New books offer eclectic mix of poetry, prose

By Tyler Tichelaar

If the walls could talk

By t. kilgore splake

This book is a tribute to the former St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hancock. It’s a thin volume of not more than 40 pages with a short essay in the beginning describing how the author in 1983 first discovered the hospital, peered through its windows into its abandoned ruins, and realized it would make an interesting photography project. The succeeding pages are filled with photos of the abandoned hospital in disrepair. There is also a short history of the hospital. Because the hospital has since been razed, splake decided it was time to publish his photographs. From leg braces and crucifixes to rubble, these images offer an eye-opening perspective on what life may have been like inside St. Joseph’s walls.

Last Dance

By t. kilgore splake

This new volume of splake’s poetry begins with a short poem that reads: graybeard rule/period never used/until death of poem”—ironically, there is no period at the end. Splake previously published a book titled graybeard memories, so he is obviously making his own rules, and lack of punctuation and capitalization are among them, as is apparent in all his poetry collections.

Several of the poems in this book reference films. In one, the DVD player freezes and we have the image of a priest holding scissors. In another, depression is lifted by watching Marx brother films. Other poems discuss sports, aging, the seasons and life’s disappointments.

But poetry is really at the center of most of the poems. splake is always self-aware of his craft—and its ironies. One of my favorite poems was “apologies too late” in which two poets marry each other and end up criticizing each other’s work.

Other poems have a bite to them—one titled “communion” compares a dry communion host to a sexual act. Yet others are quite spiritual; in one, the poet sees a crocus growing up through the snow as “proof god exists.” Some are even rather sweet, such as a Christmas one in which the graybeard finds a note from Santa thanking him for the milk and cookies.

Overall, Last Dance offers a variety of images and perspectives on an aging poet with a little something for everyone who isn’t afraid to take a hard look at life.

I’ll add that splake produces poetry books faster than I can read and review them so I’ll just mention here that in the last year, he has also produced Ghost Light, Creative Moments, and Ahhh Life. You can find out more about his books at

U.P. Reader

U.P. Reader is a new literary magazine featuring works by U.P. authors. It’s a publication of the U.P. Publishers and Authors Association ( and includes short stories, humor pieces, history, memoirs, and poetry. Altogether, 28 different writers have their works featured here. (In full disclosure, I am president of the organization and have a short story published in this collection.) The magazine will be published once a year and contributions can be made by anyone who is a UPPAA member.

Following an introduction by Mikel Classen, the managing editor, who explains the purpose of this new magazine, the collection commences with “The Song of Minnehaha,” a short story by Larry Buege about a boy and his relationship with a librarian. It is the perfect beginning to a collection that celebrates U.P. writing and a love for reading in all its aspects.

Many of the poets included in the volume will be recognized by local readers. Janeen Pergrin Rastall’s “Stocking Up” describes how we can collect our summer memories to store up and open later “When January rasps your cheeks.” Lee Arten’s “Iced” describes a hunter trying to find a ripe place to hunt near an iced-over pond and his encounter with a buck. Christine Saari’s “At Camp” depicts a perfect day at camp where “we dream, we putter, we play./We leave the city behind,” and Ann Dallman’s “Menominee County/My Hometown Abandoned” offers a haunting and nostalgic look at how the U.P.’s past remains with us in bittersweet ways.

The short stories range far and wide in their themes. Roslyn Elena McGrath’s very short story “Hoffentot Magic” begins “Underneath your car is a very old house about three-and-a-quarter-millimeters wide and half a millimeter high, home to a very large Hoffentot who has lived there since before time began.” Frank Farwell’s “Source” is a mix of story and nature descriptions as he takes the reader on a canoe expedition on Lake Superior.

Unfortunately, I can’t list all the authors included and their works, but I encourage readers to experience this diverse and magical volume for themselves, and if they are so inclined, to contribute to next year’s edition.

For more information about U.P. Reader, visit

Berry Picker’s Blues

By Jon Taylor

I reviewed this book in my April 2016 column, but just wanted to mention briefly that the author has now come out with a second edition in which he includes six new poems. If you didn’t read the first edition, now is your chance to get the second. I agree wholeheartedly with the back cover of this volume’s description—that it is “A postmodern updating of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha written in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau.” Taylor deeply loves the U.P., but as his poems express, he isn’t so crazy about the tourism that threatens to destroy it. Readers will find plenty of nature moments in these pages, and anyone who is a lover of solitude will be able to relate to the mindset of many of the poems.

The five new poems are in the back of the new edition, the “envoi” section. Taylor lives in Nashville when he’s not in Michigan, and that fact creeps into his poetry. If you used to watch the Country Music channel back in the 1980s, you may remember a commercial that declared, “All roads lead to Nashville, Country Music U.S.A.” I don’t know if Taylor ever saw that commercial, but his poem “Baja Michigan” has the same idea—sort of. He talks about how U.S. 41 and U.S. 31, both highways in Michigan, “Come into Nashville/Together on Dickerson Road,” and consequently, “one at home in Tennessee…Sometimes can’t help feeling/They’re only in Baja Michigan.”

Taylor’s poem “A Spring Morning” is apt for the description of the cool spring and summer we had this year: “May first/And thirty two degrees.” He goes on to describe frost on the fields, and yet he notes signs of spring—pussy willows in bloom, sandhill cranes and coyotes trotting about.

I’ll just make one last comment about the new poems and then let you go get this collection to read for yourself. In “The Tame and the Wild,” the poet notes that the Michigan census states that 9,900,000 people live in Michigan and there are 50 species of orchids in Michigan’s woods and meadows. The poet asks, “How many of the 9,900,000/Will live out their days and go to judgement/Never having seen one of the 50?”

Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of My Marquette and Willpower. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit

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