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The Bicycle and the Soul:
Prose on Poetry
(2024) Tiger Bark Press


In ten incisive and accessible essays, Michael Waters deepens into individual poems by several unique American poets—Jean Valentine, C.K. Williams, Alicia Ostriker, Gerald Stern, Diane Wakoski, Bill Knott, Isabella Gardner, and Frank Stanford—and into two poems of his own to consider how all aspects of craft converge toward each poem’s creation. In addition, he includes a half-dozen more personal pieces about becoming a poet. Waters’ prose, like his poetry, is insightful and passionate, as well as useful to anyone interested in the making of art.


sinnerman cover.jpeg
(2023) Etruscan Press

ISBN: 9798985882445

Michael Waters’ Sinnerman charts the fluid boundaries between transgression and transcendence in narrative poems containing Waters’ signature lyrical gestures.

“Blessed be sin if it teaches men shame,” wrote Georges Benanos. Sinnerman continues the poet’s exploration of trespass as a mode of worship in poems that “delight in wit and wordplay” (The Gettysburg Review) and display “raucous devotion” while assuming “a divine erotic presence even in his more harrowing poems” (The Georgia Review).

A fire escape, a fire hydrant, a father’s comb, the mosaic of a bull in an Italian shopping mall, a soul in flight―all assume resonance “that they may shine more darkly” in the light of Waters’ words. If sin is “seen as good once gone,” these poems weigh our attraction to transgression against our desire for forgiveness. Novelistic in depth and reach, elegiac in its embrace of the living and the dead, raw in its fraught vulnerability, and cunning in its explosive and tongue-delighting sound play, Sinnerman seems poised between the here-and-now and the invisible it invites and confronts.

"[O]ne who has written fourteen well-regarded books of poetry across nearly fifty years is still capable of producing work that ranks among his best... Michael Waters is a patient craftsman." --Tony Leuzzi, North American Review

"Waters' mastery of craft renders his fourteenth collection of poems, Sinnerman, visually vivid, sonically artful, and deeply heartfelt. Throughout a lifetime devoted to gazing unflinchingly at shadows, Waters has never failed to discern the light."

                                                                                     --Amy Gordon, Slant

(2020) BOA Editions

ISBN 10: 1950774120

ISBN 13: 978-1950774128

In passionate poems about sin, obsession, and mortality―an artist’s infatuation with a doll, an interspecies relationship, an ex-lover whose presence lingers in recipes, ecclesiastical birds, and a sex toy holding a loved one’s ashes―Waters delivers impeccably crafted narratives infused with his signature lyrical gestures. At the book’s core is a sequence of twenty-five poems on aging, dementia, and caregiving, chiseled phrase by phrase toward unflinching and memorable closure. Caw is a brilliant, intimate and moving addition to Waters’s body of work and may be his most powerful collection yet.

"Waters's poetry is provocative, and also intensely physical, erotic and romantic, humorous

and elegiac... he continues to work highly inventive variations on favourite themes: the

serendipities of language, the nature of desire...." -- Tony Roberts, Stand (UK)

"Waters' poetry so accurately depicts what it means to be human... an important collection that page after page seeks to explore new and powerful ways to convey our relationship with obsession, love, aging, caregiving, and unity in the face of division."

                                                                                        -- Esteban Rodriguez, EcoTheo Review

"...a much-admired poet who has devoted a lifetime to the art and craft of poetry... the overall effect is cumulative, craftily built, word by word, line by line...."

                                                                           --Linda Mulhausen, Valparaiso Poetry Review

"...a collection that marvelously meditates on what is so fragile in our everyday world, how the violence of the daily can fragment one's sense of reality, and how our own memory, introspection, and witnessing is an antidote to loss and forgetting. Waters' lyricism and use of the page, particularly in the fragmented middle section, is an accomplishment in a long tradition of poetry that uses language itself as a form of witnessing and remembrance."

                                                --Sarah Kruse, Shining Rock Poetry Anthology & Book Review

"[The poems] plunge unreservedly into Waters' familiar concerns (maybe obsessions)-- the

physical details of sex, the tactile apprehension of the world at large, and the inevitable frailty of human beings, both physical and moral. And then, too, as is the way with Waters, he throws in a bit of fun and deviltry... in Caw, he has written poems as memorable and startling as a crow's harsh cry, the stark beauty of which can never go unnoticed."

                                                                                               --Daniel Weeks, This Broken Shore

"...a kind of vital mischief has always been part of his routine... Waters is a troubadour when it comes to all the swyvings and curlings of our intimacies... it's no surprise that his poems are technically sophisticated... Caw is by turns witty, rigorous, wise, tender, and sad. It has a long throw to it, but that throw doesn't come at the expense of attention to detail and nuance, of artistic finish." -- David Rigsbee, The Cortland Review

The Dean of Discipline
(2018) University of Pittsburgh Press

ISBN-10: 0-8229-6526-7

ISBN-13:​ 978-0-8229-6526-8

In the richly musical and boldly imaginative poems of The Dean of Discipline, Michael Waters explores the confluences of the sensual and the spiritual, and renders their mysteries with precision and clarity. The title evokes the rigorous consciousness that prods the artist to deepen into his craft. Line by line, Waters delivers the passionate eloquence and intensity that distinguish his poems.

"[H]e tempers in his latest collection a delight in wit and wordplay with a rigorous prosodic training honed and refined throughout a long and distinguished career... A voluptuary of style... Michael Waters is the ablest poet of an able generation." -- Floyd Collins, The Gettysburg Review

"The Dean of Discipline's absorbing subject is the making of art, showing and teaching us a poet's meticulous and raucous devotion  so that we gain a sound and sense of how poems are, in fact, created... Waters's work assumes a divine erotic presence even in his most harrowing poems."

     -- Judith Vollmer, The Georgia Review

Celestial Joyride
(2016) BOA Editions

ISBN-13: 978-1-942683-06-3

In these poems of taut clarity, craft, and texture, Michael Waters continues his bold exploration of sensual pleasure and moral transgression as means of affirming spiritual faith. Just as a joyride suggests recklessness and exhilaration, so Celestial Joyride is an energized journey marked by spiritual recklessness in the face of perpetual mortality. Compelling, musical narratives offer rich meaning and vivid consequence.

"[T]he consistency of his work over the past thirty years has contributed greatly to American letters, and his unique voice within the poetry world illuminates, with precision and clarity, the intricate nature of the human condition."

--Esteban Rodriguez, American Book Review

"Waters' pleasure in the figurative and musical possibilities of language is evident again and again." --Tony Roberts, Stand (UK)

"Waters stands among the best American poets writing today."

--Roberto Bonazzi, San Antonio Express-News

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Michael Waters: Selected Poems
(2011) Shoestring Press (UK)

ISBN: 978-1-907356-23-0

“Waters seeks to capture the different kinds of negative space which interpenetrate American public life, history, and even the most intimate moments 'between two

bodies'-- what he calls 'the loneliness of two people / together."

                                                         -- Jonathan Taylor, The Times Literary Supplement

"It is difficult to imagine poetry could be more finely crafted and compelling than the work of Michael Waters, who has been quietly writing some of the best poetry in the United States for the past three decades." -- Stephan Delbos, The Prague Post

Gospel Night
(2011) BOA Editions

ISBN-13: 978-1-934414-53-8

In a poetry world filled with structurally-experimental and opaque writing, Michael Waters’s voice is increasingly unique. He writes in a straight-forward, lyrically beautiful style while delving into risqué subject matter, particularly regarding sex. In Gospel Night, his 10th poetry collection, Waters tackles the dual (and dueling) natures of our humanity: sin and transgression; isolation and atrocity; love and darkness; and the desire for a language that can illuminate such ordinary yet disturbing spaces.

"Waters excels at stark-eyed, honest elegies... all rendered in the strong free verse that is Waters's signature... He is a poet of detail, but also one of directness, pursuing strong feeling wherever it dives or climbs." --Publishers Weekly

"A glowing golden horniness emanates from this book's hungry heart."

                                                                               --Andrei Codrescu, Exquisite Corpse

Darling Vulgarity
(2006) BOA Editions

ISBN-13: 978-1-929918-85-2

Finalist, the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry ​

Darling Vulgarity showcases Michael Waters' long-standing aesthetic talent - the vivid and sensual poem. Like Whitman, Waters challenges us to embrace humanity's imperfections while, at the same time, urging us toward new spiritual realities. Riding the confluence of idea and metaphor, these poems maintain their psychological intensity as they evoke sharp memories and the dynamics of emotional aftermath. Floyd Collins writes in The Gettysburg Review, "[Waters'] language is uncompromisingly sensual. Few poets of his generation pursue with such unstinting ardor a conflation of narrative and lyric techniques."

"Waters creates myths of madness and aberrant sexuality in a style of pure classicism... a brilliant, virtuosic performance." --Poet Lore

"Darling Vulgarity is a love song to the harsher side of pleasure, and Waters is at the height of his powers with detailed storytelling and lyric flash." --American Poet

(2001) BOA Editions

ISBN: 1-880238-95-0 cloth

ISBN: 1-880238-96-9 paper

Finalist, Paterson Poetry Prize

In the title poem of this collection, the speaker declares that “the common measure of love is loss,” a signature motif of the work of Michael Waters, one of the finest poets of his generation. Parthenopi: New and Selected Poems blends the best of Waters’ vivid and sensual poems from his previous collections with new work. Like Whitman, Waters challenges us to embrace humanity’s imperfections while, at the same time, urging us toward new spiritual realities. Riding the confluence of idea and metaphor, these poems maintain their psychological intensity even as they evoke sharp memories and the various dynamics of emotional aftermath.

“His language is uncompromisingly sensual. Few poets of his generation pursue with such unstinting ardor a conflation of narrative and lyric techniques… a wonderful book, an opus of intelligence, candor, and grace.”

The Gettysburg Review

“Compelling and refreshingly unpredictable poems… A natural storyteller instinctively aware of the immediately gripping qualities of what Horace called ‘in media res,’ Waters seeks to home in on something elusive, withheld, not-quite-yet known or understood.” —Poetry

Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum
(1997) BOA Editions

ISBN: 1-880238-42-X cloth

ISBN: 1-880238-43-8 paper

Michael Waters writes vivid, sensual poems that fuse our longings in this world with the human urge to glimpse whatever lies beyond. Waters' muse is Walt Whitman and, like much of Whitman's work, his poems challenge us to abide one another and embrace humanity's imperfections. Waters' generous poems, crafted syllable by syllable, speak to love and loss, our foibles and shortcomings, and the possibility of aesthetic and spiritual transcendence.

"Waters is a masterful poet who specializes in the I-can't-bear-it-any-longer of frustrated love... Beautifully crafted, Waters's poems resonate with literary allusions.... --Library Journal 

Waters' [book] is elgant and lyrical, a littoral studded with glistening shells."

                                                    -- H.L. Hix, Poetry International

"...couples a wry melancholy with a Roethkean eye for detail... Waters is first and foremost a stylist... Waters's resourcefulness and facility with language afford redemption from the inevitable losses that attend even the most serene existence."

                                                     --The Gettysburg Review

"Waters is a fine craftsman... very good with prosody, especially at running regular meters against speechlike rythms; his language is clear, sharp, surprising. When his attention turns outward he finds startling, resonant emblems of the world."

                                                    --Jeff Gundy, The Georgia Review

"Waters' genius is his ability to balance on the edge of sentimentality, while never becoming overly saccharine." --The Missouri Review

"Waters' work seems just right, and vital, a result of the tension between lush, musical language and the spare emotions of the poems' content... one of our finer poets." -- John Hoppenthaler, Chelsea

(1992) Carnegie Mellon University Press 

ISBN-10: 088748140X

ISBN-13: 978-0887481406

"a lovely, disquieting journey from innocence to doubt... Waters is a meticulous poet."

                                                                     --James Harms, The Antioch Review

"In Michael Waters' fifth book of poems, shocks of pleasure are given to us generously through the imagery, the rich tones, and his unobstusive, confident formal technique."

                                                         --Christopher Davis, Southern Poetry Review

The Burden Lifters
(1989) Carnegie Mellon University Press 

ISBN-10: 0887480837

ISBN-13: 978-0887480836

"More decisively than ever, The Burden Lifters carries forward the steady, powerful development of Michael Waters' verse... pervading the volume is an acute awareness of the psychology and drama of the human situation... the poet is engaged in the process of joining the masters of the lyric." -- Robert Crist, Carolina Quarterly

"Waters is a master of description... Each poem is well-placed and meticulously crafted." -- Sarah Gorham, The Courier-Journal

Anniversary of the Air
(1985) Carnegie Mellon University Press

ISBN-10: 0887480128

ISBN-13: 978-0887480126

"exquisitely crafted... Anniversary of the Air is elegant in its diction, and although each of its poems is firmly controlled, none of them is contrived. Above all the poems are generous in spirit and show that Mr. Waters understands that 'the world begins to come true / if we stare long enough, / if we stare hard.'"

--Michael Collier, The Baltimore Sun

"A shiver of ecstatic loneliness is almost palpable... Waters is artful, inventive, and witty at creating it." --Roger Mitchell, Poetry

"An oddly affecting volume." --Joseph Parisi, Booklist

Not Just Any Death
(1979) BOA Editions

ISBN: 0-918526-24-8 paper

ISBN: 0-918526-23-X cloth​

"...a fully unified book, in which themes, imagery, objects, persons and experiences are inextricably woven together to form a whole, in which the individual poems resound within the larger context.... The poems bear reading and rereading, not because of inherent difficulties or unusual complexities, but simply because they are rewarding each time." --Ralph J. Mills, Jr., Tar River Poetry

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Border Lines: Poems of Migration
(2020) Knopf
Edited by Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters

ISBN-10: 1101908246

ISBN-13: 978-1101908242

In this remarkable collection—the first of its kind—poets from around the world give eloquent voice to the trials, hopes, rewards, and losses of the experience of migration.


"a highly relevant anthology of migration and attempted assimilation, in which voices

range in their vulnerability from defiance to bewilderment... Moving."

                                                                                                         -- Tony Roberts, Stand (UK)

Reel Verse: Poems About the Movies (2019) Knopf
Edited by Michael Waters and Harold Schechter

ISBN: 978-1-101-90803-7

A unique Pocket Poets anthology of a hundred years of poetic tributes to the silver screen, from the silent film era to the present.  The variety of subjects is dazzling, from movie stars to bit players, from B-movies to Bollywood, from Clark Gable to Jean Cocteau. More than a hundred poets riff on their movie memories: Langston Hughes and John Updike on the theaters of their youth, Jack Kerouac and Robert Lowell on Harpo Marx, Sharon Olds on Marilyn Monroe, Louise Erdrich on John Wayne, May Swenson on the James Bond films, Terrance Hayes on early Black cinema, Maxine Kumin on Casablanca, and Richard Wilbur on The Prisoner of Zenda. Orson Welles, Leni Riefenstahl, and Ingmar Bergman share the spotlight with Shirley Temple, King Kong, and Carmen Miranda; Bonnie and Clyde and Ridley Scott with Roshomon, Hitchcock, and Bresson. In Reel Verse, one of our oldest art forms pays loving homage to one of our newest—the thrilling art of cinema.

Contemporary American Poetry, 8th ed.
(2006) Houghton Mifflin/Cengage
Edited by Michael Waters and A Poulin Jr.

ISBN-13: 978-0-618527-85-4

ISBN-10: 0618527850

This highly respected anthology presents the works of 70 poets who have shaped the contours and direction of mainstream American poetry from 1960 to the present. Designed to provide a rich reading experience for both undergrad and graduate courses, more than 500 selections illustrate the variety and vitality of American poetry over the last few decades. For each poet, the collection features a generous sampling of their work along with a photo, biographical sketches, and bibliographies.

Perfect in their Art
(2003) Southern Illinois University Press
Edited by Michael Waters and Robert Hedin

ISBN-10: 0-8093-2531-4

Perfect in Their Art: Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali spans the millennia to present more than one hundred of the finest in pugilism poetry from both oral and written traditions, celebrating the lasting literary, historical, and cultural significance of boxing's storied heritage. Editors Robert Hedin and Michael Waters pulled no punches in assembling the definitive poems and poets of the sport. Works by such classical poets as Homer, Virgil, and Pindar are gathered here side-by-side for the first time with the poems of Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This provocative collection also features more recent literary heavyweights, including Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Levine, Wislawa Szymborska, Ai, Yusef Komunyakaa, James Merrill, and Norman Mailer.

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