Last Call: An Alcohol Poetry Anthology

The good news is that the volume I spent months editing last year is now in print—Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits Poetry. It was published by World Enough Writers in Tillamook, Oregon, and includes 177 poems by 154 poets from 31 states and four countries. It is 302 pages long, and includes single-paragraph bios on each poet. Beautifully designed and well-printed. Lana Ayers, the publisher at World Enough Writers, is totally top-niche!

As I edited this anthology, I chose poems that in some manner refer to alcohol. In some cases there was simply a beverage mentioned, in other poems alcohol was a central issue. It might seem surprising how many different poets have written poems that involve alcohol. And many of the poets are widely published and well-known, including Ellen Bass, Sheila Bender, Allen Braden, Timons Esaias, Paul Hunter, Sibyl James, Tod Marshall, John Morgan, Sheila Nickerson, Robert Michael Pyle, Michael Waters and Koon Woon.

Here’s the cover:

Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits Poetry      Cover photo by Lorraine Healy

Order your copy from:

This is a good book to share with others while enjoying adult beverages.


Northwest Poets anthology

Northwest Poets anthology, 1968, Quixote Press, Madison, Wisconsin, with poets from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, edited by James Bertolino

In 1967, after I’d been a student at Wisconsin State College in Stevens Point, and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I decided I wanted to head West, or Southwest, to finish my Bachelors and get a graduate degree in Creative Writing. I had first been an Art major, then a Creative Writing major as an undergrad, and because I was already having some success in getting published, I figured I might receive a fellowship, or teaching assistantship as a grad student. The two universities that seemed attractive were the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and the University of Oregon in Eugene — so I flipped a coin, which came up Eugene. My wife and I moved there in the Spring of 1968, where she got a job at the local Public Library, and I was employed by the University of Oregon bookstore. I was still an undergraduate, and didn’t, however, get accepted for the undergraduate program at the University because several of the courses listed on my transcript did not match any at Oregon, and if they did accept me, graduating would take too long.

Whenever I’d hear about a poet who was scheduled to give a reading, either at the University or at a venue in town, I would see if the bookstore stocked any books by that poet. If I found one, or more, I’d buy a copy, then bring it along to the reading to get it autographed. That way I made contact with a number of respected poets from the region. I also would read current and back issues of Northwest Review—published by the University of Oregon creative writing program—and paid particular attention to the poets whose biographical notes indicated they were from the Northwest.

I mentioned in a letter to Morris Edelson, editor of Quixote magazine and press back in Madison (who had published me a number of times) that I was very impressed by how many top-notch poets there were in the Northwest. He then invited me to assemble an anthology of those poets, and he would publish it. The editor of Northwest Review allowed me access to their files, so I then had contact information for the poets whose work interested me.

My Northwest Poets anthology, which included 83 poems by 43 poets, was published in 1968. It includes Gary Snyder, Canadian poet Stanley Cooperman, Ralph Salisbury (editor of Northwest Review), Sandra McPherson, Howard McCord who later chaired the Creative Writing programs at Washington State University, and Bowling Green University in Ohio, and Joan Swift.

Among the poets was William Stafford, who I’d met when I had been invited to participate in a group reading in Portland. Bill and I became good friends, and I stayed in touch by mail after moving back to Wisconsin later that year. He was always ready to comment on any new poems I’d send him. Years later, after grad school at Cornell, I was on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, and convinced the Creative Writing program to invite Stafford to be a featured visiting poet. I was asked to introduce him. Following my introduction, he walked to the center of the stage, and stood there for a moment. He then pulled his sweater off, and dropped it to the floor. While that seemed unusual, it was even more surprising that he had not carried any of his books or manuscripts with him. He then began to pull papers out of his pockets, unfold them, and read his beautiful poems. Here’s a Stafford poem from the anthology.


There was a town out west of
Abilene called “Terror.” Guns there
went off when you let go of the trigger.
Every Saturday night weaklings would falter,
kill people. You always prayed
strength to your enemies.

Hickok, Eisenhower, and those others
braced in their cartridge corsets
had to work long hours, in Abilene,
but in Terror even the trees had religion,
and when rain brought messages, cactus itself
felt love. That’s what a trembling kid,
a refugee, told me.

When he saw how weak my hand was
he cried out: “Terror! Terror!
My name is Billy.”

— William Stafford

A Poem For Winter

This poem was first published in 1969 by Anachoreta Press in a book titled Stone-Marrow. The book was handset letterpress by an MFA student, Gayle Scherin Davis, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My poem “The Red Dress” is the first poem in that publication.

A Seasonal Poem

This is happening.
Outside my window
a small girl staggers
with the weight
of a hunk of snow. Now
she is breaking it
against a tree. My hands
are cold.

Outside the window
the same girl now
is on her back, she moves
first one leg then
the other, first one arm
then all at once
an angel!

There are angels covering
the lawn. Where their thighs
the green grass pushes
for sun. My winter
is melting. Pieces of angels
break against my limbs.

–James Bertolino


Lucia Perillo

The brilliant Olympia, Washington poet Lucia Perillo, one of the few I’ve known who’ve received the amazing MacArthur Fellowship, has recently died. She was not only fabulously talented, she was a very sweet person. I’ll never forget how, several years ago when I was a featured poet at a venue in Olympia, she attended my reading by traveling alone, across the city, in her wheelchair. I highly recommend that all who are visiting my blog get your hands on a copy of her extraordinary volume of poetry titled Inseminating the Elephant.  It was published in 2009 by the Northwest’s most prestigious independent poetry publisher: Copper Canyon Press, in Port Townsend, WA.



Why Elephants No Longer Communicate in Greek

Why Elephants No Longer Communicate in Greek

I have been reading, with significant delight, a volume of poetry by Timons Esaias, titled Why Elephants No Longer Communicate in Greek. It was published this year by Concrete Wolf (Kingston, Washington), and was the winner of the 2015 Louis Award. Poets who are age 50 or older, and have not previously had a full volume of poetry published, are eligible for the Louis Award Series. I had not been familiar with this poet, who teaches at Seton Hill University, near Pittsburgh—where he lives.

He can be very clever and funny in his poems, and sometimes hair-raisingly serious. Here’s his example of in-your-face cleverness:

Poetry Defined


is an affectation

of those who

not only

can’t fill the page,

they can’t

even get the line all the way across.

Esaias is extraordinarily erudite about history and literature.
And not without pungent opinions. Here’s a passage from
“Like An Old War Horse”:

Safely in the ground lies the last war horse,
three or four decades now; and more than a century
is gone since any horse, trained to gunpowder,
joined, nostrils flaring, in a proper charge

Were I still a creative writing professor, I would use this volume
as a textbook. Mainly because he is very effective at getting
the reader right into the place, or concept, of his poems.
One of the few concerns I have about this extraordinary volume
is the rather ornate type-font used for the cover, which
actually makes it challenging to read.

Toast for the Wedding Couple

For 19-21 August, I joined family and friends to celebrate my niece Katie’s wedding in Hood River, Oregon on the Columbia River. Here’s the poem I performed:


A Wedding Toast


 May your love be firm,

and may your dream of life together

be a river between two shores––

by day bathed in sunlight, and by night

illuminated from within. May the heron

carry news of you to the heavens, and the salmon bring

the sea’s blue grace. May your twin thoughts spiral upward

like leafy vines, like fiddle strings in the wind,

and be as noble as the Douglas fir.

May you never find yourselves back to back

without love pulling you around

into each other’s arms.

By James Bertolino


Here are the newlyweds, with Oregon farmland and the bottom of Mt. Hood in the distance.

A Note on Ishmael Reed

13 August 2016

Ishmael Reed was the founder of the still active Before Columbus Foundation down in Oakland, California. That organization has, for years, identified books for the American Book Awards. I noted yesterday that I am still listed as a Before Columbus Foundation board member, and for a number of years was empowered to choose books to receive American Book Awards.

This morning Anita reminded me that an Ishmael Reed novel opens with a quote from one of my poems—what an impressive memory! So today I’ve gone to my collection of books by Reed, and found both the hard cover and paper editions of Flight To Canada, which opens with the quote “Evil dogs us” by James Bertolino. And, in the paper edition, the copyright page also carries this information: Grateful acknowledgement is made to James Bertolino for permission to reprint “Evil dogs us,” from his poem “Where We Go From Here” in Making Space for Our Living, published by Copper Canyon Press, Copyright © 1975.

A Short Story

The first story on this blog is an autobiography. This is my fiction.                                    Posted 4 August 2016

Off The Path

I was twelve years old and my first girlfriend, Lonnie (who I sometimes called Loony, just for fun) was two inches taller than me. She was thirteen, and her body was changing fast. When we’d meet in the hallway at school, she would smile wide, stand above and look down at me, then ask, “How is my little pathogen today?” I didn’t know what pathogen meant, but liked the “path” part, imagining she was thinking of being on the path to me.

But all that was before she got breasts. I noticed the older jocks became really interested in her, and was worried that if I tried to keep them away, they’d beat me up. Later, when I was a sophomore in high school, I shot up three inches and was finally taller than Lonnie. I joined the wrestling team and became a jock myself. The coach was obsessed with our health, told us not to abuse ourselves too much (we knew what he meant) and wash frequently to ward off pathogens.

When Lonnie and I began serious dating, I wanted to know why she used to call me her “little pathogen.” She said she thought I’d think it was cute.

So no, we didn’t grow up, get married and have kids. But there was a certain feeling I had for her that I’ve never felt again. I remember that feeling whenever I came across the word “august,” as in an “august event,” or seeing someone of “august stature.” I had a theory about words back then—that many words have in them a sound, or spelling, that is found in an opposite word. Like “august” and “disgust,” Or “love’ and “remove.” These days I spend most of my time alone, and am convinced now and then that I’ve gone loony, gone around the bend.

This story was published in the Winter, 2015 issue of Clover: A Literary Rag, Volume 10. Clover is a wonderful Bellingham, Washington magazine, which can be found online at

My First Blog Post: A Story From Childhood

The Blue Stones

It was 1950, maybe ’51, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I was a third grader at St. Stephen’s School. I always thought it kinda neat that Stephen’s school was in a town named Stevens, and congratulated myself on learning there were two spellings of a name that sounded the same. Stephen Kurz was a fellow student I admired, whose dad was a brewmaster at the local brewery, making Point Special Beer—which at that time came only in bottles. I didn’t know any Stevens.

We had moved to town in the middle of second grade, and I think being a new student is always harder if you begin well after the school year has started. As a third grader, I still felt like most of the other kids didn’t like me. Now I suspect it might have been at least partially due to my having a name like Bertolino, which was so different from the other names in class. And I recall that some of the kids called me “beady eyes.”

My parents had moved us into our second rental home in less than two years, and I didn’t like it as much as the first one, which was set about four or five feet above the sidewalks, and had stone walls which formed a corner where the two streets intersected. At that house I’d made a rope swing that allowed me to swing out over the sidewalk when girls were walking past, and the rope never broke.

One good thing about the second house was it had a screened porch on the street side and, in the back yard, a small greenhouse. The owners ran a florist shop in town, and had lived in the house before they put it up for rent. Anyway, I liked the greenhouse, and found cool stuff there, including a jar of sharply angled blue stones. In some ways I was probably still part toddler, because I couldn’t help but put one of those stones into my mouth. Gah! It was shockingly bitter.

I decided to take a pocketful of the stones to school and, at recess, gathered some of the third grade boys around to see my surprise. A couple of those guys had roughed me up in the past, and when they asked what those very interesting stones were, I remembered that. So I said: “Rock candy. These stones are rock candy.” Their eyes widened, and they wondered if the shiny blue lumps were good to eat. I said, “Sure, but they’re real bitter at first. You gotta suck ‘em, and the longer you suck, the sweeter they get!”

I doled out rocks to the four who were gutsy enough to ask for them, and then enjoyed watching their faces as they tried to suck the bitterness down to the sweet. Two of them quit after a little while, saying they didn’t think they’d ever taste good. The others who stuck with the sucking are the ones who later were taken to the hospital. The smarter two only spent some time vomiting in the first floor bathroom.

I, of course, hadn’t known my blue rocks were copper sulfate, which is poisonous when ingested. And had I known, I probably would have found a less dangerous trick to play on them. None suffered any permanent damage. As for me, I was marched off to the school library and told to kneel below a painting of the crucified Christ. My teacher whipped me with a steel-tipped, hardwood yardstick, after which I was made to continue kneeling on the tile floor for an hour. I decided I was supposed to learn what it was like to be crucified.

Oddly, I don’t remember there being any punishment at home. I believe I told my mother the entire story—she agreed I couldn’t have known the rocks were dangerous, and could see that I was just playing an innocent prank. Those four classmates stayed away after that, but others seemed to become more interested in me. Sometimes things balance out.