May 2023
Dee Cohen on Poetry
Dee Cohen

Michael Buckius

Through the lens of anti-nostalgia

Phoenix poet and filmmaker Michael Buckius finds absurdity and humor in most subjects. While he writes about serious issues, including “childhood trauma, toxic masculinity, the failures of our parents, coming of age, addiction and recovery,” he presents them with a comic touch that often takes readers by surprise. “All these could be very heavy subjects, and I want them to still carry weight, but I try to write about them with an absurd and comic sensibility. Sometimes it’s okay to laugh at serious/depressing topics.”

Michael also writes nonfiction, occasional flash fiction, and creates films. He finds that poems work well merged with other media. “I can include a poem in a work of fiction, blend poetry into nonfiction, perform poetry for an audience, or turn it into a film. Poetry makes the most sense in my head visually versus other forms of writing. Little scenes, vignettes, or powerful narratives filled with imagery translate well into the way I think about things, the way I express myself.”

Michael currently teaches screenwriting and creative writing at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and Pima Community College. He’s had many poems published and is a prolific independent filmmaker. He recently published a poetry/nonfiction collection titled Mustache in Plain Sight. He is also a featured reader at many local venues. Sharing his work with an audience is an enjoyable challenge. “I want my audience to think and I want them to laugh. I spend equal time on funnier work and serious stuff, and I think it’s important to talk openly about issues like mental health, trauma and addiction.”

Michael cites many sources of inspiration for his poetry. “I belong to a writing group where I have to write something every day, so a lot of what I write is just based on things that happened that day. Occasionally I’ll see patterns, both in my actions and the world around me, so I’ll write about that. Sometimes I’ll overhear someone say something that makes me laugh and that will turn into a poem. And sometimes I sit down with intention. But it always starts with just one line or word or idea.”

He remains impressed and influenced by many poets, including “Chelsey Minnis, Ben Lerner, Arthur Sze, Richard Brautigan, Natalie Diaz and Charles Bukowski,” but feels his personal style has developed and evolved over time to where he has uncovered his own voice. “Knowing who I am as a person, what I want, what gives me joy and the type of writing I want to do has certainly changed my writing style. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more self-aware, but also weirder and more absurd.” He finds that living in Arizona has been personally and professionally gratifying. “All my publications, my film work, my MFA, teaching at the college level, happened during my time in Arizona. This is a very special place to me. It is my home.”

Michael offers these insights into the following poems. “Much of what I write I filter through the lens of anti-nostalgia. To live in nostalgia is to rob yourself of whatever life could be in this moment. I like to poke fun at it, to neutralize it with humor and absurdity.” The poems walk a line between comedy and despair, understanding and alienation. As Michael says, “Ultimately, I just want to create subversive work that has a heart.”

To find out more about Michael, visit


Cremation is what took my dad

after alcohol did a little bit of stuff to him

His ashes went into a plastic bag

and were handed off like a pound of potatoes

They didn’t go in a beer can

or wine jug

or a glass crescent

from a broken bottle

They went into a bag designed to hold

several gallons of tomato sauce

His mom decided he should then go in a box

an antique box that was older than her

a wooden box, coated in cobalt blue

decorated with dull crimson flowers

a box that cracks with age

a box that could sit on a mantle with antiquity

When I suffer I think of him

When I see a mustache I think of him

When I have ideas that go nowhere I think of him

When I smell cheap cologne, or moth balls, I think of him

When I get angry, I am him

I don’t know where the dad box is now

and I’m afraid to ask around

I know that he finally quit drinking

but so many questions about dad

remain mysteries


It’s not ok to ask my dad questions

One of his teeth fell out and

I try to see what’s behind it

He opens his mouth to swear and a shot

Of whisky falls out and spills onto my knee but I’m driving and it keeps me alert

He replaces his tooth with a cigarette and he starts to tell me about his perfect day

having pockets stuffed with fresh trout and a good woman to prove himself to

I nod and dab the whiskey on my jeans with a lost sock

He yells watch the road! But I’ve given up on that

I glide through stop sign after stop sign after stop sign

I want to ask him about his tooth

He’s still handsome and he knows it

I buried it, he says

The tooth?

No, he says, the trout.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer.