The words of Richard "Rick" Holinger of Geneva, known for his engaging columns for Shaw Media, appear in a new collection of poems that can entertain and comfort readers navigating the uneasy pandemic landscape.
Holinger's poems make inward tracks to his two, well-loved retreats in the heart of nature. He named the book "North of Crivitz" after the community near a Wisconsin family cabin he's visited since he was 1 year old. The town lies about 60 miles north of Green Bay.
"At first, I thought, 'What a terrible time to launch this book,'" he said in announcing its release. "On second thought, perhaps it’s a great time. I hope it brings some solace and hope for better days to its readers."
Published by Kelsay Books, the collection has garnered glowing reviews from leading poets, including Carol Frost, who writes: “In fine poems where a man finds the way in to a place where deer incite him to dance with them, wandering to ponds when days give back to night, to a woods on County C where stillness is untranslatable yet, often with a fishing pole in hand, nearly always with the past as companion – brother, father, grandparent, wife – Richard Holinger gives us a map to the interior and the way home.”
He recently retired after 40 years of teaching English at Marmion Academy in Aurora. And while he misses the camaraderie, he has more time to focus on his writing.
“I have a framed quote above my desk,” he said, citing the Audur Olafsdottir line, “What inspires me most? Silence."
Holinger has been writing a journal since he was 19, but starting on the Ides of March 2020, he converted to keeping a "corona journal" online, noting "these times are so crazy."
The pandemic is referenced in the new book in the title of the final poem, "Bluebells in the Time of Coronavirus."
"Some of the poems go back as far as my being in my twenties, that would be in the 1970s," he said. "The coronavirus poem came from a walk in the woods [with his wife this] April. It was in one of the two locations where so many of the poems take place – out in Plano in the floodplain."
The Plano property has long been in his extended family.
He described the poem as "trying to deal with something very unusual and taking a walk through the woods and luxuriating with the simple beauty of bluebells or a blue heron or an eagle flying overhead … such a wonderful way to deal with the times we're living in today. It's the absence [of coronavirus] that is at the heart of the poem."
The first poem in the collection became the book's title, "North of Crivitz."
"Once you go past Crivitz, you don't run into any four- or six-lane [roads]," Holinger said. "You're in the north woods. … You are immersed in a different world – the same feeling I get on that beautiful wooded floodplain near Plano where Big Rock Creek runs through. You are divorced from buildings and noise and neon. You just connect with a different kind of spirit and feeling. I think that's what a lot of poems in the book try to evoke. I didn't try to evoke that writing them. I think a poet should try to receive, not create."
During his stays in Wisconsin, he keeps a journal to record the experience.
"Usually, the poetry comes afterward once it simmers a little bit and takes form and affects me more than the immediate moment," Holinger said. "Usually, I will hammer out a first draft longhand with a fountain pen. I love the scratch of the fountain pen on paper."
It was in his 20s that he gravitated from only writing short stories to also writing poems.
"Poems are so much shorter, you could usually tell right away if it worked or not," he said. “Two weeks later, you could tell for sure.”
Holinger facilitates a creative writing workshop for the Geneva Public Library, which is on temporary hiatus from meeting at the library during the pandemic.
"I love being with the community of writers," he said of the group. "We are all writers who really see writing as an occupation, as a calling. We all have a passion for writing."
Fans soon can catch his collection of humorous and poignant newspaper columns for Shaw Media titled "Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences: Views of a Guy Who Wants to Know, ‘What Do They Make Pinewood Derby Cars Out Of?'" Currently, he's revisiting and editing essays he plans to collect for publication, tentatively titled “The Grounding of Flyover States: Flights from a Midwestern Essayist.” And on the poetry front, he describes some of his most recent work as third-person soliloquies – "it tries to get into the minds of people in history who change the way we imagine. It begins with Homer and goes up to Mother Teresa and Steve Jobs."
Holinger’s poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and book reviews have appeared in The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, and Boulevard, and been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. His collection titled "Not Everybody's Nice" won the 2012 Split Oak Press Flash Prose Chapbook Contest.
To follow more of Holinger's creative output, visit richardholinger.net. "North of Crivitz" is available on his website and at Amazon.