Featured Contributor

John Raffetto

About John Raffetto

John Raffetto is a lifelong resident of Chicago. Some of his poetry has been published in print and online magazines such as Gloom Cupboard, Wilderness House, BlazeVox, Literary Orphans, and Poetry Quarterly & Exact Change. One of his poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017.

John holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Northeastern Illinois University and worked as a horticulturist and landscape designer for many years at the Chicago Park District. Its conservatories and parks were rich sources of inspiration for poems concerning nature, people, and the city. Currently, he teaches courses at Newberry Library and Chicago Botanic Garden and has taught at local community colleges and museums. He lives with his wife, and they have an adult son.


In the poems of John Raffetto, “a jazz sunrise…stumbles into a bootleg sunset,” “cattle rustlers watch cable television / on the banks of asphalt streams,” and “the perch in Lake Michigan / are using antidepressants.” Human Botany is a book of poems about people, places, and things: Edward Abbey, Bobby Fischer, Edward Hopper, Nat King Cole, Tucson, Venice, Chicago, Istanbul, photosynthesis, nostalgia, nursing homes, and full moons. This book tackles the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral, that is to say, the human sphere, the ecosphere, and the igneous mental sphere, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all three at once. Herein find the blooms of poem horticulture. This book is a well-tended garden of verse, well worth repeated visits.

~ Bill Yarrow, author of Blasphemer, Accelerant, and Against Prompts

In these 30 sharply felt poems, John Raffetto confronts place “I bless alkaline soil and dig,” the past “Edward Hopper was / a lonely grouch,” and death “ashes to ashes / at 800 degrees.” Human Botany is rooted deep in the rich muck of living and breathing. It is an insistent whispering of landscape, echoes, and the unknown always around the corner.

~ Patrick T. Reardon, a former Chicago Tribune reporter who has published eight books, including the poetry collection Requiem for David

John Raffetto’s rich collection of words takes us on a journey that weaves together a sense of place, people, and bountiful history. In a poem about the Sonoran Desert region, “metal roofs brace western railroad tracks/ carrying Caribbean rum/ on the spines of burnt field workers/ whose knotted hands hold nursing babies.” The soft language of his endings embraces the past while capturing the present. A poem about Chicago opens with the “flat prairie lake/ wild onion breeze / slow canoe by / DuSable Indians and Anglo fools.” It concludes with “generations / of lake prairie wetlands / [that] reclaim empty lots / as children/ quietly/ walk to school.” The poignant “Mom’s Last Ride” starts with an urn of cobalt blue and ends at the cemetery: “They’re all here now; / my mom the last to arrive / just like at the Christmas dinner table.” John’s moving reflections are balanced with humor: He wonders how a “Star Poet” can “rouse women to unfasten their brassieres…what works best / images, / contractions, / fewer adjectives,…?” With language that is both straightforward and layered, John conjures whimsy and deep emotion without sentimentality. That’s a gift.

~ Wendy Anderson, author of Wild Things in the Yard and An Ancient Trail to Home poetry collections