Red Wolf Editions Spring 2020: True Love

true love issue 16

Red Wolf Editions Spring 2020
Theme: True Love

An honorable human relationship…that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

—Adrienne Rich

On the subject of true love what are your thoughts? I guess you do not doubt that there’s such a thing in the Platonic realm. But in the world of sinners the quest is truly tricky. Of that forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, is there a sense of that present in true love, that true love is a test of character, involving a transgression of sorts? For without the breach there’s no struggle, no tried and tested. If true love is divinely ordained, there must be a struggle to find it. We’re searching for a divine union so as to enable a coming into knowledge (or rather knowing)? For in impediment do we grow. Not just love thoughtlessly, like mating rabbits. How else do we discover ourselves? How do we discover another except in how we love? Or how we are loved in return. Or not. Are we using the other person, wanting them for reasons other than love? Are we being loved or used? Love is blind they say, but that blindness does contain sight. True love is about seeing. We need to see and discern another person’s heart. Is it true? Or false? Only time will tell. So only time is a test of love.

Part of why true love is difficult is that we are so imperfect it is difficult to love truly. There seems no such thing as immaculate love—love is an expression in action, often involving sexual desire. In its passionate form it is a deep union. However it can and often is fraught with complications. Why? Because human nature is selfish. Inconstancy, fickleness, disagreement, illusion, self-sabotage, illness, third parties, all sorts of selfishness. Any of that can surface in your poems. All of which you are probably privy to being properly adult.

It is true isn’t it—we are not making this up. The institution of marriage enshrines the Platonic concept of true love. But being sanctified by church or temple does not mean that a marriage is sure to last. It is a union but is it lasting? The actual experience of a marriage is a test…of true love. It all goes back to a testing of this fundamental goal.
So what is true love? Is it something that has to be tried and tested? Does it need to have physical expression for it to have meaning? Sometimes it seems that the physicality of love dominates so its absence makes love intangible, unreal. On the other end of the spectrum, physical love is only one aspect of love and without all the other spiritual and practical aspects, true love fails. Love that is real providence—financially and everything–or captivated by mesmerising beauty, is that true love? Take away the providence, take away beauty, does love remain? As the fallen, we ask ourselves, is it real or is it fake? Is it an illusion of mirrors? Love is about seeing I said. Seeing the other person’s emotional core, all analysis and logic being pretty meaningless. What makes you fall in love with another person is beyond words. I guess poetry is as close to falling in love.

True love sounds testy, and it really is. What kind of a quest it is is a subject of interest in this issue. I believe that we’re all looking for a version of true love. In a way that it is the most important quest, it is the soul that is searching. Maybe we hope to find God (redemption) there, in so doing we become who we’re meant to become—our best selves. I want to hear your version of it. Does the quest interest you? We want poems about love in all its tender, or violent moments. Love poems in all its complexity. Real (even if imagined), touching poems.

Look at these lines from Li-Young Lee’s “Adore”:

This strewing and gathering
of Love’s face, of Love’s gaze, and only this,
begun in death’s audience, is the founding
action, call it the fundamental
paradise…did I say paradise?
I meant paradox…the fundamental paradox
of the breaths we breathe,
the thoughts we witness,
the kisses we exchange,
and every poem you write.

The idea of love beginning in “death’s audience”—how can love come through except through an awareness of the other’s mortality? I love you more because you and everything you represent will die and then the world will become a shadow of what we once had. Death is both literal and figurative. Lee once said, “My dream is love.” I suppose that will be our dream in this issue.

We don’t have to be limited to couple notions of love. The parental edition of true love seems the purest form of unconditional love. Brotherly or sisterly love, friendship based on love—are these acceptable notions of true love? The way a sister cares for an ill brother seems to me a remarkable statement of love. How does love, what love does to survive adversity or loneliness? How does love celebrate the beloved, what does it see? How love is a fixation, an anchor? How love exist even when the beloved is absent? And the fact of unrequited love. Can a lonely heart be in a good space? What about love even if your protagonist does not actually have a person to love or the person is gone? What is the calm after the storm? Love that is true and isn’t true.

Shall we just come right out and say it—true love is hard because it’s supposed to be unconditional. It’s agape. It is not eros is it? There’s such a gap there. Write about eros anyway. The world as a love poem—what does it mean? We want love stories. Remember John Lennon’s all you need is love. And Freddy Mercury’s I need somebody to love. How you choose to interpret love, to breathe love, that really matters. As Lady Gaga sings, we’re far from the shallow now…that resonates somehow. If you had not fallen in love, and loved deeply, and lost, would you call that as having lived? Love as abundance. Love as suffering. Love as discernment. True love is wisdom.

Above all to risk one’s heart–because it is a risky undertaking, your poems should try and reflect some of that complexity and not be a tad easy, too empty, too airy…if you know what I mean. You do want to leave the reader with something significant.

Here’s Mary Oliver’s “A Pretty Song” for inspiration.

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?

This isn’t a play ground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods

that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.

—Mary Oliver, Thirst

Read our submission guidelines here. Please check back on our site to see if your poem has been selected. We will not be sending out any rejection letters.

Submissions period: August to February 2019. Selected poems will be posted on this site and compiled into a PDF release in Spring 2020.

Good writing.

Irene Toh
Spring 2020


Special Feature: Josh Medsker

Red Wolf Journal caught up with Josh Medsker, who writes poems somewhere in New Jersey. If you’d like a taste of his work, you may find it here and here.


How and why on earth did you end up pursuing poetry?

I don’t really know. I’ve been writing poetry since I was in high school. In my senior year, I started thinking that writing might be a legitimate path for me. I had a little luck early on, actually! In our freshman year of college, my best friend Chris submitted a poem of mine to the literary magazine at his college, Alaska Pacific University, without my knowledge. And it got in! That was nice. But I was also obsessed with music, and that took over my mind for a long time. My folks were beside themselves and urged me to go into journalism, because it was more stable than a life in the arts.

I floated along during the 90s, doing music writing… for my own punk zine in Anchorage, and then later, after I graduated with my journalism degree, for the local weekly newspaper. I’d been writing poetry, and short stories, the whole time, but frankly it wasn’t even worth talking about. Bad, sub-Beat trash. I burned a lot of it in my parents’ backyard.

Journalism was where my talent truly was, at the time. Then I got the memoir bug, writing about my crazy travel adventures across the US and abroad. That was very satisfying, but I didn’t necessarily want to pour out my whole life story.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago, in my late 30s, that I essentially gave up trying to write fiction and really gave poetry another shot. I’ve always struggled to keep a whole story in my mind all at once, and poetry just seemed natural. I can start and finish a piece quickly, and then go back and edit it with some confidence.

Since it’s safe to say poetry doesn’t pay the bills what’s your day job?

Ha! Exactly. I’m an English teacher at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. It’s a tough school in an even tougher neighborhood. Every bad thing you can think of with inner-city life, these kids have seen it or experienced it personally. It’s exceptionally difficult, but I love it. I feel like I have a good rapport with my kids.

Do you do any poetry related stuff in class and if you do what’s the response been like?

Oh, absolutely. We are reading Chaucer now. Just finished selections from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. The language was a little tough for the kids to get into, but I tried to ramp it up a little bit, do a dramatic reading. I think they liked the hack-and-slash aspects of it! They seemed to.

Tell us about your first poetry book—what’s it about, what led to it, what you hope should be our takeaway from it and where we can get it.

It’s called Cacophony, and it’s a poetic exploration of the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft. The title and direct inspiration is from the album by Rudimentary Peni. They’re a British punk band. Really dark and moody. One of my long-time favorites. Anyway, they did their album as a tribute to Lovecraft, and I did my book as a tribute to them. I’d been curious about Lovecraft for a long time, through my love of Stephen King, and science fiction, fantasy, and horror in general.

As far as how the book got started … I don’t know if Red Wolf readers know, but from July 2015 until August of 2019, I did a poetry project called Medskerpedia. I wrote a poem a day, based on each entry in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Anyway, one of the entries was “Cacophony”. I wrote a poem based on one of the songs on the album. It was so enjoyable and came so easily that I just kept going. Fifty-five poems later I had a whole book. It pretty much came out as a whole piece. It was very quick.

Each poem has a drawing with it, done by my old friend Aaron Morgan, a fine artist from Seattle. His work is really dark and he’s also a big Lovecraft fan. We have known each other since our days in the punk scene in Anchorage, in the early 90s. We’ve been collaborating for about, dang, ten years now! I was beyond excited to do such a long-form project with him.

As far as what I want people to take away from it, I want to give them that unsettled feeling you get when you read Lovecraft’s work, and that WTF moment you will have if you listen to the RP album. When I was writing this book, the darkness and Lovecraft’s ideas about “cosmic indifference” just kind of enveloped me. It was spooky. That idea that humans are essentially insects in an overpowering, uncaring universe was very powerful to me.

Why are you so moved by Lovecraft and how do your poems express the themes surrounding the man?

Nick Blinko, the lead singer for Rudimentary Peni, is also schizophrenic, and a lot of that mental confusion comes through in his lyrics. It’s also a big theme in Lovecraft, people losing their way because of unknown or unknowable forces working on them. Blinko wrote a great autobiographical novel called The Primal Screamer, which I read, absorbed, and whose themes I expressed in these poems. He talks about his illness, his obsession with Lovecraft … It’s a great book.

In Cacophony, I tried to present Lovecraft as a multi-faceted man. I mean it’s not straight biography, but there are certainly biographical aspects to the poems. In some of the poems Lovecraft is the narrator. In some of the poems the Great Old Ones like Cthulhu are the narrators. I’m the narrator in some of them. It’s all over the place, in an interesting way I think.

Lovecraft was a deeply flawed man, and I try to tackle that racism, nativism and xenophobia of his. There was some wiggle room in some of the RP lyrics—some of them were pretty baffling and didn’t make a whole lot of sense—so I took the opportunity to make some political statements. That was another thing that really fascinated and confused me. Here’s Rudimentary Peni, a group of committed anarchists, associated with Crass and all those folks … doing a tribute album to Lovecraft. His stories are incredible, but when you hear some of the statements he made … yikes. I do understand, though, that he was a product of his times. I wanted to put in my own two cents without derailing the whole book on a tangent. I think I pulled it off.

What’re your future plans to conquer poetry?

I have another manuscript finished, created from the Medskerpedia project, and I’m getting ready to shop it around. I’m taking a break until January, though, so I can focus on teaching.

I’m also going to do Medskerpedia II! Every day I will write a poem, using a random word from the Oxford English Dictionary. And as a further constraint, I’ll be flipping to a random page in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. It should be fun! I tried to start it in September, right after I finished Medskerpedia I, but it was too overwhelming. I got about ten poems in and realized I was stretching myself too thin. So, I’m resting my poetry brain for a minute.

When I get back into it, I’ll also be working on my verse play about the friendship between early-20th Century Midwestern poets Vachel Lindsay and Sara Teasdale. Lindsay was madly in love with Teasdale and there was a lot of tension between them because of that … but also a mutual love and admiration between them. I’m very excited about it.

Hmmm doesn’t Josh seem like a guy who’s out to conquer poetry … If you’re interested to buy a copy of Cacophony, it is available here.

Encounter on the Road Curves, by Mr. Edilson Ferreira

Encounter on the Road Curves
by Mr. Edilson Ferreira

It was not on the straight, wide and sunny road,
that I saw you.
It was on the road’s bend, so switched a curve that
almost returned to the point from which I had come.
It was in a dark and gloomy day,
where wind did not dare to appear
and people sought to hide within themselves.
Now I know that fate had given that afternoon
as precious gift to me, when set us face to face.
Then, your beauty shone, flashed like a torch,
or a beacon in dark nights driving the sailors.
You enchanted me, like a serpent with her prey,
but not devoured, only arrested and gave me love.
In the days following our meeting,
they say the sun had shone again.
It does not concern me,
for I have won you.

Mr. Ferreira, 76 years, is a Brazilian poet who writes in English rather than in Portuguese. Largely published in international journals in print and online, he began writing at age 67, after retirement as a bank employee. Nominated for The Pushcart Prize 2017, his first Poetry Collection, Lonely Sailor, One Hundred Poems, was launched in London, November 2018. He is always updating his works at

Found Poem, by J.I. Kleinberg

J.I. Kleinberg - I FOUND MY HEART - 96dpi

A visual poem created from an ongoing series of collages (1900+) built from phrases created unintentionally through the accident of magazine page design. Each contiguous fragment of text (roughly the equivalent of a poetic line) is entirely removed from its original sense and syntax. The text is not altered (except for the occasional deletion of prefixes, suffixes, or punctuation) and includes no attributable phrases. The lines of each collage are, in most cases, sourced from different magazines.

Artist, poet, and freelance writer, J.I. Kleinberg is a prolific paper-tearer and Pushcart nominee. Her found poems have appeared in Diagram, Dusie, Entropy, Otoliths, What Rough Beast, The Tishman Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, and posts frequently at

From the Depths of Bone China, by Misky

From the Depths of Bone China
by Misky

In a teacup where
leaves twirl a dervish in
fluid like a circular skirt,
roiling from a devotional pot,
a tranquil tea.
A gypsy’s fortune.

In your skirts of whispering
crinolines, your silver and
turquoise, and
of braided hair,
tell me of love.

Process notes: Poetic form Quadrille. 44 words, excluding the title.

Misky lives in the UK surrounded by West Sussex hills, flowers, and vineyards. She never buys clothing without pockets. Her work is regularly published with Ten Penny Players “Waterways”.

Fickle Feet, by Debi Swim

Fickle Feet
by Debi Swim

Off go the crows from the roof
with a raucous deep-throated yell
and ebon flick of feathers
like they never cared anyway
for this dratted one-horse town.

The wind carried them away
in uplifting curt currents
while the band bugled below
and couples danced to the beat
under an abandoned roof.

The music swelled in his feet
and his heart thought it in love
with sweet, swaying hips in red
but after their dance she left
for the arms of another.

How embarrassing is love
When it goes wrong
In front of everyone.

Lines from “Crows in a Strong Wind”, By Cornelius Eady
“Off go the crows from the roof”
“How embarrassing is love
When it goes wrong
In front of everyone.”

Debi Swim writes primarily to inspiring prompts. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and persistent WV poet.

Love Conquers All, by Ron. Lavalette

Love Conquers All
by Ron. Lavalette

“I bought you some
poison blueberries,”
she said. “You can
have them with your
corn flakes in the morning.”
She had always been
everything he’d ever wanted
so all he heard was:
“I bought you some
blueberries for breakfast.”
He ate them the next day
with toast and orange
marmalade and tea.
He went to work and smiled
at customers and colleagues,
sat quietly at his desk
until half-past five, signed out
and, still smiling, headed home
to his Sweetie Pie.

Ron. Lavalette is a very widely-published poet living on the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. His first chapbook, Fallen Away, is now available from Finishing Line Press and at all other standard outlets. His poetry and short prose has appeared extensively in journals, reviews, and anthologies ranging alphabetically from Able Muse and the Anthology of New England Poets through the World Haiku Review and Your One Phone Call. A reasonable sample of his published work can be viewed at EGGS OVER TOKYO:

Overheard, by Ron. Lavalette

by Ron. Lavalette

The first words heard on Monday,
smack in the middle of August,
drifted in, distant and disembodied
from the dock of the smallest cabin
across the lake.
                             An ancient couple,
no doubt celebrating their golden
anniversary with a coffee and a
mutual toast, love-talked so softly
that only their voices’ tenderness
and not the content of their speech
travels across the still, wide water.

Ron. Lavalette is a very widely-published poet living on the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. His first chapbook, Fallen Away, is now available from Finishing Line Press and at all other standard outlets. His poetry and short prose has appeared extensively in journals, reviews, and anthologies ranging alphabetically from Able Muse and the Anthology of New England Poets through the World Haiku Review and Your One Phone Call. A reasonable sample of his published work can be viewed at EGGS OVER TOKYO:

Engulfed by Love, by Diana Raab, PhD.

Engulfed by Love
by Diana Raab, PhD.

Our night together crawled
at a sloth’s pace, but then raced

like your heart at its end, as I
scrutinize each of your moves,
even your stroll into our bathroom.

While lying on that foreign bed,
I loved how your psyche

engulfed mine like a Venus
fly trap caresses an insect,

and how you mindfully mapped
my features with your fingers

and how your eyes melted into mine
and how your arms reach out for me

and pull me into your chest,
to share one last labored breath.

Your irregular breathing
lullabied me towards my final moment,

until I realized I shouldn’t be there with you
and decide to leave—
toting your life’s baggage in my heart.

Diana Raab PhD is a poet, memoirist, and workshop facilitator. She’s author of poetry collections including her latest, Lust. She’s also author of 5 non-fiction books and a frequent blogger. Please visit her at

Surrendering, by Diana Raab, PhD.

by Diana Raab, PhD.

I am pulled into your energy
yanked into your hollow heart.

I borrow your breaths
as I search for my last one

wondering what I was thinking
when you reached for me

and I said okay before pulling back
into my cocoon which wrapped
protective strings around me.

So many days later, you came back,
pulled those fine strings to unravel

my world watching me spin in circles
to release myself from your grasp.

I surrender to you, and there’s no other way
of looking at this predicament I am in.

You are my sanctuary and my risk.

The Parking Lot, by Diana Raab, PhD.

The Parking Lot
by Diana Raab, PhD.

I counted the steps
we took together
from the coffee shop to parking lot,
seemed to happen quickly
and slowly at the same time,
yet I don’t recall one step,
as we passed curious eyes
and slow turtles in the pond
admiring their freedom
and our yearning for it.
We walked to your sleek black car
as you invited me into your corner
to offer me your gentle passionate lips
and as much as I tried to resist
I succumbed to my deepest desire
nervous in my shoes
in wonder of the next move
slowing you down against all good reason
feeling the lump in your pants in my honor
oh my where is this headed, I wondered
driving home and not remembering one mile
fantasizing about eternal love making
or until we’re snapped back into reality,
which cuts us off forever
out of the sacred space we want to create.

Diana Raab PhD is a poet, memoirist, and workshop facilitator. She’s author of poetry collections including her latest, Lust. She’s also author of 5 non-fiction books and a frequent blogger. Please visit her at