Kafka's Shadow

Additional Reviews of Kalka's Shadow:

I have been drawn to JudIth SkIllman’s work for three decades, ever since her first book, Worship of the Visible Spectrum. In her latest volume, she inhabits the mind of Franz Kafka, as well as some of those who loomed large in his life: family members, would-be sweethearts, his editors. we thus see the world in the outré, o -kilter way that Kafka seems to have—as if the lenses of his eyes worked differently than most people’s, letting in a light that few can focus. In Kafka’s Shadow, he sees edges that others don’t, edges that cut him o  from taking part in “normal” life—pleasing his father, marrying, performing work that others consider productive...
—Michael Spence, Umbilical, winner of the new Criterion Poetry Prize

Reading Skillman’s poems, I felt more acutely my own desire to be fully alive, the pressing realities of beauty and loss.
—John Amen, editor of The Pedestal Magazine

. . . readers will encounter the intelligence and honesty of the real thing.
—Brendan Galvin, Habitat: New and Selected Poems 1965-2005

. . . Skillman’s ability to accommodate multiple meanings in even the most seemingly straightforward of sentences is like being pushed by a doppelganger who insists we jump beyond obvious interpretations.
—Christianne Balk, The Holding Hours, UW Poetry Series

Interview with Carol Smallwood here.

House of Burnt Offerings

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201 West 89th Street
New York, NY 10024

House of Burnt Offerings threads strands of desire, loss, grief, and hope through daily rituals and yearly ceremonies, transforming ordinary life into a sacrament.

In House of Burnt Offerings Judith Skillman makes everyday life the province of the tough questions she asks, and the lucid, restless, energetic and often stunning language that can surprise us with lines like “the sharp shears/of our smiling teeth.” Her imagery ranges from windfall apples to Kafka and everywhere between. In what this poet calls her “solitary watch” readers will encounter the intelligence and honesty of the real thing.--Brendan Galvin



Angles of Separation explores the ways in which humans divide and isolate themselves from nature, one another, and their own spiritual centers, in poems rich with organic images, myths, and sensory details. This book, with its taut lyricism and uncompromising honesty, reveals the fragility of bonds and life itself. Angles of Separation is replete with a virtuosity which shines through the crafting and complexity of language; its subtle emotional heft will disturb and pull at the heart. This collection of finely wrought and linguistically elegant poems is sure to catch the reader up in a slow burn.

Praise for Angles of Separation:
Angles of Separation is a collection of little gifts from a writer at the height of her powers. Judith Skillman's trademarks are a sharpened wit coupled with dense and memorable imagery. She is a resource library of the natural world which she superimposes onto irreal narratives that order the inchoate and land somewhere between the realms of French post-impressionism and abstract expressionism. Skillman's unique brand of poetry is full of surprises.

--Jana Harris

Few poets seize the natural world in the tender, particular ways that poet Judith Skillman does… For a poet who sees this world as does Skillman, nature’s beauty and cruelty is ours as well.

                               --Chicago Sun-Times Book Review

 About the Author
The recipient of an award from the Academy of American Poets for her book “Storm” (Blue Begonia Press, 1998), Skillman’s poems have appeared in Poetry, FIELD, The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, New Poets of the American West, and other journals and anthologies.  She has been a Writer in Residence at the Centrum Foundation & Hedgebrook. A Jack Straw Writer in 2008 and 2013, her work has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, the UK Kit Award, and Best of the Web. Visit

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No detail is too quotidian to escape the dream catcher of this poet's imagination.  Drawing on sources as various as Native American lore, Eastern European folktales, classical literature, Shakespearean tragedy, pop culture icons, childhood fantasies and dreams, along with her own considerable powers of invention, Skillman presents us with a psychological landscape as diverse as contemporary American experience.

While the starting point of many of these poems is isolated (and isolating) personal experience—a breast biopsy, a mislaid set of keys--transformed into poetry, the personal here becomes collective. In one of my favorite of these poems--"Naugahyde"--the eponymous "Nauga" is imagined as a creature with "vinyl skin."  Richly evocative of our remembered past, the poem concludes: “Repetitions become rituals/to summon sleep: a black and white TV/an ironed woman smoking cigarettes/while running her vacuum/back and forth across a blinded house/on any given snowy afternoon.” This drive to mythologize personal experience becomes for poet Judith Skillman the all-embracing, energetic, ongoing, many-storied project of a lifetime.  -- Belle Randall, Poetry Editor of Common Knowledge

 About the Author

Skillman’s latest collection is “The Phoenix: New & Selected Poems 2007 – 2013, from Dream Horse Press. The recipient of an award from the Academy of American Poets for her book “Storm” (Blue Begonia Press, 1998); she has also received a King County Arts Commission (KCAC) Publication Prize, a KCAC Public Arts grant, and Washington State Arts Commission Writer’s Fellowship. Two of her books have been finalists for the Washington State Book Award. Skillman’s poems and collaborative translations have appeared in Poetry, FIELD, The Southern Review, BEACONS, The Iowa Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, and other journals and anthologies.  She has been a Writer in Residence at the Centrum Foundation  & Hedgebrook. Currently she teaches at Yellow Wood Academy, Mercer Island, Washington.  A Jack Straw Writer in 2008 and 2013, her work has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, the UK Kit Award, and Best of the Web.

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The goal of this book is to enable poets at all stages of development to move from their current stage or plateau to the next level in cultivating a unique voice and poetic music. This book encourages the student of poetry to entertain a kind of Zen consciousness, a “Beginner’s Mind”—for that is the only way to continue serenely in the business of writing poems. The work is cognizant of the fact that most often, if you ask a person why they write poetry, the answer will be “Because I have no choice.”

This text can be used by a poet on his or her own, or it can become a tool in the classroom. Broken Lines contains chapters on theory and practice. Whether one is a beginning writer, has been writing for years and published work in journal and/or book form, Broken Lines includes content to propel the writing life forward.


Other Skillman Books in Print

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The White Cypress

Judith Skillman's new collection, The White Cypress, is a finely textured weave that astutely examines the "seven deadly sins" from varying points-of-view. Certainty is erased as the reader is immersed in a mercurial blend of myth and personal history. Though we learn that "stunting" can be caused by denial, there is also a "violence in pleasure and leisure" as subtext. Each cherub embodies a nymph, the exotic the familiar. Using crafty fluctuation, these poems dislocate the reader so that firm ground is not an option. Skillman's world is strangely fluid, yet layered with complexities that complement one moment and subtly contradict the next. The White Cypress asks us to ponder the residual problems of naming (our) "sins." -- Katherine Soniat, author of The Swing Girl

Judith Skillman's poems are finely hewn, well-balanced, and compelling. Whatever her subject matte -- ants, a lemon, September, a harbor, a plum tree -- her pieces unfurl, progress, and culminate seamlessly; narratives, portraiture, and commentaries infused with palpable images, lines destined for epigraphy. This is poetry worth reading and rereading. -- John Amen, Editor of The Pedestal Magazine


Review by Barbara Bialick - In THE WHITE CYPRESS, Judith Skillman places imagery and symbolism in dissonant layers of nature, mythology, and personal history, to create penetrating parfaits. Each poem asks the reader to interpret it with care...

Review by: Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom - "In her thirteenth collection of poems, The White Cypress, Judith Skillman takes up again the tools of naturalistic observation and mythical allusion to examine difficult truths about the interior life of the self and its drives toward intimacy and seclusion, eroticism and entropy, as well as the paradox and complexity inherent in familial relationships. Skillman's tone is occasionally lofty but most often direct, incisive, unflinching."

Reviewer: JoSelle Vanderhooft - "While I can still hear Sappho's jewel-like fragments in the pages of The White Cypress, I am most interested in the ways in which these fragments have become softer and more abstract than those I found in The Never. I am even more interested by the autumnal quality of these poems, if you will pardon such a vague descriptor. There is something about these pieces that is chill without being icy or bitter, wise without being cynical, and as striking as slanted autumn light glimpsed through tree branches."

The Never

These poems sizzle with elemental directness and judgment, linguistically sharp and probing. Like the never which seems indistinguishable from the always, this book aims for truths which give us the comfort of no-comfort. That makes poems in this collection something to trust. -- David Weiss, Editor, Seneca Review

Few poets seize the natural world in the tender, particular ways that poet Judith Skillman does... For a poet who sees this world as does Skillman, nature's beauty and cruelty is ours as well. -- Chicago Sun-Times Book Review

Book Reviews of The Never:
Message in a Bottle Poetry Magazine - by Fiona Sinclair
"Skillman laces her work with mythological references that are never forced byt are naturally suggested within the context of the poem itself.  In 'The Last Pie Bird' the baking tool reminds the narrator of the "the bard of Orpheus", whilst in 'Bending to Work in the Heat' women toiling in a field are likened to "Adam and Eve"."

The Pedestal Magazine - by JoSelle Vanderhooft
"I do not know, of course, if Judith Skillman appreciates Sappho's poetry or if the work of the ancient West's most celebrated female poet has influenced her directly. I do know, however, that her elegantly sparse lines and her flare for the mysterious have much in common with the fragments history has left us."

Melusine Magazine - by Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom
"The poems in Judith Skillman's latest collection, The Never, are as stark in tone and rich in naturalistic imagery as the best of her recent work, while retaining the heft afforded by her knack for historical reference and mythological allusion. In this volume, there is a particular emphasis on the weight of history and the presence of nature and how they inform the present and the personal.."

Published by Dream Horse Press

Prisoner of the Swifts

The vivid imagistic precision of Judith Skillman's "Prisoner of the Swifts" encompasses the full emotive spectrum--"the quotient / of happiness / divided by storehouses of dread"-- in poems that traverse the range of experience from pleasure in newborn life to "the great wealth of pain" from which that life emerges. Like Dickinson, another poet whose passionate imagination "overflowed / the room" to embrace the whole universe, Skillman watches the aerial acrobatics of never-alighting swifts beyond her "Victorian walls," and discovers in them the strength of spirit to confront her own frailty and to celebrate a life "that seeds and recedes." These poems "render in iridescence" the mortal lives, with their windows onto eternity, of us all. - Carolyne Wright - Published by Ahadada Books

SPECIAL NOTICE: Prisoner of the Swifts was a finalist in the 2010 Washington State Center for the Book Award


Heat Lightning, New & Selected Poems 1986 - 2006

Includes selections from Judith's seven previously published books, plus a 'New Poems' section. Work from Heat Lightning has appeared in Poetry, FIELD, Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals. - Published by Silverfish Review Press

Review of Heat Lightning in THE CORTLAND REVIEW
By David Rigsbee, in Issue 41, November 2008


Coppelia, Certain Digressions

"In Coppelia, Certain Digressions, Judith Skillman explores beyond the puppet's passivity, the careful appearance of the doll, to plumb the machinations and manipulations of womanhood in all its expectations and realities. Throughout these poems, she uses taut language and subliminal imagery to evoke the feminine role in its many forms...mother, daughter, sister, wife...and the relationships to children and spouses as well as, ultimately, the past and the sometimes painful, often mundane path of aging. Beyond simple beauty, in this collection Skillman has crafted a resonant reminder of survival." -- Joannie Kervran Stangeland - Published by David Robert Books, 2006



This collection of poems, inspired by Judith Skillman's collaboration with textile artist Erika Carter, was selected by Contemporary Quilt Arts "Visual Verse Project" for a five year traveling display of quilts and poems. - Published by David Robert Books, 2004

Circe's Island

"Judith Skillman sings. She sings of home so as to define it. She sings home back to origins, both Hebrew and Hellenic, that give it warmth and meaning. Her precise, quick-stepping lyrics help us find out own way home, and to face the mystery of never fully knowing it." -- David Hamilton, Editor, The Iowa Review - Published by Silverfish Review Press, 2003



"The apparent normalcy of the world of these poems is a thin ice on which the speaker pauses, scarily, suspended over a turmoil of delusion, cruelty, and materialism, over our deepest personal and cultural terrors, over the tidal surge of history, remaining calms and deeply inquisitive, singing a little." -- John Witte, Editor, Northwest Review - Published by Blue Begonia Press, 1998


Red Town

"Language shuffles the ground between inner and outer landscapes, yielding poems that hover in a dreamlike present and in the nearness of another, yet more revelatory vision to come."
- Charlene Breedlove, Editor - Journal of the American Medical Association - Published by Silverfish Review Press, 2001



In Sweetbrier, the elegy is given new treatment. Aspects of physics and nature come together to prefigure loss and define its role as essential to transformation. The world of poems in this book is populated by summer landscapes that include crabapple, hawthorn, hyacinth, honeysuckle, and cottonwood.
Published by Blue Begonia Press, Working Signs Series, 2001


Beethoven and the Birds

"This fine collection translates the music of chaos into the music of unwavering attention. Filled with historical insight and personal illumination, Beethoven and the Birds is an elegant, complex achievement." -- Linda Bierds - Published by Blue Begonia Press, 1996

Worship of the Visible Spectrum

"...Worship of the Visible Spectrum attaches itself to the mind's eye, leaves afterimages that enlarge the reader's world and living in it memorable." - Madeline DeFrees - Published by Breitenbush Books, 1988