Episode 40: Contemporary in Context

Present at the Editorial Table:

Kathleen Volk Miller

Tim Fitts

Marion Wrenn

Sharee DeVose

Jason Schneiderman

Engineering Producer:

Amber Ferreira

On this week’s episode of Slush Pile, the editors consider three poems by John Blair: “Degrees,” “Pink Noise,” and “The Giving Tree.”

John Blair

John Blair has published six books (most recently Playful Song Called Beautiful,University of Iowa Press, 2016) and several articles on the dangers of oak wilt in the Texas hill country.  He is a professor in the English Department at Texas State University, where he directs the undergraduate creative writing program.

With three unique poems by John Blair, we find ourselves in a surprising discussion and rather spirited debate on widely varying topics. While at times syntax and structure left us feeling like we were on a slippery slope with “Degrees,” at others, we were simply impressed with the intellect that a poem could convey. (You can find the episode of Invisibilia, the source of Jason’s and Kathy’s heated debate over perception, here.) The same goes for Blair’s “Pink Noise,” what we read as an accurate portrayal of the frustrating wakefulness of insomnia and the distractions one might face in the pursuit of a peacefulsleep. (Once again, Kathy tells us how much she loves sleeping with Scooter from the Sleep With Me Podcast.) And, perhaps the most different of all, “The Giving Tree” sparked a debate on classic versus contemporary and the platform for paying homage to the former.

Tune in for the conversation and the verdicts. And don’t forget to let us what you think about this episode on Facebook and Twitter using #70Percent!


John Blair


They say there are just six

             between any two of

anyone for as far


                            as random can reach which

of course is everywhere

            sincere to centigrade

dolor to doctorate

                            ad to infinitum.


So much of how much is

             who’s looking. Here’s a small

slice of lightness to lift

                            a wave to touch every

other wave wherever

              there is water to well

and cool and slide into

                            green depths where the sunlight


fades in such slow degrees

              you have to close your eyes

to even know it’s gone.


Pink Noise

Is just white noise with all

                            the higher frequencies

polished down like mountains

               worn to humble or close

enough to count sheer as

                            wine-stains purpling the skin


of your sleepless going

             on—it’s supposed to be

soothing so you listen

                            like you were good-boy told

to do in the small wees

              of waiting for your mind


to go on without you

                            into dreaming but those

little bumps are voices

               and they are breathless with

glee and the best you can

                           do is listen and try


not to argue about

                your better self your good

intentions all the ways

                             you’ve managed so many

years to sleep easily

                and well among the pale


beasts of worry who watch

                            and wait neither blood nor

snow but a mist of in-

              between with teeth ground down

to spindles to gnaw your

                            nervy edges into


stubborn wakefulness like

               a tree you’ve climbed to watch

the other kids play blind

                             to what’s coming what’s been

what might in some other

                when matter and no one


notices your presence

                            or your lucid absence

or the pastel grumbling

              of wind in the treetops

or the boughs beginning

                            like morning light to break.


The Giving Tree

Doesn’t care for your gifts

              or your attitude frankly

              and wonders why you beg

and grovel boy when all


she wants is to be left

               the hell alone because

               there are no apples here

only thorns and her wood


is her own and she’s just

               fine exactly where she

               is and the woods are no

place for the faithless likes


of you anyway which

               is why they had to put

               up that gate to keep you

out and set a bouncer


with a burning ever-turning

              sword to tell you you’re not

              welcome in your fig leaves

and weeping wounds. She’s here


for a reason but that

              reason isn’t you and

              the junk hidden in her

trunk is just squirrels’ nests


and fairy bones and those

              birds who loiter love her

              in ways you never do

so trust her when she tells


you she has no need for

              a needy boy like you.



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