Charles Harper Webb
        Charles Harper Webb teaches at California State University, Long Beach, and his many poetry collections include Amplified Dog, Hot Popsicles, Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies, and Liver. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and Whiting Writer’s Award, among other prizes. And he is the editor of the influential anthology Stand Up Poetry.
        In his introduction to this anthology, Charles Webb tells us what the main characteristics of stand-up poetry are: it is work that works well both orally and on the page, it is often witty and “honest, unpretentious and strong.” The language is natural, and yet the tone is often fanciful and the worlds created at times bizarre. These poems tend to be urban and reflect aspects of pop culture. They also, more often than not, steer clear of obscurity. And I think these are close to the characteristics of Webb’s own poetry.  His poems are written in a clear, accessible style that is, however, not at all prosy. He muses imaginatively and unpredictably about feelings he has or simple things that happen to him every day, and though he usually favors a light, humorous tone, the climax of the poem often turns out to be startlingly soulful and poignant. And memorable. Who, having read the poem “Biblical Also-Rans,” is not reminded painfully and beautifully of how our adolescent certainty that we will grow up to be celebrities like Adam and Eve and Abraham and Moses gives way to the serene middle-age acceptance that most of us are the also-rans like Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron and Carmi. . . “Pebbles on a hill / Crumbs carried off by ants.” These are the truths that we glance fleetingly in our everyday lives and the kind of truths great (and perhaps enduring) poems tackle. And by the way, Charles Webb is not an “also-ran” in the world of Southern California and indeed American poetry. I don’t know if he’s an Abraham or a Moses, but as a poet, performer and teacher, for us his name and influence, and above all his poems, loom large. 

Biblical Also-Rans

She Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, Carmi,
Jemuel, Ohad, Zohar, Shuni:
one Genesis mention's all you got.

Ziphion, Muppim, Arodi: lost
in a list even the most devout skip over
like small towns on the road to L.A.

How tall were you, Shillim?
What was your favorite color, Ard?
Did you love your wife, Iob?

Not even her name survives.
Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain-
these are the stars crowds surge to see.

Each hour thousands of Josephs,
Jacobs, Benjamins are born.
How many Oholibamahs? How many

Mizzahs draw first breath today?
Gatam, Kenaz, Reuel? Sidemen
in the band. Waiters who bring

the Perignon and disappear.
Yet they loved dawn's garnet light
as much as Moses did. They drank

wine with as much delight.
I thought my life would line me up
with Samuel, Isaac, Joshua.

Instead I stand with Basemath, Hoglah,
Ammihud. Theirs are the names
I honor; theirs, the deaths I feel,

their children's tears loud as any
on the corpse of Abraham, their smiles
as missed, the earth as desolate

without them: Pebbles on a hill.
Crumbs carried off by ants.
Jeush. Dishan. Nahath. Shammah.

Originally published in Liver, University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. 


2010 Charles Harper Webb
Charles Harper Webb was a Featured Poet who read his poetry at the March 2010 Second Sunday Poetry Series