Author Archives: literata72

2017-18 Middle Island Press Poetry Chapbook Contest

Middle Island Press is now accepting submissions for our first poetry contest beginning September 22, 2017 and ending September 21, 2018. All content for a general audience is acceptable; we seek skill and palpability, the formal or the free.

The winner, to be announced in October 2018, will receive:

Cash prize, $100 minimum, up to $500 (to increase according to the number of entries)
Publication through Middle Island Press with Amazon listing and 100% royalties paid annually
Twenty-five copies with a press release
A “Coffee with the Poets” interview


Mail the following in a large envelope:

A title page with the title only, a contents page, and your paginated manuscript of 16-48 pages with no identifying information. (Front and back matter will be requested of the winner when the contest closes.)
Include within a separate sealed envelope: a sheet of paper that contains your pen name, your email address, and the title of your work as it is on your title page.
A $20 reader’s fee (check or money order payable to Robert Taylor)

Middle Island Press
PO Box 354
West Union, WV 26456

* Simultaneous and multiple submissions are acceptable. Previously published poems are acceptable, but your title as a previously published collection is not eligible. We will not return manuscripts and expect that each poet will retain a file of his/her work. We look forward to reading manuscripts through the coming seasons!

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Posted by on September 22, 2017 in News & Reviews


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Plato Poetica by Daniel Klawitter

(A Poetica Place book review by Christina Anne Taylor)

I can see Plato himself raising his cloud white eyebrows over my latest acquisition for our Red Salon: Plato Poetica by Daniel Klawitter. Within the elegant cover are four parts consisting of thirty poems (one in four parts) and a prose piece, and though the book developed from a concise concept, the themes of the poems vary considerably with the binding substance being epigraphs from Plato. The reader must begin with the preface to put everything into context; the reader must understand that the poet knows full well what he’s doing as he juxtaposes his modern-day voice against the timeless philosopher. That in itself is amusing.

The poems themselves vary in style but maintain a consistent signature that rings true to the poet. My personal favorite might actually be the perceptive prose piece titled “Esmeralda and the Hellhounds of Anubis.” As a woman, I relate to the theme of cats and enjoy such thoughts as “…cats have one paw in this world and the other three paws in the realm of spirits.” Esmeralda raises a paw and breaks the prose with an incantation:

Dogs are prose and prone to please.
Mice are good for eating.
When moonlight splinters through the trees
We watch humans while they’re sleeping.

Disobedience is heroic.
It’s wrong to persecute witches.
Hell is a world with no poets
And Heaven a charm of finches.

“Barnyard of the Gods” was enjoyable with lines such as:

…Hades is in the cellar
canning the souls of the dead….

Clever wit is a perennial recurrence throughout Plato Poetica, but Klawitter does have a serious side, and when he’s in serious mode he waxes most poetic, as in “The Most Shameful Thing”:

My sackcloth soul
is a waste of windswept ashes—
a hermitage of pollution.

So the poet admits openly in his preface that these seventy-four pages are an experiment of a sort with each poem being inspired by an epigraph, and I think it was worthwhile–worth his time and worth readers’ time. Copies are available at Amazon.

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Posted by on July 17, 2017 in News & Reviews


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The Road We’ve Traveled by Seth Nation

I found out that one of my clients, Seth Nation, author of The Road We’ve Traveled: Poems of Love and Remembrance, passed away recently. I published his saddle-stitched chapbook five years ago and we just converted it to paperback.

If any patrons of poetry enjoy performing random acts of kindness, I recommend that you consider helping to support the family of this good-hearted young man.

It was ironic to read The Road We’ve Traveled again and to see that he had time to prepare himself and his family, and it was heartening to know that he triumphed in his own way by pressing his love onto the pages of this priceless keepsake.

“The Song of My Spirit”

The song of my spirit
Charges on, despite death
Whispered upon your breath.
Listen softly, I beg, can you hear it?
Please, my dear love, please, by no means should you fear it.
It plays deep in your mind.
I’m eternally at your side,
Strong as the tide,
Hoping you to find.
Always to be,
Even though I have died
Playing my song, timeless, for you and me.

When all alone, in need,
Never forget I’m here,
Holding you oh so dear.
Praying that your heart be forever freed
From the endless pain and anguish I see you bleed.
I endure the cries, screams
That dutifully you can hide,
Buried inside.
We visit in dreams,
Always to be,
Even though I have died
Playing my song, timeless, for you and me.

Browse the interior at Amazon and consider picking up a copy or two of this heart-rending record of a young couple’s love for each other.

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Posted by on July 16, 2017 in News & Reviews


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Coffee with Juleigh Howard-Hobson

(“Coffee with the Poets” interviews are conducted by Christina.)

From her poetic style to her lifestyle, Juleigh Howard-Hobson is a Traditionalist through and through. I firstly became acquainted with her as a poet via Hex Magazine. She called herself “a formalist” and so did I, so I was drawn to her not only for our poetic similitude but also our mutual roots of Traditionalism. With commonality of not-so-common interests, we find ourselves on the fringe of society, where poets usually are for one reason or another: outside of the status quo, setting their own pace in their own way with confidence in each step: “sure-footed,” as her poetry has been assessed; against time, insisting that if no one else will uphold the beauty of centuries-old formality, she certainly will! She’s garnered much respect and I’m honored that she accepted my invitation for coffee.

How do you take your coffee, or do you prefer tea, or…?

I drink plain old ordinary coffee, milk no sugar…think of the stuff you’d get out of a machine, stuck down in the basement of a hospital in 1972, that’s what I drink. To make it sound more interesting, you could call it honest and uncompromising like my outlook on life. Or you could psychoanalyze me and say that I developed a taste for it because I grew into coffee drinking age as café culture hit the west coast and that mass pretension ruined any interest I might have had in ‘gourmet coffees’.

I understand. 🙂 Tell us about your poetic background.

I began writing poetry when I was 16. Right after I discovered John Keats and found my first biography of him (Keats and His Circle, by Timothy Hilton from my high school library). I wasn’t so much reading about Keats as I was discovering things I felt like I’d already known. Everything felt familiar, every portrait, every anecdote, every date—I devoured the book. Within the week I was writing poetry, coming out with formal iambic pieces. Figuring out rhyme schemes. Counting meters. I was a punk rocker at the time, too, so being completely out of step with the current literary world was no problem for me (this was 1979, a bit before punk became another name for selling a music scene to young people). The fact that Shelley and Hunt were socially unacceptable in their time was a relatable revelation to me, and a source of inner strength.

My poetic influences were, and still are, the late Romantic English poets: John Keats was the touch point but it has always been Percy Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron who have had the most influence on me (not always merely poetically either). There are others: John Donne, Robert Herrick, A E Houseman, Alfred Tennyson, Edmund Vance Cooke…I could write up a huge list, but 1) it’s pretty boring to read about other people’s preferences, and 2) all my books are packed up, waiting for our house to be hand built so I can’t just run my eyes over the shelves and write down names. I am always leaving someone out these days. We’re traditionally hand building our house and building up a farm around it from scratch, so it will be a while before I am able to put my books back in their bookshelves. I used to not just miss them but actively worry about them sitting in storage in their boxes, with images of mice, damp, mold, fire, you name it and…but now I tell myself that it’s all material and replaceable and I can let it all go. It’s easier now, now that a couple of years have passed, then it was in the beginning. But that’s a different story.

The influences these fellows (they are all fellows; I’d be lying if I tried to squeeze a female poet into that list. It’s not that I’ve rejected any female poets, there aren’t any of them that had any meaningful influence on me. Call it a shame, say I ought to dig deep and find some early nineteenth century female poets…blah blah blah…my influences were set long ago, there is not a thing to be done about it, or that I’d do about it. I like how I turned out with the influences I’ve had. Besides, if this is an age where we disregard gender, turning instead to the person inside the xx or xy straightjacket of biological gender determination, I’ll bloom where I am planted.) anyway, the influences these fellows have had on me is huge. They shaped my poetic roots. From them I learned iambic meter, from them I looked to pagan and mythic sources, from studying them I learned about rhyme schemes and how to write sonnets, and how to not bow to popular pressures and follow my own inner flame, so to speak. Shelley and Hunt were the biggest influences there. Byron was just always a giant shadow, somehow, maybe because his work was more precise and precision is important to formality, and his work was also a little unapproachable because he wrote from a place that I never felt at home in, but he has always influenced me. Shelley and Hunt could have been best friends of mine, and perhaps were (if not in that lifetime, in another).

As for my contemporaries—despite what the modern world says, there are more than a few formalists alive these days: my favorites are Christina Finlayson Taylor, Leo Yankevich, Robert Taylor, Joseph Salemi, Sally Cook, Tomas Axelzon and also Xenia Bakran-Sunic, who doesn’t actually fall into the Formalist School, but I really like her work—she is able to create lovely delicate poetry in the modern free manner, which is something most moderns simply cannot do. She was the only free versifier I would ever call a favorite until recently when I came across another—a poet named Will Southern. He captures raw emotion and holds it in words.

We do recognize some of these names; thank you. 🙂

Bukowski taught me what not to write (when he falls out of fashion for good, there will be no revival, he is far too much a man of one time) while at the same time reading his work taught me to trust in my own language, my own diction. I credit him with my being able to write iambic rhymed poetry in sentences that have the cadence of real spoken words. Which is a big debt to owe; I will always have a soft spot for him, even though he’d have been bound to hate that a Formalist likes him enough to mention him fondly. Oh well.

I have never taken a class in writing poetry. I do have a degree in English Literature, but with the exception of a screenplay writing class (in which I got an A) I avoided classes that could alter where I already was or where I was going, poetically speaking. There were no classes on writing in meter anyway. I never went on to write screenplays, so I was correct in thinking that being taught ‘how’ a writing genre needs to be performed kills any desire to discover how to create original work within it. Sort of like sausage making—you shouldn’t know too much about how other people make them if you want to continue to enjoy them for their flavor. I took the class to prove to myself that I could write anything if I wanted to. It’s the wanting to, of course, that changes everything. I don’t want to write certain ways; I don’t want to write certain things. I am very sure of that.

Your writing is prolific in print and online—both poetry and prose—sometimes witty and often serious, and sometimes an effective mix of both. There is so much passion that drives you to write. Feel free to explain.

I am quietly driven by a distant and cold outside force—you need to work it whispers at me in a recriminating tone, particularly if it thinks I haven’t been. Sometimes it whispers that I am wasting time. Other times it’s that I need to work harder. Or more. There is no pleasing it, there’s no negotiation. If I work hard, it is silent. If I don’t it’s a low but constant hissing loop in the pit of my stomach. So I work hard enough to keep it from ruining my inner life.

This isn’t to say that I don’t love every single facet of writing. I do. It’s my calling, though, I didn’t decide to write, I found out that I was a writer. Which I think might sound a bit arrogant, but I can’t come up with any other truthful way to explain it. Either way, calling or not, my task master is exacting and unyielding.

Yes, one could say that the task master is me. The calling is me. The drive is me. Of course it is. And it isn’t. Honestly, it would be gracefully relaxing to be able to finally say: There, I’m done. I did it. But… I can’t say that. I don’t think I ever will. How can there be an end to what makes me me?

There are times when I feel wretched and obscure, and then I tell myself that because I plan on living to be at least 120, I have plenty of time ahead to fill up with work…and sooner or later, traditional poetry will stop being the deplored great-grandparent of literature again. Rebirth isn’t just for pagans.

And of course, there’s the whole slow organic growth versus sudden pop fame growth aspect. I don’t want what I write to fade away with the turning tides of fashionability (as if you couldn’t tell), I don’t want to be one of the formerly best-selling writers whose books are literally sold by the pound to resale dealers a few years after I’ve peaked. I’d rather just stick around, slowly growing in the world’s regard. And that’s not merely rationalization or some mature-turn-about revisionism. When I was much younger than I am now, I played lead guitar and wrote and sung punk rock songs in a band—we even got written up in Flipside Magazine—but I decided that I hated that world. I hated chasing fame, I hated chasing publicity, I hated that I had to know the right people blah blah blah. It felt wrong to me, unfitting to the poetic ethics I held in my head. So I put the guitar down and never did pick it up again. Never wanted to. I made my choice and I know it isn’t the popular one, but it’s mine.

As for getting my unfashionable work published, that’s also part of the incessant driving: Send it out. Send it out. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Try. Try. Try again. Tastes change. And the thing of it is, tastes do. Ten years ago formal poetry was so rare as to be extinct in most living literary places…these days, it’s not. I’m not the only formalist, so I cannot take the credit, but I can say that my relentless submissions certainly helped open doors once tightly locked against meter.

I once knew a poet who published a hardback book of his own poetry, because, according to him, there was no way to get published otherwise unless you had an in with the journals or the magazines. His poetry was modern, too, so it wasn’t as if it was actually unpublishable like mine was. But, I was younger, so I didn’t argue with him. I’ve since searched for his name online, and it never shows up. Even his book is ungoogleable, though it was published. I actually have a copy. When I think back about him, I think about how I single-mindedly decided not to be like him. I just set my jaw and kept sending work out—I didn’t have an in with the journals, or the poetry departments of universities…but I just kept sending out my work anyway.

I eventually got a piece accepted at a journal. Then another. And so it goes.

As to what I write—that’s harder to explain I think. Sometimes I feel like a painter who repeats the same picture over and over—I’ll find that I use the same words again and again in different pieces. All the pieces will have the same tone. The same point. I have no idea why. It usually happens with sonnets, I can dash off half a dozen Shakespearian sonnets without a lot of self awareness. Most of them will be fine, and will eventually find homes. But I shake this sort of thing off, though, as soon as I notice. It’s not good to write in a comforting blur, so I’ll take myself off and write something difficult and sort of finicky like a Glosa where I have to notice everything I do.

Some forms are purely ornamentals—fancy little poems written just to be written. They are interesting to do, hard to do well, and I find that they don’t serve for deeply meaningful works as much as plain old sonnets or rondeaus serve me. I don’t have to think outside of myself when writing a sonnet—the words fall into line then and there, as I write. Rondeaus are about the same, with them coming to me by virtue of their first four syllables and then falling into being around them. Other forms are more crafted than created—I keep a small blank book on my desk that I’ve copied forms into—like a handwritten cookbook, in all honesty—and I flip through it and see what forms inspire me. Sometimes none. Sometimes they all do.

I write of glory, of hopefulness. I write about nature and what lies behind it. I write about lost causes, and lost loves. Ghosts and echoes. Bright flowers and grey clouds. The old ways. If I had to put a color palette to my work, it would be shadowy, with pastels. Mostly. There are brighter and darker bits. Some are downright brash. But mostly, I think my works are numinously hued.

Would you mind sharing some of your personal favorites and providing back-stories?


Nature clutches at shanks, rips tender skin,
Pulls and swipes and trips up the unwary
Who wander too deeply to find ways in
To places undiscovered. Thick burry
Weeds, brambled vines, branches hung with poison
Thorns, leaves that sting and stalks that cut across
Like whips all lie in patient wait for them
Who would explore the pathless woods because
Nature does not like to share its world, does
Not care for trampling feet and pushing hands,
That thrust themselves into the wild. There was
Never any agreement made with plants
To abide with man. Nature knows too well:
Humanity will always find and tell.

* PHAUNOS—god of the forests

This sonnet was written in my head before I wrote it down. We had just bought the land that we are homesteading now, and the 5 acre forested hill that lies in the back of it was formidable: thick with underbrush and thorn…and shadowy feral spirits that weren’t too approachable. It’s still not the most friendly woods in the world, but lately the thorns and whips have not been quite so defensive about our few-and-far-between forays into their heartland.


Invocation to the Dawn

Come more than merely morning, more than light—
Come fog that glows in misty swirls as sun
And dew combine. Come pink come blue come white
Dawn coloured clouds. Come sparrows who take flight
In shafts of gold. Come azure streaked with one
Bright blush of red. Come. Come, replace the night.

For we have had too much of night, tonight
Too much of darkness pierced with far off light
Of stars that are too numerous. Come one
Bright star, come brilliant orb, come yellow sun
While all the stars and planets take dark flight,
Come and bring your glory. Come tendrils white

That furl, unfurl, and make the black sky white
Where they touch distant edges of the night.
Come stretching rays that throw upwards in flight
Thick golden beams, each spanning out to light
The dawn pathway of the approaching sun.
Come, greet the morning. Come. Come see the one

Lone object of the night: the moon, last one
Of the celestials fading to white
With the gold dawning of the day. Come sun,
Come now! We’ve said good evening to the night,
Said welcome to white waxing of the light.
Our lips send forth our invocations. Flight–

Take our words! Like eagles, words take flight!
Like swifts, each bird wheeling upwards, each one
Drawing toward the fierce dawning of the light,
Wings spread and open to the morning’s white
Brilliance. Come daylight, come sunshine, for night
Retreats against the rising of the Sun!

These are our invocations to the Sun,
Our words—here said aloud and given flight
To stave away the dark excess of night.
To celebrate the coming dawn each one
Word is said. Come dawn, bring forth day, bring white
Gold rays and brightened bands of falling light.

Come sun! Come bring your brilliance. All as one
These flights of words come forth. Come day! Come white
Sun, new light, bring the dawn to end the night.

This sestina wrote itself out as I sat back and listened to it go. At least that’s how I remember it. I wrote it as one of the nine ‘cycle’ poems for my book The Cycle of Nine, each of these poems begins with the last line of the cycle poem ahead of it—this one takes its first line from “It Will Come” and gives its last line to a sonnet titled “Ur es af illu jarni”, which is a line from the Old Norse Rune Poem. (Interesting dogleg: “Ur es af illu jarni” has since gone on to be included in ‘Hailig Runa’ a series of 24 sonnets I’ve been working on for my next collection, many of these have been published in Heathen Call Magazine….now back to “Invocation to the Dawn”). I have always imagined that the speaker of this sestina has long blonde hair and holds her arms up to the sun she addresses…perhaps she really does.


Maledictus Requiescat

Oh may your casket smother you because
You won’t be buried dead. And may you wake
In ground-chill dark, 6 feet below, mistake
Your ability to free yourself, sores
Sprouting from your fingertips as you try
To pry, to claw, to push your panicked way
Out of your prescribed resting place. I pray
And will that you won’t drop dead too fast. I
Will that you suffer. I will your breath to
Come in hard-laboured oxygen-starved waves:
Short and incomplete. I want all the graves
Around to shudder as you suck the few
Final molecules of breathable air
Into your lungs, alone, alone, down there.

Sometimes you either have to commit murder or write poetry like this. I chose the latter because if I must go to jail, I’m absolutely only going for higher principles and lofty purposes…never just for merely personal disdain. I’ve gotten very good at curses…



There is an artistry to jumbled leaves,
A subtlety no one may create: wild
Spread masses of greens grown blossom rich, piled
And beguiling in form, and in hue. Wreaths
Of petals wrapped around their stalks, all hung
From languid vines, serpentine and vivid–
Or blooms standing pale and sweet, beauty half hid
In the emerald shadowiness that’s flung
Down from protective trees. With a sudden
Gust the garden is motion and color—
Dotted with nodding heads, moving over
Their swaying stems—one is all, all is one.
Unformed, unbridled nature has an art
All her own, verdant, expansive, apart.

This is one of my charming ones, a pretty sonnet made up from the eternal cottage garden that lies in the depths of my soul. I love English cottage gardens, the impossible sturdiness of the fragile flowers, the white pink lavender green of them, the bees, the lovely trees that form a back drop, the green stems that flout the fences, the winds that make them come alive. Our homestead is too raw and uncivilized as of yet, though I have carved out a passably artistic potager for the more practical vegetable beds …and a real cottage garden will manifest again soon enough. Meanwhile, I hold its image inside.


Barrow Tree

A trunk so deeply broad and wide that it
Swallows other grown trees around that strew
Long swathes of darkness out across the bit
Of grounds that lies beneath. A massive yew,
Which guardians here both grave and spirit
Long forgotten. Yet still a billet-doux
Of tiny fallen needles here is made
Each evening as the wind comes through the shade.

The tree that this was inspired by was not a Yew, but a huge and ancient plum tree that grew in a corner of our old garden. It had a twisted trunk and a sorrowful personality…it was the last of an old orchard, planted a century before the post-war suburbs we lived in claimed its fellows. The kids would dig all sorts of strange things up from around its roots, including a top to an old iron wood stove that they thought was a coffin lid when they first struck it. In the spring the tree would send down drifts of white petals as breezes moved through it, they would cover the ground in swirly heaps every evening. It was an imposing tree, impossible to ignore, and it had a majestic dignity to it. I think it wanted to be a Yew. Sadly it finally succumbed to an internal rot, and we had to let it go before it fell on neighbors (it was in a corner, a terrible place of ‘what if it falls this way?’)…I did keep a seedling though, which is still growing. It will one day make its own billet doux of petals. On a side note, I have a sapling Yew Tree now here on this new land. It has a bit of old plum spirit to it, somehow. Ha, my explanation is so much longer than the poem…I sound like a folk singer.

I love these! Thank you. I love The Cycle of Nine and will look forward to your sonnet sequence, “Hailig Runa,” and I’m glad we’re friends as I’d hate to be the subject of the power of your word curses such as “Maledictus Requiescat.” Wow! Beautiful work by you, as always, and I’d like to conclude with one final question. What do you ultimately hope to achieve in the literary sense?

What is my ultimate goal? Selfish poet’s answer: I’d like to be remembered as a real poet. I want to meet up with the poets whose works and lives have colored mine for so long and be able to look them in the eye and say “Here I am.” Of course, since that will have to take place mostly in the Otherworld, it won’t be any time soon.

Expansive poet’s answer: I hope people find something to take away for themselves in my work. I hope that the inspiration which sometimes feels as if it beams down to me (as opposed to my own doing) finds the readers it is supposed to. Inspiration is a gift from the Gods, and in many ways I feel as though I am the one who, while being given the gift, is trusted to give the gift away. Which is a quiet joy. Truly and ever.


Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s poetry has appeared in The Lyric, Antiphon, VerseWisconsin, The Alabama Literary Review, Hex Magazine, Caduceus, Heathen Call, Mandragora (Scarlet Imprint); Poem, Revised: 54 Poems, Re-visions, Discussions (Marion Street Press) and many other places. Her work has been nominated for both “The Best of the Net” and The Pushcart Prize. She has four poetry collections out, including The Cycle of Nine (Ravenshalla Arts) and Remind Me (Ancient Cypress Press). She lives in a radical traditionalist manner, on a farm, nestled beside a dark forest, in Deep Cascadia.

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Posted by on June 14, 2017 in News & Reviews


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Poets: Keep More Money in Your Pocket.

Just a word to the wise poets out there who consider self-publishing:

Your investment will pay for itself much faster and your profit per copy can easily triple if you purchase copies directly through your publishing service-provider or printer and sell them on a personal website (a free blog with contact links works just fine).

On average, publishing through CreateSpace and selling through Amazon (with a black and white interior) gives authors approximately a quarter to a third of the list price. That’s not much, but they’re in business to make money like all businesses, and their services are very handy. Selling through CreateSpace will leave authors with just a bit over half of a title’s list price. If you must have a color interior, your profit will be much lower and the only way to make any money at all, really, is to sell your own copies.

A small book with a black and white interior generally runs between $2-3 per copy plus shipping, whereas a color interior of the same size at the author rate will be around $6 and the list price is mandated to be much higher – so high that a lot of potential buyers will turn away, which is why I encourage people to stick with black and white interiors about 95% of the time.

Also, do NOT allow “bookstores and other online sellers” to list your title or you will soon see at Amazon a junk list of your title with prices ranging from insanely low to insanely high. It’s mildly criminal, considering that sales through these channels usually yield less than $2 profit per sale, so I suspect that people are paid to list books and given a percentage of the “savings” that then belongs to the company in closest contact with the printer rather than being the profit that the author deserves.

So save yourself a bit of headache and be the one in control, and replenish your investment by selling your own or encouraging buyers to buy through the channel that pays you the most, even if it’s not the most popular eStore on the Internet.

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Posted by on June 11, 2017 in News & Reviews


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Hjemkomst by Rodney Nelson

The first Middle Island Press release of the year 2017: Hjemkomst (ISBN 978-0-9980732-6-2) by Rodney Nelson reads as a glimpse into the perceptions of a poet who has lived enough years to witness the perennial coming and going of the seasons with an understanding that the ways of the landscape are undying in contrast with human mortality. This is Nelson’s seventh title published by Middle Island Press, and it’s one of my personal favorites. We wish him many more!

(Readers can browse the interior and purchase copies of Hjemkomst at

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Posted by on March 31, 2017 in News & Reviews


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Coffee With Barbara Wirkus

Barbara Wirkus is a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. In her lifetime she has been a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, Emergency Medical Technician, Medical Technologist, poet, tap dancer, gardener, photographer, writer, political activist, birder, and art gallery curator. She loves baking cookies, movies, books, Broadway shows and The Rolling Stones. She resides in “The Little House That Could” in a small New Jersey town. Now 83, she is coasting toward the finish line…


[Barbara Wirkus has become a dear friend of mine. She’s intelligent and wise. She lets her heart lead the way as she analyzes its silent language. She’s earth, fire, air, and water in harmonious cohesion with consciousness along for the ride…but it’s that heart of hers that overflows onto the paper, finds its voice in metaphor and translates into lush and poignant narrative poetry. I’ve studied Barbara’s poems closely for two primary reasons: their intense emotive power (she seems to mirror my own self—perhaps everyone’s true self); and they are so poetic that they inspired me in a voiceless time to simply “be real” from both the heart and the gut, and then to infuse that “realness” with poetry.

Barbara had published a chapbook, Echoes From the Bell Jar, through Middle Island Press in 2014. This collection is a deep chamber of memories of the different types of love. It reflects a struggle against time, a longing in which she relives moments and crystallizes them in poetry, immortalizing everything within those moments in true form of the magic of poetry.

That said, she takes her coffee—usually decaf—with a tiny splash of low-fat milk and no sugar. “When I can,” she says, “I opt for a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee but that brings me in close proximity to their donuts which I have a hard time resisting!” Ah, yes. Everyone loves a good donut…]

Hi, Barbara. 🙂 Many of your poems are dedicated to particular individuals. Would you mind choosing a few of your favorites and sharing some background on them?

This will require a look back over ever so many years. Let me start with “Reflections”, “Requiem” and “The Departure” which were written for my (ex) husband after his death. Ours was an uncommon relationship, beginning when I was 12. We wound our way through the teen years and finally married in our early twenties. We moved from our home state of Connecticut to Texas, where I gave birth to 2 of our 4 sons. At some point, he began drinking heavily and I realized we had grown apart in every way possible. We eventually moved to New Jersey, and I began preparing myself to live on my own, finally divorcing him after 21 years of marriage. Soon after that, he somehow gave up both drinking and smoking and although we never really reconciled, we became heartfelt friends until his passing at age 62. I shed sincere tears of grief and “…still hear the measured beats of your absent heart”.

I’d like to share “The Departure” if you wouldn’t mind:

You left.
Unwillingly perhaps,
but now
great gusts of time
echo relentlessly.
Reminders I am
unable to escape
keep tears flowing.
Surely the sad songs
will cease and
silence will prevail.
But in the quiet times,
I will still hear
the measured beats
of your absent heart.

“Almost” is a poem dedicated to a man, a writer, who became the clichéd “love-of-my-life”. He never returned my feelings, in spite of my best efforts to convince him we belonged together. (“Your soul declined to mate with mine”). Instead, he held out false hope over a period of three years causing me the loss of my self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence which I have slowly been reclaiming. And yes, I still “weep for what might have been”.

…and a section from “Almost”:

Shadows of
unfulfilled dreams
move in, occupy areas
in my shuttered heart,
while this wasteland
of wanting reigns unopposed.

I could have gently
lead you to warm places
on sandy, sun-filled beaches.
Lifted you on soft waves
that rolled us back to shore.

But your soul declined
to mate with mine,
choosing instead
to remain
in safe spaces,
reluctant to explore
uncharted waters.

Then there was Randy and Nathan and others whose presence in my life I did not document poetically. They were all the same, however, and “Terminal Fishing” sums it up with “I am too small to keep” which is as good an explanation as any as to why I never loved a man who loved me back.

I’d also like to share “Terminal Fishing” (winner of the New Jersey Wordsmith Competition)…

Turning into you
I meet myself
in the mirror of your eyes.

We do not touch,
deliver only glancing blows
to each other’s hearts.

Swimming through tears
of past years
I surface,
twist and tunnel
like some flat-backed fish
you’ve reeled in
on your line of love.

you throw me back.

I am too small to keep.

The poems I feel are my best work are those I wrote for my grandson Christopher: “Winter Walk”, “Beba and Beyond”, “The Visit” and “Grandmother’s Reverie”. I called him “Beba”; he called me “Macca” and “we rode on rainbows…” Experience had taught me however that our bond would be short-lived and so it was. He has since taken “manly strides…away from us” and I rarely hear from him. Because I had anticipated it, the pain is not as great as it could have been.

“Beba and Beyond” makes the eyes mist even now.

You shine with the glow
of a thousand candles,
sparkle like moonlight on wave peaks
illuminating my opaque heart.

You are generous enough
to kiss my dry and straight-lined mouth,
gentle enough to curl against me
when I read to you.

You are a miracle in the making,
an icon for life’s renewal,
an arrow pointing the way to courage.

As my years wind down, I find
all the lost loves of my life
distilled in the purity
of your dark eyes.

You protect me from fear
with the lilting cadence
of your laughter
as we kneel in the street
to find trees mirrored
in the puddles left over
from yesterday’s rain.

You bring tears to my aging eyes
as we explore, hand in hand,
the jungle at the end of the block.

I yearn to transfix you in time
as the sunlight filters
through high trees,
gilding your golden hair.

But you forge forward,
the joy of discovery
urging you on,
leaving me to follow slowly
burdened with memories
until you disappear
into future days
without me.

“On the Death of My Son” and “June 15th, 2004” were written out of untold agony that is still with me some 12 years later. Billy was my first-born and left life after a short 47 years. A series of medical mistakes led to his death and caused me to have a deep-seated distrust of doctors. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, I procure a helium balloon, write “I love you” on it and release it at dusk. This is small comfort, however, to the “hard black knot” that “slowly replaced my heart”. I have not been, nor ever will be, the person I was before I lost him.

Your method of dealing with pain is so romantic. It comes through in your poetry which has such clarity of wisdom. How has your life shaped your poetry?

Interestingly, I wrote my first poem for a class assignment when I was 12. It was included in an Anthology of High School Poetry. Reading poetry and writing my own quickly became my primary procedure for dealing with emotions that often threatened to overwhelm me. My first efforts were predictably awkward but as years passed, I took classes and slowly learned to express my feelings in a more disciplined way. Still, my work has always been dark and frequently focused on death which I came to see as both my enemy and the answer to my pain.
I took refuge in my own words and was thus able to navigate life successfully these past 83 years. Somehow, the work of choosing words, similes and metaphors forced me to focus on the situations I encountered along the way. Writing the hard truths as I saw them, without trying to mitigate them, gave me the strength to endure and move forward.

Yes; things are what they are, and pain is like childbirth: “The only way out is through,” so it’s a valuable insight that your own words have been the “refiner’s fire” that has kept you strong. What else keeps you strong, what takes you away from the pangs of life?

The earth in my yard and gardens. The smell and feel of it in my hands and under my feet. I plant and weed and water till my back aches but the sense of peacefulness I experience gives me respite from my demons. Then, when I’ve coaxed buds into blooms, I take my beloved Nikon film camera to record them in all their colorful glory. In February, when I think I can no longer endure the dark days of winter, I select flower images from the previous summer and display them on a poster board. A feast for my eyes and soul till spring actually arrives. Lastly, but by no means least, is my devotion to dance. I have been tap dancing for well over 20 years and the sound of my tap shoes coupled with the music never fails to lift my spirits. Miss Kara, my wonderful friend and teacher, “tweaks” the steps so they are doable for my arthritis-ridden back. Tap class is arguably the best half hour of my week. My original goal was to tap till I turned 80 but I’m still at it!

I love it!!! I understand that you are grounding yourself, so to speak, from the deep sky of thought and the deep water of emotion. Terra firma lends its own solidity to “Here Now” and has its beauty that pulls one out of the pain, and your tap dancing is like drumming with the feet. I love it! I’d like to go back up to where you said “I took refuge in my own words.” Would you care to shed some light on how you (or anyone, for that matter) can “take refuge” in words, and what value or praise would you give to words in the sense of emotional healing?

I read somewhere that “Everything worth saying has already been said in the Bible or by Shakespeare”. The poems I wrote over the years in times of great stress were comforting to me but broke no new ground in the world of poetry. I still reread my poems because they refer uniquely to myself and say exactly what I was feeling at the moment. The words I chose were a snapshot in time much like the images I make with my Nikon. This affirmation of emotion wraps itself around me, saying “Yes, yes, you were here and there and you are still standing.” I tell my writing students that writing is simply talking on paper. Words give voice to the emotions that so shape our lives. Although when I wrote my poems, they were inspired by specific events in my life, I have discovered that by keeping the words simple and straightforward, other folks have been able to relate them to their own life. These “shared experiences” can bring comfort and healing when one realizes they are not alone.

So true! Your subject is LOVE, plain and simple, and you’ve learned a lot through it and touched the hearts of many with your words. I’d love for you to express what you’ve come to understand about how the power of words and the power of love fuse together.

Love is a kaleidoscopic word! It means so very many different things depending upon who is loved and who is doing the loving. I have experienced many different forms, if you will, of love. And yes, there is power in saying “I love you” or hearing it. Writing poems that define that love can distill it into a pure form that affects deeply both the writer and the person written about. Alas, most of the subjects of my poems will never read them, although I did experience the joy of having my grandson read aloud one of the poems I had written about him! (“Winter Walk”). Love is a primal emotion and as necessary, I believe, as air or water is to life. Being able to “talk” about it through my poetry satisfies a very basic need and although I have ceased writing, I still cherish the words I have written as well as those of others whom have trod the same path. I want to add here, that love does not always need to be expressed in precious words. Giving a gentle massage, preparing tomato basil soup for the loved one, lending them a sympathetic ear can also convey your love rendering the actual words unnecessary.

How beautiful. Thank you so much, and I wish you endless joy and peace. If there is anything else that we haven’t yet touched upon that you would like to share, please do so.

Bringing this wonderfully pleasant interlude to a close, let me thank you dear Christina for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts and feelings about my writing. As I mentioned, I no longer write simply because after a certain age, life is all deja vu. The names, faces and places change, but the emotional reaction remains essentially the same. Therefore, writing something fresh and new becomes exceedingly difficult. Having said that, let me assure you that my creativity has not dissipated, only transformed. I still make good use of my camera, recording images of things, people and places that speak to me. I frequently post them on Social Media and have the pleasure of people’s responses in real time. It is both uplifting and satisfying. I also have joined an online organization of photographers from all over the world who have banded together to promote the use of film rather than digital cameras. They, like you, have become my virtual friends although not quite in the same way you and I have connected.

I must add that I never expected, when I sent my poems to you to be published by Middle Island Press, that we would establish such a close relationship. We are indeed kindred spirits. I knew that the moment I received my copy of Echoes from the Bell Jar. You had executed my vision perfectly and for that I am grateful. The friendship that ensued was a bonus.

In closing, I wish I could say that after eighty-three years of living, I had some great insights to pass along. Unfortunately, all I can offer is that time does heal, and the sharp edges of life soften as we age. Compassion and empathy are easier to come by and one no longer judges oneself or others harshly. Life is, and always will be, difficult. There are no shortcuts or loopholes. My mantra has become “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” The rest is in the hands of the powers that be, whomever they are. One can only hope they will be merciful…


Barbara’s poetry collection, Echoes from the Bell Jar, was originally printed as a saddle-stitched chapbook, which she prefers for its hand-made charm; however, it is now an Expanded Edition (inclusive of this interview) in paperback form via

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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in News & Reviews


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