A Splake Compendium

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Robert M Zoschke, The Road to Splake, Street Corner Press 10781 Birchwood Drive, Sister Bay, WI 54234 2021, 165 pages, $15.00. Biography copiously illustrated.

Anyone who has been following the latter day Beat career of T.K. Splake, aka Tom Smith, will find this book an invaluable companion to Splake’s work. If you are not familiar with his work, the story of his creative life, this is the book to read to familiarize yourself with the poet and photographer’s journey to a new self.

Splake/Smith was born into a white-collar family of a respectable middle-class accomplishments and aspirations. His dad was an insurance salesman, quite a successful one, whose life was cut short through overwork. Tom indulged his rebellious nature once he discovered a life beyond the strict confines of a Michigan upbringings, married (and divorced, with a child), way too young. His attempts to enlist in the Navy were thwarted by a heart murmur. Thought the escape was thwarted, the seeds of yearnings for something beyond the middle-class structures of living and loving were planted. As readers of Splake’s work full well know, eventually he ditches a second marriage, a tenured job as a political science teacher, and heads off into the UP “wilderness” to find himself as an artist, to become Splake.

Zoschke’s narrative of the salient points in Splake’s life, before and after becoming the artist as middle-aged man, is well told in crisp, highly readable prose. Zoschke intersperses a recent visit to the UP to see the poet firsthand and experience the places he frequents: the poet’s corner in the coffee shop, The Poet Tree in the woods, the Poetarium on Ash Street where Splake works, with the historical facts of Splake’s life. As someone who has corresponded with Splake for over 25 years I was already familiar with the story and had seen most, but not all of the sixty odd photos in the book, yet I still found myself compulsively turning the pages of the book until I had read and seen it all. In the end I felt as if I had traveled with Rob to the UP to experience the redoubtable T.K. Splake myself.

New Splake Books

coming into spring, Transcendent Zero Press, 16429 El Camino Real Apot#7, Houston, TX 77062, 2021, 30 pages, $9

amazon god

computer owns me
knows what I want
spending retirement dollars
shameful peace of mind

alone in the wilderness

basic survival needs
dental floss

free enterprise hell

polluting lakes and streams
poisoning the air
exploiting earth
killing wilderness animals
dollar conquest of nature

river prayers, www.cyberwit.net 2021, 42 pages, $15


drying tears
with Walmart towels
wedding present

(from “art and artist”)

nonbeliever’s serious question
what kind of god
would let that happen
working in mysterious ways
total fucking bullshit
one morning writing poems
amazing personal discovery
finding creative activity
not having any rules
just outing right words
on blank sheets of paper
becoming a poet

graybeard musings, www.cyberwit.net  2021, 31 pages $15

Combination of brief poems and candid color photos by the author.

of all graybeard lovers
hoping just one returns
to help poet die

night drinking alone
weeping in darkness
trying to phone dead parents

long white dreams, www.cyberwit.com, 2021, 33 pages

autumn dance

wind blowing through trees
cool forest breeze
whispers left on leaves

yooper home

     desolate long winters
beauty exploding in spring
splake’s upper peninsula

finding poetic voice

finally killing creative ghosts
hem harrison brautigan
kerouac’s stream of consciousness
abandoned and forgotten
now writing like shit
sat least my kind of shit

An evocative series of winter tree photographic help establish the “long white mood”: snow laden trees. Image poems; Plath’s last dreams

gratiot location, Cyberwit, www.cybertwit.com, 2021, 32 pages, $15

As per usual, Splake combines pictorial representations of abandoned houses, both inside and out of the houses capturing the legacy of the copper country manufacturing base that closed down and left the residents high and try, like many of the formerly prosperous manufacturing towns all through the Midwest (and the East). These are haunted images of lives lost, dreams shattered, families uprooted and left to founder or relocate to other areas. Unless, that is, they chose The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll solution made famous by Bob Dylan on The Times They Are a Changin’. Accompanying the photos are mostly short three-and four-line poems that have become Splake’s signature poetic form.

in love with patsy cline
invisible woman beside me
many late night drives

drunken husband
with no place to go
driving back home

            mother breastfeeding
counting toes smelling hair
rocking chair Madonna