Valerie Nieman headshot

Valerie Nieman



At this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?


The Leopard Lady Speaks

This leopard-skin come onto me

when I lost love,

(this is not for the marks to know)

when my man’s absence 

set a hot kindle of distrust

that blowed back on me

as lack of faith 

in what is more worthy 

than some handful of spit and dust.

No wonder I lost

my natural color, trying to be

all things to him, and him not wanting

what I ever was or become or any between—

turning away like a spoiled child,

turning away like the sun eat up

by the moon, and not my doing

or undoing.

I scourged my soul,

turning myself inside out

to make him a better tent

against the weather of the world,

stretching myself across his failings

like a worn-through quilt 

on a wide cold bed.

They weren’t enough left of me

to fill a thimble, then,

but I gathered myself back up

and stood, feet reasonable

to the earth, liver’n lights settling back 

like I’d been dropped

from a high place,

and I was about satisfied,

but the letting-go of that man—

him of me then me of him—

left me streaked, specked, and spotted

like the flocks of Jacob,

and I opened my mouth to say 

the true things that underprop the world.





I chose this poem because it first chose me.  I was sitting with pen in hand, wait for lightning to strike, and it did — this voice arrived and kept visiting with me for many years until the entire story of Dinah (the Leopard Lady), the Professor, and their lives on the road with a mid-century carnival sideshow came into being. I didn’t so much write as excavate, make a space for her being.


Valerie Nieman’s third poetry collection, Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse, includes work that first appeared in The Missouri Review, Chautauqua, and The Southern Poetry Review. “Steeped in sideshow tradition, and addressing issues of race, gender, self-concept, and creative expression, your book is beautifully written,” writes Lisa Schaefer, curator of The Coney Island Museum. Her fourth novel, To the Bones, a mystery/horror tale that takes on the coal industry and its effects on Appalachia, was published in 2019. Her poetry has appeared widely, from The Georgia Review to Crannog, and has been published in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She has held state and NEA creative writing fellowships. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte and a former journalist, she teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University. 


Valerie Nieman book

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My Personal Favorite: Michael Lauchlan


Michael Lauchlan

At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?



My neighbor is burning things

and sitting close enough to be warmed

by a shock of color that tears

the longest night in what

we’ll recall as the year it all

came apart. Even our verbs

are ashen. The fire’s turning

and turning as she feeds it

old boxes and branches snapped

in the last wind. She might be thinking

of the moody guy who sits on her porch

and stares at his phone. She might

hope that next month or next

year she’ll get by on two jobs

instead of three. I walk the dog

and see my neighbor letting fire

do what it’s always done–

destroy trash, peel bark,

unlock the grain of limbs, and draw

us near as it shimmies and curls

before our eyes. Sparking neurons,

the furnaces in skin cells, even

the long hidden sun–all burn

in tune with backyard havoc.

Picture a lit scrap wafting toward

my garage roof. Weigh the cost

of tools against the thrill–a blaze

recharged by flash fuel–scraps

of lumber, popping gas cans

and wheelbarrow tires–a blaze

charring lawn mowers, shovels, saws

and drills–flames bright enough

to dent our vast darkness.

printed in Cumberland River Review, Issue 7-4


I’m choosing “Pyromaniac” partly because I have been preoccupied with fire lately, expressive of my own rage but also of the unconscionable destruction unfolding around us. Fire is also, of course, elemental and suggestive of matters beyond our control.
Michael Lauchlan
Bio: Michael Lauchlan’s poems have appeared in many publications and have been anthologized in Abandon Automobile(Wayne State University Press, 2001) and A Mind Apart. His earlier collections are And the Business Goes to Pieces and Sudden Parade.

My Personal Favorite: Susan Rich

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My favorite poem of the moment – which of course could change tomorrow—


(link to the poem and the audio recording)
Why is this my favorite poem?
I believe that a good poem needs to surprise its writer and also to risk something aesthetically or emotionally, preferably both. “Shadowbox” is a poem with origins in a writing prompt that my friend, the poet Elizabeth Austen, introduced me to one Friday morning. Once a month we meet, drink coffee, share what we’re reading and then write together. When life becomes overwhelming our meetings ensure that we will still have some poetry drafts started. Now as we begin our fourth year of meeting together, we have seen several of our Friday morning poems grow-up to be revised, polished, and eventually published. For this poem, I began with a random set of words that would become the end-words for each line of the poem (horses, something, decisions, coming, dark, aftermath…).
Why is this my favorite? Because it doesn’t sound like anything I have written before. Because I surprised myself with the varied swerves that the poem takes and at the same time,  the poem recalls an event I experienced, many years ago. In the Top Ten list of the worst nights of my life, this river walk easily ranks in the top three. And yet here is the evening examined from the distance of decades. I survived. And of course, the poem is not a photograph or a news article of what “really” happened but a piece of art. I admire this poem for the energy that emerges as each line ends with a random word not of my choosing. It is this “structured randomness” that pushed me to say things about life that I would not have otherwise articulated.
How surprised I was when the Academy of American Poets chose this poem as a Halloween poem — a reading of the poem I had not considered. Of course “horror film” and “vampires” are there in clear sight.
Finally, I like the multiple meaning and references to the title, “Shadowbox” including to spar with an imaginary opponent (often the self) and a glass-faced wooden box used for displaying small objects (as in the artwork of Joseph Cornell). My takeaway from this is that it’s useful to allow prompts to push you into emotionally dangerous territory; it’s useful to write in a way that makes you uncomfortable; it’s useful to use the surreal to examine the real.



Susan Rich is an award-winning poet, editor and essayist. She’s the author of four poetry collections including, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy, and The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press). Susan is co-editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres, published by the Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s. Rich has received awards from Artists Trust, Peace Corps Writers, the Fulbright Foundation, The Times Literary Supplement (London) and the Seattle Mayors Office of Arts and Culture. Her work has appeared this year in the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, New England Review, Pleiades, Southern Review and the Wallace Stevens Journal. She is currently completing her fifth book of poems, BLUE ATLAS. You can follow her on Twitter @susanrichpoet or on her blog at

My Personal Favorite: Cal Freeman

Cal Freeman for blog




At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?
Cal Freeman:
Right now my favorite poem of mine is called, “Ars Poetica While Reading ‘The Death and Life of The Great Lakes.'” I like it in large part because it’s set on my favorite stretch of beach on The Saginaw Bay in Port Austin, MI. Also, I’m a sentimentalist at heart, and I feel like in this poem I manage to say something about love, cloaking the sentiment in ecology and poetics so that no one’s busted me for being maudlin, yet.

My Personal Favorite: Amber Shockley


At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?
Amber Shockley has published poetry in a variety of print and online publications, including Rattle and Gargoyle Magazine. Her first chapbook, A Brief Catalog of Common People, was published this year by Main Street Rag. She serves as assistant poetry editor for Atticus Review and enjoys creating book trailers for other writers of all genres.


My Personal Favorite: Faith Shearin

At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite and why?


Family Movies

No one has learned to hold the camera still

so there is an earthquake

in the white blur of these frames.

New babies are displayed on blankets

and sometimes couples wander

across mountainsides or beaches

without their heads. It is often Christmas

or someone’s anniversary or a retirement

party where men are smoking cigars

and your grandmother walks through

the last years of her life in Florida,

beyond a hotel pool and a flock of flamingos,

to a sudden winter where snowmobiles

move in circles, carrying children

in orange suits. A tree glows in the window,

wrapped in tinsel, and the men are dressed up,

squinting into a kingdom of gifts.

An uncle falls in love with fall foliage

and a full hour passes,

in some lost Vermont October,

smoke seeping from chimneys;

then, you step into the light, a hand

over your eyes, as if you can see us

out here, watching, in the uneaten cake

of the future.


Hi Kelly:

I like this poem because it speaks in images, and captures the sensation of watching a family movie, which is often a disjointed, sputtering thing that illuminates strange, formal fragments of our lives; family movies are usually badly filmed, and utterly boring to strangers, yet they offer glimpses into rooms of the past, allow us to see people who have died, and events before we were born; in this way, the movies are both terrible and powerful. I like working from photographs or, in this case, film because I begin with images, which are naturally infused with meaning.

Faith Shearin


Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Poetry Prize), and Darwin’s Daughter (SFA University Press). Her short stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, Frigg, Atticus Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Sixfold, and Meridian. Shearin’s work has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry. She has received awards from the NEA, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.