I am the poet laureate of Santa Cruz county, California, and the "Agents of Change: Art & Poetry Project" is underway. Please consult our website to submit art related to change, or to write poetry based on submitted artwork. My first book of poetry--Strong-Armed Angels—was published by Hummingbird Press, and three of its poems were read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. My second book was a series of poems concerning the Iraq war, Every Seed of the Pomegranate. I then co-translated with Abbas Kadhim the selected poems of Adnan al-Sayegh, the Iraqi poet, which was published as Bombs have Not Breakfasted Yet. I wrote Black Ice, a book length series of poems about my father's dementia and death, and a chapbook which won the Mary Ballard award: Take Wing, about my mother-in-law's cancer. I'm currently finishing a book of poems about my year as a Fulbright lecturer in Xi'an, China, and writing a long narrative poem about the friendship between a US soldier and an Iraqi interpreter, NIGHTJARS. I'm also creating an anthology of poems about the artwork of Bruegel and Bosch with my art historian mother, THE PAINTED WORD, co-translating young Chinese poets with my former graduate students, and co-translating young Iraqi poets with Abbas Kadhim. I teach literature and film at Cabrillo Community College, in Santa Cruz, California, where I live with my family.

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Poetry Reading

Click on the link to view the Zoom recording of my poet laureate reading.




Up late with Yousif al-Timimi—former interpreter now living in Salt Lake City with his family—as the last candles pool I ask: What’s the hardest thing you saw? He’d been called to Camp Taji’s main gate about a suspicious package a woman was carrying. When he arrived she was clutching a crimped-over paper bag to her chest and the men were yelling at her with their AKs. He made them stand down, then approached, asked what she had. She slowly unrolled it. Inside, the head of her son. She was asking the American soldiers to help look for the body so she could bury him properly. Yousif says: As she talked she continued to stroke her son’s hair. 


David Allen Sullivan's other Poetry Books

Available through the presses listed below

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Strong-Armed Angels

Available from Hummingbird Press

David Sullivan is a poet of awakening, of learning how to read the ‘signatures of the invisible.’  If life is miraculous, and it is, then we are surrounded with its signatures.  But for many of us they are invisible—we are too busy swimming in the quotidian to see them.  Sometimes it takes a poem to wake us to the miraculous, that they may be received.  David Sullivan is a master of that kind of poem.  Over and over in Strong-Armed Angels he demonstrates for us, ‘It’s not the world / we must shrink from, but our fear of it.’
        —Joseph Stroud, author of Signatures, Below Cold Mountain, and Country of Light

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Every Seed of the Pomegranate

Available from
Tebot Bach

Through the hard lens of the recent war in Iraq, the poems in David Allen Sullivan's Every Seed of the Pomegranate span the wide landscapes of history, culture, and mythology. More importantly, Sullivan's gaze is steeped in compassion for all connected to the combat zone; these finely crafted poems investigate and interrogate that which is most deeply human. During a recent trip to Baghdad I was asked by an Iraqi poet, "When will the artists in America create work in conversation with us?" Every Seed of the Pomegranate is a necessary part of this neglected and difficult conversation. --Brian Turner, Here, Bullet; Phantom Noise

Black Ice

Available through Turning Point Press

Anyone who has lived through the experience of a parent’s death will find much that is achingly familiar in Sullivan’s Black Ice. At one point he questions the nature of the gods: 'What if gods are blessed with attentiveness?...never / cease their open-mouthed astonished nodding.' If true, then Sullivan joins them!" --Ellen Bass


Book of poems about my year teaching and traveling in China as a Fulbright Scholar. SEARCHING FOR A PUBLISHER. 

Seed Shell Ash

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Walk/Don’t Walk


By the remains of the Han dynasty wall in Xi’an—

rows of low bermed hills with historical placards—


the four of us wait for the Walk sign to change

and usher us across all eight lanes of traffic. 


My family and I have been here almost a week. 

The red figure with a circle for a head 


stands motionless in a high metal box

perched on a pole across the wide street. 


I’m distracted by a bus ad, and when I look

a green man’s replaced him, saunters along 


carefree. We follow the crowd, match his strides, 

his gait inspires ours: man man zou—take your time—


but then his tick-tock-tick legs quicken, 

start to blur, until he’s at a dead sprint


and we are too, 

running for our lives.



Available from Word Works Books LINK


I don’t know if art can save us from self-annihilation, but to echo Muriel Rukeyser slightly: David Allen Sullivan’s poetry is the kind of thing that might help us back away from the brink.

                                                                  —Tim Seibles, One Turn Around The Sun


In a way, Black Butterflies Over Baghdad depicts death flapping its wings over the city of Baghdad—the capital of Iraq, its beating heart—but those poetic flights radiate throughout Iraq, and into the wider world.

—Faleeha Hassan, Breakfast for Butterflies


With Black Butterflies Over Baghdad, we are given a world of voices, stories of olive groves and militias, loved ones turned to ash, wet gunpowder and oceans large enough to “erase/almost anything.” Sullivan listens across cultures and across languages in order to undo the erasures of time and power. With many hands in the making, Black Butterflies Over Baghdad is a book of compassion and deep humanity. 

—Brian Turner, Here Bullet; My Life as a Foreign Country

HAMZA'S talk with me about the book and co-translation:



Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet

Available from the Iraqi Cultural Council, London

Dr. Abbas Kadhim is an Iraqi-American academic specializes in Iraq, Iran, Persian Gulf, and Islam. He is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS- Johns Hopkins University and the President of the Institute of Shia Studies in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Reclaiming Iraq: the 1920 Revolution and the Founding of the Modern State, Univ. of Texas Press, 2012; and “The Hawza under Siege: A Study in the Ba’th Party Archives“, Boston Univ., 2013.
David Allen Sullivan’s books include: Strong-Armed Angels, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, a book of co-translations from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh undertaken with Abbas Kadhim, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet, and Black Ice, about his father’s dementia and death. Most recently, he won the Mary Ballard Chapbook poetry prize for Take Wing. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students, and lives in Santa Cruz with his family.


Take Wing

Available from Casey Shay Press

WINNER of the 2016 Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize. From the sweetness of picking blackberries while one is dying to witnessing how cancer "hollows bones," the poems in Take wing speak lyrically of the process of letting go. "The loss of loved ones is central to our shared humanity, and with Take Wing, David Allen Sullivan has given us poems that confront death with the mineral strength of a spiritual warrior and at the same time sing the world like the gentlest lover. " Rosemary Catacalos, author of Again for the First Time. "These poems are beacons lighting the liminal space between the body's heat and its inevitable decline. The tunnels they take us through are leading, always, toward a place of greater heat." Danusha Lameris, author of The Moons of August.


ekphrastic Anthology

Ekphrastic Poems about the artwork of Bosch and Bruegel are featured in the Anthology "The Painted Word,"

which is searching for a publisher. Edited by David Allen Sullivan and his mother, the late art historian Margaret Sullivan.

The first section of my long narrative poem about the friendship between an Iraqi interpreter and a U.S. soldier, Nightjars, won first place in the Golden Walkman's second annual Audio Chapbook Contest. https://www.goldwalkmag.com/about/nightjars-announcement

(artwork by Laura Ortiz for Nightjars)


Give Me a Holler


Thanks for your interest