In graduate school, a female classmate told me I read like a girl. We were at a house party. Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep had recently been released in paperback, and I mentioned that I’d read it over the summer and enjoyed it. “Really?” my classmate said. Her face began at surprise and then traveled toward disapproval. “I don’t know any other men who liked that book.”

Or maybe I was only imagining disapproval. She was one of those people who likes to amuse themselves at parties by playing armchair psychologist. On another night, drinking canned beer in someone’s patchy backyard, she referred to me as “one of our program’s alpha males,” a claim so absurd I did an actual spit take. A couple of months later, at a post-workshop dinner, apropos of seemingly nothing, she turned to me and said, “I bet you were popular in high school.” That time, at least, I knew I was being insulted.

It’s funny, the comments that stay with you and bury themselves deep in your pockets — small, smooth stones you can worry over in idle moments. I can still hear the voice of the boy who called me a sissy on a school-sponsored weekend trip to the North Carolina mountains when I was in the fifth grade. I can see his face too, ruddy in the cold, chubby with baby fat. I no longer remember the point of that trip, except that it was sponsored by the gifted and talented program and brought together kids from three or four different schools. But I remember walking through the woods with a girl I’d just met, a girl I was quickly developing a crush on, though at that age I didn’t know what to do with my crushes except stand near them, like a wood stove in a drafty cabin. I remember that she had an unusual name, hippie parents, and the kind of chunky, plastic jewelry I associated with much older women. I think we were supposed to be identifying trees. More… “My Trouble With Men”

Mike Ingram is a founding editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and co-host of the weekly Book Fight! podcast. You can follow him on twitter at mikeingram00



This year I made a resolution to bike through the winter. Usually by January I’ve traded in my bike for public transportation and taxis, but I always feel biking’s absence from my life. It’s not just the exercise. In winter it’s too easy to spend your days shuffling tiredly between dark and dark. It’s too easy to hibernate, to let your life shrink down until you could live it on the tip of a pencil.

I bought my first bike — as an adult, I mean — at age 30, on something of a whim. I was in the midst of a protracted breakup, and I needed a little fun in my life. At first I only cruised around Philadelphia on weekends, or took slow rides on a path by the river, though soon enough I found myself biking to work. I found myself biking to run errands and to meet friends at bars and restaurants. Within a year I’d gotten rid of my car.

I always tell people I don’t believe in resolutions, but each year I find myself making a few anyway. I always tell people I don’t care about birthdays, but I recently turned 39, and it feels like a big one.

More… “Biking”

Mike Ingram is a founding editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and co-host of the weekly Book Fight! podcast. You can follow him on twitter at mikeingram00


My girlfriend and I have had a serious relationship for about five years. The both of us lack significant dating experience, so recently we decided to make it an “open” relationship. We’ve both been dating other people, but I’m starting to feel weird about it. I think my girlfriend likes this arrangement, but I want to go back to the way things used to be. Can poetry help? — Mr. S


Yes, poetry can help!  Poetry can help you convince your girlfriend to return to the more traditional relationship, but poetry can also help you accept this arrangement — it depends on what you’re looking for. I found some poems by the 15th-century Indian poet Kabir in The Kabir Book: Forty-Four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir translated by Robert Bly that could argue for both sides. I’ll begin with… More…

Is online dating weird? I don’t like the idea of it at all. Relying on technology for something so primitive and organic as meeting and wooing a woman goes against every Romantic and idealistic sentiment I possess. Also, there are some weird people out there. On the other hand, I am realizing that it might be my only option since the computers are taking over our brains and this is apparently how people meet now. What do the sages have to say on that topic? — Rafael van der Vaart


We all fear the unknown, so a lot of people would label online dating as weird. But I don’t think it is. I know and have heard about a lot of couples united through online dating services, and I don’t think that using one would contradict any Romantic… More…


I wanted to read a poem to my gathered family before our Christmas meal. Could you recommend several? What would your top five Christmas poems be? — Already-Frazzled-Preparer-of-a-Christmas-Feast

I guess it would be totally lame to cite my favorite Christmas poem (“A Visit From St. Nicholas”—“’Twas the night before Christmas”), but that’s a really good one, very entertaining if you will have little ones at your table. My other top poems are below:

Emily Dickinson writes a good one (of course, right?):

Before the ice is in the pools — Before the skaters go, Or any cheek at nightfall Is tarnished by the snow —

Before the fields have finished — Before the Christmas tree, Wonder upon wonder — Will arrive to me!

The poem goes on in two more quatrains, but it gets a little inaccessible, so… More…


I am a poet currently in graduate school. I just finished a sestina. Do I owe Dana Gioia any royalties? — A.K., Lincoln, Nebraska

A.K., you owe Dana Gioia no more royalties than you owe to the parent who taught you how to write a grocery list. Gioia uses the sestina form in an effective way that inspires you to write one — he didn’t invent it, just like your mom or dad didn’t invent the grocery list. But their version of the grocery list, the separation of fresh produce on one side and toiletries and paper products on the other side, just makes so much logical sense that you’re inspired to do the same thing. Poets are always happy to hear that they’ve inspired someone — that’s the real royalty. So don’t worry A.K.: You’ve paid up.

I’ve… More…


“I have a car,” he whispered in my ear while we danced, and for a moment I was tempted to whisper back, “Me too. It’s a Corolla. Do you know anything about how to fix window seals?”

For the last six months I danced every week at a place with a $3 cover called Andrea’s Cha Cha Cha. On voice mail messages I left for friends in Portland, meant to entice them into coming out and dancing with me, I called it Andrea’s Chach or Andrea’s Cha Cha, and my friends rarely called or even texted back to say they couldn’t make it. So I started to go alone after work. I paid my $3 cover and made my way down to the basement where I hopped onto a bar stool in my work clothes and waited to… More…

Once I had a boyfriend, and when he got into my car for the first time he said, “Oh, it’s dirty.” I could tell he was concerned, because it was not just cluttered — it was strange messy. I looked around and tried to imagine what I would think of the owner of a car like that if it wasn’t mine. I moved things out of the passenger seat — shoes, rackets, books, orange rinds, glasses of dried smoothie — but then I thought there was no use in pretending. “It’s just like this normally,” I said. “It just is.” It was a time when I was too worn out to lead anyone on. “Hey, you know I ride a bike,” Sean said.

He said sometimes people flipped him off while he was riding, or threw drive-thru drinks at him from their car for no reason. I told him the… More…

When I was living and studying in rural Japan, I had a Korean-Chinese friend named Emi. She spoke Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and English fluently, and she didn’t need much sleep. Once, when she came home to our dorm after studying late at night, she left a cream puff outside my door with a note: “Eat! Eat! Delicious!”

Emi was getting her master’s degree in psychology and taking four classes a term. She was also looking online for a husband, and that, she said, made her feel like she was taking five classes a term.

One night she pulled me into her professor’s office so I could take a look at a collection of men’s photos she had downloaded from the Internet. With a couple of clicks on a folder icon she produced a collection of the most sullen, pasty-looking Korean-Chinese men I had ever seen. Not that I had seen… More…