your major poetic influences?

CL: It’s a varied list: Martin Espada, William Blake, Lawrence Raab, Tony Hoagland, Carolyn Forche, Frank O’Hara, Sherman Alexi, Edward Hirsch, Gary Soto, Pablo Neruda, Anna Ahkmotova, Audrey Lorde, Li Po, Brian Turner…Whitman, Plath, Ginsberg, Lowell, et al. Also, Jennifer K. Sweeney, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc and Kerrin McCadden are three current poets in need of your careful attention.

Christopher was born in New Hampshire and went to the Goddard College but recently moved to Maine with his wife and two daughters. He is writing there full time.

Here is the title poem from his new book:

Waiting for Grace

Waiting for my daughter’s school bus, a March
afternoon brushed haunted and grey, I keep
company with the clouds, their gaunt reflections
charcoaled atop our pond, the wind tugging its iron
cloak around trees standing nude along the shore,
as if between acts and someone has stolen their
beautiful gowns. I feel feral and alone, slouching
in my black coat and sipping a Pepsi One, thinking
again I’ll never shake my lust for pills, narcotics
which have unknit my life so completely. I close
my eyes and concentrate on something brighter,
take another swig off my harmless soda. Above
me, a small abacus of birds fills a telephone
wire, and I smile when I think of her, my daughter
Grace: ten-years-old and sunk deep in a harem
of gossip as she navigates fourth grade; deciding
at lunch which queen is ripe for the plucking. And
if it isn’t hysteria wrought by the Jonas Brothers,
then it’s the complaint her arms are too fat, holding
them out, incredulous, for my wife and me to inspect.
But what she doesn’t know is that every day she saves
my life—drilling the science quiz together at night,
or just by asking that I pass the ketchup at dinner
is what keeps me here, awkward yet alive. And
now, the yellow cube of her bus rounding the corner,
stopping in front of the driveway. I see her through
the windows laughing, popping gum at her friends.
It’s only when she steps onto the pavement, crosses
the street toward me that I realize we’re both moving,
both in the process of leaving something behind.

Christopher Locke from Waiting For Grace and Other Poems, Wortech Communication, 2013
(With permission)


But what she doesn’t know is that every day she saves/ my life -. Yes. How the extraordinary ordinary can keep us sane and alive. And how poetry can save a life. What grace that is. And no matter how long you might wait for it it is only a page or mouse click away.


  1. Candy Goyette
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    Hi Richard…loved your piece and the work you’ve been doing. Chris is my nephew and the “thoughts he feels…” amaze me every day. I can just imagine the lives he has touched and hopefully helped to heal.
    Just one note…Chris was born in New Hampshire. Thanks for the article; I know it will also touch many hearts as well.

  2. Richard
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Dear Candy: Thanks for the New Hampshire correction! If you get a chance do read the Hoagland piece on the importance of poetry! I see it everytime I work with recovering addicts or their loved ones. Faces light up. Loneliness takes a holiday! Maybe brief but a holiday nonetheless! I will be using New Weather in my work at a recovery centre today!

  3. Chris Donaldson
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Waiting for Grace, wow, I’m going to go read more Locke. And the line from one of your participants — an addiction is loving what will never love you back — says so much. Thanks, Richard.

  4. Richard
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Yes, that line has stuck with me! And I still remember the face of the man as he read out his poem. That certain look. The awareness his own words surprised him with! So glad you are coming to my Kelowna retreat in September! I have a brochure for it which should be ready in a day or so. Would like to send it to you in case you know of anyone else who might want to make the trek!

  5. Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the kind words, Richard. Chris is my son and I am quite proud of his accomplishments. He digs deeply into his past for much of his material and unflinchingly stretches it across a canvas of verse. He is exactly the kind of man you take him for. Honest, decent and a good husband and father.

  6. Richard
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I read Chris’s short interview from my blog today to more than 40 recovering addicts. He would have so appreciated the poems that came today. Many there could have chosen death. But their poems more than once declared the passion to keep living. Chris’s words echoed in the room. Thanks so much for your comments. R

  7. Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Wowser, Richard. Thank you for you poetry in the world: your own solitary writing practice that leads you to your own poems and to bouncing up and down in your chair, I’m sure, as you make connections from one poem to another as you read and discover. And then you become part of the community of poets even before meeting them. And so do we, via your blog. And your service in the world to give people in recovery centres a voice and to issue the invitation and open the door with a poem. How wonderful that you have discovered Christopher Locke and introduced us to him. “Waiting for Grace” is a marvelous poem with its grittiness, beauty (“abacus of birds”), and ordinariness (ketchup!). A poem to wake us up and be grateful for.

  8. Richard
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    M-A – Such thoughtful and encouraging words. I spent all day today at Cedars working with more than 40 recovering addicts. What inspiration they gave me – their poems. Lines us so-called fullish-time poets would love to call our own. It is astonishing how accessible poetry is to most people. We have just done a lousy job in our culture of making it seem accessible and relevant! What a gift and grace poetry is! Much love,


  9. Norman
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I came to believe that coincidences don’t exist. I came to believe that sometimes channels come to spare us death or to inform us of impending death. We all die. Addiction is a dance with death and if it takes the lead, it will mop the floor with our limp and sweating bodies. I taught high school English for 34 years. Common Core, Back to Basics, No Child Left Behind remove art and metaphor from our classrooms. The students listen to lyrics but more often it is the thumping bottom, the echo of their own ex-ed out heart, that calls them to the dance floor, not the poems. Chris is a fine writer. He is often a perfect poet. What drives him? Love. Passion for the loved. No lies. Poetry.

  10. Richard
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Norman: I hope you get a chance to read the Hoagland piece. Would lovwe to know your response. You might also like Greg Orr’s small poems. Lots there about the dance! You can chweck out my blog from April 2012 – O is for Orr. I love the paradox. No lies. Poetry. But as Mislosz says it is lies!!! Metaphor is a lie that gets to a greater truth. Love that! Thanks for responding. ANd I too am grateful for Chris. Best,


  11. Nancy
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Your website and blog are awesome, Richard. Always good food for thought. Thanks for sharing. Of course now I have to go buy Locke…and read all the archives. 🙂
    I find it intriguing that you have never been plagued by addiction and yet feel a calling to help those who are suffering. Have you ever told your story on how you got involved?
    Best to you, Richard!

  12. Richard
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Nancy: Thanks so much for the comments. The story of how I got involved is a fun one. Out of my control! I will share it in a blog! Thank you for asking! Best,


  13. Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Wow. I’d hoped this would raise a little ruckus, but it’s stretched a bit further than I imagined. Thank you, Richard, for giving me the space to do that stretching, and thank you everyone else for such elegant, eloquent comments. How blessed I am to live in this world. How lucky.

  14. Richard
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    How lucky! This world of fractures and fractals and such fragility. And yet. And yet as Issa says. So much to be said for poets and poetry. As a recovering addict said to me yesterday after a poetry workshop: This isn’t about poetry its about what it is to be human. Precisely but in that sense it is all about poetry! Poetry is the compact delivery system for the best expression of what it is to live here, conscious, on this planet. Every time we name a thing or a feeling – joy, sorrow, heartbreak, horror – we honour the planet. A friend quoted this to me yesterday: we are in the universe, the universe is in us, practising. Yes. I wait with anticipation for Waiting For Grace. But the grace of your poetry is already here. Richard

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