“When Yates and I first met and had dinner at the University of Missouri, he was an undergraduate. His work was brilliant then. This I told him and his department head. This Canticle for Electronic Music underscores the acuity of my forecasting.”—W.H. Auden, The Quest “With great admiration for your work.”--Joyce Carol Oates “I appreciate this poet’s concentration, swiftness, density: his choice for the deeply personal utterance and that only. He wastes no time with exercises, set themes, and other conventional maneuvers.”—Henry Rago, editor, Poetry. “He is violent and unpredictable…has a wild, unconventional imagination.”—James Dickey “Dangerous minds investigate dangerous places in the mind. Most of your work lives in these places.”—Yehuda Amichai. “J. Michael Yates is the most lively and original writer of his generation.”—Robin Skelton “I appreciate your keeping me out of trouble almost as much as I appreciate your poetry.” –Czeslaw Milosz. “This young writer, unlike most, is fearless in matters of dangerous themes and dialogue which will clearly come over the lights.”—Arthur Miller (as judge of Yates’Major Hopwood Award winning manuscript, Subjunction.) “Michael Yates is a great poet who has given us such a universe. I consider his The Great Bear Lake Meditations to be by far the most ambitious and successful meditative poem ever written in Canada.”—Fred Cogswell
THE ICE RIDER Inside me At the shore of the frozen lake They are still talking. We shouted, shouted, Waved our dim lanterns over the snow. I feel him riding through the darkness over the ice. They say The centre is a deep unfreezing maw. Beneath the horse the ice mumbles and moans. The hag scratches and suspects. Through her snow of remembered disappointments She curses him laughing in a warm room up the shore. Won’t he go ‘round? the boy began. Eyes like frozen lakes with dark centres Stopped him short. UNTITLED In the blood-coloured cage Behind my ribs The lion circles In his chest Turns a silhouette of slow rage Like a man with a lion in his chest I take today on a light line in fair weather: today, the fish-shape, between me and the bottomless water. The struggle is longer than its hours. My fingers chill and cramp while the line cleaves round and round my small boat afloat upon a mirror. Although I shake the white knuckles of all my hands, a stone stillness fills the insides of my bones. The only significant thing -- it seems to me -- is this imbecile station against what I cannot see -- to hold as if my line cannot break, as if darkness shall never fall again, as if the ice won’t close about me if I stay. It will be enough, I say again, if I can see it only once. Only see. And my time comes round once again, great fins swirling slowly, half in water, half in air. The gill-bellows draw in and draw in what I can’t name breath. I become a dangerous liaison between the water of my life and the air of my death. I pushed off from an old encampment, a forgotten place of will. There is nothing now but water and water won’t stay still.
J. Michael Yates was born in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and did graduate degrees at the Universities of Missouri and Michigan. He is a widely published author of poetry, fiction, drama, translations, and philosophical essays. He has edited several anthologies and several literary magazines. His work has been translated into most of the western languages and several of the eastern ones and his drama for radio, television, and stage have been produced both nationally and internationally. His last rank as a university professor was Distinguished Professor.
He has won many literary prizes including the Major Hopwood Awards (both poetry and drama the same year) and the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts and Sciences from University of Missouri.
He has also been a logger, a powder monkey, a motorcycle racer, a broadcasting executive, a broadcaster, an advertising executive, a print salesman, a commercial photographer, a publisher. He retired after seventeen years as a Maximum Security Prison Guard and SWAT team member. Now, he and his wife teach languages, history of ideas, and science in their home in Vancouver.