David J.S. Pickering

Pine Row Issue No. 4 Winter 2021 - Featured Poet

One Day in Spring of 1972

I was trying to maintain while peaking

on acid in band class, my saxophone

a golden serpent in my hands, freaking

eighth notes frantic on the staff, my mind blown,

just one of 12 juniors who dropped a tab

that day, clandestine grins passed in the halls,

a more covert rebellion than to grab

our risky cigarettes in toilet stalls

or noontime reefers out behind the stands.

Our buffed eyes like still hallways late at night

belied our teeming brains, such wonderlands.

For some of us this event was a rite

of entrance to the dark, the envelope

for corpses we’d step over for our dope.

Fryer’s Quality Pie

It was always way too bright

pies lit for closeups waitresses

who took no guff silverware clean

enough at 3 a m food in front

of the drunks coffee in front

of the coked a junkie or two

on the nod who cares now

the place closed for 30 years

the neighborhood made over

twice since spikeheaded rockers

flicked their lit Kool butts at cars

and handsome men block by block

got cremated in their best suits

the whole district smoldering

tamped in PDX drizzle memorials

full of he’ll never be forgotten

forgotten in the bar the following week

pleasure is memory’s favorite drug

why it fabricates and dissembles

why remembering is not memory but

a discipline a muscle a nerve

connecting this to this to this

a physicality of neurons sparking

ignition in the body it’s why I weep

when acupuncture hits the right

meridian the 23rd Avenue sidewalk

summer-warm 1982 my friends

alive crammed in a booth laughing

> Hear it:

listen to One Day In Spring of 1972 and Fryer's Quality Pie on SoundCloud

Interview with David J.S. Pickering

by Pine Row Editorial Board

How did you get started as a poet?

<laughing> Identifying myself as a poet still seems awfully pretentious to me, yet it is who I am these days. I grew up in a working-class family where there was no such thing as poetry, and I had only minimal exposure to it in high school, so I don’t know why I had the impulse to write it. But I did, and I wrote a lot of it. I wrote it badly. (Really bad poetry.) But the work improved over time as I kept at it with encouragement from folks I respected. I finally realized that my work was an intuitive conversation I was having with the seen and unseen world around me, as well as with the past, the present, and the future. As I learned more that conversation became increasingly informed and shaped by craft, I somehow morphed into a poet.

Do you show your work in progress to anyone?

Not much anymore. For five or six years I belonged to a monthly critique group in Portland, and I learned so much from the smart poets there. Then I took a job in a small town in the eastern Columbia Gorge and I lost all of those regular contacts. I think, ultimately, it was good for my writing because I had to hone my own skills as an editor of my work and get bracingly honest with myself about what was and wasn’t working in my poems. My husband and I have both retired in the last year and we’ve moved back to the PDX Metro Area. We’ll see what happens after Covid, but for right now I still work on my own.

Who are three influential living poets?

Sorry, but you’re getting four. Linda McCarriston’s work showed me how to write well about trauma. Henry Hughes’ work showed me how to write well about sex. John Brehm’s work showed me how to write smart and not be afraid of my heart. Jake Skeets’ work teaches me not to be afraid of my own voice. And, yes, there are others.

How did you first get published?

Luck, persistence, and a thick skin. Probably in that order.

Favorite quote (doesn’t matter the source)

From the movie, Moonstruck: Don’t shit where you eat.

What would you say is your most interesting writing habit?

Once I think a poem is where it wants to be, I read it backward (i.e. the lines read last to first). This reveals to me where sonic and rhythmic glitches might be, if/where there are breaks in the narrative thread, and it provides an overall check on the line integrity of the poem.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Indigo, by Ellen Bass.

Anything else you'd like us to know?

My first collection, Jesus Comes to Me as Judy Garland, won the 2020 Airlie Prize; the book was released in September by Airlie Press. Against my better judgment, I have a website: www.pickpoetry.com. I find other social media exhausting.

David J.S. Pickering is the recipient of the 2020 Airlie Prize for his first full-length poetry manuscript, Jesus Comes to Me as Judy Garland, published by Airlie Press and released 09/01/2021. His poetry has also been published a variety of journals including the Raven Chronicles, Gold Man Review, Portland Review, Gertrude Journal, Raw Art Review, Haunted Waters Press, and the NonBinary Review. David never aspired to have his own website, so he is a bit nonplussed to find that he now owns one, www.pickpoetry.com. He retired recently from a 30-year career in human resources management, and he continues to be thrilled about the fact that he has thrown away his alarm clock. David lives with his husband in Hillsboro, Oregon.