John Allen Cann

John Allen Cann plays with images and language to create new worlds where we can see ourselves in a new light. In “Spectral Thoughts,” the poet recasts an 18th century Japanese haiku master as an American trucker, so that

we might create something new,
surprise the sun?
Basho steadies the steering wheel of his semi
rolling across the blank wilds
of middle America.

Perhaps Cann sees himself as this traveler/poet, or perhaps like Wallace Stevens, he’s insisting that creativity is indispensible. Later in the same poem, talking about Humpty Dumpty, the poet reminds us, “only imagination/can make our eggman/whole again.”

These poetic flights are intellectual pursuit in Cann’s world; watching the sea is an “evening’s scholarship,” and he often uses landscape to reveal his thoughts, or at least the narrator’s thoughts. And while there are often references to scholars, philosophers, or poets of the past, the references are generally clear to the reader, and at times laced with humor, as in “If you’re a fraud/it’s hard not to be/afraid of Freud.” You’ll also notice that he likes to break lines and drop down or across the page, like William Carlos Williams.

One of Sacramento’s finest poetry scholars (he studied at Cornell with A.R. Ammons), John wrote and published a number of books in the 1970s, and he has recently become more involved in the Sacramento poetry scene. He currently teaches English Composition at Cosumnes River College, and is also offering a class on American poets born in the 1930s, at the Room to Write School of Poetry on 25th Street. If you want to contact him about his work or want to know more about his poetry classes, you can find Professor Cann at

John’s poetry:




If the myth fits, wear it.
Why not clothe yourself in the fictive
to make yourself real?
The story will welcome you
as if it couldn’t happen without you.

The path unfolds
just like someone telling you
their most crucial adventure.
You will dance to the music
of your own wandering,
you won’t be thoughtless to the dwarf
who knows exactly what you need.
Courage will befriend you
in the thorny woods of uncertainty.

Now you’ll anticipate the dragon
with great reverence,
only then can you do with it
what you must.
And if you should taste
a morsel of the dragon’s heart
afterwards you’ll understand
whatever the birds & beasts speak.
Without thinking of yourself
the kingdom shall be yours.


Wisps still pale cherry
in the darkening azure,
the keen moon
just a bit above the trees
that edge the bluffs,

round as a perfect O—
opal whose beam
touches slick sand
now its lavish dance begins

on the shift and slosh
of the tide’s
coming and going,
the air at the horizon
turns ash-pink.

Venus flicks on.
As the lunar disc arcs
across the dusk
its wavelight widens
torching the wavebreaks.

Ancient calligraphy
on the sea’s
ceaseless pages—
to divine the musings,
my evening’s scholarship.


Is there a chance
we might create something new,
surprise the sun?
Basho steadies the steering wheel of his semi
rolling across the blank wilds
of middle America.

Humpty-Dumpty fell from the wall of logic
and only imagination
can make our eggman
whole again;
in dreams all the yardsticks
coil and jump.

It’s hard to circumnavigate
the sphere of things
if you’re too circumspect.
If you’re a fraud
it’s hard not to be
afraid of Freud.

How pliable do you like your truth?
Or, is it like white light
broken into different colors,
the prism of consciousness
disclosing various hues
all from the same beam?


2:15 am
17 May 09


He stood on the other shore
across the jeweled waters
His long beard
white as the full moon
just above Ralston Peak

Finger to his lips
eyes crazy joyful
We listened a long while to the wind
tell its old story
over & over again in the ancient pines

Until a solitary cloud
drifted into the sky
& melted away in the dawn


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