Issue 90: Elizabeth Tannen


About Elizabeth Tannen

Elizabeth Tannen is a writer, educator and fundraiser in Minneapolis. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of New Mexico and has published poems and essays in places like Copper Nickel, PANK, Salon, The Rumpus, Passages North and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at her website. She tweets on occasion at @TannenElizabeth.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Riddle, six weeks" and "Liz Phair, fifteen weeks"

I wound up writing a book’s worth of poems when I was pregnant, which I didn’t anticipate. I always knew I wanted to have a child, but I wasn’t attached to having one biologically (it just happened to be the easiest path for me, in the end) so I didn’t know anything about pregnancy and found myself completely astounded by its utter weirdness. I think there’s a fascinating tension between the common-ness of pregnancy (as well as birth and child-rearing) and also how completely wild and strange and miraculous they all are. I just couldn’t (can’t) get over it. Also, I’ve written very few poems since my son was born, and it’s not an issue of time because I have worked on essays. Maybe there’s something more lyric or poetic about a potential life than an actual one? (There is a line in Lydia Millet’s novel “The Children’s Bible” that gets at this but for the life of me I can’t find it, please help if you can!) 

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

  • Music: Becoming a parent, as “Liz Phair” references, can make you prone to erratic bouts of nostalgia–so in addition to the typical Raffi and Beatles and Peter Paul and Mary I’ve also been playing a lot of Joni Mitchell, Grateful Dead and James Taylor. My partner plays a lot of Leonard Cohen and Talking Heads. We both play a lot of classical. It’s the Jewish High Holidays and I’ve also been listening to the traditional melodies played in shul. (See nostalgia comment above.) Sidenote - a friend got me a copy of this songbook called Rise Up, Singing with lyrics to every song you’d ever want to sing to your child - big recommend! That was an extremely peripatetic response!

  • Food/Booze: Fall makes me want to chug apple cider or, on occasion, that absurdly delicious “chaider” hybrid drink that some fancy coffee shops seem to have. On the booze front, as I’ve gotten older I’m leaning more and more into spending some money on red wine that I actually like drinking. I recently schlepped my ten month old to a suburban Costco immediately following Rosh Hoshanah services to stock up (I usually just get a bottle or two at once) and I felt very adult and also very ridiculous and sketchy.

  • Kittens: I hate cats. (Sorry.) But I do have a shepard/retriever mix (actual genetic heritage unknown because we’re too cheap to find out) named Elsa. She is extremely sweet and tolerant of the baby’s constant (and I mean quite literally, constant) harassment but clearly would prefer it if he was removed from her life tomorrow. This weekend we’re having our first baby-free overnight so dropped him with my in-laws and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Elsa so happy as when we pulled out of their driveway without him! She’ll be in for a disappointment come Sunday…


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Issue 90: Joan Murray

Joan Murray Photo for WS

About Joan Murray

Joan Murray is a (mostly narrative) poet who’s published prize-winning books with Wesleyan, Beacon, White Pine and Norton. Her favorite is Queen of the Mist, a first-person novel in verse about the first person to go over Niagara in a barrel. Her poems have been in The New Yorker and The Atlantic and lots of wonderful smaller journals; her new fiction will be in River Styx, her non-fiction in Alaska Quarterly Review. A two-time NEA Fellowship winner, she’s been Poet in Residence at the New York State Writers Institute, and is editor of the Poems to Live By anthologies and The Pushcart Book of Poetry.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "To Appreciate Squires"

In writing poems, I’m usually trying to understand something, rather than tell what I already know—which happened in my squirrel poem. The “dramatic situation” was a walk I took with a poet named Eric Gamalinda when we were at the MacDowell colony in New Hampshire. We were newly arrived (Eric from the Philippines, I from New York) and we didn’t know each other. But Blake Tewksbury, MacDowell’s groundsman-gardener, lunch-basket deliverer, and unobtrusive shaman, recognized some spiritual dimension in us both and invited us to dinner at his house in town.

As Eric and I were headed there, down a long steep road, an epiphany ran across my path—in the form of a squirrel. My consciousness, with its received opinions, barely took in the squirrel and swatted it away. But Eric regarded it with open eyes and allowed himself to be amazed. Which allowed me to pause and be amazed too.

The next day as I wrote the poem, I was riffing along as I usually do, when up popped my ur-squirrel—the one who came into my bedroom when I was very small. And up popped my mother across the room. And there I was, stretched out in wonder, until my mother started feeding me her negativity. I had pictured that scene often, but never grasped its meaning, until I started writing about Eric’s ur-squirrel: “as if we were in Eden and it had no name.” In most of my poems, I’ll spontaneously make connections like that. Things that strike sparks to reveal things. What a gift—to suddenly break free from an old prejudice.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I want to say I’m a connoisseur of ambient electronica, saffron dishes and stirred martinis, who sported a lizard tattoo and rescued a baby raccoon. But here’s the more complete truth: At night, I listen to ambient sounds on PRX’s Echoes, but when I’m walking, driving, or at the gym, my sounds are Bach, Santana, and Yellowman. And while I’ve made saffron risotto a few times, the food of my native land is junk food. My go-to’s are Cheez-its, Fritos, and Snickers. For real meals, I favor vegetarian. Every evening after a mile-long walk (where I sometimes see eagles), my husband makes me a gin-and-tonic so I can sit on the side porch watching hummingbirds until it gets cold. As for martinis, I’ve gotten smashed on Cosmos a couple of times with a couple of friends singing show tunes.

Once at Yaddo, I had a lizard around my bicep, until an artist told me she was envious, and I scraped it off. Back in the Bronx, we had raccoons on our balcony, and recently in the country, I rescued a baby one—long enough so a professional could collect it. But my major animal relationships have been feline. When we bought our rambling, crumbling house, it begged for cats, so I adopted two. The sign in the Country Store said “they like to curl up in your lap when you read” (it wasn’t true). A third came along that December when we had cat food and compassion. The fourth appeared with a broken hip, a missing eye, and two kittens inside. Time went by, and then there were none. Please don’t send kittens; Snickers will do.

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“To Appreciate Squirrels” by Joan Murray

Found in Willow Springs 90 Back to Author Profile To appreciate squirrelsyou have to walk toward Peterborough with Eric Gamalinda,down the steep part of High Streetwhere there are woods on both … Read more

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Issue 90: nicole v basta

nicole v basta

About nicole v basta

nicole v basta's poems have found homes in Ploughshares, Waxwing, Plume, Crazyhorse, North American Review, The Cortland Review etc. She is the author of the chapbook V, the winner of The New School's Annual Contest and the chapbook the next field over, out now from Tolsun Books.


A Profile of the Author

Notes on "and thank every hour" and "prayer"

While I was an artist-in-residence at the magical Art Farm Nebraska, I read a lot of old books that had been kicking around the farm for probably decades, one of which taught you how to identify birds, bugs, among other things. I think “and thank every hour” really did begin with a deep appreciation for the sound of the word warbler. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard says “Why didn’t God let the animals in Eden name the man…” So I think I am trying to say something like that, or I am always saying who the hell put humans on a pedestal above the rest. These poems are part of a larger manuscript that contends with ancestral stories including the disappearance of my great-great grandmother at the hands of Russian soldiers. I also deeply care for a person who was a soldier. The complexity of militarized violence includes how a soldier is also a kind of victim of that violence. The final two lines of the poem surprised me but they were there from the start and I knew that they belonged.

99.9% of the time, my poems have 10-30 drafts before I start sending them out. “prayer” is one of maybe two poems that I wrote in almost one fell swoop. This praying mantis came to visit me at my studio in the middle of a field on Art Farm. I guess I was thinking about control and chance that day while this mantis performed a bunch of cool moves in front of me. I read in the book that a praying mantis can grab a butterfly mid-flight for a snack. Sometimes I want to be the mantis, sometimes the butterfly, sometimes the little bugs that nip at your ankles. I always want to believe all of it means something

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

Well, it is suddenly too close to winter so I am trying to lean in. I’ve been eating a lot of roasted veggies and thai chili peanuts and night cap cheese. I’ve switched to whiskey from tequila, but mostly I’m drinking lemon balm and skullcap cinnamon tea. I’m currently not a mother to any human or fur children but an auntie to two beauties: Spudzy and Beanie, an elder pup (you’re so smart, Spudz) and an actual puppy. Loretta Lynn died today and I wouldn’t be a coal miner’s (grand)daughter, if I wasn’t honoring her by listening my way through her years as a honky tonk angel. Also, my poet sis Sophie Klahr turned me on to Ethel Cain and I’ve been listening to her a bunch. Townes Van Zandt and John Prine are always on repeat in my world and I’m in a big Brandi Carlile, Valerie June, and Kate Wolf (Across the Great Divide!) season of my life.


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“and thank every hour” and “prayer” by nicole v basta

Found in Willow Springs 90 Back to Author Profile “and thank every hour”   the small yellow gods that are warblers are skimming the scum at the top with their wings … Read more

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Issue 90: Lauren Osborn

Lauren Osborn

About Lauren Osborn

Lauren Osborn is a Ph.D. candidate in OSU’s creative writing program and a graduate of the MFA program at Queen's University of Charlotte. Her fiction and nonfiction are published or forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review Micro Series, The North American Review, Fourteen Hills, Lake Effect, The Laurel Review, JMWW, and elsewhere. She resides in Stillwater, Oklahoma with her collection of tarantulas and other unusual pets.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Gossamer Girl"

Spiders are among the most misunderstood creatures on the planet. Once, while explaining how spiders don’t seek confrontation—how they throw their legs up in warning, flashing their fangs before using them—a man responded with “it’s funny how their threats look so much like dancing.” It struck me then how much women and spiders are alike; Our fear often overlooked or mistaken. While writing this story, other themes such as isolation and exclusion bled through, and I found myself reckoning with what it means to be part of a collective but also separate. What do we lose when we mask ourselves for other’s comfort, for acceptance? What part do labels play in our identity and actions? I imagine more than a few of us have felt like a mass of arachnids wearing human skin at some point in our lives. I certainly have.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I recently reared silk-moth caterpillars as part of a summer job for the entomology department at Oklahoma State University. Polyphemus caterpillars are jolly-rancher green, have suction-cup feet, and eat handfuls of oak-leaves each hour. In other words: they’re delightful. At the end of the summer, they wrapped themselves in silk cocoons, and now have begun to emerge this fall as mature moths. The adults are suede-winged with large purple eyespots mirrored on each side. Beautiful. Yesterday, I snuck one home and held it in my hand, amazed at how something that was once an egg—half the size of a split-pea—now filled my entire palm, quivering its downy scales against my fingertips. In other words, it felt like holding a miracle. I’m fortunate to spend my life surrounded by wonderful creatures, whether they be moths, spiders, or my beloved three-legged chinchilla, Emmerson.

Goat Cover

“Gossamer Girl” by Lauren Osborn

Found in Willow Springs 90 Back to Author Profile   ONCE, THERE WAS A GIRL. But she wasn’t a girl, she was a spider. But she wasn’t a singular spider, she … Read more

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Issue 90: Emily Schulten


About Emily Schulten

Emily Schulten is the author of The Way a Wound Becomes a Scar (Kelsay Books) and Rest in Black Haw (New Plains P). Her poetry and nonfiction appear widely in national journals such as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Tin House, among others. Currently, she is a professor of English and creative writing at The College of the Florida Keys.

Twitter: @emilyeschulten

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Dismantling” and “Motels We Stay in While Trying to Get Pregnant: The Gables”

“Dismantling” is a poem that moved from a question of where the past has gone, tangibly, toward the question of where it has gone intangibly. So often, when something moves into the realm of the past, it seems emptiness – or something lesser – has been left in its place. I think the part of coming of age that involves the loss of things that were iconic – the end of icons – is a macrocosm for the personal losses that a person starts to realize are part of aging, particularly in middle age. The poem is an inspection of nostalgia’s truth and lies.

“Motels We Stay in While Trying to Get Pregnant: The Gables” is from a series of three sonnets, each based on a different experience of staying overnight in or near Miami for failed fertility treatment. This one progresses from the speaker’s current mindset which, like the motel, is uncomfortable and vulnerable, to the speaker’s physical failure, to the speaker’s emotional deterioration. The poem ends in the discomfort of both waiting and not being able to be in control of the situation. I suppose there is some hope there – in that irritation of waiting and the unknown, but at the center is this feeling that something you have never had, something you can almost feel to the touch and that has been part of your identity your whole life, has been lost.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I’ve been making a playlist for my son for the past two years. The idea began as a way to impart taste, or to brainwash him into positive associations with tunes I’m partial to, but I think I chose those first songs to bring him closer to some ideal time or times in my own life. From the moment he was born, perhaps before, there is this urge to keep him close: you give birth to this little gremlin, and he goes from being so completely dependent on your body to immediately learning how to be independent from you. Immediately. I think instinct tells us to keep him tethered. The first songs were a lot of folk rock, Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan and Patsy Cline and Neil Young, some Elvis ballads and lots of Roy Orbison. Now, though, he has opinions. (Independence and all.) I’ve added jams he prefers, like “Fool in the Rain” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” But I have to say, he seems to take after his dad here, surprising us with an affinity for Black Sabbath from infancy. The saving grace is that he’s always been soothed by Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck. But that’s a whole other playlist.

Also I have a toddler, so wine. I’m drinking lots of wine.


Goat Cover

Two Poems by Emily Schulten

Found in Willow Springs 90 Back to Author Profile Dismantling   They’re taking off the head of the snake,and we are watching to remember what we … Read more

Issue 89: Elizabeth Vignali

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About Elizabeth Vignali

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review. You can find her on Instagram at: @Random_Acts_of_Lineness or at her website

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Family History"

Like so many poems I write, “Family History” started out as a coping mechanism. I wrote it as a way to manage my unease over my sister’s hysterectomy, and as I wrote, it progressed into both a celebration of female animals’ life-giving organs and an elegy of the ones that fail us. Bodies are so incredibly complex, it frankly amazes me they work as often as they do. So much can go wrong. My sister’s uterus has caused her great pain throughout her life, and our mother died of endometrial cancer years after she survived breast cancer. It brought me a measure of comfort to imagine my sister’s surgery as an opportunity for them to connect once again.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I’m a total procrastinator, so let me just tell you all the things I did instead of getting this little profile finished in a timely manner. I’ve started taking piano lessons again after a 20ish-year hiatus, so I worked on learning “My Father’s Favorite” from the 1995 movie Sense & Sensibility. In the garden, I rearranged a few of the boulders that used to hold our house up (now the house is on a real foundation, yay!) and planted daffodils and hyacinths all around them. I watched Six Feet Under and played the world-building game Civilization and listened to the podcast Heavyweight. I finally put away the clean laundry in the corner of my bedroom that the cat has adopted as her bed– but don’t worry, I left her a pile of mismatched socks she can still nestle in. I finished reading Hamnet, eventually stopped sobbing, and started reading The Yield. I made black bean and avocado enchiladas with mole. I embroidered glasses on a photo of Frida Kahlo. And then, having once again proven to myself that I’m never more productive than when I have something else I’m supposed to be doing, I sat down to write this.

Willow Springs 89

“Family History” by Elizabeth Vignali

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile I stir turmeric into the milk in the orange pot on the stove. Honey. Cinnamon. Ginger. Black pepper. Cayenne. Fry eggs in … Read more

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Issue 89: Alyse Knorr


About Alyse Knorr

Alyse Knorr is an associate professor of English at Regis University and, since 2017, co-editor of Switchback Books. Her most recent book of poems, Mega-City Redux, won the 2016 Green Mountains Review Poetry Prize, selected by Olena Kalytiak Davis. She is also the author of the poetry collections Copper Mother (Switchback Books 2016) and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books 2013); the non-fiction book Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books 2016); and four poetry chapbooks. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, and The Georgia Review, among others. She received her MFA from George Mason University.

Instagram: spikeskywalker12

Facebook: Alyse Knorr

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "First Human Head Transplant"

I wrote this poem after having a happy hour beer with my friend Erin, who is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the university where I work. Erin was teaching a class on personality at the time, and we were talking about different theories about where personality comes from and how it’s manifested. She mentioned offhand that the class had been discussing, as a case study, a proposed human head transplant procedure. I immediately latched onto this idea and asked Erin everything I could about it, then started Googling and learning more about how the procedure had already been attempted in dogs and mice, and how there was a surgeon and a volunteer ready to do the human version at any moment (the volunteer has since stepped away from the project).

As I wrote the poem, I kept thinking about the context in which Erin and I had the conversation. It was a beautiful, unusually warm day, and we were sitting out on a patio drinking beer and talking about personality while somewhere out there this mad scientist sharpened his scalpel. This happens to me a lot—I get obsessed with dark or gruesome stories and find my head spinning with constant questions and imaginings that take me out of the moment—out of the beautiful day or the hot shower I’m taking or whatever it might be. I’m very bad at being “present” when I latch onto an idea or an image or a question that fascinates or horrifies me, as was the case here. And so I think this poem explores all those tensions, and with the limits of the human imagination in the face of the truly uncanny or horrific.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I love this question! I’m going to use this space to proselytize one of my favorite TV shows ever, The Leftovers. It’s a supernatural HBO drama that aired 2014-2017 and I think it’s one of the most underrated TV shows of all time. I made my wife watch it, I make all my friends watch it, and I’ve even got a podcast project in the works about it. The central premise of the show is that there is a global event called the “Sudden Departure” in which two percent of the world’s population disappears into thin air. But it’s not a religious rapture kind of situation—no one can figure out where these people went or why. And that’s not really the point of the show either—the point is about following the lives of the people who have been left behind, and how they grieve or try to make sense of the world by joining cults or attempting to restore order or believing in really superstitious stuff. It’s an utterly gorgeous show—form the soundtrack to the writing to the acting—and full of beautiful symbolic mysteries. It’s a show that feels more like a poem to me than a novel. I think about it all the time and each time I watch it I get something new out of it. I should also mention that it’s by the makers of Lost, but they TOTALLY stick the landing—easily the best series finale I’ve ever seen on a show. So there’s some lovely redemption there for those showrunners.


Willow Springs 89

“First Human Head Transplant” by Alyse Knorr

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile   On this very day they are planning it! While I drink a Kölsch called Julia’s Blessing with my beautiful wife who … Read more

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Issue 89: Anne Barngrover

thumbnail_Barngrover Author Photo B&W

About Anne Barngrover

Anne Barngrover's third book of poetry, Everwhen, is forthcoming with University of Akron Press in 2023. Her poems and creative nonfiction have been published in journals such as Arts & Letters, Guernica, and Ecotone, among others. She is currently an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University, where she is on faculty for the low-residency MA program in Creative Writing. She lives in Tampa, Florida.


Twitter: @Anne_Barngrover



A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Princess Mononoke Hits Differently Now"

I barely remember the summer of 2020. We couldn’t travel, of course, and my usual week-long teaching programs switched to Zoom, so the normal markers of summertime just don’t exist in my memory. But I remember my routine—watery, tropical Florida days that consisted of writing poem after poem, baking lemon poppy seed cakes that kept sticking to the pan no matter what I did, and taking sweaty evening walks with my partner around our neighborhood. On those walks, we’d discuss which movie we were going to watch that night; we were going through some Top 100 list. In that first pandemic summer, I was never alone, which surprised me. The trajectory of my life has bent towards solitude, but ironically, in a summer of great aloneness, I was not isolated, I was not lonely. Still, my world felt very interior. Time seemed slippery, untethered. Or maybe it didn’t, and that’s just how I remember it feeling.

One night, we watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke—the first time I’d seen it since viewing it as a teenager, when my high school boyfriend and I also went through some Top 100 list one summer. Even though the film is animated, I remember being shocked by the physical violence that first time around. The gore didn’t really affect me the second time (maybe I’ve been desensitized by Game of Thrones) and yet, all I felt was loss. How could the forest regrow when the people had killed their gods? How do you reconcile hope with the point of no return? Maybe what’s surprised me most about this poem, and about that summer, is that I still don’t know how to feel about the time when a story leaves us. I don’t know if “end” is the right word.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

Ok, seriously though—why do some cakes lift up from the pan and some just won’t? Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough PAM or parchment paper in the world; I suppose that, sometimes, things just get stuck. You learn and try again. It’s cliché, but I’ve gotten really into baking during the pandemic, especially cakes. I’ve been making my way through Yossy Arefi’s pragmatically decadent Snaking Cakes and cycling through every season of The Great British Bake-off. I admire the creativity and imagination of these bakers and how they find inspiration for colors, textures, sculptures, and flavors from unlikely sources in the world around them. A few months ago, I was hiking on a cold, marshy island off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts. I couldn’t get over the bog’s combination of colors and textures—the sponge-like, mint-green moss crossed with snake-like, cranberry-red vines. If I were on GBBO, I thought to myself, and if I actually knew what I was doing, I’d make a cake that looked like this landscape. I say all this because I just love how creation—whether it’s writing poems, film-making, or baking cakes—can allow one world to easily transcend into another.

Willow Springs 89

“Princess Mononoke Hits Differently Now” by Anne Barngrover

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile     The first time I watched it, I remember being floored that Iron Town’s ruler, Lady Eboshi-who I actually kind of … Read more

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Issue 89: Sik Chuan Pua


About Sik Chuan Pua

Born in Malaysia, Sik Chuan Pua completed his high school in Singapore, and moved to pursue his tertiary education in Sydney, Australia where he has lived ever since. He studied playwriting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. His plays have been nominated for the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and the Griffin Award, the two major national playwriting prizes in Australia. His short fiction has appeared in Washington Square Review and is forthcoming in Gargoyle. He is working on a novel entitled, Jaws; or The Lucky Country.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Hat Yai, 1979"

Several years ago, I watched a 60 minutes-type report about sex tourism in South-East Asia. One of the interviewees bragged that for several dollars a week, he could “live like a king”.

That stayed with me.

I chose a child’s point-of-view as it enabled me to explore this world at a slant. I wanted to capture his flight of thoughts, without him necessarily realizing what he has seen or felt contained deeper truths. The guilt haunting his mother is sensed by the child but attributed to an entirely different set of circumstances. I think a lot of childhood happens in the in between of knowing and not knowing.

When I wrote the story, I had left my native Malaysia for a number of years. By then, I felt it was the right time to dive back into my memories of growing up in that region.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

To combat the disorientation and all other ill effects brought upon by the pandemic, I have relied on various recordings of J.S. Bach’s The Goldberg Variations, in particular, those by Angela Hewitt and Zhu Xiao Mei.

The strict border closure here in Australia led to my happy discovery of 4K walking tour videos on YouTube. Basically, your guide films his or her walk, without commentary, so it feels as if you’re on the journey yourself. This travel-by-proxy has taken me back to familiar places such as the flamingo house along the Venice Canals in Los Angeles, the ivory sands of South Beach, and the various levels of the Strand Bookstore in NYC. My favorite of these would be the snow-covered neighborhoods gleaming with Christmas decorations. (Americans really know how to celebrate Christmas.) I hope to visit Alaska one day.

Over the last two years, I have developed a strange aversion to alcohol. It’s like I now have organic Antabuse coursing through my veins. I am a tattoo removalist amongst other things. I never enquire who Brad, Jacintha or Richard 4ever is. Some narratives are meant to be erased. As I write this, there has been a tragic shark attack in Sydney, the first fatality in sixty years.

I dream of better days ahead for all of us. Peaceful as a stroll over the pristine snow on December evenings, the air suffused with goodwill.


Willow Springs 89

“Hat Yai, 1979” by Sik Chuan Pua

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile   Do you like this river, Superman? Mama comes here to wash our clothes. Today, Uncle came to our house. I have … Read more

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Issue 89: Tom Wayman

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About Tom Wayman

Tom Wayman's newest poetry collections are Built to Take It (Lynx House P, 2014) in the US, and Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems For a Dark Time (Harbour, 2020) in Canada. His most recent book of essays are If You’re Not Free at Work and Where Are You Free: Literature and Social Change (Guernica, 2018), which was a finalist for the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for poetry criticism. In 2015 he was named a Vancouver, B.C. Literary Landmark with a plaque on the city’s Commercial Drive. This commemorates his efforts to foreground writing about people's daily employment and its effects on them both on and off the job.

News, videos, more detailed bio: 

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Winter Poems"

For reasons I try to understand, I find winter a powerfully inspirational season. I live north of Spokane just across the line in southeastern B.C.’s Selkirk Mountains, where our winters can be quite snowy even if the temperature seldom reaches many degrees below freezing. In 2013, I published a collection of poems, Winter’s Skin, which consists entirely of winter poems. These were all responses to lines or images in the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s Winter Garden, one of the Nobel laureate’s posthumous collections translated by William O’Daly.

More recently, in 2020 a Vancouver, B.C. micropress published a chapbook of mine called The House Dreaming in the Snow. Four of the nine poems included are set in the wintry mountain landscape I inhabit.

And I’ve continued to find the season a steady source for imagery in my poems. I used to explain it by saying my imagination is drawn to the starkness of being alive in winter: existing in a black-and-white world in which the elemental aspects of human survival are foregrounded: heat/cold, light/dark, having access to food and other sustenance/failure to prepare for lean times. Then, too, the rampant fundamentalisms of 21st Century politics across the political spectrum—You’re not just wrong, you’re evil—seems to have frozen the promise of a better life for everybody that was part of the experience of the 1960s, when I first became politically active and began to seriously write.

“Poems in Winter” attempts to explore why the season has come to have such a fierce influence on my writing. Instead of starting from possible reasons for my poems’ focus on winter, however, I proceed the other way around. What do winter poems reveal about my present life?


Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

The food currently most meaningful to me are half a Clif Bar and some trail mix eaten beside the Clearwater Creek cross-country ski trail in the backcountry high above the Salmo River valley south of Nelson, B.C. Clearwater Creek is a tributary of the Salmo River, which in turn joins the Pend d’Oreille River which eventually flows into the Columbia River.

Food always tastes best outdoors during some recreational activity. I’ve always enjoyed cross-country skiing; living in the snowy mountains as I do, as a skier you look forward to snow’s arrival in December and are sorry to see it go in March. The alternative is to dread winter, with its worries about staying warm enough indoors and out, as well as potential dangers driving on winter roads, walking on icy sidewalks, etc. To someone without a winter sport, spring looks like it will never appear.

But as the pandemic has dragged on, cross-country skiing has also become vital for my mental health. Because of reduced in-person contact, I find myself prone to the catastrophic and/or depressive thinking that seems to accompany social isolation when combined with the endless stream of news revealing the irrationality now endemic in the political, social, academic and literary worlds. But navigating the Clearwater trail provides enough endorphins and inhaled pure cold air to restore my optimism and energy. The route is physically challenging: five miles of relentless uphill travel, before a return down the same track. (At the top, one can ring a small bell placed there to celebrate having achieved the summit.) The lift to my spirits skiing the trail grants lasts at least a couple of days. And an important part of the much-needed experience is a break near the top to savor that delicious and restorative snack.


Willow Springs 89

“Poems in Winter” by Tom Wayman

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile   1   Darkness permeates these poems as though each constituent word was derived or descended from the Latin or Old Norse … Read more

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