Once in awhile one of my poems (literally one--"Deer Hit," from my second book) gets taught in a high school somewhere (I heard from a student in Australia this summer, even), and often those students are asked to dig up some biographical details and maybe some insight into the poem's creation, intended meaning, etc. So, to make their lives easier, here goes:
I grew up in Athens, Ohio, a college town in Appalachian southeast Ohio, in the wild and woolly '60s and '70s (yes, I'm old). My father was a Yale-trained artist who taught painting and drawing at Ohio University for thirty years. I attended Athens High School, and completed my BA at Ohio University, where I majored in drinking beer, playing in bar bands, and creative writing.
After college I worked at a variety of shitty jobs, to paraphrase Phil Levine: construction, landscaping, retail (including a brief stint at a porn shop, from which I was fired), and so on. I started writing poems with some seriousness during this time. Then in 1989 I won a grant from the Ohio Arts Council, which changed everything.
In 1991 I was accepted, by luck, mostly, into the University of Virginia's MFA creative writing program. Not long after graduation I won a writing fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, which was followed by a year as the Halls Fellow in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After that I moved around a lot: back to P'town, then to Florida, then Atlanta, and back to P'town again. I published my first two books of poems (Vanitas Motel and The Pleasure Principle) during this period, both from Oberlin College Press.
In 2003 I moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, of all places, where I still live with my wife, the fiction writer Allyson Goldin Loomis (also a former UW-Madison writing fellow), and where we are both associate professors of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. From 2003 to 2010 I wrote and published three detective novels set in Provincetown (High Season, Mating Season and Fire Season), originally out from St. Martin's/Minotaur but soon to be re-released on Kindle Direct. In 2016, I published a third book of poems, also with Oberlin College press, called The Mansion of Happiness.
So that's the detailed bio.
Regarding "Deer Hit," here are a few things you might say to your teacher:
1.It's written in second person, which is kind of weird. Who is the you? Is it the reader? Is it some specific person the poet is addressing? Is it a younger version of the poet himself?
2.It's a narrative poem, which is a fancy way of saying that it tells a story. Not all poems do this.
3.It also has a lot of imagery (it mentions or describes physical things one can see, touch, hear, smell or taste), and a couple of pretty good metaphors/similes.
4.It's written in present tense, but it's set in the past (a "Fairlane wagon" is a car from the 1960s). So it purports to be written in/from memory.
5.The poem's action begins and ends in moments of violence: first the son hits the deer with the car, then the father hits the deer in the head with a cement block, presumably killing it (this happens offstage, however). The final three lines are a bit of meditation--the poem's speaker trying to sort out what it all means.
6.The poem isn't just about youthful mistakes, or the evils of drunk driving (duh), or cruelty to animals, or a young person's idealistic desire to fix things he's broken. The phrase "all your life" in the last line is key. It may be possible to exist for a human lifetime without hurting people and breaking stuff if you're a Buddhist monk or in a coma, but most people don't, even if that's something they care about, which for most people it isn't, at least not always.
7.A reminder: many poems that have the feel of confession (relating a personal thing that happened to the poet) are, in fact, drawn from personal things that happened to the poet. But not all of them are.
8.If something in "Deer Hit" struck you as funny, that's on purpose and it's okay to say so.
I hope that's helpful. The poem can be found here, if you're interested: