I Wanted to Write a Poem

by Max Stephan Issue: Spring/Summer 2020

I wanted to write a poem1
about the biology of a mushroom.

I had intended to use scientific terms 
like mycelium and spore dispersal –

not to celebrate the mystery of creation,
but to sound eloquent, wise.

I was adamant that each line be research-based 
with supporting proofs in footnotes,

and a list of references, including obscure mycologists 
aching for public attention. 

But then, as if stirring with some revelation,
I realized what I was attempting to create –

what I had hoped to conceive via facts and fundamentals –
is exactly what poetry is not.

A mushroom in a poem can educate,
but not by lessons on fertilization;

words need not be sound or practical, 
but atypical, if not profound;  

the images drafted – though they may focus 
on isolationism, on seclusion, on secrecy –

are best with a setting not of a forest’s floor, 
but, say, the confinement of inner-city projects for the elderly.

I wanted to write a poem
about what makes a mushroom what it is.

But what it is, is boundless. 

1 The phrase “I wanted to write a poem / about the” was borrowed from Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Wetness” (“I wanted to write a simple poem / about the”)



Max Stephan

Max Stephan is the author of Poems for the American Brother (Slipstream Press, 2020) and Mycopoetry (Finishing Line Press, forthcoming in 2021).  Recently Stephan was the winner of the 2020 Slipstream Chapbook Contest, and noted as a finalist in the Rash Award in Poetry Competition (2018, 2019), the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Contest (2018, 2019), and the Homebound Poetry Prize (2019).  His poetry and prose have appeared in the North Dakota Quarterly, Appalachia, the Whitefish Review, the Christian Science Monitor, the Broad River Review, the Potomac Review, Blueline, the Cimarron Review and the Louisiana Review, among others.  Stephan teaches at Niagara University, specializing in Contemporary American Poetry.  Learn more about Max Stephan at: www.maxstephan.net