Featured Artist Series poetry

Steve Henn – Featured Artist No. 3

Steve Henn is a northern Indiana poet and high school English teacher.

The voice in Steve’s poetry is perhaps one of its strongest qualities. There is this sense of sad reflection, a speaker who recognizes that something is off with the world, and through it all are these threads of critique and of hope. The poems are consciously and cleverly weighted with moments of humor, yet these are not punchlines after a cheap laugh. Instead they are the reflections of a writer who is just, above all else, presenting a persona and sense of self with these poems that is genuine. This genuine nature of the poems make the moments of societal and social critique, such as in “Role Playing Games”, ring a little louder.

These are poems that have no gate-keeper; they can be appreciated by anyone at the local pub or by any enlightened PhD. This accessibility, spurred by the humor but also by the subject, makes Steve’s poetry feel urgent and important to share. If we want to introduce someone to the beauty and the magic that is poetry, I would give them one of Steve’s books. His work invites you in, makes you smile, and then by its end has you thinking upon what he has presented before you.

His three full length collections include Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year (Wolfson Press, 2017), And God Said: Let there be Evolution! (NYQ Books, 2012) and Unacknowledged Legislations (NYQ Books 2011). His chapbooks include Subvert the Dominant Paradigm! (Musclehead Press, 2009) and The 30th Anniversary Warsaw Community Commemorative Book Burning (Pudding House, 2007). His poems have appeared in New York Quarterly, Rattle, 5 a.m., Chiron Review, Pearl, Nerve Cowboy, Freeverse, Barbaric Yawp, Staplegun, Quercus Review, and Beggars and Cheeseburgers in print and online at Midwestern Gothic, Indianapolis Review, Verse-Virtual, Trailer Park Quarterly, and elsewhere. Henn is an entertaining live reader and has presented his work at the Uptown Poetry Slam at the Green Mill in Chicago, the Long Beach Poetry Festival, IU-South Bend, the University of Pittsburgh-Greenburg, and too many coffeehouses, bars, open mics and featured readings to count. He has the good fortune to be raising the children of he and outsider artist Lydia Henn (1980-2013) as a single dad. He’s beginning to put together his next poetry collection.



Poem for a Friend Begun at Bob Evans in 1992
Finished 25 Years Later in a Different Booth

Hey Crystal,

Do you remember the Bob’s on 30
In 1992 where you’d wait tables
and refill my coffee while I read
and wrote horrendous poetry and made
caveman-quality drawings on the backs
of paper placemats with 128 different
colors of Crayola? Someone claimed
the servers fought over the patterns
I left behind, caffeine-buzzing home
in my mom’s mini wagon, wishing
my best friend didn’t have a girlfriend or
to be more particular, wishing
his girlfriend was mine. It must’ve been
a joke – I was no artist, just a kid
with the idea of himself as a poet
and the idea that poets live to excess,
chase girls, get high – meanwhile
I’m packing up and driving home
at 10:30 on a Friday night. Shit,
Crystal, where’d the time go?
I mean you had a whole-ass
lifelong romance since I last saw you
in here, just minutes, mere decades ago.
All these years later and no one will ever tell
the true ingredients in those off-white ceramic
containers of non-dairy creamer. I used to think
sitting in here for hours, not making friends
with the kids on county road adventures
that my life was just wasting away, trickling
and pooling into nothing important like coffee
spilled on a crayon drawing on a placemat
not yet soiled with cigarette ash so long ago.
I used to think tomorrow or the day after,
or the day after that anyway, sometime
too-soon, we’re all gonna die. It’s not been long
since your husband died. The only thing
I can think to say is I wish I hadn’t of been right.

Role-Playing Games

They trained us to barricade
the classroom door with any
things available, stash an extension cord
below your desk to tie to the handle,
pulling tight out of sight on the other end.
Imagine this. It’s no seniors vs freshman
Tug-of-War. In the training in the morning
before conferencing with parents
to prove a horrid point they had us hide
under desks, behind file cabinets. The head
of my department who can bake
like Martha Stewart entered with a phony gun
pointing it around the room at people,
victim after victim, commanding
“look at me in the face when I shoot you.
BANG!” We looked at her and we were told
now in this next drill, you’ll feel empowered.

. . . they told us what they’d train the kids
in elementaries to do, so I thought of my own
7 year old boy, a locally twitter famous
goofball, scrambling with his classmates
crazily and randomly about a room
in his newly-built elementary school – imagine
training the kids. Just imagine. “Boys and Girls,
This is called fish frenzy.” Now imagine
commanding them. Fish Frenzy, boys and girls. Fish Frenzy, Now.
This is what we’ve decided to do about
disturbed young men with guns bent
on murdering our children. Imagine
this, imagine all of it. Admit
that this is what we have become.

Drinking Buddies

There were 3 of us and we joked
about aging as The Golden Boys,
argued over who’d be who
all of us thinking of ourselves
as the smart and sensible one,
the Dorothy, which is a laugher,
a joke we never understood
was always on us. Two of us
decided to have an intervention
for the other, the one “with the real
problem” and we all ended up
drunk, the light-er weights on endless
domestic beers and Peppermint Schnapps,
the heavy on whiskey and beer.
We figured these hard truths might go
down easier with a chaser. After
I’d been sober 8 months or so
my pal said “I think you’re out
of the danger zone – let’s go out”
so I drank 5 Cokes while time dragged
at Rex’s Rendezvous. Bored and drunk,
he said “We should go to Fort Wayne
sometime soon” and I said “for what?
For this?” As I drove him to the Time Out
to continue his fun he said you’re
my best friend, Steve. You’ll always be
my best friend. And I said surely, same
for me, but I wondered if I wanted it
to be true. Was it true? On Halloween
last year we had matching Chesire
Cat and Mad Hatter costumes and we
won a contest, but this year we didn’t
even bother to go out.

My Best Friend

I’m telling my son he’ll die
of malnutrition if he doesn’t eat his triangles
of quesadilla. In my backyard
this is cutely macabre but
in other venues the comment
would undoubtedly elicit you’ve-gotta-
be-fucking-kidding-me glares
say in a third world village where the residents
must walk two miles for water daily
I am trying to teach the boy the effortless knack
for saying otherwise witty things
in exactly the wrong context
because I want him to blow up on the internet

when I was a child I was the child of the President
and the Secret Service codenamed me “Fuckhead”
worst kept secret in American governance
not including all that alien shit

Someone told me we invaded Iraq to steal
their ancient Egyptian stargate. He really meant it.
Really, he believed it to be true. I trust he and he alone
with all the stories of my embarrassing transgressions
and with the care of my children and with the lockbox
containing our Social Security cards I do not know
what to believe about anything least of all what he says
lesser still what to do with these bizarre thoughts
stalking me as I anticipate alarms for hours

He is, in truth, my best friend
If I came upon him groaning oddly in the whispering forest
or surrounded by broken glass at our town’s most unfortunate
intersection I would get down on my knees
cradle his head in my soft suburban hands and weep



Own your compulsions.
Try not to think too much
of yourself. Take action. Don’t try
going where the action is.
Be the change you wish
to give to the bum.

Sleazy does it
and does it and does it.
Ask questions. Your interlocutors
cannot read your mind.

There’s a perception that
the Great Reality is right here,
swimming in the space between
our electrons. Don’t fight it.

In the valley of the shadow of death
the sword is useless. Try singing.
Try Song.

More at therealstevehenn.com, Indiana_sad_man on Instagram and @mrsteveenghenn on twitter.




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