Death Row Row Row Your Boat Cover

This second full-length poetry collection from the author of Falling in the Direction of Up finds him diving deeply and with great assurance into perennial themes and concerns: life, love, death, time, the nature of consciousness and reality, the world around us and the many worlds inside us. He offers a plentiful variety of verses about love lost and won, intimate encounters with nature, the life of the spirit, and oblique insights into our current cultural moment. His voice is equally at home with lyrical free verse (the approach in most of these poems) and the occasional formalism.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, “Night Thoughts & Death Songs,” focuses on existential questions and includes elegies for the poets Robert Bly, Brett Foster, Adam Zagajewski and Charles Simic. The second, “Other Lives, Other Endings,” contains mostly nature lyrics featuring all manner of creatures. Finally, “Mortal Loves, Tribes, Families” reflects on relationships—with lovers, family, friends and fellow citizens.


“Accessible, strange and yet strangely familiar, Kurt Luchs’ poems movingly address the huge, perennial questions we mortals have wrestled with since the dawn of human time: How the hell did we get here—and where is ‘here,’ after all? Not to mention death and the ultimate darkness at the end of time. Amazingly, the voice of these poems is full of grace, humor, and moments of transcendent imagination: ‘I long to fall forever/ between stars, into the dark/ like a hole someone is still digging; /to burrow in the drifts of snow like silence;/ to be the shadow that walks away when a man dies…’ Death Row Row Row Your Boat is a scintillating, startling—and very funny—pleasure, full of unexpected turns of phrase and wonder. I hope it finds the wide audience it deserves.”

—Michael Hettich, author of The Halo of Bees: New and Selected Poems, 1990-2022

" ‘Heed the rains, the ice is coming, the ice is coming’ whispers the planet in Death Row Row Row Your Boat by Kurt Luchs. What I loved about this book was the attitude toward death and sadness: Luchs approaches them with curiosity—as familiar companions. Whether examining the nature of sound or a dehydrated tree frog, Luchs pulls us toward the mystery of the universe. These are the poems of a mind at work and it was a pleasure to follow its luminous exploration.”

—Jessica Cuelho, author of Yours, Creature

“In these pages you will find a shrinking moon, a crippled spider, a departed turtle, entropy, lines like this: Does death really have to be in the middle of a thing before we call it beautiful? Luchs brought me back to poetry after some years abroad and made it feel like home again. His language is always plain but never simple. You too can feel at home in these pages, so long as your home, like mine, is a place that continually unsettles. If you want to look again at what frightens you but do it in good company, there is no other poet.”

—Guillermo Stitch, author of Lake of Urine

“Kurt Luchs has gone way out on Death’s limb, looked down, looked out, and tells us what he sees— looking at it, as he says, ‘with rattlesnake eyes.’ Near this collection’s end, he reflects on his mother’s reciting poetry or singing folksongs around the house. Mom may not have been the world’s best cook, but in that early layer of his life, ‘the rhythms and rhymes / made it all stick / and we learned that poetry / is simply a part of life / like sweeping the floor badly / or burning the toast in tune.’ I like that. Death Row Row Row Your Boat is a many-layered book of meditations, odes, and life-lessons that ask the profound question ‘How many tears can be pressed / from the lonely grape of humanity.’ "

—David Ossman, poet and co-founder of Firesign Theatre

“There is so much beauty and thoughtfulness in this book that almost any of its poems, taken at random, might qualify as what Daniel Hoffman called ‘the poem that threatens all our prose.’ The thoughtfulness—the many ‘and yet’s—is possible in prose, but the music, the line breaks, the awareness of where to break a line, the beauty in the breathing of the words—all this is in the deep realm of poetry. That there are also many moments of stand-up comedy is a testimony to Kurt Luchs’ contemporality, in which the ’news’ reaches us from more or less unorthodox sources. Will Rogers (’America has the best politicians money can buy’) is the father of Stephen Colbert, and that tradition of comedy as criticism is definitely part of Death Row Row Row Your Boat. Yet self-critical intelligence is also a necessary aspect of the poet as Orpheus descending into the hell of current affairs in order to rescue, what else? poetry. And even more is needed. Beyond the televisonary is the visionary, and that is here in the magic of words leaping beyond themselves, constantly moving us outside the realm of what we thought was real. Poets are dying left and right: Al Young, Francisco Alarcón, Neeli Cherkovski, Jerome Rothenberg, Iván Argüelles, Julia Vinograd, to name only a few from the left bank of America: my latest book has so many dead people in it I was tempted to call it a morgue. Luchs steps into the void death leaves behind to remind us of the possibilities of Imagination in the full meaning given that word by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake—to say nothing of William Carlos Williams or Wallace Stevens (’How high that highest candle lights the dark’). Luchs:

    nothing is permanent, nothing is fixed.
    And yet stars long dead send us their light”

—Jack Foley, author of Collisions

Kurt Luchs was born in Cheektowaga, New York, grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, and has lived and worked all over the United States, mostly in publishing and media. Currently he’s based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His first poetry publication came at age 16 in the long-gone journal Epos, right next to a poem by Bukowski. He wrote comedy for television (Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn) and radio (American Comedy Network), and contributed humor to the New Yorker, the Onion and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. His poetry chapbooks include One of These Things Is Not Like the Other (Finishing Line Press 2019), and The Sound of One Hand Slapping (SurVision Press 2022). He won a 2022 Pushcart Prize, a 2021 James Tate Poetry Prize, the 2021 Eyelands Book Award for Short Stories, and the 2019 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. He is a Contributing Editor of Exacting Clam, the literary journal from Sagging Meniscus. More at and on Facebook.

pub date: 2024-07-01
$18.00 | 102 pages
isbn: 978-1-952386-98-5 (paperback)
Cover design by Anne Marie Hantho