The Business of Naming Things

(Bellevue Literary Press, Jan. 2015)

Among these eight stories, a fan of writer (and fellow adoptee) Harold Brodkey gains an audience with him at his life’s end; two pals take a Joycean sojourn; a man in the business of naming things meets a woman who may not be what she seems; a father discovers his son is suspected in an assassination attempt on the President. In each tale, Coffey’s exquisite attention to character and nuance underlies the brutally honest perspectives of his disenchanted fathers, damaged sons, and orphans left feeling perpetually disconnected.


“Riveting prose… vibrant and unsparing.” Publishers Weekly [starred review]

A Library Journal top pick for fall/winter fiction titles from independent presses

An Amazon Top 10 pick in literary fiction for the month of January.

A Kojo Nmamdi Show “Winter Reading” selection


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87 North

(Coffee House, 1999)

“The poems that await the reader along route 87 North delightfully combine an inviting colloquial voice with a solidity of language and a rich texture of verbal music. There is much to be discovered in these nimble, surprising, and delightful poems.”Billy Collins

“From its beginning, the book has an honest tone, a blend of a more relaxed Creeley and a less knowingly casual [Frank] O’Hara—with a little bit of Frost thrown in….87 North will require a different set of muscles in its readers than [Coffey’s earlier book] Elemenopy required: muscles that absorb and process plain speaking about universal emotions, which are not bad muscles, in and of themselves. If you don’t have those muscles, this book might give you some.”Max Winter, Poetry Project Newsletter, February/March 2000


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(Sun & Moon Press, 1995)

“Michael Coffey’s smart and inventive Elemenopy draws its inspiration from two of the century’s most celebrated tricksters, Gertrude Stein and Jackson Mac Low, and exults in the principle that poetry need not sacrifice seriousness for being fun…. Coffey understands how each word senses in itself the horizon of the next, and makes possible an organicism that resists—or at least disguises—over manipulation.” 

Fred Muratori, American Book Review, Vol 18/no. 3, Mar/Apr 1997


“Ordered in progressively intrepid sections… the poems in Elemenopy adopt four distinct stances from which to examine ‘(the poet’s) and the poems’ relationship to language.’ To some, this may sound self-serious and heavy, but Coffey’s exuberance and wit make light of the endeavor: what might have been leaden is instead (mostly) gold.” Timothy Donnelly, The Boston Review (n.d.)

“Although a certain alienation is central to these tightly compressed poems, their energy is also invigorating: if the possibilities for forms and kinds of relationships in language are endless, then so are our own.” Publishers Weekly, Dec. 18, 1995

“Although… Coffey’s work might be considered ‘language poetry,’ he is, in fact, a kind of Dadaist or ‘dropster punster,’ as he calls himself, delighting in all sorts of verbal pyrotechnics.”—Library Journal (n.d.)


(O Books, 2005)

“Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black—with forms that mimic the basic tones from which all colors are blended and printed, this third outing from New York poet and PW executive managing editor Coffey returns to the experimental, procedure-oriented methods of his first, Elemenopy , and synthesizes them beautifully with the autobiographical modes of his second, 87 North . Much of the volume adapts or radically abbreviates preexisting texts: ‘Verbum’ arranges verbs (just the verbs) from the Biblical creation story (‘said Let be was saw was/ divided called called was was’). ‘Irish Love Poem’ and ‘Imagisme’ replace poems by (respectively) Mebdh McGuckian and Ezra Pound with (respectively) black and white squares and sets of ones and zeros—the binary code that is the foundation of word processing. The book’s second half, if less cerebral, is just as rigorous and materials-oriented: ‘Holiday à la Carte’ uses a dining journal from a European vacation to reflect on adult development: ‘When/ will I be/ what I’ve become? Ham,/ bleu cheese, baguette,/ Leffe Blonde and straw-/ berries.’ The longer ‘Datebook 2002’ takes on the contemporary art scene and the legacy of Andy Warhol along with daily life in post-9/11 New York, achieving a low-key insouciance reminiscent of James Schuyler. With apparent self-revelations that turn out to be quotations, and jigsaw-like verbal constructions that depict pathos almost despite themselves, Coffey finds ‘what’s in the brain that ink may character.’”—Publishers Weekly, July 25, 2005 

“It’s a lovely, painful, moving book, synthesizing for me some of the best of the New York School’s lust for life and Language poetry’s care for construction and the political valences of syntax. It’s going on my Best of 2005 list, or would if I had one. Maybe one book is enough.” Joshua Corey, “Cahier de Corey,” Dec. 15, 2005

Selected Bibliography





The Business of Naming Things. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2015.



Elemenopy. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1996

87 North. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1999.

Between Two Things (with Rebecca Smith). Lake George, N.Y: Lake George Arts Project, 2002.

 CMYK. Oakland: O Books, 2004.



The Irish in America (as editor, with Terry Golway). New York: Hyperion, 1997.

27 Men Out: Baseball’s Perfect Games. New York: S&S/ Atria, 2004.


Anthologies (poetry)

Rooted in Rock New Adirondack Writing 1975-2000.  Edited by Jim Gould; forewords by Rick Bass and Jacqueline F. Day. Syracuse, N.Y.: The Adirondack Museum/Syracuse University Press, 2001.

The Book of Irish American Poetry: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Edited by Daniel Tobin. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press , 2007.

The Open Light: Poets from Notre Dame, 1991-2008. Edited by Orlando Ricardo Menes. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011.

So Little Time: An Interpretive Look at What it Means to be Green in an Evolving World. Edited by Greg Delanty. Burlington, Vt.: Green Writers Press, 2014.

The Collected Explosive Magazine, edited by Katy Lederer, Spectacular Books, Nov. 2017.



“Trespasses” (fiction/memoir). New England Review (Middlebury, Vt.). Stephen Donadio, editor. Volume 28, no. 4, 2007.

“Yarrow” (memoir). The Republic of Letters (Boston, Mass.). Keith Botsford, editor. No. 19, Winter 2009.

“Free Jazz” (memoir). New England Review (Middlebury, Vt.). Stephen Donadio, editor. Volume 30, no. 2, 2009. [“Free Jazz” was cited in The Best American Essays 2010, Christopher Hitchens, editor; Robert Atwan, series editor.]

“Sunlight” (fiction). Conjunctions (Annandale-on Hudson, N.Y.). Bradford Morrow, editor. Volume 54 (2010). [“Sunlight” was cited in the Special Mention section of 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI Best of the Small Presses, Bill Henderson, editor.]

“I Thought You Were Dale” (fiction). New England Review (Middlebury, Vt). Stephen Donadio, editor. Volume 32, no. 3, 2011.

“Creel” (short fiction). New England Review digital, Josh Tyree, editor. February 23, 2012.

“Fathers and Sons in Ulysses” (personal essay). Michael Miller, editor. June 14, 2012.

“Sons” (fiction). New England Review (Middlebury, Vt.). Stephen Donadio, editor. Volume 34, no. 1, 2013.

“Waiting for Nauman” (essay). New England Review digital, Josh Tyree, editor. April 2014.

“Gare St. Lazare Ireland: An Interview with Conor Lovett,” Bomb Daily, Oct. 14, 2015.

” ‘I Build Ruins’: Charles Simonds and the Dwellings of His Little People,” Artcritical, Dec. 31, 2015.

“Lisa Dwan & Walter Asmus: An Interview,” Bomb Daily, Apr. 12, 2016.

“Gare St. Lazare Ireland’s ‘Waitiing for Godot,’ “ Journal of Beckett Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 2016.

” ‘The Impregnable Without’: Review of David Lloyd’s Beckett’s Thing: Beckett and Painting,” Artcritical, June 22, 2017.

“Shen Wei’s ‘Neither,’ Opera by Morton Feldman, Libretto by Samuel Beckett,” Journal of Beckett Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 2017.