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. 


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My Personal Favorite: Joy Gaines-Friedler

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



Not of bones or humiliations we lie with

thankful for the alarm of another day,

but of the squirrel who found her way

into the tube feeder, sought black oilers,

their seedy scent, the way the apple

in its sun-glow, tempted Eve. Pungent

apple-scent like the scent

of Adam himself, his skin, his hair,

maybe now I’ve gone too far, but isn’t

that what the squirrel sought there

in the feeder I filled, I hung?

Her clever mind figured the lid off,

reckoned a way to the manna there,

the way the man whose elbow rested

confident on his knee as he flicked

ashes from his cigarette, whose music

lined his walls alphabetically, whose love

of mysteries pulled me from my marriage

into a conduit of seed, no

consciousness of how deeply the tube

held food or what might be at the end—

no end at all. Dug in, I consumed

my way to the bottom, found myself

trapped. She died there. Suffocated.

When all she wanted was to be fed.


We come to poetry every day, different, altered, new perhaps. Each day I read the same poem differently. This is the magic of art. Like the warm chord we finally hear, the pale blue stroke we hadn’t noticed before. This is why I struggled with this question: which is currently my favorite. I find myself in need of certain poems on certain days. So today, it is this poem, Burial from Capture Theory. “Not of bones” the opening line begins, or of “humiliations” – but of the squirrel who found her way into the bird feeder, who sought what she needed there. And got trapped. It’s a stunning metaphor.

Joy Gaines-Friedler’s works include three books of poetry, Like Vapor, Dutiful Heart and Capture Theory which is a Foreword Review 2018 Book Of The Year Finalist. She is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of the 2016 Margo Lagattuta Poetry Prize. Featured in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Jewish American Poetry and the award winning Poetry in Michigan in Poetry, Joy’s work has received numerous awards from, among others, Ekphrastic Magazine, The Patterson Review, and The Marjorie Wilson Award for Excellence in Poetry. Joy holds an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches for a variety of non-profits in the Detroit area including literary arts programs, social justice programs, and the PCAP – Prison Creative Arts Project through the University of Michigan.

Image result for capture theory joy gaines



One last announcement….

Join me at Bo’s Kitchen in NYC on June 18th! Call ahead for reservations. Have a wonderful summer, everyone!


My Personal Favorite: Deborah Schwartz

***Post is a few days early because of the AWP conference.***


Black Star in the Black Sky, I See You

And you see a woman carrying another woman.

When they get to where they are going

they put each other down,

one at a time to buy their goods.

An accordion, no, a bagpipe’s open note plays

for all of us. It plays an etude of blood storms,

of arms hugging on for dear life.

You tell a man without too much hair

that life has not passed him by.

Life has passed me by, and in the passing

I am left with a cold strong wind soaring through me,

one that awakens my black star diamond snake song.

Song that I carry as you carry me.

For you, dear star cherished everyone’s little song,

then with very little effort, you wrote your own.

Down by the river, we have such a song to sing.

And our song is red with the fire of your nostrils.

And our song is snakes blowing cold death’s cold wind.

Down by the river, you build a kiln.

Down by the river, you bake me in the clay oven.

I am ready and burst out and walk down the street

and wave my hair at the cabs.

No one ever stops for me

so I am able to walk my whole life.

Yes, I am always walking.


Black Star in The Black Sky, How Can I Say Anything But Thank You?

We peer up into the sky when life seems too short

or too long. We wear our glasses to look.

We are pondering our lives across some kind of sky valley

one that seems so far but is indeed short and pondering.

Across a shopping mall, we try to change each other into cars.

We see each other as trees or smog or red poles.

We see each other as major pains-in-the-ass.

But the black star in the black sky is looking and while she is looking,

she is licking her chops with her love song.

La-dee-da-da is her love song.

We sing her love song as we drive toward one another in the parking lot.

We sing her old songs and that magical door opens.

We need love because I’m not saying love is kind.

I’m saying that love is mercurial.

La-dee-da-da is her love song.

When it snows we think the song is coming down to earth in a dot matrix.

The song infiltrates and carries on to the cold river when all we wanted was dinner.



Though she never reaped what she sold,

she sometimes laughed and bought the others coffee.

She who felt glad for other women.

She who made me think.

She had a light that came out of her belly button

no matter how they tried to suture it.

Though she sometimes visited others it worked out

because when she returned, she sang me their song.

Though her light is off, all of us are waiting for her in the Volkswagen.



Remember the women who carried one another?                                                      

Now we don’t carry.

Now we sit ourselves down in the blustery forest.

Now we make a fire and even when the wolves come we don’t retreat.                                                                                                                   



For every morning my beloved leaves,

It’s a small leaving, but I get to feel being alone.

I get to feel myself coming back but alone,

and without eyes or a tongue.

Without eyes or a tongue, I have nothing to see

and I have nothing to say, but I have something to feel.

Without eyes or tongue,

I don’t feel misled by what I was seeking

and am no longer tired by what has been leading me.

Now stripped of eyes to see and tongue to talk,

alone, alone, I feel the black quiet of the black sky.


I wanted the poems in this collection to be organized around this young woman’s coming of age tale, a very feminine/feminista white American Jewish first-generation middle class lesbian bildungsroman. I worked and worked on letting the self of the narrator, and letting the self of the poems reveal themselves to me (for lack of a better phrase) as I worked and worked and listened and listened to what the self, the narrator, and what each poem had to tell me in the language it had to tell it to me. This is tricky business, right? Because self–specifically, female, Jewish, queer–any “non hegemonic” (also for lack of better phrase) self identity is mitigated by the culture, society, and our own perceptions of who we are–as are the white and middle-class and first world identities of privilege that this narrator owns. And who’s to say what the language of self sounds like. But for me, this young woman, like all young woman also lives in this body, the kind that we all have, though they are all so different, and body is the place where the memory and self both live and express that self. In that way, the poems and the narrator were telling me stories about what it meant to live in this/her body, this/her cyst-feminine/lesbian/femme/feminista body that was sometimes disembodied due to the trauma of simply having/living in a feminine body within a patriarchal man-made world, and also living with some very specific but not always specified trauma. And that literally grounded the story–her body experience, the way she perceived the world, her stutter, her weird elliptical reclamation of her voice through her body experience. Some people call that healing. Ok, I’ll call it that.

That’s all to say that the question of favorites is also tricky. The poems in the collection seem to need each other, like sisters in a very extended family. They do fine when they leave one another, but they do better together. What though, if I tell you that I am in love with the last cycle poem, “Black Star in the Black Sky” because it came to me in a fury, and that rarely happens, and because without being summative, the poem reaches (insufficiently, of course) for cosmic answers of being and aloneness, and all the body, race, queer, female voice questions that the collections seems concerned with? I like the cosmic-ness of that cycle poem, the way it uses seasons and astrology (also incorrectly and flawed), and the way it wants to reach toward love, but is scared and falls back on it self and laughs at it’s huge insufficiency. I like the texture of the poems, spacey and floating– a body in search of a body, like an astronaut who never lands.


Deborah Schwartz is a poet and writer who teaches in the English Department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA. A Girl Could Disappear Like This (Kattywompus Press, March 2019) is her first collection of poetry.