Travis Stephens

Pine Row Issue No. 3 Spring 2021 - Featured Poet

Eileen Myles Can Borrow My Tools Anytime

Stepping outside to

forest color elms

nearly gone but oaks

yellow dropping

acorns rattle

and anyway, out of


out of sorts

having just discovered

Eileen Myles

at fifty-three

years of age and how

to hell

could that happen?

Consider pitbulls

leather jackets

soft hands &

truth upside

the fucking


Ignorance is

a hammer;

understanding a

razor blade.

In the truck

shop they think

I’m on coffee break.

Having a smoke.

I am reading

her poem “Peanut Butter”,

mouthing the words

chewing them


how does she

set down so much

in short lines


negative space



ringing like a bell?

My daughter likes

to give me shit

about the music

I like, calls it

lesbo rock, but it’s

mostly Canadian

and who can piss

on guitars & drums?

The guys tolerate my music

as long as I loan

out my tools—

hey you got a puller?

Crowfoot spreader?

Man, the inner


is bound up,

the press a pain

to set up, you know.

Can I borrow yours?

Michelle Shocked

is hollering

“Hold me back”

though she’s not

lesbian or


but Texan &

another mostly unknown.

Another artist writing

& fucking & drinking

great breaths of

dusty elm-oak


Eileen is waiting

for dirty hands


graduate students

&a wealthy

Grant Committee

to say

hey, listen to this.

You got to

read this.

Interview with Travis Stephens

by Pine Row Editorial Board

Has your relationship to poetry changed in any way during the pandemic?

I am fortunate that by working at home for most of the pandemic, I was able to use what was Commute Time as non-guilty writing time. It lent me time to revisit my journals and mine them for poems or poetry inspiration.

What inspires you to write poetry. Why do it?

I write observations or narratives which can become poems or stories. In the first, handwritten draft I just try to capture a voice. I struggle to define what is a poem, other than to say it is not something that has to rhyme, not something that has to have structure. It is a moment, a story, a place, a feeling, expressed in as few words as possible. Why do I write? Because when I write I feel more fully alive and present than at any other time. Present to be frustrated, stymied, confused and sometimes alight. I write because I love it, hate it, avoid it and need it: I wouldn't want it any other way.

How do your poems transition from inspiration to draft to final version?

I tend to write a longhand draft in a journal. This might be a single verse or just an observation. First edit is when I type them, sometimes months or years later. Usually I add as I type, so the second draft is longest. Then I read them aloud and chew over them. Cut and dry. Third draft is where I play with line breaks. Fourth draft, if necessary, focuses on an ending.

What book is currently on your nightstand?

Louisiana writer Tim Gautreaux, Louise Erdrich, John McPhee, Megan O'Rourke, John Sanford

Will you please name a few poet/s (or people / role models) who inspire you?

I owe so much to the poets I have been reading: Ada Limon, Phillip Levine, Jennifer Knox, Sandra Beasley, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Natalie Diaz, Dean Young.

Do you have access to a community of writers / artists / poets?

No. I work in transportation and doubt any one of my co-workers will ever read my stuff.

Anything else you'd like to add?

My first book of poems skeeter bit & still drunk will be published in March 2022 by Finishing Line Press. My website:

Travis Stephens is a tugboat captain who resides with his family in California. A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumni, recent credits include: Gyroscope Review, 2River, Sheila-Na-Gig, GRIFFEL , Offcourse , Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Gravitas and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.