anyone for birchbark

the keweenaw temperatures are cooling and in a sudden blink, fall colors will come into the northern forests. so, now i am taking care of my “season of long white” preparations. one task is to collect the many pieces of birchbark that i collected this summer. these are the remains from the material i used for the cover of my most recent collection of poems. the cover of “collections of the soul” represents an interesting design of birchbark features. the chapbook contains another collection of short splake haiku visions.


“collections of the soul”



cracked cell phone screen

tiny blue reflections

knowledge slipping away

# # # #

willy loman

empty mall-mart stores

boxes from amazon

# # # #

critics in armchairs

observing passing art

choosing acceptable mediocrity

# # # #

used bookstore mystery

between paperback pages

undelivered valentine

# # # #

Scan 1




a new home for tommy


     in addition to the ‘splake takes,’ there is a new home for the bardic graybeard. twelve years ago i moved to calumet to join the omphale group of artists, and lived for several years above the omphale art gallery on fifth street. eventually i had an artist studio with the vertin group of artists at the vertin gallery in calumet. from the vertin tenure i had the splake writing room and library in the calumet art center. presently, my new creative home is the ‘rectory.’ the rectory is the old catholic priests house next to the saint anne’s church and now the keweenaw heritage center. i have a second floor studio for my creative writing activiies.


preview of coming events


presently i am working on a new modest poetry collection ‘rectory’ that celebrate my new artistic working area. i am hoping to have finished copies of ‘rectory’ published shortly after labor day.

finally, an advertisement of coming events — much like the advanced previews of my saturday afternoon rialto theatre movies in three rivers — the new splake creative project is a collection of poems examining the literary theme of “beyond brautigan creek.”


summer summer summer

well, the familiar “yooper” joke is that the michigan upper peninsula has two seasons. . . eleven months of winter. . . and, one month of very hard sledding.”

however, the july 4th hol is over and now the people in the keweenaw peninsula are focused on the coming labor day.  following that pause, the colors come into the trees for a brief moment.  then in a sudden blink the world turns all over white.

it is heresy to my neighbor, but as an artist i thrive during the winter months.  when the snow is knee high and rising there are fewer distractions to disturb an artist’s focus.  after shoveling a path to the tranny, i can then read most books, watch two or three movies, or enjoy several hours contesting the elusive muse.

things have been going quite well on the splake literary front.  i have received many “kudos” and “congrats” on the recent “final curtain” collection of poems.  this book used several photographs of the calumet theater, in calumet, michigan.  i borrowed the idea of “final curtain” from the poet “raindog,” and his book of forgotten poems titled “orphaned words.”

i am also pleased with the several poems published in the new issue of UP READER.  this is a literary magazine edited by mikel classen and deborah frontiers, that provides a view of the michigan upper peninsula artists and their creations.

note: a new poet tree now exists in the cliffson the banks of brautigan creek.  attached is a short writing which provides a short history of the splake poet trees.

recently, native potter jikiwe made two clay books containing my haiku-like writings.  one clay book will soon be at the northern michigan archives with marcus robyns in marquette, michigan.  the second book is now on sale at the calumet art center in calumet, michigan.

looking ahead, i am presently working on two new chapbook manuscripts.  i am hoping by labor day to have finished “beyond the poet tree and brautigan creek,” and “windows to the soul.”


final curtain


part-time poet

replied the local artist
sadly not realizing
real fire comes
redlining speedometer
revving full tilt
writer used to idling
foot on the break
going nowhere

all in the family

men wearing suits
shaving every day
lost in rat race
nine-to-five routines
mothers on meds
afternoon alcoholic rush
son and daughter confused
over sex and romance
parents selling out
worshiping personal property
things money buys
never redlining
100 miles-per-hour
threatening airborne escape
drinking beer from keg
while lying on couch
patsy cline’s voice
stereo cranked to max
trashing “no trespassing” signs
needing freedom to roam
instead of others
dull boring lives
waiting for death

beyond the waterfall

cheap old milwaukee
bushmills shots
angels softly singing
mad rush
brain skull cavity
sweet delicious sin
waking after surgery
heart rhythm fix
cold turkey rehab
never serious question
quiet new existence
unlike papa hem
failing sawtooth ghosts
brautigan going belly up
dead like sixties dream
hunter thompson
declaring nada mas
good stuff and booze
now seeking
mountain lion shadow
cool early morning mists
following dusty prints
path to cliffs summit
learning secrets
gaining new wisdom
about life above
beyond passing clouds


ethos literary journal

IMG_1253 (002)


fire burning to coals
poet looking past embers
seeing distant world
before existence of light
coming of god

answer me

telephone without voice
no caller i.d.
broken-hearted poet
wondering if ex-lover
quietly begging


routine family counseling
necessary before divorce
doctor’s dark office
framed degrees on wall
wet blue seascapes
rural pastoral scenes
soft mood music
from hidden speakers
playing word games
keeping self alive
waiting for freedom to be



IMG_1296 (002)

another morning

exploding alarm clock
waking weary brain
lying in bed
eyes slowly focusing
staring at ceiling tiles
rigid arthritic bones
feeling like rigor mortis
growing coffee thirst
bladder needing relief
dull morning light
filtering through drapes
blank page waiting
graying poet’s pen
elusive dame muse
rat bastard time
determined creative foes
all too soon
death stealing vision
denying hemingway depression
papa’s 12 gauge solution
or leonard cohen
telling lord he’s ready
“kill the flame
make it darker”
soon outside myself
pressing imagination
making words sing



munising falls


5th street long white


The New “Poet Tree”

t. kilgore splake


Fourteen years ago I moved from Munising to live above the Omphale Art Gallery in Calumet, Michigan. For several years I was a member of the Omphale Association of Artists.

One morning while drinking coffee at John’s Cafe and Family Restaurant in Calumet I met Bruce Nordin. While chatting with bruce I learned about his growing up in Clifton, the village for the Cliffs Mining operation. After listening to his interesting stories, one morning I decided to drive out and investigate the old Cliffs mining location.

I hiked the North American trail to the cliffs summit where I found an old cobblestone smokestack, a huge poor-rock pile and the foundation for the major Cliffs mineshaft. From the top of the cliffs, a visitor can view a vast panorama of the entire Keweenaw Peninsula. After my first hiking experiene in the cliffs I developed a spiritual association with this wilderness area. During brief moments trekking in the cliffs I felt entirely relaxed and able to explore my writing ideas easier.

Musing one day, I decided to create a poet tree on the edge of the cliffs escarpment. From ice out to the first snowfall, I regularly added new things — poems, postcards, photographs, artworks — to keep the poet tree fresh. On one morning hike I found that someone had torched the poet tree. It was an unusual surprise that the only thing remaining was a section of my favorite Richard Brautigan poem. Then sadly one spring visit three years ago I discovered that someone else had cut the poet tree down and unsuccessfully tried to burn its remains.

So now I have established a new poet tree close to the banks of Brautigan Creek at the base of the cliffs. The new poet tree has a birchbark poem written by Paul Bach Jr., plus artwork drawings of Norbert Blei and Henry Denander. In addition, different colored Tibetan prayer flags are attached to the tree. There are also poems, artistic postcards and some of my recent photographs.

Presently I am using the ‘new’ poet tree as the source of inspiration for a new splake poem that will investigate the theme of “Beyond Brautigan Creek.”


IMG_1162 (002)

clay books

by stella large

     Nationally known pottter Ed Gray (jikiwe) and t. kilgore splake have combined their vision and artistry to create claybooks of splake’s haiku poetry. Cuurently one book is located at the Northern Michigan University archives in Marquette, Michigan. The second title is on display at the Calumet Art Center in Calumet, Michigan.

The existence of clay books goes back to the cuneiform writings in ancient near eastern history. The first clay tablets recorded accounts of merchandise exchanges in business transactions. Subsequently clay tablets were used to record myths, proverbs, hymns, and poetry.

Competition for clay manuscripts came from the use of animal skin parchment, papyrus plant sheets, and the use of paper. Around 1040 a.d. the first movable type made out of porcelain material was invented in China. Later, in 1372, movable type made out of metal was produced in Korea. In the 1450’s, Johannes Gutenberg of Mainze, Germany was the first to bring movable metal type printing to Europe. The influence of moveable-type printing technology plus cheaper paper made from wood pulp created the basis for greater production and consumption of written works.

Today the typewriter has been made obsolete by the rise of computer technology. The increase of new word-processing systems has encouraged more people to publish their own desktop titles. In addition, today’s e-book production makes clay tablet inscriptions seem like more distant history.

In the future, jikiwe plans to make single clay tiles with poems of splake, Rumi, and Wei to hang on the “poet tree” located at Brautigan Creek in the cliffs north of Calumet, Michigan.



spring tides rising

splake’s tales

     the upper peninsula season of “long white” has finally released its arctic grip and spring has arrived and is presently settling into the keweenaw far northlands.

     it has been a time of considerable publishing success for this graybeard poet.  recently i had a poem published in ‘glimpse,” a canadian magazine.  in addition, “bear creek haiku” in colorado had four splake poems.  the spring issue of “trajectory” contained four splake black-and-white photographs and a review of my recent book “depot.”  february, march, and april “brevities” editions contained a total of sixteen splake poems.

     also, “iconoclast” 116 published two pages of splake haiku-type poems and its editor, phil wagner, wrote an excellent review of my presa press book, “winter river flowing.”

     in may, the nationally acclaimed “beat” literary journal, edited by wisconsin writer robert zoschke was released.  in the new edition there were forty-one splake photographs and eleven splake poems.  my “cliffs” photo of the poet tree shared the inside cover honors with a poem by the famous lawrence ferlinghetti.

     a comment about coming events – to be listed in the next splake site takes – in june the new UP READER will be published with several splake poems.  also, the editor of a new asian publication, “ethos literary journal,” has accepted four splake poems for its inaugural issue.  finally, ed gray (jikiwe), a calumet potter of national recognition, is finishing a clay booklet containing several splake short poems.

“bear creek haiku”

red tibetan prayer flag
floating on creek currents
poet’s creative bloodline

“brevities” (february)


kite without string
floating away
lost somewhere in clouds

“brevities” (march)


econoline van
horses running forever
turning miles in heaven

“brevities” (april)


barefoot girl
passionate eyes flashing
touch me touch me

“iconoclast” 116

“winter river flowing”
selected poems 1979-2014
t. kilgore splake

 mr. splake (aka tom smith) came to his vocation relatively late in life.  his calling coming in a moment of satori in the wilderness (which he has always used as a palliative and an inspiration).  he came of age in the thick of the postwar peak of american consumerism and conformity, a society that informed the rebelliousness in his heart against false notions of success, duplicity.  much of his early work is long, descriptive, narrative streams of consciousness.  there’s the road trip from michigan to maine (“journey to climb a mountain”), tales of “the trophy room,” a year of colorful drunken escapes while getting his masters (the “t room alky squad regulars” marching in disheveled formation around the block); three marriages, five (i think) children, countless one-night stands and short relationships – all taking place through endless gallons of booze, cheap cigars – and madness.  thank god for the leavening power of nature.  in short: hemingway meets kerouac.

but poetry gives shape and meaning to the quest.  the poet chooses what needs to be recaptured, remembered, noticed; what needs to be excoriated.  going home.  mr. splake’s poem’s become more compressed, impressionistic.  one word signifies an entier scene – the glint of light off a trout in an icy stream.  the poet’s rebellion against a shallow, money-grubbing world must lead to solitude.  if lucky, a home is found (in this case a michigan upper peninsula small town).  self-sufficiency is attained.  the work is what matters.  holding moloch and other demons at bay.

review by phil wagner


splake poems

deeper consciousness
late night storm
crossing superior
driving rain
bending pines
old chair
brautigan creek
guttural noises
yellow eyes
shining in darkness
hot blood scent
poet cleansed
vision restored
thunder lightning
moving east
solitary artist
moving beyond

# # # #

young girl leaving poems
writer’s cemetery stone
proof life worth it

# # # #

keep the motor running

escaping midwest
wheat and corn fields
vanishing in rearview mirror
pistons slapping
noisy tappets clicking
vintage transmission
turning highway miles
dreaming of new life
finding happiness
new woman to love
some place out west
pod buried in ear
“radar love”
ricocheting inside brain

# # # #


a taste of spring

while marking x’s on the march calendar squares the keweenaw peninsula has recently enjoyed a few premature moments of spring. we have had days with a warm bright sun burning a hole through a deep blue sky, while the wild birds have been trilling their poor hearts dry.

also just as pleasing has been the completion of three new collections of splake poetry. one book “lost dreams” was published by transcendent-zero-press in houston, texas. other new chapbook titles includes “entropy” produced by gage press in battle creek, michigan, and “world for myself” printed by presa press in rockford, michigan.

on the small press literary scene i recently had four poems getting ink and space in “ristau: a journal of being” from louisville, kentucky. editor p.l. wick of empire, colorado used several splake poems in his “cheapseats ticket to ride” and “alley-kats” publications. finally, “bear creek haiku” issue 141 produced in longmont, colorado had three splake poems.


“lost dreams”


licking wet leaves

delicious morning dew

like emily drunk on air

# # # #

life deafening explosion

jackson pollock t-shirt

red splattered art

# # # #

tornado yellow sky

calm before storm

poet’s first word

# # # #

poet’s ashes scattered

light wilderness breeze

sky taking him home

# # # #






first dawn light

erasing cliffs shadows

filtering through foliage

small forest clearing

brautigan creek retreat

distant birdsongs

blending with watery ripples

empty jack daniels fifth

providing bardic courage

beside brother brautigan’s

“trout fishing in america”

creative words of wisdom

resting on

soft pine needle carpet

sudden explosion

interrupting morning calm

maybe distant hunter

adding another trophy

knotty pine basement den

while poet’s ghost

joins underwater panther

together swimming

to place beyond time

# # # #



deeper consciousness


late night storm

blowing off superior

driving rain

winds bending pines

graying poet

sitting in old chair

beside brautigan creek

listening to strange whispers

yellow eyes

shining in darkness

owl or wolf

chasing hot blood scent

writer cleansing mind

restoring creative vision

explosion of thunder

lightning flashes

slowly moving east

soon sky clear

solitary artist

waiting falling star

fiery blaze

illuminating black horizon

bringing new meaning

moving beyond words

# # # #


“world for myself”




graying wordsmith’s life

running out of time

poet realizing

wasting his life

unless constantly writing

reclusive artist

avoiding unnecessary praise

graduate professor’s approval

reading audience’s applause

precious book review   words

instead of pushcart fame

becoming upper peninsula

poet laureate celebrity

pretending like Lindbergh

deciding to fly on

instead of landing

le bourget field

steady continuous journey

facing each morning

challenge of blank page

# # # #



“ristau: a journal of being”


you don’t understand


tired bitter voice

asking familiar question

about finishing book

frustrated author’s reply

you think it’s easy

wrestling plot and characters

finding new literary twist

story is started

and now i

# # # #


“allykat’s fish-wrap”


feeling a poem


just relax

long deep breaths

forget your job

all your schooling

posturing professors

“ibids” and “op cits”

close your eyes

keep quiet

look inside

long dark shadows

brain-skull cavity

imagine edith piaf

barefoot in the rain

softly singing

another sad song

# # # #



“bear creek haiku”


poet ashes scattered

remote stream waters

feeding rainbow souls

# # # #

soft pine needle bed

gentle trout stream lilies

soaring butterfly freedom

# # # #





calumet art center press


57055 fifth street
calumet, mi 49913
(906) 934-2228

unused “depot” photographs

jikiwe and i were extremely pleased that copies of “depot” arrived in calumet in time for the christmas holiday and gift purchases. the sales of the book have gone very well, and we are hoping that this continues into the 2018 new year. however, this addition to the splake computer site contains some calumet railroad station photographs that were not used in the publication of “depot”.  i hope that the viewer finds them interesting.


station with catholic church in background


roof supports for station eaves


side view of railroad station


station – note the porthole window


station ticket selling section


bench in the station waiting room


bench in the station waiting room


railroad station interior — fisheye lens


railroad station tile floor design


railroad station’s mail box


railroad station interior — fisheye lens


railroad station interior — fisheye lens


train lantern


directional switch signal


advertisement for copper miners


suitcase for pierce roberts — train cart


train engine snow plow


open house 2017


open house 2017

winter musings

     ah, splake reader, this graybeard artist is definitely a prisoner of rat bastard time, eh. summer is long gone, autumn’s “indian summer” a memory, and now it is the michigan upper peninsula season in the long white. it seems the precious hours in a day vanish so quickly, especially when you are having fun, and the snow is knee-high and rising.

since the last entry i have had poems published in “bear creek haiku,” of longmont, colorado, and in “iconoclast” published in mohegan lake, new york. i am also very pleased that the literary magazine, “brevities,” printed in scaramento, california, published twelve short splake poems.

“bear creek haiku”

early morning breeze
small branches swaying
like restless heart



seeking serious enlightenment
without huge statue
silent bronze buddha
massive european cathedrals
stained rose windows
muslim mosques
with tall minarets
living alone
solitary wilderness days
becoming one with nature
joyful songbirds chattering
musical pine needles hum
rich evergreen scent
surrounded by beautiful wildflowers
wild thimbleberry blossoms
spring campfire smoke
bringing new poems
later cold autumn ashes
scattering words
lost in the winds




licking wet leaves
delicious morning dew
like emily drunk on air

# # # #

thelonious monk
soft jazzy touch
world full of edges

# # # #

poet’s ashes scattered
light wilderness breeze
sky taking him back

# # # #

the splake chair at brautigan creek


the recent cover for “trajectory,” edited by chris helvey in frankford, kentucky, was a photograph of the splake chair located at brautigan creek.

in “trajectory’s” editorial remarks, helvey made reference to my recent book “ahhh” published by transcendent-zero press in houston, texas. he said “it is full of splake’s own inimitable staccato lines like these from “mad memories” – “old route 66/ mother road mainstreet/ concrete road to nirvana. . . . “

“u.p. reader”


there is a new michigan upper peninsula literary magazine, U.P. READER. it is published annually and is edited by mikal classen, of marquette, michigan. i have submitted both poems and photographs on literary spec for consideration in the next edition. in addition, the “splake writing room and library” in the calumet art center, calumet, michigan, will be advertised in the next issue of U.P. READER.


the calumet art center press recently published its second title, “depot.” the book is a modest history of the old calumet railroad station. in addition to the historical text, there are several old photographs of the train station and railroad transportation. these photographs came from the michigan technological university archives in houghton, michigan, and the keweenaw national historical park library in calumet, michigan.


in memoriam

ward pratt was one of the new friends i had during the ten years i lived in munising, michigan. during those years of pursuing an understanding of writing poetry, i developed a new, deeper definition of reclusiveness..

ward and i often went fishing together. we seemed to enjoy our silent company while exploring new and used remote fishing sites. a couple of times we busted my old ford bronco through the wilderness and canoed and fished the headwaters of the fox river. many readers remember that it was the fox river that hemingway wrote about in his “nick adams stories.” however, for a more catchy short story title, old papa renamed the river the “big two-hearted.”

sadly ward passed away in november, and is greatly missed. yet, i am certain that he has found a fresh beaver dam in heaven and is waiting this graybeard’s arrival.

fox river odyssey

with nick adams

tried the question a couple of times in seney,

“anyone around who still remembers when ernest

hemingway jumped out the boxcar for a fishing

trip, and made the fox river the “big two-hearted”

of literary fame,

one spring steve at the mobilgas said “the old

SOB probably just came and stayed drunk for a week,

slept under the bridge, never wetting a line, then

went back to the newspaper and made up his fish


next spring, steve’s son alan agreed that this was

probably true,

so i decided to roam around the fox headwaters,

fish, look, and try to find out,

first dawn light drove an aging bronco torturous

miles of winding two-wheel ruts, eventually sliding

a canoe down wet grasses to pond waters, scattering

nesting sandhill cranes, disturbing a beaver family

slapping their tails making hasty retreat,

fast rising un burning off cool morning mist, drying

icy beads in spider webs

black flies constantly hovered, biting clouds of hungry

mosquitos an endless swarm, around a pond dogleg,

portaging two ancient beaver dams, finally arriving at

flooded muskeg meadow of river meanders, one plump

brookie already in creel,

large brown fish hawk lazily circling as the high noon

sun baked hot against the welts rising from my neck, when

i saw nick, shadowy figure resting under some second

growth pines in the distance, where marsh grass turned

to upland soil,

trace of bacon grease and streak of dried condensed milk

in his beard, apple butter pancake and onion sandwich lunch

set before him, laughing at me,

greenhorn trout fisherman furiously grasping at small

willow branches, ass and billfold valuables soaked by

sudden icy plunge, finally pulling free of sinkhole ooze,

cold shock reminder of tragedy waiting the unwary alone

in the woods,

nick mocking the foolish who fish during hot noon,

when high sky and bright sun make trout wary,

temptation to wave, holler adams down to chat, tell

fishing lies, smoke, but quickly recall he did not like to

fish with other men,

so i left him to the bitterns high up among the

pine, cedar, and birches, let him have his dreamy

nap, knowing later when the dark purple clouds and

orange remains turn to dusk

bottle of grasshoppers around his neck, flour

sack tied to waist, he will climb over the log pile

amid cool evening shadows, this time working the

“big fish,” playing the sandy pebbles and gravel

further this time, maybe even into the swamp.

coming events

the old riviera and rialto movie theaters in my old home town used to advertise the “coming pictures.” so, very soon, i will be reviewing the new splake collection of poetry in the chapbook “lost dreams” published by transcendent-zero press in houston, texas.


“going going gone”

most veteran “yoopers” feel that after the july 4th holiday the summer is over and it is time to start looking for the snow shovel. shortly it will be time to have the bard res’ furnace checked as well as the mechanic get my pickup truck ready for the upper peninsula “season in the long white.”

since the last entry, i have had two poetry chapbooks published and a poem printed in the july issue of “abbey” magazine. plus there was a splake creative coup with nineteen poems and twenty-four black and white photographs a part of robby zoschke’s latest “clutch” literary journal.


     the poem “lightness” was a printed in editor david greisman’s july issue of “abbey,


shadow breaths
pale skin color
feverish sweating
end near
graying poet struggling
seeking right words
to finish final poem
inability to love
jigsaw puzzle with
pieces missing



gage press editor emilie johnson recently published a splake collection of three-line poems in a chapbook titled “creative moments,”

tick tock panic
bardic thieves stealing
rat bastard time
# # # #
people not realizing
doing same old same
lost without curiosity
# # # #
empty mirror reflection
nothing beyond mirage
courage inside the eye
# # # #


“transcendent-zero press” editor dustin pickering recently printed a splake chapbook collection “ahhh life.”


mad memories

old route 66
mother road mainstreet
concrete avenue to nirvana
for steinbeck’s oakies
road for kerouac
looking for himself
café waitress
“good mornin’ hon”
imaginary romantic dreams
speedometer miles turning
new surprise waiting
around next highway bend
unknown artist creating
large blue whale
car radio whispers
bobby troupe’s ballad
chicago to l.a.
don’t forget winona
old san berdoo




     the cover of zoschke’s “clutch” is a vintage photograph of san francisco “beat poet” jack micheline. i was extremely pleased with the micheline image, as my old friend jack truly possessed black and white reality with a lunch-bucket creative energy.

“clutch” is easily one of the best avant garde literary publications currently published today. i believe serious artists and poets should order a copy of robby’s marvelous collection of photographs, poems and stories. his mailing address is:

robert zoschke
10781 birchwood drive
sister bay, wi

ohhhhhhhhhhhhh yes, and where was that rake, hmmm,


if the walls could talk


if the walls could talk is a recent publication of the calumet art center press by “jikiwe” and t. kilgore splake. the book is a modest photographic history of the old st. joseph’s hospital that used to be located in hancock, michigan.

the original st. joseph’s hospital began in 1896, and in 1950, with the construction of a new hospital facility in hancock became the ryan hall school of nursing.

because of serious vandalism to the old building’s structure, the original st. jospeh’s hospital was demolished.

in addition to if the walls could talk splake has recently enjoyed publishing success in many books and small press literary magazines. he had a short story and a poem printed in the wood thrush books the world engaged. also, splake poems were published in the literary magazine trajectory (frankfort, kentucky), brevities (sacramento, california) and the canadian literary journal glimpse.



the world engaged


all or nothing

in the desert – man is there
god is not


few people find
sacred spiritual feelings
abundant in desert space
preferring holy book passages
religious scripture words
for explanation of life
thousands of years passing
rainwater melting ice and snow
creating brilliant red landscape
massive buttes and mesas
glowing like fiery forge
moments of creation
before bethlehem manger
time of eden
sandstone petroglyphs
describing native magic
rolling piling white clouds
becoming black thunderheads
wild mustangs racing across plains
dust devils blowing through sand
today shadowy ghosts
still staring at heavens
celebrating gods
forgotten by others

# # # #





graybeard’s weary feet
writing mountain letters
walking in his head


the sea

icy quart of beer
brown paper sack
remembering hem’s “old man”
gulf stream forever flowing


words from beyond

waking in darkness
printer’s wild humming
poem from orizaba
new mexico city blues




fiery lightning flashes
burning through mirror
poet’s brain on fire


staring through fire
beyond smoke and flames
finding poem in fiery embers


life deafening explosion
jackson pollock t-shirt
red splattered art


chasing nature’s music
soft wilderness windsongs
never catching magic






nightly riding “the dog”
md 20 20 buzzzzz
eagles ballads on stereo
low volume sound
distant soothing hum
“take it to the limit”
remembering john fante
once passionate artist
now forgotten ashes
yet still we ask
does life have meaning
waiting early morning
fewer competing distractions
hotplate coffee
brain-skull cavity rush
hammering new courier
twelve-point font
peaceful writing escape
hoping moment of epiphany
ohhhhhhhhh please
“one more time”

# # # #



for the people living near calumet, michigan, or visiting the keweenaw peninsula soon, a “poet tree” has been reborn in the calumet art center’s rose garden.





if anyone besides myself reads about the ‘splake doings’ they will have noted a slight pause in my materials.  anna, my computer ‘techie’ and site genius recently had a baby daughter, which explains the brief literary vacation.  also noting the adventure shining in little ada’s eyes, i suspect that now anna certainly understands the demands of rat bastard time.

recently i have had two collections of splake poems published.  the “ghost light” chapbook was produced by gage press in downstate battle creek, michigan.  “last dance” was published by “transcendent-zero press, in houston, texas.
in addition, the february edition of “brevities,” edited by joyce and robin odam, in sacramento, california, had a special splake profile containing ten poems.
finally, tyler tichenaar, book editor of the “marquette monthly,” in marquette michigan, wrote a review of the splake book “graybeard memories: morning espresso musings” in the april issue of the “marquette monthly” publication.


“ghost light” poems

quiet stillness

early november morning
first white dusting
winter finally settling in
older poet remembering
thanksgiving family dinners
stuff baked turkey
sweet potatoes pecan pie
currier and ives plates
horses pulling sleigh
across snowy countryside
mother father children
waiting holiday feast

heaven sent

dark night communion
eating drinking
body and blood of christ
rejoicing sacred heart
certain after death
entering holy kingdom
not going to hell
aging graybeard poet
denying eternal mystery
question without answer
instead hoping for
club majestic nights
country-western songs
vintage jukebox selections
icy pitcher beer
eightball challenges
quarters on table edge
cue ball off cushion
rule for winning
easy baby easy

“last dance” poems

motorcycles and poetry

kicking bike alive
exciting cc’s exploding
roaring engine power
like sexual climax
near-death experience
few klicks down the road
challenging adventure
as facing blank page
wrestling for words
fearing fatal accident
riding beyond red-line
writing not visceral enough
for poem’s final draft
still wind-blown pleasure
as wild bird soaring
heading toward heaven
until running out of gas

mysterious messages

waking in darkness
printer’s wild humming
wondering about words
roy neary
devils tower meeting
poem from orizaba
new mexican city blues
uncle walt’s command
take to open road
robert frost’s suggestions
hiking less traveled path
surprise haiku
gary synder’s pen
brother brautigan’s directions
secret trophy trout pond
david foster wallace
explaining new freedom
old papa hem
from across the river
describing what lies beyond


“brevities” poems

poet’s driven habits
ignoring everyone else
those talking art

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snow began slowly
steady quiet accumulation
april years away

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caffeine fried brain
before family and career
poet scribbling words

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mad poet
wild reckless passions
living beyond edge

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ink smeared page
writing until
blood stained words

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“marquette monthly” april, 2017

tyler tichelaar review

“graybeard memories: morning espresso musings”

Several of t. kilgore splake’s volumes of poetry have been reviewed in this column, but this one is different. While it has the typical splake lack of capitalization, it is also written in paragraph form. At first, I thought it was a long prose poem, and it certainly has some poetic moments, but it’s more prose than poem, which is understandable since it is splake’s autobiography.

I found graybeard memories interesting since it gave me insight into the personal life of this poet and made me better understand his poetry. It begins with splake sitting in the Rosetta Café in Calumet drinking coffee and feeling attracted to the young female barista, but he realizes she would never be interested in him. He goes on to describe himself: octogenarian, teeth falling out, no longer fertile.

Then he takes the reader back to his early years growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan and how he eventually decided to pursue “the bitch-goddess of academic success” by attending Western Michigan University and then getting a teaching job in Battle Creek at Kellogg Community College. At times, teaching was not that enjoyable for him, but he did seem to care about his students and subject matter.

splake also walks us through his numerous relationships with the opposite sex. He got his college girlfriend pregnant and married her. They tried to be a couple, but eventually they divorced, which he describes as the “final chapter in a sad situation of two spoiled children who had made a mistake.”

splake would have two more failed marriages and more children. He seemed to have a knack for attracting women with psychological issues–the third wife threatened to kill  herself and make it look like he had murdered her.  splake admits his free spirit and penchant for alcohol didn’t help his marriages.

During all these years of teaching and marriage, splake began to make rip s to the Upper Peninsula, which seemed to be a saving grace for him.  During one trip, he came to terms with his drinking.  On another, he began writing poetry.  To this day, he isn’t sure what caused him to write poetry one morning, but he did and he showed his work to an English professor colleague who thought it was good.  Still doubtful about the quality of his poems, splake created a pseudonym to protect him from embarrassment–he combined the names of a fish he had caught, his first name’s initial and a name in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Champions to become t. kilgore splake.

Eventually, splake retired and moved to the U.P., first living in Munising and later in Calumet, where he currently lives.  The last chapters of the book describe the years he spent studying poetry until he finally bought a French beret to wear as a sign that he was ready to announce himself as a poet.  He describes his involvement with the local arts community, including the Vertin Gallery, editing the journal cliffs soundings and being given a Lifetime Achievement award by the U.P Writers Association.  The book includes several of splake’s photos of places mentioned in the book, especially around Calumet.

splake is in some ways your typical rough-living Hemingway type writer, but in other ways, he has a distinct voice.  This book will be welcomed by his fans because it gives his full story, only pieces of which could previously be gleaned from his poetry.

For more information, visit splake’s blog at

and the beat goes on

pushcart nomination

     my close writing friend antler, a nationally recognized poet who lives in milwaukee, wisconsin nominated me again for pushcart literary honors. antler is one of the most honest and trustworthy artists in my small creative circle. borrowing from the biblical reference, “many are called but few are chosen,” i hope this year we win.


book review


the 2017 issue of “onthebus” published the review of the splake book “backwater graybeard twilight” written by charles p. ries.


t. kilgore splake

Backwater Graybeard Twilight

Thunder Sandwich Publishing
PO Box 508, Calumet, MI 49913
ISBN: 0-9718948-0-91     91 pp.     $17.50

Thomas Hugh Smith was 44 years old when he wrote his first poem in 1979. Now known as t. kilgore splake, he has become one of the small press icons. His work and name appear everywhere. The self-proclaimed “graybeard dancer” told me, “Early one l979 morning while nursing a modest hangover and drinking a cup of coffee brewed from the coals of the previous night’s campfire, I felt compelled to write my thoughts about the past several days living in the pictured rocks wilderness outback. I collected several additional poems over my summer of camping, and upon returning to Battle Creek after Labor Day, they were published in my first chapbook edition titled pictured rocks poetry.”

Until that day Splake had never written poetry, “I taught political science at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan, for twenty-six years. I lectured on the dynamics of a federal system of government and outlined the characteristics and functions of the American political party system. However, outside the world of academia, my job status was at best anonymous. If I was in with a strange group of people and asked what I did for a living, I might as well have replied I was a brain surgeon for the understanding most people have of what is political science. Now, I declare myself a poet, and it still seems I am anonymous to the average individual.”

Backwater Graybeard Twilight is the magnum opus of Splake’s work. It is a comprehensive collection of both his word and photo art. The 150 pages devoted to his writing are dense and word filled; word overflowing, words everywhere; for Splake puts to paper what comes to his mind in what he calls stream of consciousness prose. I asked him about this and he told me, “What initially attracted me to poetry, and later writing stream of consciousness prose, was the absence of necessary writing rules. In a doing contest with the ever elusive damn-dame lady muse, I seize a passion and redline it. I still compose my writing works in long hand, scribbling between the lines of quill econo legal padlets. With the rough long hand drafts, I then key a poem or a story into a word document and turn to the fine-tuning the writing into the best shape possible.”

One of the characteristics of the writing in Backwater Graybeard Twilight is its sheer volume. I often felt like I was drowning in a tidal wave of images and metaphors. This machine gunning of words often left me feeling lost and falling; not an altogether unpleasant experience, but even numinous falling needs nuance and direction lest we shut down the sponge in our head that reads and absorbs. Here is an example from, “homeboy escape”: “small town, womb nurturing captive population of fascists / and losers, hometurf where acting like a man is all important, // a few basking in fleeting, momentary athletic glories, awash / in school colors, cheers, the rest settling for spectator status, small // value for sadness of beating nobody, // small numbers move on town the highway, seeking college / education, others off to a career, some branch of the military service, most quickly back at home, armed and relieved, convenient excuse,” and on it goes for two more pages. Image on image, metaphor after metaphor, with only commas to give my mind a breath.

I asked Splake about this volume of words and whether themes get lost in the word pile. He sort of answered my question, “I believe in a pizza theory of poetry. Imagine being on a date and discussing what kind of a pizza to order. If I might suggest a pizza with anchovies, my feminine acquaintance might reply, “Ugh, I can’t stand those slimy little fish.” Where if she would suggest a pineapple pizza, I would not find pineapple agreeable to my culinary palette. Yet neither anchovies nor pineapple are bad, they simple represent a difference in individual tastes. I think the same analogy holds true for poetry. There are no good or bad poems, and what is good in poetry simply appeals to one’s aesthetic sensibilities. I can, and do not believe that the poems and stories I write will be liked by all those who read them. An anchovy lover will not win over a pineapple devotee.” I can’t argue that all art is loved by someone and finds a home, but does poetry lose its power (brevity) when it becomes overloaded? I think it does, but this does not diminish Splake’s achievement or skill in accomplishing it, it just means his audience will be filled anchovy lovers who welcome his form of word art.

Backwater Graybeard Twilight is broken into titled, Being, NonBeing and Becoming – I was most drawn to Becoming (can I say the pineapple section) where Splake delivers more then a few poems I could read, digest, inhale such as this excerpt from, “the mountain beyond”: “mournful foghorn elegy / chuck spires vanishing / gray dying light / san fran bay / union street hill / below Washington square / bro brautigan / bench shadows / ben franklin statue / brown sipping sack / bard blood a-hummmmmm/inviting Alcatraz gulls / to carry him home / musical wings / through vivaldi’s season / escaping / life’s surface mirror.” Splake’s gift is his facility with image, his challenge maybe mitigating the blinding speed with which he lets these images fall to his paper.

I asked Jim Chandler, whose Thunder Sandwich Publishing published Backwater Graybeard Twilight what drew him to Splake’s work and he told me “I believe Splake is unique because his style is unlike that of anyone I’m familiar with. I suspect that most people who have read any Splake could pick his work out of poems by 10 (or 20 or 100) poets by reading a line or two. I know I can. The talent obviously speaks for itself, since one doesn’t bother to interview untalented people. Splake is the most dedicated writer I know; perhaps driven is a better word. He sets goals and he doesn’t rest until he achieves them. “

Indeed, he is a Type-A poet if ever there was one; a volcano of productivity. In an interview conducted by Peter Magliocco of ART:MAG Splake describes himself as a proverbial over-achiever who TRIES HARDER and I would agree. I asked him if, as he nears his 70th birthday, if he has enough time to get it all done and he told me, “ NO! I do not have enough time in the working day to bring my attention to all of the works that I currently have in progress. What I call “rat bastard time” has truly become my primary adversary. I often hear some of the truly geezer gents at the evergreen café sigh over their coffee mornings and whisper “what am I going to do today.” I feel, how sad I cannot allocate a couple of their unused hours, and possess twenty-six for a day’s lit-laborings. It is obvious they would not miss them.”

Splake has published over 70 chap books of poetry and if that weren’t enough, he is also an excellent photographer. Backwater Graybeard Twilight has over forty pages of his photos, and these are exceptional. His subjects are common and clear. They are lit on the page and easy to assimilate. I asked him if he had to choose poetry or photography, what would it be? In characteristic Splake fashion he didn’t exactly answer my question, but rather the associations my question prompted in his mind, “At present I am moving away from writing poetry and short stories and into the field of movie making. However, note, I am not abandoning poetry, but incorporating a poetry on human “being” into the camera footage that I work with. To date I have produced three DVD movie-length productions: “Splake poetry on location i,” “Splake poetry on location ii,” and the most recent film creation “Splake: the cliffs.” In regards to my filming perspectives, I have been greatly influenced by the work of Jim Jarmusch, and particularly his early movie “Permanent Vacation.” I have also learned a great deal of cinematography from the works of Richard Linklater. His experimental movie which is part of the criterion film package for the movie “Slacker,” has had a strong effect on my movie making attitudes.” Can you hear a man sprinting toward his art? I can.

In less then 20 years Splake has created a lifetime body of work. I asked him about his legacy, “If I flatter myself, I think that t. kilgore splake writings and photographs “might” still be remembered l0 days to a possible full two weeks after I pass on to that “quiet darkness of nothing.” However, I still continue to post my work and daily correspondence to Marcus C. Robyns, archivist for Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. I do entertain the remote possibility that I possess an Upper Peninsula artistic consciousness and regional identity. So, maybe some future NMU literature or writing students will study the works of Splake. I would like that.”

Jim Chandler is right. Here is a unique voice, talent and personality. Splake is a small press original. While anchovies are not for everyone, even a pineapple lover like me can see the glory in an anchovy. I strongly encourage you to add Backwater Graybeard Twilight to your library.

Review By: Charles P. Ries


Note: “onthebus” editor jack grapes included a short note in the edition saying “thanks for all your poetry and prose all these years, and, fighting the good fight along the wide road.”



calumet art center

     the wooden benches i donated to the art center are currently gathering dust in the dark corners of the art center building. however, the benches have metal tags honoring my mother and father, margaret and emery smith. in addition, there are benches with tags for my children, ted, mike, casey – plus – one for another daughter robin lynn.


splake is also identified on separate rosters – one for keweenaw artists – the other as a calumet art center supporter.

finally the wheelchair ramp to provide easier access to the art center is finished. in the coming new year the art center board of directors with submit a proposal for an elevated lift-chair for getting to the art center’s second floor. such an addition would provide greater access to the splake writing room and library in the center.




“green stones”

     attached is a photograph for those who watched the splake dvd “green stones.” note: hiking into the remote mining site without snowshoes was a pretty demanding challenge.




published poems

     since the last addition to the splake computer site i have had poems published in several small literary magazines. there were five poems in recent “bear creek haiku” editions. “brevities” published seven splake poems in the november issue. “lilliput review # 197″ had two splake poems, and i am extremely thankful for editor don wentworth getting me extra copies in time to mail with my christmas cards.


“bear creek haiku”




maybe after passing

becoming invisible ghost

floating on strange ethers

flitting here and there

like quiet hummingbird

visiting old friends

places once forgotten



dream of escape


lost in yooper blizzard

riding greyhound ghost

orizaba café breakfast

chatting with jack





jazz singer scatting

seeking new pain

lost love blues


roots to higher branches

struggling for light

artist’s life breathing


lake superior tides

eternal ebbing and flowing

leaving haunted ghosts



“lilliput review”


graybeard waiting


slow painful steps

wilderness wanderings

touching tasting reality

almost close enough

nature should let him in



poet’s journey


emerging from trees

end of the trail

looking over cliffs

shining cloud falls

wilderness valley far below

turgid rapids

calm watery pools

graybeard almost home




     after celebrating the christmas holiday i am eagerly looking forward to the brave new ’17 and days counting.

i have chapbook projects progressing with scot young, editor of“rusty truck press,” dustin pickering, editor of “transcendent zero press,” and gordon purkis, of “shoe music press.” next week another manuscript collection of splake poems will go to gage press in downstate battle creek.

also, in the new year i have ink and space promised in editor bob penick’s new literary journal “ristau,” and chris helvey’s publication “trajectory.




“ the drums keep poundin’ a rhythm in the brain”