Robert DeMott

About Robert DeMott

Robert DeMott is Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Ohio University. His academic writing includes books, articles, and introductions to editions and anthologies of John Steinbeck that represent the best academic writing about Steinbeck in this generation. His books of poetry include News of Loss (1995); The Weather in Athens (2001), which won the Ohioiana Poetry Award; and Brief and Glorious Transit (2007). He lives in Ohio and fly fishes in Montana.

Christmas Eve, with Owls: Poetry by Robert DeMott

Image of great horned owls by John James Audubon

Christmas Eve, with Owls

“I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the . . . maniacal hooting for men.”
—Henry David Thoreau

In deepening shades of rose and magenta,
evening steals across Appalachian foothills
in this little tucked-away corner of Ohio we call home,
and a slivered moon, like a nail filing,
catches itself in the bare limbs of backyard trees
where last night in our grove of pines and oaks
a pair of great horned owls kept up their hoo-hooing,
the beat-beat of their bass drum carrying way beyond
our wrapping presents and offering holiday cheer,
finally echoing at the margins of our sleep,
that moment before the moment after,
when the last stirrings of children in our house—
eager for what they hope dawn will bring—
settled to quiet, and my love and I entered at last
a room inside a room, where we wondered if
our life on earth was ever-blessed as the good books say,
or only a brief dream, fearful and uncertain,
laden now by chill winds and more news
from our feathered pair, their dirge traveling
oceanic distances and blue-black star roads
this night of all nights, in this year like no other,
toward us, toward you.

In memory of Bob Bertholf, Helen DeMott, Jim Harrison, Mari Lyons, and Thom Steinbeck.

“Great Horned Owl” from John James Audubon’s Birds of America. Designed by Textual Healing.

Angling Days: My Love Affair With American Literature, John Steinbeck & Fly Fishing

Cover of Robert DeMott's book on fly fishing

A book on fly fishing by a scholar of American literature is great news for fans of John Steinbeck, especially when the scholar is Bob DeMott. The author of Angling Days: A Fly Fisher’s Journals talks about his lifelong love affair with John Steinbeck and fly fishing in this interview for Armstrong Television, serving Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.—Ed.

Robert DeMott – “Hospital Memory: Christmas, 1955”

Image of Robert DeMott's 2013 Christmas card and poem

In his later years, John Steinbeck complained about America’s decline into materialism—a state of spiritual decay he depicted as a familiar Christmas tableau: indulged children, gifts torn open and cast aside, crying to their parents, “Is that all there is?” Robert DeMott’s academic writing about John Steinbeck is the best of his generation. But his reputation as a writer of distinctive poetryNews of Loss (1995), The Weather in Athens (2001), and Brief and Glorious Transit (2007)—is equally secure: Weather in Athens was co-winner of  the 2002 Ohioana Award in Poetry. Recently retired from Ohio University, Robert DeMott remembers his own father in his 2013 Christmas card poem—a reminder that the greatest gift is love.

—For James DeMott (1917-2007)

“What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
—Robert Hayden

Dawn came slowly to our north shore
and I rose hazy from anesthesia
to watch it steal over house tops,
church spires, and parking lots
to sweeten the courtyard where
dwarf cherry and dog wood trees
bowed in their gowns of snow.
Daylight entered that room
through thick glass walls
and fell then on presents
piled by my mother’s wishes
at the foot of the bed.
I recall each child’s thing
by color, size, heft, and could
name them, but what’s the point?
All were well used but long gone,
as holiday presents often are,
before I knew the true gift
that night was my father,
driving miles through winter
to deliver his promise while I slept.