In 1994, Nancy Rafal and her husband, Harry, left the Chicago area and moved to Baileys Harbor. She took a poetry-appreciation class with Barbara Larsen, started writing semiseriously and joined the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. Rafal served as his treasurer and held the same position with the Wisconsin Writers Association.
She was one third of the “Off Q Gals” who collaborated on Slightly Off Q. The other two – June Nirschl and Judy Roy – have published additional books, and Rafal is working on a new title herself.
In 2003, she became interested in the works of poet Lorine Niedecker, became a board member of the Friends of Lorine Niedecker and spearheaded the creation of the Baileys Harbor Community Mural Project. Ram Rojas, the mural artist, cleverly hid quotes of Niedecker throughout the mural.
Rafal is also an active chair canner, a meditative activity that gives her time to ponder poetic ideas.
What is your writing routine?
The pandemic really shut me down. I wasn’t writing or chair canning – just doing more reading. When things started to pick up again, I enjoyed going to art galleries and doing Art Speaks with Francha Barnard, who made all the participants comfortable, newcomers and experienced poets alike.
What do most poorly written poems have in common?
It seems to me that most poorly written poems use conventional language, try to emulate “famous” poets and don’t show their authentic self. They are poems that tell rather than show.
What do most well-written poems have in common?
It seems to me that poetry can be considered well written if it elicits an emotional response. Sometimes this is a unique way of writing about a landscape after a rainstorm or a new father whose just-born baby has grasped his dad’s finger and won’t let go. A well-written poem can make you laugh or cry, but it will always grab you at an emotional level.
Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to “solve” it?
Each reader brings a body of experiences to the poem and understands the poem in relation to that life experience. We understand the poem differently each time we read it over a number of years. In many cases, this is true for the poet who wrote the work, too.
What book are you reading right now?
The Overstory by Richard Powers is the main title, but the writing of Phil Ochs, I’m Gonna Say It Now, also occupies my reading time. I have a number of books to read that will occupy my time until I am 284 years old.
Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry in 2015 and continues to meet.
Beginnings I’d forgotten sunrises, stars blinking you awake, geese rising in unison over the lake twenty two years living in the woods will do that The new home is smaller, won’t hold our countless books, but the spacious backyard is clear of utility poles and wires, and provides a seasonal water view and an occasional deer The real miracle is that eight years ago when the house was rented out a baby was birthed here in the space I’ve placed my writing desk
The Nature of Birds and Poets Like the mother robin the poet must brood the words must lay them in the warm nest of expectation shelter them from predators Like the mother robin the poet must turn the words tending them so that they will hatch out peep, peep, peep incessantly to be fed Like the mother robin the poet must fly away in the world to find food for the words until they fledge and grasp the edge of the nest And like the mother robin the poet must send the words out into that world and know that they will find their way to a branch that is their own
Vacation Again, Vacation Again Thanks to Marilyn Taylor’s “Home Again, Home Again” The tourists are back, the tourists are back They’ve come to buy doodads, eat out, and relax The vacation has come, they’ve arrived in da Door They’ve zoomed down the highway always questing for more The lure of the bayside has called them again They’ve swooped through Egg Harbor, Fish Creek and Ephraim They’ve sampled the ice cream and swallowed cheese curds Now they want fish boils before they return home Their life in the city with potholes and traffic Makes them immune to our ways so bucolic They drive either so fast or so frighteningly slow We year-rounders just wish they would go home Some come to get away and camp in the park but all those campfires just block out the dark We wish they would go and leave our county in peace But I’m afraid they’ll be back when it’s time to wear fleece Yes, summer and winter, in the spring and the fall Door County is open for one and for all The tourists have come. the tourists have come I shouldn’t complain because I once was one