Editor's Note Section
Winter Issue 2023 Volume 3 Issue 1
Get down on your / knees and be / thunderstruck / with language.
May the cradle 0f / nothingness hold the / wilderness of you in / its furious sway.
Those lines are on the two broadsides gifted to the attendees of a Vermont workshop, August 2022, led by Bianca Stone and Mark Leidner. I was one of those lucky attendees.
There is a fierceness, an energy, in those two quotes, one a command, the other an offered blessing. I have them framed above my work desk and often try to tap into the energy from the workshop that they represent.
I’ve been thinking a lot about energy lately. Not so much the energy required to workout at the gym, or to move furniture around in order to vacuum the house, but the energy it takes to write a poem. Or maintain a journal.
Quartet will go to three issues starting with this issue, Winter 2023. The journal was named not for the number of issues published each year but for the four friends that became its four founding editors.
Because we are inspired by, and a bit envious of, the work we receive, we made the decision to cut one issue so, like taking time to workout or clean a house (my own personal writing avoidance), or produce a journal, we can have more time for our own work; so that we can feed off of the inspiration you, our contributors, submitters, and readers, provide.
Going to three issues, with more poems per issue, is our way of maintaining Quartet’s energy and our own. We hope it shows.
What I’m reading: Falling Awake by Alice Oswald; Turn Up the Ocean by Tony Hoagland; The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody by Alfred Corn.
൪uartet will go to three issues a year beginning with the January 2023 issue.
Please see the revised submission periods on the Submissions page.
scrape the sky,
like bucks removing velvet.
They toss their flame bouquets
into the wind.
Whoever catches them is next.
Their fires race along the path.
I catch a scent of smoke.
The chestnut vendor offers me a bag.
An older man
is playing “Autumn Leaves”
on his tenor, his heart
Each note rises and falls,
but my own breath stops
with the refrain:
“I miss you most of all, my darling,
when autumn leaves start to fall.”
But the sky is Canadian blue
and the air as crisp
as a wine-sap apple.
I will sink my teeth
into what is left
of this glorious life.
I will get drunk
on the hot-mulled wine of love,
stirred with a stick of cinnamon.
And I will still remember
and how it ended,
the change in temperature,
the shift in light,
and the urgency of yellowjackets
searching for one last sting.
My late mother, Jessalyn Gordy Barney, was the first poet I knew. When I was growing up, she was
the neighborhood “Poet Laureate,” penning poems for the newsletter and friends’ parties. It wasn’t until she’d passed away that I found her serious poems, tucked inside an envelope in her desk
drawer. I suppose I started writing poems to be like her. And, when I was nine years old and Jack &
Jill magazine awarded me Honorable Mention for one I’d written, I was hooked on the idea of
having a book of my poems published!
I achieved that goal in 1993, though in bittersweet fashion. After four years of infertility treatments and one miscarriage, I gave birth to my premature daughter Jessalyn, who lived a few short minutes. After 44 rejection slips, Stolen Joy, the book of poems I wrote afterwards, was accepted by Icarus Books, a now-defunct press in Baltimore.
After my son David’s stillbirth two years later, my husband and I determined our family of two was all the family we needed. I continued writing poems and getting three more chapbooks published, until 2016 when I ran smack into an unexplained writer’s block. My trying and failing to write
poems felt way too reminiscent. I was fortunate to have a good counselor who recommended I try visual arts as something totally different, and good teachers who have helped me in my pastel painting, which I love doing.
It was during the pandemic I joined the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild and discovered their
monthly Art in the A.M. program. Between that and Rattle magazine’s Ekphrastic Challenge, I
found writing about someone else’s artwork incredibly freeing. My writing had come back to me, from wherever it had been, like someone I had missed for so long.
I may be starting to be done
with this starting to not be
needing to do this
to be heard it has all been said
it will all be said
I do not need to be the one who says it.
All of this is holy.
That we get to be here at all
here I am writing how
I might not need to write any more.
I smile I sense in a hot upstairs
attic room in my mind
a veil slowly falls puffed with sunlight air
shimmering slightly in the dust motes
slowly luxuriously it settles on the wood of the floor.
An invitation for a picnic on the wood of the floor
which is also the roof of the room below.
Silence no movement heat air.
I did not write poetry seriously until I was twenty-four because I had T.S. Eliot grafted onto my
brain and felt I could never live up to that. I invested in a small metaphorical hatchet to free
My inspiration is, essentially, the profound strangeness of being alive at all, and of the strangeness of being human in a universe that is not. My artistic project is the probing of what exactly a poem is,
so much closer to visual art than to a novel: this child from the long-ago divorce of music and words, given in custody to silence. My workspace is in my kitchen, which seems just about right. My process is one of listening for transmissions and trying to catch them on paper before they dissipate: the glimpse, the complicated knowledge.
I like to read some older poetry as the last thing I do before sleep. And I like to harmonize it in
some way with the season, often a long work – the Duino Elegies for summer, Sonnets to Orpheus in autumn, Four Quartets for winter – I read the same sequence over and over for that quarter of the
year, let it penetrate and infuse my daily life. This past summer I had the delight of a deep dive into Basho, Issa, Buson, and their students, so many poems about chirping insects read in the dark, listening to insects chirp through my window. This winter I am reading all of Emily Dickinson’s
work – I think I am old enough now, and weird enough. Maybe.
Anne Wessel Dwyer
Those first mornings after Jack’s birth, she woke astonished
by his fierce grip, his breath, her easy surrender
to the routine and respectability of motherhood.
The twins that followed were velvety and blue-eyed,
and her husband bought her a box of oil paints she left unopened
and beamed when they toddled into St. Paul’s for 9 o’clock Mass.
But one night, she heard the rabbit screaming,
and that afternoon, wiping the highchairs and washing urine-soaked diapers, she
removed herself from herself so she could feed the children and put them to bed.
On her mother’s advice, she saw Father Casey in the rose-wallpapered rectory
where she embarrassed herself by weeping, as Father poured tea, stirred
sugar with a silver spoon, assured her of her duty and heavenly reward.
Driving home, she remembered one pink and white spring afternoon,
leaving school with a boy in a red Corvette - Sinatra on the radio, the caress of breeze
under the promise of blossoms,
and Sister Madonna, bent and small, peering through the barred
convent window, waxy hand raised through her fallen black sleeve
- a blessing - a warning - a wave goodbye?
I learned to read from three gold cloth-bound books called Lives of the Saints, shelved with a family Bible. My parents and extended family were quite faithful: a favorite uncle was a priest; one grandmother refused to divorce so she could take communion. I was taught by traditional nuns and priests before attending a Jesuit university where questioning religion was not only accepted but encouraged. The Jesuit notion of “a man [sic] for others” rooted my life, but gradually I disconnected from many of the Church’s teachings.
When my mother died five years ago, I was swept up by thoughts of women like her who attended Mass every Sunday with five, eight, ten, even twelve children, and were denied pleasure and power over their lives by the institution and the clergy. I began to see this as a certain type of enslavement. This poem emerges from that time, although I did not write it until I retired from teaching and my own children needed me less.
There are so many poets I return to, but I love when a friend shares a new poem or I find a new poet who sends me into that space where I feel connected. At the Dodge Poetry Festival in October 2022, an already favorite, Ellen Bass, wowed, but one program with Jake Skeets, Kari Gunter-Seymour,
and Geffrey Davis, among others, made me turn, teary-eyed, to my companion, also raised in the Church, who agreed it was, “Just like church … only not our church.” The beauty and humanity
present in poetry has become the conduit to a necessary life lived deeply - and, fortunately, one that inspires joy and awe.
—Anne Wessel Dwyer
My daughter is in love
My daughter is in love with an immigrant who raised his little sister on his own from the age of fifteen, who learned to cook and clean and be the kuya she looked up to. Now I see the look
in my daughter’s eye, half hidden by the sunflower in the field, intent on her uyab, the one holding
the camera, the one who has captured her light, who’s lifting her, in another photo, above tall stalks reaching for the cloud that looks like the cloud from her favorite children’s book which we read over and over and imagined every animal that cloud could be, always settling on the sheep, soft as her puff she still keeps tucked in her pillow she now shares with him. I hear the calm pitch
in her voice to his quick generous stitch of our language he’s learning still. Look forward to tasting the ube sweet bread he’ll make. And when he shares the tale of Lapu Lapu, his city named after
the chieftain who killed Magellan, he repeats the spelling with the same patience I imagine he had when he taught his little sister how to read, how to make her bed, how to be kind. In Baltimore,
he manages a bakery and passes out pastries to everyone he meets. Carries them in his basket
on his bike, which is how he met my daughter, when they both had separately stopped at a light,
on an idyllic blue-sky day with those clouds shaped like sheep, and he said with a lilt and a smile Isn’t it a stupid, I mean stupendous day?
I chose the practical path of a career in physical therapy despite having an inner desire to attend art school. More than twenty years passed before I picked up a brush again. A few mediocre portraits of my children reignited a spark, but it was poetry that called to me. With the transition of a divorce
in full throes, my best friend gave me Love Poems from God, Twelve Sacred Voices from the East
and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. She remembered the homemade curtain in my dorm room with a sketch and inscription of Shel Silverstein’s “Hug O’ War.” Silverstein was my first poet love. Later, came Mary Oliver.
I rediscovered my affinity for the sound and feel of words when I fell in love (truly in love) with the man who would become my second husband. He encouraged me to explore my creativity and gave
me the courage to share my voice by attending an MFA program in my forties. There I was
introduced to a plethora of poets. Elizabeth Bishop, Linda Gregg, Paul Celan, and Charles Simic
sang to me. Currently, on my nightstand are Vievee Francis and Frank X. Gaspar.
My daughter being in love is a joy. My featured poem flowed after a prompt from poet, Campbell McGrath during a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. I was interested
in Campbell’s workshop because of his use of narrative and the long line. My tendency is to lean the other way, but it was freeing to let the narrative and line flow naturally in this poem. As we hope love flows. To quote Mary Oliver,” “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
When I look out the window, they are there:
father and mother, having stood for years in the weather
I left them to. I said they left me.
What makes words into yarn, spun like a snare
as invisible fingers twist them into a skein, a skin?
Scientists cloned a black-footed ferret from flesh
dead for thirty years. The baby knit anew out of stupor
kicked awake and suckled false milk. Sleek-furred,
black-eyed, aware, but without an adult
to warm against. Here, young one, I want to say,
wrap yourself in this swath, survive the seasons.
I worked it myself but never gave it to anyone.
This piece arose from a prompt in a poets’ group, as we wrote drafts toward a particular form (couplets alternating with monostichs). My topic derived from a news story about cloning intended to assist in the conservation of an endangered species. I have mixed feelings about cloning. If we’re
so smart, why can’t we take more decisive action to help preserve an ecosystem? Further, what happens to the individuals displaced from their normal environments? That idea got under my skin. On its way to the page, it picked up some anxieties about my relationships with my parents. Even in loving families, there are plenty of ambiguous or downright unhappy details that combine to tie us and shape us. I’ve always wondered how best to deal with feelings of dissatisfaction about my own agency in the family group, even years later.
The first draft came out fairly quickly, empathizing with the young living creature in an alien environment. The tone was somewhat distant, a bit resentful. There were also nuances of offering amends for the inevitable processes of rejection as offspring learn to become autonomous. The
drafts became a tangle of alienation, connection, and creativity. When knitting as a metaphor
popped in, as if with its own energy, I realized it could work. (It constitutes a nod to my sister, who
is an expert with yarns.) The ending—as many do—went through numerous revisions to arrive at the final first-person statement. To me, the poem characterizes the complex mysteries of relationships and self-expression.
A View to the Opera House
She stands staunch: sure, before high sandstone
wall, long limbs splayed—fanning out her foliage
finery into wafting warmth of day like the swathes
of a silk green opera stole. She’s outlasted centuries.
Old Dowager Fig—her partner taken long ago
by arborists claiming rot—commands her harbour
front abode, casting shade and aged splendour
over our small dreams. Slowly, she’s crept tendrils
into cracks of bricks, her gnarly roots and branches
mocking stone and man-made barriers. She will not
be moved. Dressed in heavy, musty ruffles of wooded
brown and dark emerald, she is an umbra haven
in the humid kiss of summer—a canopy of old grace
along the foreshore. We clamber over high curving
roots, run fingertips along her craggy hide and nestle
into her embrace. Leaves fall, larger than footprints,
carpeting the ground in moist, pungent leaf litter.
We sweep aside the fallen with the sides of our shoes
before laying picnic blankets. Brush turkeys bob along
the periphery of her shadow; bow-legged, plodding
and pecking, swaying their plump sides as they fuss
and forage. Her fruit is small and hard, often dropping
like pellets into the reverie of a shady rest or a tossed
garden salad. Even grand old ladies get irritable,
dribble when they rest or become restless with wind.
On summer nights, bats fly from the Botanical Gardens,
forming angle shapes in the indigo sky, and roost within
her branches. They savour her wizened little fruits: hard
as rock, nutty and round, while beetles scurry in mulch
around her trunk. Air is laced with rot, salt, and bat piss,
but still, we gather beneath her generous arms, lauding her
longevity as we hail the sculpted shells across the harbour.
This poem is both a celebration of the aged feminine and the natural splendour of my beautiful harbour city. I originally named the poem ‘Old Diva’ but that seemed to take away from the grace
and strength I wanted to portray in this poem about an old fig tree. My poetry usually leans a little dark and cynical, however, I wanted to explore more of the ordinary beauty and wonder around us every day.
I’ve written since childhood, dabbled a little more in my late twenties, and then lost my literary soul entirely for decades as I devoted myself to family and teaching. I’m not sure how I coped without writing. I’m not sure I did. Still too busy to read as much as I would like, I spend my free time
reading literary journals and writing poems, flash, and stories. I have yet to decide which genre I prefer but I am content to settle into my mid-fifties with a view to enjoying more creativity.
I’ve always enjoyed the classics, Plath, and Yeats especially, but have immersed myself in Australian and Irish poetry lately. Sarah Holland-Batt and Toby Fitch are great contemporary poets, and I am also enjoying emerging poets such as Audrey Molloy and Denise O’Hagan. There are many poem
lines that have stuck with me over time but possibly none as powerfully as Auden’s four simple
words: “Stop all the clocks.” I remember physically catching my breath the first time I read those words of grief.
The Sorrow of Stones
When I do weep, they humbly at my feet
Receive my tears and seem to weep with me;
And, were they but attired in grave weeds,
Rome could afford no tribute like to these.
Almost November and the yellow elm leaves pretend nothing
petunias and zinnias blossom partially.
The retaining wall, which is at least as old as I am, built in the sixties
collapsed during night rains.
The mason tells me it is a lost cause
each stone is different from each other, no sister no brother.
He laughs when I weep about the wall.
I think of Frost and am grateful for my neighbor
the cats, the curling sun drenched leaves.
My fingers now ache when I wake.
The sun falls partial on the pokeweed and wild celery
of the side garden, which must also be taken.
It is not a disaster, this shelter in place.
There was no gunman at school, just a girl in a killing outfit.
I wonder why I love the wall so much.
Each stone different tells its own story
of suffering and survival only to collapse.
Ignoble acquiescence among the mist slim tender leaves
like the school children off the yellow bus, they gather together.
The mason tells me the stones are all different
some are made of granite. He knows little of their lives.
Half of the wall looks more like a path more like the stones
in Titus attired in grave weeds. If they could talk, here is what they would say;
Learn from us that beauty is transitory,
and it is impractical to put sharp rocks on top
(it doesn’t matter- they do nothing.)
The trees can fight back and knock down walls.
I try to touch one, but the caress is one sided
The moss over the stone says, leave me be.
It is always hard to say goodbye to the yellow and orange, flowers in late fall- to know that the
winter is coming, and they will die maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will happen in the near future. Like any transition, one is attached to the past. There is a sense of melancholy and nostalgia before the actual event. Perhaps this happens more to older people who understand that their time
is limited. In the case of the wall, still saying goodbye was almost like Titus after losing everything. His sons now dead, his daughter raped and silenced forever by her rapists. His senators, friends and colleagues walk by him. They have forgotten him and in his own deep loss he confesses and weeps to the stones.
When the ancient retainer wall covered in moss collapsed after heavy rains- my heart collapsed with it. I would write and read there usually in summer in my chair looking at the wall and the side
garden. When the wall fell, it took me back to other losses and heartbreaks that I faced alone after divorce. I know the wall could never be replaced that kind of stone building is gone now in this century. Whether it is a child with problems, or one who leaves you for greener pastures, or bad
news told in the rain, it seems we need a place to confess, a place to weep, a place of anonymity.
When I finally hired a more sympathetic and handsome mason, he told me that the water and tree roots pushed the stones away. This metaphor that the roots of what we look at every day, and the
soft rain outside can conquer stones a man built over a century ago gave me wild hope.
I Imagine Talking to the Man I Left in Spring
You ask what’s changed.
And though it’s everything,
I only have the heart to tell
about the wall we’re building
to keep the sea from devouring
This strip of sand is home.
This cove cradles the ashes of our dead.
And lately the whole world seems
like a beam post beetle’s hatched eggs
devouring us from the inside out.
I read somewhere you’ve found success
designing homes where inside walls
can be moved or removed without the roof
falling in—the way old barns were built
with room for the breath of horses.
I read that people love your work.
I thought of the cottage near a beach
I never got to see, where summer marked
your adolescent cells—salt-glazed,
sun-struck, grit of sand beneath
your feet on worn linoleum
And waves—always—even in dreams.
It was for the best, the way we left it.
Or, let me say it, I left.
For months after, on days alone, I felt
the crushing lilac shade of that parting,
the sleight of hand as yours slipped
out of mine.
This spring the willow lost its grip—
and up on the bluff, condemned but
unremoved, the neighbor’s rotted
cedar deck dangles above the beach.
The bay glitters with Right Whales’
spume. Some days, hope is exhausting.
I tell you, Now I am this
and there is no way back.
Like the shallow rooted willow,
Now, failing is what I do best.
You ask if I still love my children.
God! Yes! I say and you say,
Okay then. Good.
I heard poems in the womb. Irish ancestry and parents who loved poetry and fiction brought me to the music in language early.
There was also loss and a subterranean sadness I had to find a way to locate, bring to the surface,
and expel from my own life. As Rilke wrote in “The Singer Sings Before the Child of Princes,” “Your life is so inexpressibly your own / because it is laden with so many. // Can you not sometimes feel how all pasts/ grow light, when you’ve lived awhile, / how they gently prepare you for amazement.”
Granted, Rilke ignored childhood trauma in this passage. But his focus on “when you’ve lived
awhile” speaks to me after 50. All that I bring to the surface through my poems, is accompanied by
my amazement at still being here. Poetry may be one way we survive ourselves, at least for a while.
We Start With What We’re Given, my first collection (Kelsay Books 2018) has a section dedicated
Esther Lurie, who survived the Lithuanian Ghetto of Kovno and four different slave labor camps. She believed the artist’s work was to bear witness to the world as it is. But she also loved showing what might have been missed, like girls in the garden in the Ghetto. The mystery hidden in the quotidian
is my favorite kind.
Rilke’s “light” means a feeling but it could also refer to a means of seeing. My touchstone in this moment is Linda Gregg. In particular, I love, In the Middle Distance. Her poems weave daily life (observation, heartbreak, celebration, and mystery). She offers an unflinching gaze. I like to think
my poem, “I Imagine Talking to the Man I Left in Spring” uses Rilke’s light of time passed and a
gaze like Gregg’s.
Michele Parker Randall
after Two Girls by Tina Blau
The girls in blue could be any girls, and any marsh
could be the marsh beyond them, with smudge-white
light in the far distance, across the calm water—all
visible light is light—be it house, beacon, streetlamp,
or fire. The girls stand between upland and shoreline,
next to the kind of boathouse someone’s uncle builds
under the charge: how hard can it be? Unmatched
corrugated metal panels are staggered, and in a storm
under those metal waves—the girls’ favorite place—
rain drum and wind rattle drown worries for a moment.
The girls don’t break. Won’t break. Their days continue,
blue skirts dry before sunup and a return to their nets.
Old and new—two poets I keep returning to are Takamura Kōtarō and Evelyn Araluen.
“Lemon Elegy” by Kōtarō was written for his wife, Chieko, and I’ve read a handful of translations, each taking nothing from the other but adding layers to my understanding of his mastery of
language. His opening lines: So earnestly you’d waited for a lemon / There on your sad, white,
shining bed of death. One translation has sad, bright white death bed, four descriptors in a row—a
word-car pile-up where each one has its own impact. Memorable, but the language that makes my heart stop, still, after a decade of reading it:
Right on the rim of life, she concentrated
Into that slipping moment the sweet core
Of all the love in her life.
My favorite translation has all life’s love into one moment lived, while another translation
has fallen instead of lived. My brain superimposes the differences, and I hear them all, like the aspect perception duck-rabbit illustration. All are true in the one image.
Evelyn Araluen’s work contains similar illusions: sunslip, sunsink, belly&bones. The pressure
pushing words together creates magic. Sunslip is not the same as sun-slip or sun slip.
And, sunslip comes as a surprise, tucked into the middle of three lines:
To learn to sleep the scrub again
To gather enough sunslip for my belly
To wash my skin back into its scent (from “Home, After the Fire”)
Araluen has a memorable word-car pile-up in her poem “Blood Mouth:” the blue grey green of
winter sunsink. Each word impactful, but together they form an unexpected union where the combination is each individual word and a new expression.
This is how I want to write.
—Michele Parker Randall
Claudia M. Reder
Chagall conversed with blues: waistcoat blue,
flax blue. The blue that shapes
a bouquet of flowers or a pair of lovers;
ultramarine illuminates lovers kissing,
or a pair of white pigeons atop the sky-blue tree.
Blue becomes a napping place.
I lie down beneath it and look up
at the shining blue faces,
at the hooves already leaping into the blush of clouds.
But what would Chagall do with this heron
outside my door, the gray blue
underside of its wings, the one crackled stump?
The heron lodges in the sky, the blue opera,
filling the heavens.
All these years, I keep writing into the wound,
salt it with tequila or vodka. Instead,
I could tilt the palette,
plant flowers in the sky
with tender hands.
When I was young I hummed poems. I remember loving Poems of Magic and Spells ed. by William Cole and Silver Pennies, by Blanche Jennings Thompson. I always loved words. When I was about
ten someone gifted me a book of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I remember the cover was pale blue and I think (or misremember) that it contained black and white illustrations or etchings. I did not understand what I was reading but I loved the sounds of the language. When my parents divorced I was twelve and in those days divorce was rare. Writing my private poems kept me going. Poetry was and is a constant. Now I am retired and live near the beach in southern California. Walking along
the coast and viewing beautiful sunsets replenishes my creativity.
The poets I searched for spoke from different centuries: Sappho, Dickinson, Bishop, and
Akhmatova. These women poets offered their words to me when I was a young girl who sat on the stoop reading, traveled on subways and buses reading, who went to college and found that I could choose my poetry family. Later there were other poets to admire and learn from: Rilke, Celan, Szymborska, Alicia Ostriker, Eavan Boland, and Ruth Stone. Too many others to mention.
Sometimes I think I became a poet because my mother (Latvian) and her mother (Russian) spoke in metaphor as Russians do. Having escaped the Holocaust and landing in New York City, they surrounded me with their Eastern European relatives. Those relatives are gone, but in my mind I
still hear the accents, the laughter, Yiddish thrown in their talk, the joys, and always more talk. And the food! Don’t get me started— always delicious food.
—Claudia M. Reder
Mary Ruefle is Right: Menopause is Adolescence All Over Again
and now that I don’t fucking care I will bang on about poetry and my dog and the poor visibility of stars in the smallest city how I long for desert darkness or a trip to anywhere with less light pollution or is it childhood have I forgotten how to breathe? flush with blood rushing at the hour when birds aren’t singing and I can’t sleep I stumble after my dog into a field to seek stars as if I were puberty’s runaway astronaut or a child pining for her lost mother’s love and once again I remember to love how beautifully my dog balances on three legs splashes pink hibiscus with his stream of piss how he swaggers across summer-dry lawn digs a hole all the way to China or is it Venus where old age grows wild like a flamboyant dancer on bare beckoning feet? and Ma is just three months gone it wasn’t a peaceful death even though that’s what we said I sang her to a heaven she didn’t believe in on Facetime in the fist of a hotel room behind shatterproof glass the stars and moon my quarantine guards and after she went they had to sedate me I was that wound up on the eighteenth floor remembering how she lay still like a body in a field remembering when there were more fields remembering 12-year-old Aphrodite turning cartwheels on the grass hands-free only in my dreams am I that weightless.
NOTE: The title of this poem is taken from Mary Ruefle’s “Pause.” The lines “old age grows wild like a flamboyant dancer / on bare beckoning feet” are a reconfiguration of Ruefle’s line “Happy old age is coming on bare feet.”
I had long thought about the connection between menopause and adolescence but didn’t know how to write about it. “Pause,” Mary Ruefle’s meditation on menopause from her collection My Private Property, gave me permission to try. Ruefle’s writing is unsettling and surprising: the way she juxtaposes sadness, fear and humour, combines the small and the large, imbues the ephemera of
daily life with universal meaning, splices the familiar with the strange. The young New Zealand poet Hera Lindsay Bird does the same. And I’ve realised this is also what I strive to do in my writing.
I began this poem in 2021 as a meditation on menopause and adolescence. But it wasn’t working.
Then, in January 2022, I flew across Australia to be with my dying mother. As soon as I arrived the state authorities ordered me into hotel quarantine. My mother died over the next 12 hours. I
watched her death on FaceTime while my brother and sister-in-law were in the room with her. It
was hard, humbling and surreal; incredibly sad but there were also moments of laughter and
dancing. That experience became the missing piece in the poem. Death, menopause, and adolescence are all states of transformation that we can’t control. The process of writing this poem showed me how they are always there, sitting alongside, echoes of each other; and how much is beyond our control.
Lately I’m reading Tishani Doshi, Victoria Chang, Ocean Vuong, Tracy K. Smith, who show me new ways of relating to grief, loss, memory and letting go; and Australian poets Caitlin Maling, Jill Jones, Rachael Mead, who all write place so well.
Reckoning: Plantation Desk
Stand and write all you want:
Account for gains in time, wealth, pride.
You think you owned this desk,
those slaves, that land. Your ink
scratched maps - the lines marked
what you claimed, bequeathed.
You think you wrote immortal words:
truth and only truth.
Deeds, records, certificates. Bill of sale: Jane and four children.
Last will and testament of an alcoholic racist.
I will outlive all of you.
My grandfather was an
oak branch that received nails, like Christ,
stained brown the color of eyes that see everything,
imagine the bend of a branch forced to hold a body’s weight.
The building where you wrote the future burned down long ago.
I love poetry writing because it forces me to be quiet and think. My life as a high school teacher,
wife, mother, and daughter is busy and noisy, and the calm when I sit to write offers an essential counterpoint. I grew up in North Carolina; writing about racism, slavery and the legacy of the white South is a central theme in my work. My chapbook, The Deliberate Speed of Ghosts, centers on my
home town of Greensboro and its complicated relationship with racism. Some of my work is hybrid
– combining maps, documents and photos with poetry. White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia by Kiki Petrosino and Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine are two works that have encouraged
me to be bold with form and structure as well as content.
I am interested in writing about uncomfortable truths, focusing on small but potent events and things (such as thoughts of a plantation desk as in the poem here). C.D. Wright was my poetry
teacher in college, and she influenced my interest in deceptively simple, powerful images. I love her final lines from “More Blues and the Abstract Truth”: “Even. Though. The. Sky. Is. Falling. / My.
Peace. Rose. Is. In. Bloom.”
When I saw that middle-aged woman
go up to the podium and be hooded,
that’s when I knew I had to go for my Ph.D.,
my friend told me as,
after eight years of
serious, complicated study,
she proofread the last copy of
Every comma was in its right place,
every 12 letter environmental word spellchecked,
every citation done accurately.
She took no shortcuts;
she was both immensely proud
and insecure about her final paper.
I don’t care about the doctor title, but
it will give me bragging rights for a long time.
Her thesis on civil
rights for Native Americans and
the continual degradation of their lands,
shows her concern for all things just.
A woman of color herself,
struggling with physical ailments,
she is late middle aged, single,
no children. Working class.
She plays traditional fiddle music,
loves garage sales,
often hangs with her 85-year-old mother.
The irony of the word hooded is not lost.
Just thirty years ago, this courageous woman
might have reached another,
less propitious point,
not at all a pinnacle,
but its opposite.
I was fortunate to be mentored by the poet/memoirist/novelist May Sarton for many years. She inspired my poetry and much of my other writing. Others who have strongly spoken to me in their work are Joy Harjo, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, W. S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, Wendell Berry,
Donald Hall, and Jane Kenyon. Favorite poems include “Now I Become Myself” (Sarton),
“Remember” (Harjo) and “Biscuit” (Kenyon).
For 30 years, I was an instructor of literature and writing at various Vermont colleges, and I have
two published nonfiction books: Natural Wonders of the Florida Keys and The Healthy Pet Manual. Animals, friendship, the elderly and the resilience to overcome continue to inspire me. My husband and I have been in love with Paris for decades.
The loss of people, animals and a healthy natural environment sadden me, but writing, reading, classical music, visual art, and the comfort of animals and friends (and a good husband) continue to sustain me.
I love the mystery of shadows distance and romance
sliding across my pillowed head, I hate how they suffer in daylight;
nights with six million winged spirits, waning moon sets at noon,
aloft as angels above dreams owls camouflaged & watching,
drop feathers like swords wait for blood-smeared lips
upon September’s dry breast: to drink autumnal desiccation,
nocturnal flotilla imagine my sweet silence.
Secrets aboard a small boat, The waters I long for,
pulled by seahorses and fish flying,
your swirling currents, diurnal sun-drenched tides.
Against a South American shore Migrations are not mythic beasts,
desire hides beneath coffee trees, minor gods with melted wings
& jungle canopy pregnant casting cloud-shadows by day
with bananas and mosses, pillars of flame by night.
Soaking rains, season of shelter Let me love the mystery,
heat and salt on my foreign tongue, this transient birthright,
I will never look back soaring past the sun.
“Night flights” was written this fall as bird migrations were beginning. I am an avid birder—a
passion that developed during a time of physical recovery. I am constantly curious about the birds that move through our woodlot. After reading migration forecasts, I know on certain nights
millions of birds will fly over my small part of the world. Some of these species will appear in my
yard the next day to bulk up on insects or fruit before continuing their flights south.
This poem is especially dear to me as it came from an exercise during a women’s poetry retreat. This workshop and the women involved (Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon) continue to inspire me as poets, educators and community builders. The exercise, to write a love/loathe poem, came together
as a double-voiced contrapuntal. I hope readers recall a sense of their own migrations through this poem.
After retirement I decided to return to school for my MFA in creative writing at the Rainier
Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Every reading and writing assignment feels like discovery and opportunity. I have been reading Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Elizabeth Bishop, Camille T. Dungy, Patricia Smith, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Kiki Petrosino, Sylvia Plath and Oliver de la Paz. Mary Oliver is a perennial favorite.
Thank you, Quartet, for this beautiful journal filled with the voices of women over 50. In our
writing careers, we all know the best is yet to come.
In Memory of Gary Galanis
When penguins are floating
in the ocean, only their heads
are visible. This is all they need
to recognize others of their species.
—New England Aquarium placard
It was like that with us—
I stood on your socked feet
then you stood on my mine
we weren’t even kids
or drunk. Is being quirky
a kind of species?
I should quote Bukowski
in this poem for the gone you
but Ginsberg comes to mind—
The weight we carry is love.
At a recent poetry event, a community leader read a poem that had been in one of three books he carried with him decades before when fleeing his country during war. I forced myself to think about which three books I would carry with me and why, if today were the day I had to leave my home and every book.
I would grab the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert. There’s a poem in it I cannot live without (and it’s
too long for me to memorize): “Failing and Flying.” The final two lines are “I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, / but just coming to the end of his triumph.” These lines continue to give me perspective on loss and renewal, help me guide my psychotherapy patients, and add to the wisdom I store for parenting.
I would take Nathalie Handal’s Love and Strange Horses because these poems transport me to other cultures, other bodies, other landscapes while also offering courage to write about my own sensual experiences. At 80, 90, I still want to be a woman who might ask, as Handal does: “In what hours do lovers arrive?”
And to keep my friend’s voice close by, I would pack Glenn Colquhoun’s Playing God. Meeting him got me writing and reading him keeps me paying close attention to what matters and what doesn’t.
In his poem, “A spell to be cast prior to dying” he implores: “Die, die as if your whole life depended on it.”
The Long Slow Time
The first sign of terminal nostalgia is intermittent blindness. A dark smear spreads over my one
good eye. Over the lens, the macula, the inner eye. Flat as the horizon, lost.
That was the day I forgot my name and couldn’t find my watch, the night I lost my way in the underground garage.
Fading eyebrows, sunspots, skin folds into little hoods. The home mirror grows familiar, benign. Strange mirrors sabotage like small bombs.
It was not Monday, not Thursday, not the same season or reason. Not the same woman.
So many days, it was not over, not ever. We quarreled, reconciled, quarreled again.
You waste your time as darkness falls, said the bearded man in my dream. My father’s voice but not his face.
This is what we did until nightfall, what we expected. We played in time like children play with
water. It was Monday or it was December and then it was over.
During many years of graduate work in English literature, I learned how to read poems, but not how to write them. After retirement, taking poetry courses and workshops outside the academy, I began to learn how to write poems.
Zoom was a gift of the pandemic, enabling me to work with writers I would otherwise never have met. One was John Murillo, my seminar leader at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in January 2022.
He taught me to ask: how did the poet do that? how does one poet get away with something that another poet can’t? One exercise he gave the class was to prepare a “map” of a poem that interested
us, a fill-in-the-blanks Mad Lib.
“The Long Slow Time” began this way. My inspiration poem was “AND WHAT MY SPECIES DID”
by Elizabeth Willis. Filling in the blanks kept my left brain occupied—the way writing in form can do—so that my right brain was free to surprise me. It’s blissful when the unconscious mind takes
over. Whether the poem ever gets finished or published is beside the point in the face of such
These days I devour the daily poems that arrive in my in-box and revisit great women poets I discovered in the ’70s such as Denise Levertov and Marge Piercy. I’ve also returned to something I missed: reading aloud with others, now Ada Limón’s The Hurting Kind and Canadian poet
Catherine Owen’s Riven, which missed its deserved hoopla because it launched during the
For years I thought graduate school had been a waste of time. But now I know it was preparing me for a wonderful retirement. My head is full of poetry and I need every bit of it.
All Editor's Choice poems from Summer Issue 2022 through Fall Issue 2023 will automatically be entered in our single-poem contest. Winner to be announced in Winter Issue 2024.
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• After that first welcoming line – so much longing, memory, warmth. This poem wraps around the reader like a hug. And then there is the quiet homage to Auden’s stoppage of clocks in his poem “Funeral Blues.”
Liminal Time With You
Oh dear friend,
all I want
is the chance
to once again sit with you
as day fades towards night
turn over the cards of life,
one by one,
from face down
to face up. To face up
to the sneering jack,
the noble king,
the wide-eyed queen,
the enigmatic ace,
and the endless,
that skitter into view,
dance their dizzy dances
and stumble back off-stage.
How I miss
liminal time with you,
time of no time,
all ticking clocks silenced
as we speak of this and that,
let one line of thought
merge into the next
until we fall silent
and just watch dust motes
spiral across the space between us,
while the sweep of the dying day
slowly turns its graceful hand
until it, too, slips away.
I hope that in "Liminal Time With You" I have succeeded in describing a small, holy pause in an otherwise frenetic life.
I like a tale plainly told, have no patience for obscurity. George Orwell said, "Never use a long word where a short one will do." A nice thing to remember. Why not strive for clarity? I admire Orwell's spare, journalistic style. I am greatly influenced by the Beat poets and prose writers – Allen
Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac. I also like Richard Brautigan and Judy Grahn and Charles Bukowski. Can't say I would want to spend any time with these guys – I am not a drinker
and only minimally self-destructive – but I really appreciate how they use words.
Living as I do in Israel, until the advent of the Internet I had little exposure to contemporary
English language poets. The Internet has really revolutionized my literary life. There's so much good stuff out there, and it's accessible! The poetry journal Rattle sends a poem every day to my email.
What a treat!
I'm an ex-Brooklynite; moved to Israel in 1976. Spent my first years here struggling to find my way
in a foreign, foreign environment. Three years as a kindergarten teacher, then 31 years as a Public Health Educator. Fifteen or so as a yoga instructor. Married, divorced, remarried. Kids. Grandkids. Finally retired in 2019 and began to devote real time to the secret vice I have indulged in since early childhood – writing. Happily, it's no longer a secret. I write prose and poetry in both English and
(less competently) Hebrew. I've completed three novels, am stalled on the fourth. Meanwhile, I
breathe out poems, labor over shaving them down to their best selves and send them out into the world.
• There are so many complex emotions in Sandra Fees’ poem: the longing in those 1st three lines, the looming “ifs” of “you might repent/I might forgive” at the poem’s center, that push/pull of love. I have been there.
—Gail Braune Comorat
Dis/satisfaction of Birds
The sky might splinter
white sapphires if I speak
of your parting, how
else in the world, holds
a mystery beyond my own,
has a body worth reconciling.
birds might swoop
the furrowed ocean and circle
back from the brink,
unwetted if I cease to brood
for your return. Their flock of glint-
bellied glory might shiver
the blue. I listen. It’s instinctive,
your wanderlust. You might repent
if you turn back. I might
forgive. Drawn to water’s lip,
as if to return something I love
to the sea, I am empty-
handed. I have come to learn
what birds are made for, what I
am made for. The wind
trembles so slightly, one
syllable at a time, one body
attuned to another
in a oneness that does not
hurt. I might fling shards of anger
if I give myself to this mystery
that curls beyond reach.
I’m a lyric poet. I love precise language, vivid imagery, and musicality. My poems are rooted in place and draw from the natural world. They are woven with themes of loss, memory, the body, and eco-spirituality. My earliest and most enduring poetic influences include Anna Akhmatova, Denise Levertov, and Lorine Niedecker.
What keeps me writing is writing. I’m intentional in devoting time to my writing practice every morning. Even when I’m staring at the blank page or thinking about writing poetry, I consider that writing. I also consider revision as writing because that’s when some of my most creative moments happen. Poetry prompts and generative workshops help to pull me out of writing slumps and invite
me to be more playful, embracing the joy of creating.
I’m grateful to have a robust literary community locally and online. I'm active in several
critique groups and continue to grow as a poet thanks to the wisdom and generosity of other poets. I strive to return that generosity by being a good literary citizen by serving in leadership for my local poetry organization and as a poetry reader for a journal.
• I love this poem's motion: it has no periods, is paused only by em dashes and commas, and we not only flow with the river but span it as well with words of hope: It all works—Just keep walking. At poem's end,
that glistening image—dark river glittering in the gaps / where the sun pokes its fingers— ring outs, vibrates in mid-air.
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
On Brooklyn Bridge
Look at us, dressed for two different days
as if we’d watched dueling forecasts
I’m in a quilted jacket with jeans
while your flannel shirt
flaps in the breeze
over your tee and shorts
Puffy clouds cover the sky
like some preschooler went rogue
with the Elmer’s and cotton balls
Whatever, it all works
—even if no one can make you as mad
as I can—
Just keep walking over these wooden slats
as the bridge slopes toward South Street
the dark river glittering in the gaps
where the sun pokes its fingers
“Take our picture.”
I gave my younger daughter my phone, to capture the Brooklyn Bridge view on a perfect fall day. Swiping through photos later, I realized my husband and I were dressed for two different days.
That’s when this little poem scratched its claws against the window of my psyche.
I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was a girl, filling notebooks with poems and stories, and
diaries with brief entries. (Maybe I only liked their gilt edging and pretty covers.) I just took a long time to find my voice.
Raised on poetry, I still see it everywhere, and I hold the best lines tight. At school in Cuba, my
father memorized “Bed in Summer” for English class—and he could still deliver it, well into his eighties. He was fond of Nash, knew all kinds of limericks, and would often recite that Hughes
Mearns’ rhyme spontaneously, “Yesterday, upon the stair / I met a man who wasn’t there.”
My older daughter once said that poem was a hit at parties. While I don’t exactly understand, I love the concept. Our house was full of books, so I discovered poetry early: Edna St. Vincent Millay (“My candle burns at both ends”) and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Eagle.”
My number-one poet is Emily Dickinson—she’s the one whose lines pop into my head first. I love
Ada Limón, Joy Harjo, and Richard Blanco, and I just finished Worldly Things by Michael Kleber-Diggs.
In “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman evokes “a nation that isn’t broken, / but simply
unfinished.” Cresting my life’s bridge now, it’s wonderful to lift my voice, finally. Having unleashed
my notebooks (now yellow folders on my cobalt desktop), I find I’m an “emerging writer” at 64—a little broken, sure, and also unfinished.
• Sylvia Byrne Pollack’s poem walks in rapture, and the mystery of how it lives within us.
—Jane C. Miller
Sylvia Byrne Pollack
Koryu-ji – 1966
Kyoto temple, dim side chapel
newly-wed tourist with guide book
stands alone in shadow
ears crowded with crickets
nose with fragrant incense
eyes held in force field
of 7th century wood statue
vibrating with something
generous and grounding
solace offered without
a butterfly lands
on her tentative
My first “meeting” with Miroku Bosatsu was one of the most intense moments of my life. There’s no rational explanation for why this particular statue spoke to and moved me so profoundly. I have
seen the Miroku Bosatsu in Nara and while beautiful, to me it’s just another statue. When I first saw the Kyoto Miroku, it was stuck in a dark corner of a small temple. Now it is featured in a specially-built Treasure House. I have been back to visit him three times, have a coffee table book of elegant black and white photographs, photos on the wall in my bedroom and study, plus a small hand-
carved replica my wife Molly found when she was in Kyoto a few years ago. This Buddha of the
Future lives on my kitchen desk, overseeing my hearing aid charger and my plans for the day.
Fifty-six years after that first encounter, I am still moved by Miroku’s image. In 2009, I tried to write
a poem about that moment. I knew it had to be simple so chose an invocation. That went nowhere.
In 2015 I tried again, starting with a title “Moment of Grace.” What you see here is the current (8th) version. For me, this poem will never be done.
—Sylvia Byrne Pollack
൪uartet Interview: Diane Lockward
Diane Lockward is the editor of The Strategic Poet: Honing the Craft (Terrapin Books, 2021), The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics (Terrapin Books, 2018), The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016), and The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (rev. edition, Terrapin Books, 2016). She has also published four full-length collections of poetry, most recently The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement (Wind Publications, 2016), as well as two chapbooks. Her awards include a Poetry Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Book Prize, and a Woman of Achievement award. Diane is a former high school English teacher, as well as a Poet-in-the-Schools for New Jersey. She is the founder and publisher of Terrapin Books, a small press for poetry books.
൪: Diane, tell us a bit about your writing history and background. What triggered you seven years ago to take off your poet’s hat and put on a publisher/editor's? Do you switch back and forth between those genres—are there occasions when they either intersect or interfere with each other for you?
DL: I didn’t abandon one hat for another. I wear two hats, really three now as I’m both the editor and publisher of Terrapin Books. Certainly, the output of my own poetry has decreased since I started the press. That is the downside of publishing, but I love the work of editor and publisher and I see it as a somewhat different kind of creativity. I wish I were writing more of my own poems—is there anything more exciting than carrying a new poem in your head and thinking about it for days? —but it’s very exciting to see someone else’s book shaping up.
I also very much enjoy the creative work of cover design—add a fourth hat for me.
൪: Would you talk about the dilemma of always “working towards” but never “there”—is it particularly inherent to creators of poetry, as opposed to prose writers?
DL: Many poets wrestle with the dilemma of when to stop revising and tinkering. How do you know when the poem is done? For me, that is when the poem stops hanging around in my head demanding attention. But sometimes the poet comes to an impasse and the poem needs to be set aside, saved for later. Weeks or months later, maybe years, the poet returns to the poem saved in a folder and suddenly is able to finish the poem. Something has happened in the intervening time that gives the poet the material or the skill to move the poem forward.
I see a lot of poets overly anxious to finish the poem, to get it published, to put it in a book. But poetry is a slow art and requires a lot of patience. The poem that could get published now in a mediocre journal might with more time and work end up in a really great journal. I also see this urge to move fast in the desire of some poets to gallop on to the next book. Shortly after one book is published, the poet puts one or more manuscripts into circulation. When I’m reading manuscripts, I can sense when one has been sent out before its time.
൪: What are you working on currently—poems, craft suggestions, or something else entirely?
DL: I’m working (always slowly) on some drafts, sending out an occasional newsletter, doing an occasional blog post, and contemplating another anthology. I had an anthology idea in mind that I loved, but I just saw that someone else is doing an anthology on that same topic. So I’ll wait for something else. Right now, I’m busy working on five new titles for Terrapin, all at various stages of progress.
൪: You have been described as “the professor of the five bodily senses.” Do you have a specific craft tip you might offer us, for that particular awareness/approach?
DL: Ellen Bass has a craft tip in my first craft book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Ellen has work in each of my four craft books), that’s titled “Metaphor: What Is It Like?” She talks about and illustrates how to effectively use metaphors in poems. One activity, “Imitate the Holiday Ham,” likens adding metaphors to scoring the ham and plugging in cloves. I love that technique and use it for images as well as metaphors. If a poem seems very prosy, I go line by line and add an image to each, attempting to cover several different senses. I overload the poem with images. Then later I revise, taking out the weaker and less interesting images and keeping the best ones. By the way, this is a very effective strategy to use with young writers as well as mature ones.
Invective Against the Bumblebee
Escapee from a tight cell, yellow-streaked,
sex-deprived sycophant to a queen,
you have dug divots in my yard
and like a squatter trespassed in my garage.
I despise you for you have swooped down
on my baby boy, harmless on a blanket of lawn,
his belly plumping through his orange stretch suit,
yellow hat over the fuzz of his head.
Though you mistook him for a sunflower,
I do not exonerate you,
for he weeps in my arms, trembles, and drools,
finger swollen like a breakfast sausage.
Now my son knows pain.
Now he fears the grass.
Fat-assed insect! Perverse pedagogue!
Henceforth, may flowers refuse to open for you.
May cats chase you in the garden.
I want you shellacked by rain, pecked by shrikes,
mauled by skunks, paralyzed by early frost.
May farmers douse your wings with pesticide.
May you never again taste the nectar
of purple clover or honeysuckle.
May you pass by an oak tree just in time
to be pissed on by a dog.
And tomorrow may you rest on my table
as I peruse the paper. May you shake
beneath the scarred face of a serial killer.
May you be crushed by the morning news.
—published in Cultural Weekly
Diane Lockward is the editor of The Strategic Poet: Honing the Craft (Terrapin Books, 2021). It is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Terrapin Bookstore. ISBN-10: 1947896482 ISBN-13: 978-1947896482
Websites and blog: http://www.dianelockward.com
൪uartet wishes to thank Diane for her time and generosity in granting this interview, conducted
via email by editor Wendy E. Ingersoll.
Delving into day-to-day experiences with nature, memories, and dreams, Penny Harter writes a love-letter to life itself as she navigates her way through the restraining orders of the pandemic. The poems in Still-Water Days are roadmap poems through troubled times to the hopeful place of better times ahead. This collection of heartfelt passage is an accessible and indelible triumph of spirit. As Penny relates in her title poem, I gather clouds from blue waters, fill the / chambers of my heart with gentle murmurs, / find comfort in their slow shape-shifting / that mirrors my own, these still-water days.
—Tom Clausen, Photographer, Poet, and Author of Growing Late, Snapshot Press
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Middle Creek Publishing & Audio
In these quietly rendered poems, we are invited into the garden, and further into the wilderness—and find ourselves giving praise for that which is mud smudged and lumpy, for the sincerity of wild strawberries, and for the onslaught, which every gardener knows. Here Rosemerry shows us how one might endeavor to be the peace we want in the world. One comes away remembering that tending is at the heart of all healing. Because thorn bush. Because great blue heron. Because puddles.
—Wendy Videlock, author of Nevertheless