George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron ByronIn 1985, a British Romantic Period Literature class changed my life. The poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Keats wakened in me a passion for writing. I determined to somehow make a career of it—and somehow feed my children.

Since then I’ve worked exclusively in publishing, first for game companies, now in education. I also continue to write, study, and promote poetry. It’s my opinion that poetry used to belong to the people, until academics stole it. It’s high time to steal it back from them.

Zen of the Dead is Live!

Lester : October 1, 2015 12:01 am : Fiction, Poetry, Popcorn Press

Popcorn Press’s 7th annual Halloween anthology project is now live!


  • Share the link! http://kck.st/1KTkLBs
  • Submit some poetry or fiction for our open call! (Deadline Oct. 23. Follow the link above for more details.)
  • Consider backing the project.

Thanks much for taking part in this, our month-long Halloween party!

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Survey Says, “Zen of the Dead”

Lester : September 28, 2015 7:00 am : Fiction, Poetry, Popcorn Press

[Click image for a larger view]
[Click image for a larger view]

As you may know, Popcorn Press celebrates Halloween each year with an open call for horror poetry and short fiction. Traditionally we start accepting submissions on Oct. 1, and we have an ebook out the door by Oct. 31—with files to the printer then too.

This is year seven, and we set up a survey to test a couple of titles. Zen of the Dead prevailed by a 3-1 margin. So Kate put together the prototype cover above.

Back copy (the left side of that image) will likely change—but it works for now as a poster-style graphic. The front cover (the right side of that image) is pretty much done, to my mind.

Feedback is always welcome, of course. And I look forward to your submissions; check our Zen of the Dead Kickstarter page for details!


3 Scenes from Dwight

Lester : September 14, 2015 1:00 pm : Announcements, Poetry

If you’ve been following along, you know I now live in Loma, NE, population currently 28. It’s too small for its own ZIP Code, so my mailing address is technically in Dwight, seven miles away. Dwight itself is so small, it has vaguely one block of downtown. Here are three photos I snapped there today.
Dwight Post Office
The tan brick building is the post office, open 8am–noon weekdays, 9–9:45am Saturdays (yes, a quaint 45 minutes). The pale yellow building is an American Legion Hall, where I helped a guy in his 70s unload a van-full of food for a funeral last week. And that’s my ’91 Jeep Wrangler Sport.
Dwight Recycling
Just past the south intersection is a recycling bin. Living in Wisconsin we got into the habit (and it keeps the “burn bin” on the farm free from tin cans).
Kooser Studio
And strangely, just around the corner on my walk to the recycling bin is former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s private studio.

While I prefer later US Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ subtlety and humor to Kooser’s more straightforward style, I do respect Kooser’s workmanship. Former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Ellen Kort once introduced me to Kooser at a reading: “Ted, this is Lester Smith, current president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.” Kooser glanced at me, said, “Oh,” then turned back to Kort and said, “Shouldn’t we get this reading going?”

He then delivered an opening speech that inspired me to write this sonnet (recently revised):


Kooser said he’s had his fill of poetry,
couldn’t bear to cross the hall if Homer
came back from the dead to read. No more
than for John Keats’s ode on Grecian pottery.

What could make our laureate portray
for centuries of verse such frank ennui,
forget his post, invent himself anew?
(He said that kids’ books are his next priority.)

What provokes a poet to leave his worship,
turn a deaf ear to his muse, and so forth?
Has our laureate become deluded?

By degrees, a sea of college workshops
still churns out a flood of verse, a froth
of ink. Has Kooser’s blood become diluted?

—Lester Smith

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