Wednesday, April 17, 2019


April/May "Spring" Theme Issue
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Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are the work of our Art Editor or taken from "royalty-free" open internet sources.

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Table of Contents
A Letter from the Editor
Ross Balcom
   "Unicorn Days" 
Terri Lynn Cummings
Steven Wittenberg Gordon
   "Dwarf Daffodils"
Deborah Guzzi
   "Pinwheeling Palms"
Gene Hodge
James Lepak
   "Easing Discontent"
John C. Mannone
Avra Margariti
   "Portrait of the Mother, in March"
Karla Linn Merrifield
   "Vernal Sea Change" 
Vivian Finley Nida
   "Spring Ritual"
John Reinhart
James Frederick William Rowe
Howard Stein
   "Absence and Return" 
Charles A. Swanson
   "One of Spring's Most Common Flowers"
Poetry Review
Crossing the Double Yellow Line by Stellasue Lee
   Reviewed by Gene Hodge
Frequent Contributor News

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A Letter from the Editor
Leaves-Spring-Out, more commonly known as "spring", begins in March in the northern hemisphere with the coming of the vernal equinox and ends in June with the coming of the summer solstice.  Although its arrival is unwelcome in some locales (Vermonters, for example, and Mainers I have learned recently, refer to spring as "mud season" and can't wait for it to end), spring is generally welcomed as a season of hope, renewal, and fecundity--ample inspiration for the poetically inclined and the mythologically minded.

Crocuses, tulips, and daffodils often precede the rain in April that brings even more flowers in May.  The leaves spring out of the barren branches of deciduous trees.  Sunshowers give birth to rainbows.  Birds gather materials for their nests, and the brightly colored males sing full-throated songs to attract their mates.  

Just as with Persephone and Demeter, the young and old may experience spring differently--the former with exuberant passion and energy, the latter with the wistfulness and nostalgia of those with more years behind them than ahead of them.  However young or old, when winter finally yields and the conditions of the new season are just right, one may experience a "perfect" day--one that is neither too hot nor too cold with gorgeous sunshine that warms without burning and brings light without blinding.   

The poems herein cover all the above and more.  This issue, perhaps more than any other, contains true Songs of Eretz.

Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

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Unicorn Days
Ross Balcom

these are unicorn days

fleeting as rainbow hoof
and gossamer mane

these are unicorn days

dear as soft brown eyes
and golden horn

these are unicorn days

magic as ancient songs
and stories

these are unicorn days

days of Spring
soon departed

lost in whirlwinds
of light and love

and laughter

Editor’s Note:  How uncharacteristic!  I kept waiting for the axe to drop--for the unicorns to explode and for the silver-bloody pieces to form the first spring rain or something--in other words, a typical Ross Balcom poem.  This one reads like one of Gene's poems--certainly a departure for Ross!  SWG

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Terri Lynn Cummings

Spring. Time to eat fresh
Pick strawberries, shell peas
rinse lettuce, grill asparagus
savor long, luscious moments
within earth’s bowl

Count purple martins
moving all they need
into high houses
freshened white
for their return

Butterfly lopes
through seas of leaves
breezes motionless
on a raft 
to roses flushed faces

Birds drift overhead 
as if tied with twine 
to the bench below 
Swings fly, far and wide 
as their arms allow

Lovers on a blanket
swim through clouds 
Dreams alight everywhere
like those of an infant 
milky fists open

Puppy waggles behind on 
ground’s roughage for a scratch
Throats of lilies fuzzle bees
Crumbs balance on ants’ backs 
All lodges of winter, empty

Poet’s Notes:  It was winter when I composed this poem. All I had was my wish for warm weather and what it may bring—fresh food prepared for a picnic basket, images of an ideal day in the park. I hope my wish comes true!

Editor’s Note:  This poem makes me long for spring a bit too--and I love winter!  Terri hits all of the important aspects with crisp imagery and fine lyricism.  SWG

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Dwarf Daffodils
"Dwarf Daffodils" | Digital Photograph | Steven Wittenberg Gordon
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

It pains me to leave your leaves behind
As I depart the soft Kansas prairie
For Maine’s hard rocky hills.
The dwarf daffodils I planted
Near the front stoop some years past
Were a gift from my beloved.
Asleep through winter’s deep chills
Their coming heralds the hope
Of springtime. I check daily
For their long leaves to poke
Through the leaf litter and then to find
Their little yellow flowers open at last
The first in my neighborhood to bloom
As if to say farewell, dispel my gloom.

Poet’s Notes:  I departed Kansas for Maine at the end of March to begin a new job providing medical care for military veterans. I am originally from upstate New York, and even after living twelve years in Kansas complete with buying a house and raising my children there, Kansas never felt like home--never, that is (Hallmark Movie Channel cliché though it may be), until I decided to leave.  

The dwarf daffodils, a gift from my wife that I planted about seven years ago, bloomed just before I left for Maine--strange, as no other daffodils in my neighborhood were blooming.  Their unexpected “farewell” lightened my heart and inspired this poem.

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Pinwheeling Palms
Deborah Guzzi

Melissa tumbles her palms smacking—
across the grizzled lawn’s dejected surface.

Grit covers her chewed nails.
Her bottom lands with a plop,
raggedy-jeans wet to a darker blue.
in the shape of a tractor seat.
Soon, the field will need to be mowed.

The kitchen windows stream with steam.
Mother writes “eggs done.”

Wiping her hands on her thighs,
this she-demon explodes upward—
whirling downward in
yet another dramatic pinwheel.
The tips of her seven-year-long braids
brush the ground. She lands standing
with a howl of delight.

Outside the backdoor, mother
changes the welcome sign from a snowman to
—purple pansies—spring crops-up
and pinwheels in, mother says,
“I remember when…”

Poet’s Notes: The exuberance of spring is brought to the fore in this verse through the use of metaphor. The symbolic use of the mother boiling eggs alludes to Easter. Eggs have been used as a symbol of new life for centuries. 

Mother and female child also show the progress of time from aged winter to rebirth in spring. The acrobatics are also a play on the theme.  I do hope I brought you back to when you remembered when. 

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the vision of a girl cartwheeling on the lawn. In particular, I like the last stanza with the seasonal welcome sign and, “I remember when…”  TLC

Editor’s Note:  I echo the sentiments of the Assistant Editor and add that I enjoy the contrast between the exuberant delight of the child and the jaded routine of her mother at the coming of spring.  SWG 

About the Poet:  Deborah Guzzi writes fulltime. Her third book, The Hurricane, is available through Prolific Press. Her poetry has appeared in several prestigious journals throughout the world including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Hong Kong, China, Greece, and the United States.

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Gene Hodge

Everywhere . . . smiles, laughter, blue skies,
and happy faces,
sunshine . . . dancing shadows.
The rising of tree sap
from its winter sleep;
children running in open fields,
giggling buttercups, tickled by a frivolous breeze.
Deliberate footsteps of elderly people 
walking their dogs.
The screeching call of a soaring hawk,
lovers holding hands
beneath singing clouds . . .
and flowers, bursting from the soul of emptiness;
their beauty filling the sweet air,
as peace and joy—like a baby’s smile—
completes . . . fulfills existence. 

Poet’s Notes: It has been a rainy fall and winter in the South.  Sunny and warm days have been rare.  When they happen, on a Sunday afternoon—and spring in the air--it seems the whole world celebrates.  The parks come alive with activities. As a poet, it gives me the reviving opportunity to enjoy more than just the weather and people, but the beauty of becoming one with my observations.

Editor’s Note:  This is a comforting poem about spring, one that recognizes its beauty and that made me feel happy inside.  SWG

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Easing Discontent
James Lepak 

Playfully grazing the pane,
A greening bud at branch’s tip
softens its raps. 

After flurries of sharpness railed
Against insulating glass,
The aged tree signals 
With gentle obstinacy
Renewal once again. 

The hoarfrost from months before,
In perverse inversion, 
Would be erased in slender streaks
Like mad figures on a rink. 

Now, as a pleasant dullness 
Filters the scratching of restless nights
I invite sun-glinted rain.

Poet's Notes: When I wrote this poem, I was trying to encapsulate the whole feeling of a great transition in a tight space, both in the poem's length and its imagery, which turned out, in this case, to be a branch tapping a window.  I set up a dichotomy to emphasize the contrast between the two seasons, portraying winter as being sharp and cutting, and spring as soft and round. I also connected that softness with newness and the scratching sharpness with stubborn age. 

The new is curious and not fully formed, while the old is biting and stuck in its ways; yet, while one might expect old age to come with calm, it rages like "mad figures on a rink". Here, the emphasis on gradual ebbing is lessened, and a mild burst into softness brings immediate relief, though not a complete recovery--there is still incessant rapping.

Editor’s Note:  Alas, I live in a hotel in Maine now, but the window nearest my bed in the house I left behind in Kansas has a companion tree branch such as described in this poem.  I particularly enjoy the way James captures the hauntingly annoying aural qualities of the branch’s dance with the window with his alliteration and consonance in the opening stanza and the deliciously assonant “perverse inversion” in the third stanza.  SWG

About the Poet:  James Lepak is an ESL instructor who enjoys reading and writing poetry in his spare time. His work has also appeared in Isacoustic.

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Papery seedpods
Alate autorotators
         Whirligigs flickering
                   as if stiff feathers
                   falling wings
         from a tree
Thousands of you
launch each spring
         with every whim
                   of wind that takes
                   you into flight
         Spread your silvery
smiles all over
the open earth beneath
         and sleep
                   in its bosom until
                   the gentle rain
         awakens you
Stretch from your
two-year sleep
         Point your maple
                   fingers to the sun

--John C. Mannone

Poet’s Notes:  I’ve always been fascinated by the complex aerodynamics of a falling maple seedpod even when I didn’t understand the physics.  

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy this poem, 5-dollar words and all.  It brings back fond childhood memories.  The concrete nature of the poem is also a nice touch.  SWG

Art Editor’s Note:  As with most of the concrete poems we select for publication, I feel that this one illustrates itself.  JAG

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Portrait of the Mother, in March
Avra Margariti

My Atlas mother longs to set the world down
and lay her frost-pale cheek on a field of dandelions.
My housebound mother watches kids build snowmen in the street
and prays for the thaw.
My green-thumbed mother presses flowers between book pages
and waters them with her Alice tears.
My seasonally depressed mother watches The Secret Garden
while eating frozen berries in bed.
When I come home for spring break,
she holds me so tight, you’d think her name was Demeter.

Poet's Notes:  I wanted to write a poem about a mother missing her daughter, whose return she has come to associate with the arrival of spring. The reference to the myth of Demeter and Persephone felt organic, so I went with it.

Editor’s Note:  I suspect that many readers, myself included, relate to seasonal depression when housebound due to cold weather. Yet the ending, with its reference to the mother as Demeter, adds a nice twist to this poem about spring.  TLC

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the way Avra metaphorically portrays the many aspects of spring--the physical aspects and the emotions thereby evoked.  The final image with the nod to the myth of Persephone is particularly nicely done.  SWG

About the Poet:  Avra Margariti is a social work undergrad from Athens, Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, The Forge Literary, Wolfpack Press, Argot Magazine, The Colored Lens, and other venues.

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Vernal Sea Change
Karla Linn Merrifield

I watch a red squirrel perch
on his haunches on a lakeshore piling
at my neighbor’s breakwall.
Across the lawn, out in the open, 
contemplating, he first seems a simulacrum
of a poet poised to compose an opening 
line—richly pelted, far-dazed.
Sitting there, it’s as if he is
inscribing with his elegant quill of a tail 
the twin blue vistas of Ontario and northern sky 
sprawling over the horizon. He senses
a poem coming to his wild animal heart. 

Then, crossing the distance to shore
to the old budding lilac that was not battered 
loose from its precarious edge last winter, 
I creep nearer to him. My diminutive
Rodentia bodhisattva remains still, staring.
He refrains from any chitter, wishes only
to take in the waves lapping. For more than
five long unguarded minutes he permits me
to listen with him, fearless, exposed.    
The fresh morning’s fresh breeze softens; 
the universe turns ever fairer in his wild animal soul.

Poet’s Notes:  For twenty-six years I watched spring come to the south shore of Lake Ontario, where the season was slower to arrive than just a couple miles inland. Frigid waters only reluctantly gave up their hold, but when they did, all creatures great (we humans) and small (robins, rabbits, raccoons…) frolicked in the newfound warmth, and I met their buoyancy with my own, welcoming an opportunity to indulge in anthropomorphism. It’s with great fondness that I recall in this poem one such moment of that sweet, long-awaited spring.

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Spring Ritual
Vivian Finley Nida
Dawn breeze  
with no clouds to sweep
ruffles feathers
of Rio Grande turkeys
nudges them from sleep

In tangled row 
of hardwoods between 
open field and creek
dozens perch 
safe in branches

Roosting hens 
make presence known 
Muffled yelps 
rise to crescendo as 
fly down nears

On the ground, all scratch 
for insects, lizards
grasshoppers, seeds
Hens roll soft purrs for contentment
cluck staccato for courtship 

Following ancient rites, imperious 
Tom gobbles, struts, fans tail feathers
iridescent copper with bands of 
onyx, mother of pearl, reflecting
golden light’s seductive gleam

Poet’s Notes:  After the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, the abundant turkey population in the state was devastated by the influx of settlers.  By 1925, sightings of the birds were so rare that many thought they were extinct. Thankfully, conservation efforts have restored turkeys to every county in the state; on our family farm, we often see turkeys and wake to their calls.

Editor’s Note:  Having witnessed this kind of turkey behavior in upstate New York many years ago and more recently near my new home in Maine, I can safely say that Vivian has poetically captured this magical, ancient ritual, perhaps going back as far as the Saurian Age.  SWG

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coiled jaws ready to snap
like fingers

                             over here
         and here

it'll get you
ready for the spotlight,
interrogate you
until you give in

with flowers in your hair

--John Reinhart

Editor’s Note:  This one is a little abstract, but I like it!  I especially enjoy the final image.  SWG

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James Frederick William Rowe

A narrow bridge of tension
Between the extremes of light and dark
Of cold and hot
Of wet and dry
Alone allows
The harmony of spring

Delicate, fleeting
How soon spring comes
How quick spring passes
Too easily lost
This melody
In the changes of the year

The dirge of winter is long and certain
So, too, is summer's symphony
And the autumnal concerto
Is yearly heard in the leaves and acorns
Yet there are entire years where the song of spring
Lasts but a single hour

And in that hour
When blossoms cup their ears to listen
And raindrops sit a silent audience
A-sparkle atop their seats of grass
The song is sung and every soul stirs
And all of nature joins to dance

Poet’s Notes:  Spring continues my simply titled sequence of seasonal poems, that have thus far included “Fall” and “Winter” (guess what my summer poem will be called?). And following a similar theme to “Fall”, this poem is about the music of the seasons. The focus is on how spring can sometimes be in tune for a fleeting instant. There are years where the feeling of spring lasts two or three weeks, and there are “springs” when I never think I had a truly "spring day". But when the conditions are just right, when the "narrow bridge of tension" is taut, it truly is the case that "the song is sung and every soul stirs / and all of nature joins in the dance".

Last year, a late spring day reached absolute perfection. It must've been late May or early June, and it was sincerely the most spectacularly beautiful day I've ever experienced. I also remember such a day in 1999, where the entire world smelled of the season, and I remember the joy of walking home from school and then throwing my windows open to let in the air.

As it so happens, the day I composed this poem was a pretty nice spring day—not quite so perfectly beautiful, but nice—and probably the first day of the year I'd say was a true spring day. It is fitting, then, that I spent that day writing this poem, composing it on the subway and then walking out into the lovely day.

Aesthetically, the poem is simple, consisting of four stanzas of six verses each. There is nothing especially complex here. I just wrote what I thought suited the theme the best and expressed well my central ideas and went well with the rhythm of my word choice and the feel I had for it.

Editor’s Note:  I enjoy the way James captures that fuzzy, often fleeting line between spring and the seasons that precede and follow it.  His comprehensive notes are illuminating and enhance the total literary experience as usual. SWG 

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Absence and Return
Howard Stein
After Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata for Piano, E flat major, No. 26, Opus 81a, Les Adieux

Life has been like this
So long as I can remember,
Your going and coming and going again.    
You never quite settle in,
Completely unpack –

We mimic the seasons.
Fall is your leaving;
Winter, your absence;
Spring, your return;
Summer is the illusion
That you will stay.

I yearn mostly for spring,
Nameless joy, after unbearable sorrow.
This time, I thought,
Spring would remain forever.
I was wrong again;
It was just a matter of time
Before you left.

I should have known by now,
You were only passing through.

Poet's Notes:  Longing for spring has long been both poets' inspiration and a poetic conceit if not an alluring cliché. A poet can truly yearn for spring-as-spring from the depth of winter. Then, again, spring can serve as metaphor or simile.  In this poem, I think, spring is both a reality of Nature and a metaphor. 

At almost the same instant that I thought of writing a poem on my spring, Beethoven’s 26th Sonata for Piano, called Les Adieux, entered the inner ear of my soul.  Beethoven is sad and agitated by the departure of his great friend, piano student, and Archduke, and overjoyed at his return. 

In my own life, I confess that my first love is music. Much of the time, I think musically, and then thoughts and words, poems and essays, follow later. During my composition of the poem, Beethoven's piano sonata was inspiration, companion, and thread in the weave of the poem.

Editor’s Note: Howard has certainly put the "song" in Songs of Eretz with this one.  I cued up the Sonata on YouTube and listened to it as I read the poem a second time.  I was reminded of the myth of Hades, Persephone, and Demeter  SWG

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One of Spring’s Most Common Flowers
Charles A. Swanson

Grandma’s violets, 
dainty white with a splashed throat
like delft blue saucers,

fill the teardrop bed,
traffic circle at drive’s end,
fill my memory.

Now, when I see them
by surprise here and there, they
are never common.

Poet’s Notes:  I have loved flowers as long as I can remember.  To stumble upon a bed of flowers in the woods—such as mayapples or jacks-in-the-pulpit—causes me such excitement that I want to tell someone.  I remember standing in the kitchen doorway and going on and on, telling my mother about cinquefoil I had seen on a wooded slope above the swamp.  Flowers in a flowerbed inspire a similar excitement, as well as flowers along the roadside.  So, I love spring, when the flowers begin to color the earth when they begin talking to me.

Editor’s Note:  This one has an elegant simplicity with a sprinkling of beautiful little moments, such as the assonance between the first and second lines and the double meaning of "teardrop bed".  SWG

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Poetry Review
Crossing the Double Yellow Line by Stellasue Lee
Reviewed by Gene Hodge

Stellasue Lee, Ph.D. reveals her charismatic personality and daring-do in her semi-autobiographical collection of poetry, Crossing the Double Yellow Line.  The very title of this collection of poems promises some excitement, and Lee does not disappoint.  She jumps right in by poetically sharing stories of how her alcoholic parents affected her early childhood.  Even poems about quotidian matters are here graced with charm and passion. Her travels carry the reader through personal relationships.  

Lee’s world of poetry is polished with intelligence, wisdom, and humor.  No poem in the collection better exemplifies this than the following, which appears toward the end of the collection:

I am living on the brink, I think,
as if my whole life stretched before me.
Today is my 57th birthday.
Abra cadabra, I say to the woman in the mirror
and push my arms through a T-shirt.
Open sesame, I say and pull on a pair of shorts. 
Magic, and the coffee maker clicks on.
This is how I start the day,
start another year,
start the rest of my life,
relentlessly— as morning turns the sky crimson.

This is a collection that readers will be inclined to read more than once.

Are you the author or editor of a poetry collection, a poetry magazine, or other long poetic work?  If you would like to see a review of your work published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, please see our "Review Guidelines" section for details

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Frequent Contributor News  
FC Ross Balcom is pleased to announce that his poem "All Will Taste Death" was recently published in Spectral Realms #10, available through Hippocampus Press

FC Sylvia Cavanaugh is pleased to announce that her poem "Why Do We Have to Have a Seating Chart?" was included in From Everywhere a Little: The Migration Anthology (Water's Edge Press). 

Assistant Editor Terri Lynn Cummings was pleased to host the Open Mic portion of the Chris Abani 20th Annual Featured Poet presentation at Oklahoma City University on April 4.

FC Richard Fenwick, currently on a Leave of Absence, reports that while it has been a stressful time for him and his family due to a serious health issue in a family member, he and his family are getting through the process.  Former FC John Reinhart has come out of retirement to cover for Richard.

Editor-in-Chief Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD has moved from Kansas to Maine with the intention of finishing out his medical career in a new job serving his fellow military veterans.  Lana the Poetry Dog decided to remain in Kansas with Art Editor Jason Artemus Gordon.

Former FC Sierra July is pleased to announce that her short story, “Holed Up”, was recently published in Zealot Script

Former FC Mary Soon Lee is pleased to announce that her poem "Cherry Blossom 2050" recently appeared in, Issue 46,

FC John C. Mannone is pleased to announce that his found poem “What Are These” was published in Human/Kind Journal, Issue 1.3 (March 2019)  His poem “The Arbiter” was published in Eye to the Telescope, Issue 32 (April 2019)  And his poem “High Tension” and an experimental fiction piece “Found Inside an Event Horizon” were published in Sonic Boom Journal, Issue 14 (April 2019)

FC Vivian Finley Nida was pleased to lead a workshop, entitled “The Art of Writing”, for secondary students attending the Oklahoma Writing Project’s spring conference.

Former FC John Reinhart was recently honored by being asked to read his ekphrastic poem “Woman, Fly,” inspired by Katherine Bradford’s “Woman Flying” painting, at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art’s Artword event.

FC Charles A. Swanson is pleased to announce that his poem “Reading Backwards” was published in the “Other Voices 2” section of the Irish e-zine The Blue Nib   Also, his poem “Succulents: Fat for All That Dryness” recently appeared in The River Heron Review

FC Alessio Zanelli is pleased to announce that his poem "At The End Of The Roadway" has been included in #56 of The Journal (Wales, UK)  The Stray Branch published another poem of his poems and reprinted yet another one in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue

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Lana the Poetry Dog
The next issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is due out in the middle of May, will feature Japanese form poetry, and will be edited by our Editor-in-Chief, Steven Wittenberg Gordon.  Submissions for that issue have closed, but we will be pleased to consider poems for our subsequent issue, due to be published in mid-June, which will feature science and science fiction poetry and will be edited by our Associate Editor, James Frederick William Rowe.  We have already published a Fantasy/Fairytale issue and have plans for a Hallowe'en/Horror issue, so we ask that you save your horror poetry for later and your fantasy poetry for another time.

The original paintings and drawings (and prints of them) created by our Art Editor Jason Artemus Gordon and used for the illustrations in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review are available for purchase with and without copies of the poems that inspired them.  Please visit our "Artwork Store" page for details

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