books & chapbooks
To read an interview with Stephen Kessler by editor David Garyan of Interlitq, click here.

To read Wallace Baine's profile of Stephen Kessler in Lookout Santa Cruz, click here.

To watch a video of Stephen Kessler's May 20 Profile Performance as the 2023 Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year, click here.

To listen to Stephen Kessler interviewed by Morton Marcus on The Poetry Show, KUSP radio, in 1985, 1987, 1989 or 1993, please click on any of the following links, courtesy of the digital archive at University of California Santa Cruz McHenry Library Special Collections.
• Morton Marcus with Stephen Kessler, 1985
• Morton Marcus with Stephen Kessler, 1987
• Morton Marcus with Stephen Kessler, 1989
• Morton Marcus with Stephen Kessler, 1993

Last CallLast Call
Black Widow Press, September 2021
Available directly from the publisher,, or via independent booksellers or Amazon

“There is a wonderful term in Italian—Sprezzatura—which is the art of making the difficult appear easy, a kind of grace that cloaks a deep mastery of craft. I find this quality, this Sprezzatura, everywhere in Stephen Kessler’s work. There is a remarkable lucidity to his writing, a lucidity that gives a reader immediate access. He is a writer who believes that clarity honors the reader. In one of his essays on the art of translation, Kessler describes the process of what a translator must bring to the work—and it’s a clear description of his own qualities, not only as one of the finest translators we have, but his process as a poet and prose writer: ‘In time, with practice, patience, and perseverance, one may develop the moves, the intuition, the ear, the stylistic versatility, the range, the technique, the confidence, the humility, the daring, the presumption, the gifted accomplishment…’ and this is precisely what he has done.” —Joseph Stroud, American Academy of Arts and Letters

To listen to Stephen Kessler in conversation with Dion O'Reilly on The Hive Poetry Collective podcast recorded in Santa Cruz and aired on November 7, 2021, click here.

To read Christina Waters' interview with Stephen Kessler on Last Call in Good Times, click here.

Black Widow Press, May 2018
Available directly from the publisher,, or via independent booksellers or Amazon

Prolific poet, award-winning translator, esteemed critic—“certainly the best poetry critic in sight,” according to Lawrence Ferlinghetti—essayist and journalist, editor and novelist, Stephen Kessler has been a constant creative force in the American literary counterculture for more than fifty years. In Garage Elegies Kessler records with grief and wit, documentary realism and ranging imagination, poignancy and irony, a journey through the gains and losses of a lifetime. From the twenty-four numbered poems of the title (composed in the poet's garage) to fanciful inventions like “My Gym at Midnight,” passionate meditations like “River Lovers,” and nightmarish visions like “Bedless in Bedlam,” his emotional honesty, conversational lyricism, and wry melancholy are at once dazzling and down to earth, heart-opening and consciousness-wrenching, retro-romantic and totally contemporary. Open this book to any page and find an unmistakably authentic voice.

“Alliteration and exaggeration make these poems pleasing to the eye and the ear, especially if you enjoy apocalypse, paranoia, and alienation, the major themes of the modernists who have inspired Kessler for decades. Moreover, while he’s not a language poet per se, it’s language that engages him; in Garage Elegies, he ventures into the colloquial as well as the formal and the academic, as when he evokes ‘the demonic muses’ and then a few lines further on… ‘Give it to me baby.’” —Jonah Raskin, Rain Taxi

To read a review by Christina Waters in gtweekly, click here.

Where Was I?Where Was I?
Greenhouse Review Press, April 2015
Available from the author, or at bookstores via Small Press Distribution

In these hybrid writings—a mixture of memoir, prose poetry, personal essay, travel journal, and spiritual meditation—Stephen Kessler synthesizes a lifetime of experiences in language of extraordinary concentration, vividness, and lyricism.  The stories he tells and the visions he evokes of places and people he has known could be anyone’s, but they are the distillation of a singular personal history in a voice uniquely his own.

“Stephen Kessler’s Where Was I? consists of brief meditations, musings, and reminiscences on place, presence, and the passing of time.  They are astonishing reflections on how the past resurfaces in the present, lending a new dimension for which we have no name, where the here and now is framed by what was, where memory is transposed by imagination, and where experience through the spell of art is alchemized into eternal moments.  In page after page of this amazing book, Kessler celebrates and mourns our mortal world.  These pieces re-vision a lifetime of luminous and fugitive experiences; they are a thanksgiving and praise to a life well-lived coupled with an artistic intelligence that appreciates and celebrates its wonders.” —Joseph Stroud, American Academy of Arts and Letters

“One gets the impression that the composition was decidedly unhurried, as if Kessler was patient enough to wait for one best thought to follow another....There is a lot of faith here: in literature; in art; in the physical; and in the natural....Kessler is saddened by the isolation of our digital lives and offers Where Was I? as a counterexample of what an engaged life might look like in retrospect. In our hyperactive and shallow world, there is urgency in the call to idleness and experience. If we look up from our screens, perhaps we'll find that 'Stopping to do nothing but smell the scenery is an act of resistance against Time and the West's decline,' and that the resistance is worthwhile.” —Scott F. Parker, Rain Taxi
cover to comeScratch Pegasus
Swan Scythe Press, April 2013

“Stephen Kessler’s Scratch Pegasus captures the poignancy of the human drama in poems as great as Ferlinghetti’s observing and honoring young lovers and aging poets recalling their youth.  Amazing sonnets paint miniature portraits of iconic characters from his past while longer poems which themselves are music and art praise musicians and artists who have inspired him.  ‘Driving a Stake through the Heart of Beatnik Vampires’ is one of the funniest poems I’ve ever read.  Kessler’s poems offer vision after vision that empowers young poets and old poets to take flight.” —Antler, author of The Selected Poems

“From the opening line, ‘This dust has history,’ to the exaltation of the title poem, Scratch Pegasus has it all—lyricism, wit, intelligence, an open heart and a distinctive voice combined with the gift and ability to perform and deliver in a range of forms.” —Robert Sward, author of New & Selected Poems 1957-2011

“In Stephen Kessler’s remarkable Scratch Pegasus an authentic voice introduces us to lovers, friends, teachers, musicians, actors, painters—living or dead—and we welcome their company.  Like the best poems these figures are always with us, though we may never see them again.  Kessler’s poems embody the spirit that drives much of jazz and inhabits any work of art that survives its own age.” —George Keithley, author of Night’s Body

To listen to a conversation between book critic Rick Kleffel and Stephen Kessler about Scratch Pegasus, click here.
cover to comeBurning Daylight
Littoral Press, 2007
Limited edition, with letterpress cover designed and printed by Lisa
Rappoport, available directly from the author, $20
(shipping and handling included). Contact for postal information.
Sixty new poems (2001-2006) ranging from evocations of childhood to meditations on mortality, journalistic snapshots to intimate love lyrics, reflections on the pointlessness of existence to celebrations of the pleasures of friendship and the delights of sensory perception, moving geographically from California to Spain and back again, with stops in Chicago, New York City and elsewhere, a philosophical journey in musical time.

Tell It To The RabbisTell It to the Rabbis and other poems 1977-2000
Creative Arts, 2001
Available online or directly from the author
“Stephen Kessler gives poetic form to those ‘endangered deities’ threatened by disappearance in the oblivion of the rapid California globalized Now. A love poet of sensitive memory, he constructs his poems as bastions of feeling amid crumbling values and collapsing affirmations.” —Jack Hirschman

“Stephen Kessler gives us what readers desperately want: the experience of a whole life lived. Dense, reflective, and unflinching, Tell It to the Rabbis takes marvelous risks with language and with memory.” —D. J. Waldie

“Kessler has mapped the emotional expanses determined by the harsh borders of longing and loss, sexual attraction and sexual release, mystical union and mystical dissolve, and his poems—by turns tender, ironic, furious, and wry—pulse with the soulful syncopation of the heart.” —Gary Young

“The work collected here may focus on the kinds of questions all of us have—inquiries about love and sex and longing and loss. But Kessler brings to them an extraordinary sensitivity, a gift for acute observation, and an astonishing talent for making ordinary words perform more extraordinary tricks than a troupe of Chinese acrobats.” —North Bay Bohemian

After Modigliani
Creative Arts, 2000
Available online or directly from the author
“These soul-deep, introspective songs by Stephen Kessler wax strongly of the philosophical, the nostalgic, and an acceptance of life’s complexities tinged with a quiet rage—this book is an ‘alchemical’ work of passion.” —Wanda Coleman

“No one is better at delineating our love-hate relation to modern life and urban dissonance than Stephen Kessler. He catches with perfect precision the mad contradictions we embrace every day.” —Carolyn Kizer

“Kessler, a language rogue, a bard of solitude and singer for a greater harmony, delivers the breakdown, the soulmix of a civilization on the edge, a word runner cutting through the Phenomena into the grave pleasures of the Real.” —Juan Felipe Herrera

“On the question of roots and influences, the poems…provide a good deal of insight. Ginsberg, William Blake, Henry Miller, Julio Cortázar, Pablo Neruda, Kenneth Rexroth and Federico García Lorca are all invoked. Not a bad list to be associated with. Add maybe Bob Dylan and Charles Bukowski and you’ll have a fair idea of where Kessler is coming from.” —Anderson Valley Advertiser

“Kessler’s poems are meticulously crafted gems of wit, style and passion. His delight in expressing complex emotions with just the right turn of phrase, with a former infielder’s nonchalant flick of the wrist’s lethal double play, is palpable and irresistible.” —Monterey County Weekly

Living Expenses
Alcatraz Editions, 1980
Available online or directly from the author
“Stephen Kessler’s ‘In the Late Sun’ [from Living Expenses] has an almost baroque richness of images, the kind of richness that might at first glance seem excessive—but slowly, intently read, each, in turn, work (are vivid) and—what is essential—accumulate not randomly or by continuing separateness but as a coherent whole in which they turn out to have been essential. The process, I feel, is akin to music—a piece of orchestral music in which many instruments, many rhythms, keys, tones, harmonies, motifs, partake, contributing to a whole. Also it is a poem in which is manifested the paradox of ‘happiness piercing the breast’ at any odd moment (in this case ‘pissing at dusk in fresh air’) in the midst of, despite, every surrounding negative. To me that’s at the very core of what living is all about.” —Denise Levertov, The American Poetry Review

coverImageNeededBeauty Fatigue
Alcatraz Editions, 1978
Available online
Limited edition letterpress chapbook hand-set by the author and printed in France by Romilly Waite at Braad Press. Eleven lyric poems, written mostly in Spain in 1976, that form a section of the larger, still unpublished book Maps to the Stars Homes.

coverImageNeededThirteen Ways of Deranging an Angel
Greenhouse Review Press, 1977
Available online
Limited edition letterpress chapbook hand-set and printed by Gary Young in Santa Cruz. A long poem with strong Los Angeles themes, also a section of Maps to the Stars Homes.

coverImageNeededPoem to Walt Disney
ManRoot Books, 1976
Available online
Limited edition chapbook. A comic “Elegy Written in an Orange County Amusement Park” that borrows from and parodies various English poets from Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton to Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats.

Nostalgia of the Fortuneteller
Kayak Books, 1975
Available through booksellers or directly from the author
“Over the years most of us have come to take for granted George Hitchcock’s wide-ranging contribution to contemporary poetry. Stephen Kessler’s Nostalgia of the Fortuneteller is no exception. Kessler speaks with an authenticity that is rare among younger poets, and speaks in a variety of styles….While maintaining an absolute control over diction, Kessler lets the poem take a clearly organic form, the images vividly defined, and the poems full of the sounds of graceful ordinary speech….This music was composed by a finely tuned ear.” —Sam Hamill, Small Press Review

“The collection’s telling ingredient is its economy of language, although the poems are anything but drab. In fact, Kessler dwells often in zones of anguish and madness, but keeps his imagery lucid and free of excess descriptive baggage….Not to be neglected is the poet’s sense of humor, which is pervasive and honed to a fine ironic edge….Nostalgia of the Fortuneteller rewards close reading. Kessler’s rhythms are usually appropriate and always smooth. His is a resourceful intelligence which complements well the richness of his imagination and the care with which he chooses his words.” —Sundaz! (Santa Cruz)

Gargoyle, The Cincinnati Review, Los Angeles Review, White Pelican Review, Red Hawk Review, Colere, Parthenon West Review, Seattle Review, The Louisville Review, Paper Street, Rattle, San Francisco Reader, Georgetown Review, Poetry Motel, California Quarterly, Exquisite Corpse, Oxygen, The Montserrat Review, Hambone, Poetry Flash, Volt, Mother Jones, Good Times, kayak, The American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, New Delta Review, Dallas Review, Luna, Invisible City, Little Caesar, Bachy, and many others.


info@stephenkessler.comCopyright © 2007-2023 Stephen Kessler