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Poems in Time

Poems collected from participants in Dave Johnson’s 10*10*10 Video Workshops.

17 Minutes and 11 Seconds
 is the exact time a person can sit in a pew while the preacher
goes on and on about all your sins! Believe me, I know this.
My father broke open the Bible for us every Sunday morning
until all we could dream about was pot roast & touchdowns.
Times up!

-Dave Johnson

one second we work it in the chilly pool raising styrofoam weights to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, next second dripping towels and sucking sandals trot the stretch from the locker room across the weight room and magazines to the heavy wood door where who gets there first heaves it open to a dragon blast of desert heat and a chorus of ahhhs as we climb to each assigned seat, call the meeting to order—ahhhhh.

—Claudia Hollander-Lucas

Ten Minutes Plus

I sit down, breakfast eaten, and allow Dave Johnson’s thoughts to push out my own, in service of learning about this craft of poetry. As I write in my notebook, the limits of this timeframe occasionally produce a few words that click together, making a sound that pleases me.

—Gina A. Turner

Thank you so much, Dave! This series was a balm in this time of uncertainty. I hope you do it again sometime!
Take care!

First to the Poetry Man and then to Poets House…

It takes me at the very least ten minutes
to create an ode
My pen glides over the smooth papyrus
My brain is on fire with lyrics from every tune
ever heard on the radio
Every time we say goodbye,
I cry a little
A lament by Cole Porter
I am touched and moved to tears



line at the Bed, Bath & Beyond in Battery Park City and I’m asking myself why I’m still the only person in line without a coupon. Everyone gets the coupons. In some states you’re probably not even allowed into the lobby, up the escalator, and through the
anti-theft metal detector things that look like fly-swatters (they’re over in the kitchen section) without a coupon. I’m holding my unbleached coffee filters, my wine glasses, my olive oil spouts (plural). I’m wondering what else I could be doing with these
10 minutes; something more meaningful than impulse-buying another bottle of hand sanitizer that I’ll lose by the end of the week. Finally my turn at the register, I take an interest in the current issue of Magnolia Journal to avoid eye contact (this issue:
donuts and pasta from scratch), hoping to not be singled out as that guy without the coupon. I look up as my haul is scanned, the basket emptying with each beep. It sounds like a metronome counting out the final minutes of the day that fill an evening at home,
the meter of a poem tapped out with the back of a plastic hotel pen, the rhythm of a hospital heart-monitor confirming your time’s not up.

—Austin S. Lin

120 Minutes

The proctor glares as melting students
shuffle into barren desks
sharpened pencils spill onto the floor

A bell chimes, a unanimous breath sighs
as 24 faced bury themselves in pages of
dates and dead civilizations

Scribbling their futures into Scantrons
Eliminating absurd answer choices
which are actually correct

Collective tears when answering the map
Etched with grainy cities and snaking rivers
trying to match history to blurred places

The final essay, 6 handwritten pages
4 weeks of studying, a whole year of class
packed into the history final exam

—Isabella Dail

Every six seconds…and, yes, the beast arises and stalks and looms and lowers his mighty fists…and still, I am not just the animal

I can’t change this. I’ve tried, I’ve set it aside as best I could. You could even say I’m a bit of an ascetic not getting laid for almost nine years. But what was I going to do? I hadn’t loved anyone. But the beast was there just like I told you all those years ago. But just like all those years ago, I also asked if we couldn’t make a secondary nature, a palimpsest one that corrects for all the tendencies of the first. You said it was impossible only to agree with me years afterward saying you didn’t recall ever disagreeing. It wasn’t that I wanted to be right—it was that I needed to not be only this thing, this animal, always in my blood, always looking for its next fix. I knew it was asking me to be gullible, to believe its lies. Because there had been that moment when she’d offered herself to me, when, to her, it was already done and she’d closed her eyes in a smile…until I backed off and said no. I knew I’d have to go home and be by myself in my bed that night. It didn’t occur to me that I would do so many times in my future marriage and that I would feel much the same, the beast having abandoned me, the animal in retreat. And I alone as its always been. I didn’t want the women before me anymore and this revealed the truth that would be mine to suffer: the animal alone, by itself, cannot satisfy, not ever. This is why I am still looking and why I have to begin to accept I might never find her.

—Garth Ferrante

Dear Dave Johnson,
Thank you for teaching the 10 minute poetry class. It has given me something to look forward to every day.
Best wishes,
Michael Cunningham

30 minutes

from Jamaica station
to Broadway Junction
on the J/Z train.

Passing Forest Park
and the cemetery so big
it is like its own city.

Morning sunlight streams
through the windows
in this elevated train we fly
above the roof tops
of Queens, then Brooklyn.

You with the headphones
You with the cell phone
You with the too big knapsack
the briefcase, the bicycle, the baby.

Be quiet.
This is the 7am cathedral.

Look for the bodhisattvas
standing on the platform
waiting to enter the light.

Bracing themselves
on silver bars, knowing
the time is short
just 1800 seconds
till Broadway Junction.

—Mike Cunningham

2 Hours

Is a long time to pretend. Is a long to be somewhere you don’t really want to be. To stand in a pew, closed-mouth, while the congregation sings glory hallelujah because you remembering hearing the pastor say don’t sing it if you don’t mean it. But you clap and sway because you still like the music. To shake hands with members who believe you believe. To drop a dollar in the collection basket to pay for taking up space. To half-listen to the sermon to catch words to later turn into a poem or story. To sit when they ask for those to come to the altar to be saved. To eat the cracker and drink the wine at communion because it is just a metaphor for you and nothing more. To say Amen at the benediction knowing its root comes from the word truth. To leave the church and question if you are going to come back just to please your mother who believes so much. To wish you could believe it too but know you found another way to be saved and must stay quiet about it.

—Sherese Francis

20 minutes

A walk out the door, up the streets (eternally sloping up, up, up), into
and around Goose Pond Park, our neighborhood’s spot of nature.
Circumambulating pond, hugging the grass, distancing geese, peeping at
turtles –
grumpy mood gone.

—Nayana Hein

Hello Dave and other poets,
I just recovered from COVID, and so I am backtracking on the 10-10-10’s I missed. I thank you profusely for providing this splendid opportunity.

8 minutes

I set my timer for the infinite swirl of the number 8
minutes to contain the morning launch: a prayer, a mission to meditate
where the thoughts that whirl like an outdated eight track tape
loop infinitely, finding their own track and I attempt
to disengage from them like a space capsule dropping its solid fuel
unlocking without hand or key or latch or know-how
as time keeps snaking over, under and around
that same 8 in endless cycles and my choice
is to race over it like any rally driver on a course
or let it steer me where it will or even to allow options to evaporate
in the atmosphere as the 8 melts
to nothing when there just might be a numberless
pause in the twin gaping nostrils
of the 8, open as if portals
to an infinite breath of empty bliss

—Tamra Plotnick

A Weekend
The weekend before my world changed, I was at a club in Brooklyn.
I danced and drank amidst a crush of people until around midnight.
When I woke up the next morning, I saw the news.
Covid-19 had suddenly arrived in my neighborhood.

—Kori Cooper

30 Minutes minus Time to get out and in

Lunch time in an elementary school is but 30 minutes…. really 27 minutes and 42 seconds after drop off and pickup. Escape! Each day I d leave thru the fifth grade door hoping my image would not be caught on surveillance . The door swung open and off I d go, down the recess path and beyond , to feel the warmth of the sun, shutter from the winter cold, or relish in the colors of autumn and spring. My truly alone time moving feet and mind without a long train to slow me down. When I turned the corner on Whitmere Lane I knew I had 73 seconds to return to the noisy cafeteria and retrieve my load. This time another train back to a another station this time louder, yet filled with laughter.

—Ellen Goldstein

Here is my poem inspired by the theme of the amount of time it takes to do something:

It takes 1 hour and 15 minutes at least
I have an apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn,which I really love.
I walk about 10 minutes to the Sterling stop,
but if there’s the likely weekend service change
I take a bus to Franklin,
or make my way by foot to the President stop in 20 minutes.
On the 2 train uptown
I listen to either tarot videos that assure me my ex is returning,
or my playlist on Spotify titled, “Summer Lovin’ in a West Side Story”.
I come across many people
also coming and going.
Shamefully, I must admit,
sometimes I pretend I’m sleeping to avoid giving a hello to someone I know on the train.
I need this time.
If I do actually doze off
I seem to magically and miraculously always wake up right before I hear
“Next Step:116”.
My conductor continues with
“Let’s have a good day y’all”.
I walk up the steps to get my daily
“God Bless you Beautiful”
from a gentleman blasting Nice & Wild from his car.
I really do travel a journey’s worth
to get to work,
to visit Nicole and record our podcast,
to greet Casey and Dashaun at the coffee shops,
to get my “Hey Karen Baby” from my favorite pizzaman Gio,
to get into trouble and gossip with Delvonte,
to hear about the latest novela of Suzie with one of her
neighborhood lovers and who got kicked of the bar last night,
to flirt,
to see my regulars from
Harlem Tavern,
Texas Fried Chicken,
67 Orange,
Row House,
Best Market,
Bean & Barley,
and family at Mess Hall.
Support these businesses, and the locals,
by the way,
Harlem is worth it like that.

-Karen Joy Pangantihon

Dear Dave,
during your inspiring last session I made two poems. Above the first one.
Stay safe!

7 Hours

At midnight
I noticed compulsive contractions.
It began.
I left my bed and hurried
to finish reading a book
called „Irrecoverable“.
I stood at the window. The city lay quiet.
rhythm increased.
midwife came everybody went busy
could not stand anymore squatted
morning mist lifted
the cry
of my baby.

-Christine Heiss

8 Seconds

8 seconds is how long our beagle will endure a sit when we ride the elevator down to the lobby to go out for his walk. I know it’s 8 seconds because I’ve timed it. The elevator ride is 92 seconds and I have to ask our beagle to sit at least three or four times. After that I usually give up. I do praise him and give him treats. I know I should try for a longer sit. But this is our routine. And I am grateful for it.

—Shellie Winkler

23 minutes and 59 seconds

that seemed like hours, is about the amount of time
this dark cloud of smoke chased me from the foot of
Brooklyn Bridge to mouth of the bridge on that ghastly
day of 9/11, that lingers like a long cold winter yet two
decades later, whilst I kept looking back until fearing
I’d turn into a pillar of salt. And only then did I keep
trucking forward. This I know because those moments
are photocopied in my memory—vividly—as if they just
happened yesterday, and I see the dimming clock of
that day. But this morning when I rose and glimpsed
outside, I saw daylight!

—Kiswana Dee

Twenty Seconds

If we want to see more years,
they tell us, we must twice
observe our birthday every
time we wash our hands.
Of course, if you tend to
sing slowly, a single
celebration may suffice.
How odd, to invoke a
joyous little tune, bearing
no relation to reality, to
keep away a dreaded doom.

—Gerald Harris

It takes me at the very least
Ten minutes to create an ode
My pen glides over the smooth papyrus
My brain is on fire with lyrics from every song
Ever heard on the radio
Every Time We Say Goodbye
I die a little
A lament by Cole Porter
I am touched and moved to tears

—Karen Hill

after Nick Flynn

‘An hour’ in psychotherapy terms is actually 45 minutes, which nowadays is usually plenty. My shrink said the other day, ‘you love to remind me that I don’t understand artists’, which I do, because years ago she used to say, ‘if you wanted to be writing, you’d be writing’, which is untrue. But then she read an interview with Tony Kushner where he talked about writing and she seemed to get it ever since, for the most part. You see, I was phobic about writing for 20 years, but always knew I was still a poet underneath it all. Turns out I just had a 240 month gestation period.

—Meara Levezow

At the four count

Arching back, two three four, toes tucked rocking forward and unfurl the toes three four, curling back eyes to public bone neck long four, a little rock make space to curl the toes send the heels down and up with the hips long legs three four, pausing to gather, lift the heels curl the nose to pubic bone cut higher that’s four, sink the heels arch the spine chest through one, two three, four…. Soften the knees coming down slow in four, three, two, one.

—Devin Dougherty

Reaction Time

The average is 215 milliseconds but you don’t
always get what you see. It’s not as if you’re
an accomplice. Stimulus, response. Just in
time. Sensory neurons to motor neurons. How fast
is your brain? Can you catch a piece of cake
before the icing hits the floor?

—Deborah Purdy

Ten Seconds
After Nick Flynn

In ten seconds, they no longer hear you speak. You are a mute mime gesturing. Something unreal has happened here. A strange sound in a dark pocket or ear. If you keep speaking the face goes blank. The feet shift nervously as if you are a threat to the virtual world – somehow taking up too much time. Devices are calling, calling, with their insistent demands!

—Ceo Poet

Fourth Period April 27th 2004

Chloe Washington hardly spoke in class
carrying her dog eared copy of
“The Bluest Eye” in the pocket of her sweater
covering a white chef’s apron.
For co-op credit, she worked the breakfast shift
in our high school cafe.
Early one spring morning, I saw her reading.
It was spring, too, in chapter six where the
whiteness of the Lakefront house contrasted to
Pecola’s hunger for berry cobbler,
the one her mother made not for her
but for the yellow haired girl.
In the cafe, coffee was perking.
Outside the window, you could see the elevated tracks of the D train
and the silver gate leading to the school’s front door.
While Chloe poured me coffee, I told her
Toni Morrison’s name was really Chloe and after converting
at the age of twelve, she took the name, Anthony,
for the saint of who or what’s been lost.
Hence the name Toni.
Chloe smiled shyly and said she knew.

At 11:13 the last Tuesday of April.
Chloe Washington did her presentation.
Dressed all in white, wheeling
a book cart with forty paper plates
each glistening with a slice of
black and blue berry cobbler.
Butter rich pastry, within its folds
the tang of berries
the sweetness of memory
the bitterness of regret.


59 Minutes and 59 Seconds

is the time it took to write this poem. I know it’s supposed to take ten. But I counted the time that went by while I stared at my muse, my withholding master, hoping for any scrap. And that moment when I finally gave up and slinked away to the sofa. Where she found me, pretending not to care, and finally threw me a bone.

—Joan Blessing

Life Drawing: 15 Seconds

15 seconds: that’s all I get to look at you the curved and straight lines that loop around and define who we are and what we seem to be so as I put pencil to pad no judgment rhythm and gesture take control hints of spiraling thighs arched spine and angled arms appear on the page and the bell rings and it’s off to the next pose: 15 seconds.


i have experienced five films in the cinema in one day and i have had some life-changing epiphanies. however, when i’m scrolling through the endless options on the internet for my daily movie before bedtime, i want them to be sorted by genre, country or length*, so that i do not scroll endlessly.

*the perfect runtime falls between 70-95 minutes.

—Jade Fassbinder

Five Long Minutes

on the stationary bike, trying to rehab this broken knee. With every turn of the pedal, that left damaged joint reaches the apex and pain blasts from the ugly, swollen knob. Teeth clench, a groan escapes, the pedal continues, and the pain subsides—but only for a few seconds, until the circle is complete and the pain shoots out again. Seconds tick away. At the end of each minute the PT inches the seat forward. The smaller the distance, the greater the pain. And just before the exercise becomes completely intolerable, five minutes is up.

—Jean Lamberty

Dear Dave,
here is my prose poem about „Time“.
Thank you for 10*10*10.
Please start 20*20*20.

With best regards

13 seconds
Two boys played badmington in the garden. Eight and five years old. They counted how many strokes the feathered halfmoon kept flying in a row. Of course they were rivals. One hauled off and slammed the ball steep into the sky. Both looked up. Their eyes followed the movement. Flying up it seems to slow down. Their breath lifted their chests into open space with a hidden aim. Two monks waiting for the turning point. So close as ever they can be. Then the badmington spun at the top. Their hands grabbed the rackets, their bodies moved and they tried to make the next point.