An itinerant poet at heart, Gary Short has surveyed the universe of Guatemala, Albania, Mexico and, most recently, Tasmania. Throughout all of these journeys, he has returned to the landscape that claims him: the Comstock. He thinks of this last place and Guatemala as his twin homes, his private domain that both welcome the itinerant one on his terms.
Short was born in 1953. He started teaching in Virginia City in the late 1970s—after a conversation with Hugh Gallagher, then the school superintendent. When Gallagher asked him why he wanted to teach, Short replied, "I want to teach where Walter Clark taught. I want to be in the school where he once taught." Gallagher hired Short several weeks later.
Short's most profound influence during that time was Tom Meschery, the basketball player-turned-poet who introduced Short to thirty books of poetry, which shortened his learning curve, and he was hooked. At thirty years old, he resolved to become a poet.
Short completed his undergraduate work at Fresno State University where Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine ran the creative writing program. Later, he earned a master's degree in English at Sacramento State, where he studied with the poet Dennis Schmitz. Short received a master of fine arts (MFA) in creative writing at Arizona State University, under the tutelage of noted poet Norman Dubie. Throughout this long period of gestation, Short's work began to appear in the periodicals and journals of the American West. These were quickly followed by three books, the second of which, Flying Over Sonny Liston, won the Western States Book Award.
A Stegner Fellow and the recipient of residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Centrum, and the Virginia Center for the Arts, Short has taught students on both coasts and Alaska. Throughout his travels and teaching, he has survived the loss of his brother and parents, and so he is now the poet of reconciliation. The long poem to his father, "Frame Blue," which appeared in his last collection, is an elegiac remembrance of the father who once was king, but slowly became the pawn in the small games of disillusion and disappointment. Short writes in such a way that others, many others, may come into the poems—and see them as nocturnal lights, guides for the journeys each of us might choose.
Now a poet at mid-career, Short is at work on a fourth book of poems, trying to sift through the best of his new poetry. Yet, he would say simply that the poems are what he has tried to believe, tried to recreate in the face of the landscape of loss and, paradoxically, redemption. He quotes Stanley Kunitz in the beginning of his first book: "We learn as the thread plays out, that we belong/ less to what flatters us than what scars," and this thread underlies his plaintive, careful rendering of place, person, and country. He is a man without, a man for whom the stakes of being alive are the only stakes. He lives in the state that would be home to tons of nuclear waste, and he lived for years at the mouth of the mine in American Flat, the green cooling pond not far from his door. This Nevada landscape is the totem, much as the landscape in Guatemala, which persists and directs his voice in the poems. There is the constant of the loss of love but the poems augur for the outcry of the human voice; they transcend our tiny politics and move beyond the fields of today.
To paraphrase the poet Dave Lee, Short's poetry is clear, resonant, and profound. It is a kind of poetry that readers have come to rely on in this intensely vulnerable time. His poetry asks nothing less of readers than to read it as if for the first time until, perhaps, they become its itinerant followers.