About twelve years ago, the acclaimed poet Judy Jordan (also a former Featured Poet here at Atticus) taught me an invaluable lesson: by using scansion on free verse to determine the subconscious patterns of stressed versus unstressed syllables, you can not only correct any hiccups in your own writing style, but more consciously add energy to your lines. She demonstrated this with Gary Soto’s famous poem, Oranges, and invited us to try it ourselves on our favorite poems. I chose Woodwork Redemption by James Valvis and saw at once that she was right. Even if they’re doing it without being consciously aware of it, good writers know exactly how to load their lines with energy and emotional resonance without sacrificing meaning.

James is a great example of a modern poet who makes lyrically crafted narratives seem easy, and this month’s poems are no exception. All of these poems resonate with humor and working class humanity, even as they demonstrate to the shrewdest academic the subtleties of well-crafted lyricism, the tension created by strategically placed line breaks, and what happens when brain and heart become allies long enough to write a poem.

(Side note: for anyone interested in the topic of scansion and how it’s basically THE tool to make you a better writer, here is the lesson I made, inspired by Jordan’s talk. Also, I developed an offshoot of this focused more on line breaks that can be applied to prose, if you feel inclined to check out my short essay in Brevity. But enough about me. Go read James’ poems!)



Guy Wires by James Valvis



Comicon by James Valvis


Belle Époque


The 13th Station


The Smiling Salesman of Strasbourg



James Valvis FeatureJames Valvis has placed poems or stories in Ploughshares, River Styx, Arts & Letters, Southern Indiana Review, Nimrod, Louisville Review, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily and Best American Poetry 2017. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net, won 2nd Place in Folio’s Editor’s Prize, and was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2017. His work has also been a finalist for the Asimov’s Readers’ Award. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.




For photo credits, click through to the poem.