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Runner-up from the poetry contest for the summer 2012 edition of Phi Kappa Phi Forum:

The Poet Takes a Good Look at Himself

In the mirror’s portrait he sees plated
On his face his mother’s stamp. The question
In his eyes tells just how they’re related,
And the hurt line of the mouth. She rests on
Such looks like laurels. And from his father
He learned to live by doing what he ought,
Instead of what he wanted. He’d rather
Not remind himself of this net he’s caught
In. Genes, veins, sinews, bones shine from the wall
In every glass. And each time he turns right
Off the interstate, heeding some fresh call
Of blood, drawn to the black wrought-iron light
On that small lawn, he doubts they’ll ever see
Each word he writes is meant to set him free.


(William) Arnold Johnston (Western Michigan University) is author or translator of some dozen books including What the Earth Taught Us (poetry), The Witching Voice: A Novel from the Life of Robert Burns (fiction), and The Novels of William Golding (criticism). His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won awards, production, and publication across the country. The couple writes the arts and entertainment columnist for this magazine. Johnston was chairman of the English Department and taught for many years at Western Michigan University, where he cofounded the creative writing program and founded the playwriting program. Now a full-time writer-performer, he is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the American Literary Translators Association and specializes in the art songs of Jacques Brel. Johnston won the summer 2009 Phi Kappa Phi Forum poetry contest. Email him at arnie.johnston@wmich.edu.

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi