Losing Streak

I saw her face in the aspen grove
composed where the wind and branches wove
a halo of dusk-burned clouds in her hair,
     and she was fair.
—from “In the Aspen Grove”

Losing Streak Book CoverDuring Covid, to cheer himself up, Paul Willis found himself writing and publishing light verse. The resulting poems in Losing Streak blend humor with utter seriousness in traditional meter and rhyme. Subjects range from the academic to the erotic to the natural to the political, with the specter of death made bearable by the rhythms of humankindness.

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Reviews & Responses

What a relief to be reading light verse, with meter and rhyme and clear themes carried forward. There’s a spaciousness to these poems, and a welcoming. Some of them are occasional and public, and that’s a relief, too, and many of them are quietly funny, in contrast to all the high seriousness of most poetry today. And yet this is a serious book in its own way, exactly because it refuses to take itself too seriously and chooses instead to honor colleagues and students and friends, and here and there are several beautifully contemplative pieces of formal verse, like something old-fashioned and cherished and now lost. As Willis puts it in one of these poems, a tribute to a friend, “What he writes and what he knows is / fit and fine, and sweet encloses.”
Chris Anderson, author of You Never Know
The world feels divided right now and tense and many of us are beleaguered by stress. In Losing Streak, Paul Willis shows himself a master of stress—the metric kind—as well as irony, wit, and humor. As I read, the happy jog of these lines wafted me from stress to laughter and light and sometimes, even, hope.
Jeanne Murray Walker, author of Helping the Morning
Both a fine sense of form and a keen sense of humor are on display in Paul Willis’s eighth poetry collection, Losing Streak. Passing with ease from the world of office work to the world of nature, he’s disillusioned with life but never gives up on it. He remarks that after a month of COVID lockdown, “the most important thing / is who beat whom in Scrabble.” He observes the beauty of giant thistles, adding, “For all the pains / we take to end your lives, what wanes / is our short work.” And when, like Spenser, he writes lovers’ names in the sand, he adds with a flourish, “I wrote them in Times Roman, twelve-point font— / and that was quite a trick.” The final poem, “Steven,” is a dramatic monologue in which a young couple’s life is changed by an encounter with a stranger while hiking in the Sierra Nevada. It’s a fitting ending, as the author leaves us on a note of adventure combined with universal experience: the kindness of strangers.
Gail White, author of Paper Cuts