BJ Buckley

Pine Row Issue No. 6 Winter 2022-23 - Featured Poet


Don't the years seem to pass in moments,

the months in hours? This morning was September,

noon October, late afternoon the first wet

heavy snow, that was rain first, slick and

silver-weighted in the needles of pine –

November, then, fat flakes cold thistledown

flocking the bare branches, kaleidoscopic

in a whirl of wind, dizzying, as highways

blackened with ice and the evening sweatered

itself in the wool of clouds. All of us shivered,

in the dusk and dark – Winter, whispering –

though it isn't yet, only latest autumn,

slippery and spectral, baffled by wings:

woodpecker, finch and raven, nuthatch, crow,

flurries of chickadee, dun pools of sparrow,

and the wild geese, whose choral colloquy

aligns the star-cracked compass of the sky.

Interview with BJ Buckley

How did you get started writing poetry?

From the time I was a toddler, both my parents read and recited poetry to me, and I learned, first at home and then in elementary school, to memorize and recite poetry aloud. I can still remember one of my teachers telling me "If it's in a book, it isn't really yours. If you have it by heart, you have it forever." So it seemed a natural thing, once I had learned to write words, to write my own. And I've been doing it ever since.

Who had the biggest impact on you as a poet in the beginning, and how about now?

First, I had the most wonderful teacher in my first college creative writing class, the poet James Cole. He listened intently -- we always read our poems aloud. Then he would ask the others in the class, "What was your favorite line from that poem?" So we all had to learn that kind of listening. And his comments on our pages were wonderful. I recall especially things like a number of phrases underlined in pencil, and then a note at the bottom saying "Figure out what you did; see underlines. Do it again. Every time." So that implicit faith that we already knew what we were doing, and could repeat it and shape it, was an amazing gift.

Second were the widely diverse books and poets he assigned. The giants such as Emily Dickinson and Keats and Whitman, but many more contemporary whom I had ever heard of before: Seamus Heaney, Douglas Dunn, Richard Eberhart, Elizabeth Bishop, Neruda and Lorca, the Harlem Renaissance poets, Ginsberg and Wakoski, classical Japanese poets, cowboy poets he had come to our class in full regalia and perform! He opened a door to vast world I hadn't known was there.

Now the biggest impact is vast access to poetry on the internet, everything from the big organizations to small journals to individual poets. I used to go without food to save up to buy books or sample issues of journals. Now I feel like a kid in a free candy store all the time. So many windows to a world of worlds!

What inspires your poetry?

Almost everything, at one point or another. That said, especially and always, the natural world; and the people who live and work in the rural west where I have lived and worked most of my life. I've learned to keep my ears open to snippets of sound, human, animal, technical, and to keep a lookout for strangeness in all its forms.

What is next for you?

The pandemic essentially ended my work as a traveling poet-in-the-schools, which I'd done for nearly 50 years. So I've been looking for some other outlets where my knowledge and experience will be useful, one of which is a seat on the National Advisory Board of the Teaching Artists Guild (TAG). Another is trying to set up new writing and art classes for seniors and folks with special needs, in connection with a local arts organization. I'm also working on several poetry manuscripts right now that are very different from each other, which is both challenging and great fun.

Anything else you'd like to share?

My website is There are links to news and poems, and a little section dedicated to new books by other poets whose work I love.

B.J. Buckley is a rural Montana poet & writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools & Communities programs throughout the West and Midwest for more than four decades.

Her prizes and awards include the Joy Harjo Prize from CutThroat: A Journal of the Arts; a Wyoming Arts Council Literature Fellowship; The Cumberland Poetry Review's Robert Penn Warren Narrative Poetry Prize; the Poets & Writers “Writers Exchange Award” in Poetry; the Rita Dove Poetry Prize from the Center for Women Writers, Winston-Salem, NC; and The Comstock Review Poetry and Poetry Chapbook Prizes.