North Carolina Poet/Editor: Helen Losse

Tell us about yourself-where you are from, education or lack of, family roots, some background.

I was born, reared, and educated in Joplin. MO.  (Yes, you’ve heard of Joplin because of the tornado.)  I had a wonderful, free (almost idyllic) childhood.  Growing up in a small town (pop. almost 40,000) in the 50s and 60s was pretty nice for white children.  (There were very few blacks living in Joplin, and years later, I found out why.)  Our family was probably poor but didn’t know it.  My sister, brother, and I climbed trees, played kick the can, listened to songs on the radio, watched and played baseball. Our family attended First Christian Church, Disciple of Christ. 
My dad, who was born in Chitwood, a village just outside Joplin, met my mother in England during WWII, when he was a soldier.  My mother was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, England—the county where Stonehenge is located.  My parents married during the war; my mother took the Queen Mary to New York and a train on to Joplin.  They moved into the house where we grew up in December 1946.  As kids, life was very much about “we rather than I.”  I named our house “mansion of memory” in my chapbook with the same title that was sold to raise money for the tornado victims.

My mother got her US citizenship when I was ten. In 1964, she took us to England to visit our grandmother and other relatives.  I returned to my senior year of high school and exposure to English literature.  I attended the local college that has become Missouri Southern State University (BSE, 1969), where I majored in education with a concentration in English. 

After I married in 1969, Bill and I moved to Charlotte, NC, where I taught for nine years.  Then for a number of years, I was a stay-at-home mom.  Fifteen years later we moved to Winston-Salem, where—after being out of school for 25 years and having a mystical experience that convinced me I must fight racism in the US forever—I attended Wake Forest University (MALS, 2000), studying creative writing and African American studies. 

We now have two grown sons who live in a nearby town.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?  How long have you been writing? 

I have no idea.  I’ve always dabbled in writing—a column for the ministry newsletter at the school/church where I taught for five years, a few poems over the years, but nothing serious until I went to back to school at Wake Forest.  At this time, I wrote a race relations column, “One Step Beyond,” for a local African American newspaper for a couple of years.  During a summer, when I had no class, I researched and wrote a few articles for The Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

I loved the research I did for my classes and had the luxury of being able to spend two years on my thesis, “Making All Things New: The Redemptive Value of Unmerited Suffering in the Life and Works of Martin Luther King, Jr.”[]=ContentType%2CBook+Review%2Ct&s.fvf[]=ContentType%2CNewspaper+Article%2Ct&s.q=Helen+Losse+%22Making+All+Things+New%22

I spend the first year reading and the second writing.  My favorite professor at Wake Forest, Anthony Parent, was my thesis advisor. Julie Edelson, who taught the class I took on writing prose and who is a professional editor, edited my thesis.  And Robert Shorter, the professor who headed and the MALS program and who suggested I take a class in poetry from Jane Mead, completed my examination committee.  All of them knew I planned to convert my thesis to a book, which I have not yet done.  

I had toyed with the idea of writing a book about F. Scott Fitzgerald years earlier but had no idea how to begin.  Now expert advice called for ten years between the completion of a thesis and its conversion into a book.  I finished my thesis in December 2000, but in the fall of 1997, I had begun to publish a few poems in local journals. 

Poetry seemed to call louder than prose.  I now write prose only as book reviews.
Have you always wanted to be a published writer? 


No.  But the idea of being a published writer held its charm.  For me, the idea of publishing isn’t so much about fame as it is about having a voice that is heard.   That’s how I feel about my chapbooks and books.  Poems can go places I can’t.  Books can hop into envelopes and encircle the world.  Internet litmags do likewise.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?  Elaborate, not just yes, no.

I don’t think I thought about it all that deeply; I just started writing poems and evolved into being “a poet.”  If a person doesn’t call herself a poet, she never will be.

I have been the Poetry Editor for The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature since Spring 2007. Valerie MacEwan is the publisher and editor—it’s her litmag, not mine—but Val has allowed me to share the joy of publishing others.  I have all of the fun that being an editor can bring and none of the headaches of the internet.  Robert MacEwan gets all of those.   I make most of the choices about which poems are accepted and for what month.  I enjoy giving so many good poets a place for poems, introducing new poets to our reading audience, and nominating poets and poems for certain prizes.  As a writer, I didn’t imagine editing anything.
Have you figured out a way of making money as a writer or poet? 

No, not at all.  I am a very little fish in a very big ocean and sometimes get ignored.  I write because I think I have something to say. 

I almost always buy books from other poets at readings, because I would like people to buy my books at my readings, but it doesn’t always work that way.  Part of the problem is that poets conduct workshops in which they insist that “everyone can write,” which is kind of true, but if everyone writes, who buys; if everyone made cars, who’d buy the ones from Detroit?  It's Just common sense.  In building an audience for poetry by encouraging others to write, do we hurt ourselves financially?  Maybe.  I know poetry books are basically a “one on one sell.”  That means lots of readings, or workshops. 

Because I have the luxury of eating without selling any poetry, I can concern myself with life outside poetry, too—like family, politics, hobbies, and watching NASCAR.  All of these provide material to write about, of course.

What inspires you to write?

Other writers inspire me to write, because most writers are interesting people.  Reading poems inspires me to write, because the poems I choose to read express interesting language and images.
Who are notable authors who have influence your writing?

I wonder who is “notable”.  

I studied poetry at Wake Forest University with Jane Mead.  She, more than any other poet, influenced my work, but I wouldn’t say I write like Jane or even that I want to.  My goal has been (and still is to a degree) to find my own voice.  Dennis Sampson, who also taught at Wake Forest, helped me at a stage where I was impressionable.

Hickory poet Scott Owens serves as an example of what a hard-working poet can do.  He is committed to teaching, promoting others, and writing and publishing his own poems in litmags and books on an on-going basis, and editing a litmag.   He also reminds me to write a few book reviews each year.  Doing so helps others and keeps my reviewing skills sharp.  Hickory poet Tim Peeler reminds me that the best poetry is often simple.  He writes a poem almost every night.  I wish I were than committed.  M. Scott Douglass and Carter Monroe remind me that publisher/editors were usually poets first and remain so at heart.  Jessie Carty, a young Charlotte poet, reminds me of how much energy one must expend to live a writing life.  Clare L. Martin, a poet form Louisiana, reminds me to celebrate joy daily, as does poet Curtis Dunlap.

Big time “notable” prose-writer/scholar Toni Morrison gives me wings, because of the creativity with which she uses words, and—face it—there are no words in her dictionary that aren’t in mine.  I’ve just got to study hard and listen to the Muse.

Do you follow a strict writing schedule or just write when the spirit hits you?
I write when I have the time.  If I haven’t written any poems for a while, I start to feel like I should write some (or stop calling myself a poet.)  At that point, either I just sit down to write, or I read poems until I’m ready to write.  Sometimes I write just a phrase, or I remember something from a dream and jot it down.   I don’t have a set pattern.  Sometimes I start out longhand, but most often I write on the computer.  As far as life is concerned, I am a “do it now!” kind of person, but I can’t write like that. 

Writing is rewriting.  And if one doesn’t love revision—think, possibility—she’s sadly misinformed about being a poet.
What stimulates or motivates you to write?  Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Guilt sometimes—if I haven’t written in a while, but I already said that.

Wind, rain, sleet, and snow blow away and wash away the cares of life—the cares that burden us and slow us.  A deer runs through the yard, and my thoughts follow him into the woods.  There are butterflies in the woods, fluttering over the shaded green moss. Nature cleans the soul and frees me to be.  The sun begins to set, and the trees turn black against the sky: this most sacred act fills me so that I have something to write about.

In 2006 when I started my blog, I called it “Windows Toward the World,” because my computer is in front of a window that gives me a view of our back yard. I later added the subtitle “through the eyes of a poet.”  The title also served as the working title for my first full-length book, Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009.)

Sometimes human events become the subject matter for a poem, but with the world as it is, politics tempt one to preach.  Preaching is fine, but it has no place in poetry.  Poetry is about image, feeling, and emotion.  From those, a reader can surmise the difference between right and wrong without being told what to think, which is a very good thing.

Travel is good, too; breathing different air.  I’m riding along in Kansas, and there is the Republican River, all dried up.  Now that’s a symbol waiting to happen.  And closer to home, Birdsong Road.  Ah,…perfect. Each makes its appearance in a poem.

If you had to choose, what would you say are the two best poems you have ever written to this date? 

This is cruel.  It’s like asking, “Which is your favorite child?”  But I’ll comply. 

These two are among my best.

“Where the Reverie Is Apt To Lead”
first published in The Centrifugal Eye (November 2006,) a finalist for 2007 Best of the Net, and later in Better With Friends

“Poetry As Sloe Gin,”
published in Hobble Creek Review, (February 2011,) nominated for Pushcart Prize

Okay, done!  Sorry, all the rest of you poems I love.

Editor note:  I have received two additional wonderful poems from Helen Losse I'd like to share with all of you directly below:

In Retrospect
Helen Losse

Remember how the wind
held yellow leaves in airy fingers?
The last leaf,
in high branches, clung to the tree.
We walked through full sun,
deepening shadows,
wondering how we kept our footings
while acorns snapped
beneath our feet. Remember
the contumacious violets in brown
grass? Pretending the rain was
early snow, we chose the long way home
and sang off-key.

Note:   first published in Domicile, later in Seriously Dangerous

By Helen Losse

I want to eat ambrosia,
dine with the gods. Dance.
Seraphim at the gate, velvet-winged.
“A plea is not a call,” says the tallest angel.
“One should not taste of success too soon.”
“Yes. Wait’s a word to ride the wind,”
says another. “And who will know the
mind of God?”
A celestial chorus in a quick response.
And I, reaching upward, raise uplifted palms.
A spurt of boldness: Each—in its own way.
The voices fade, and things I reach for seem too far.
Then just as silence slices through morning,
heaven’s jagged edge cuts my finger to the bone. 

Note:   first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

What is your opinion on self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing? 

I think the choice of self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing depends on a number of factors, such as one’s purpose for publishing, one’s age, health, amount of time one is willing to wait for publication, amount of money one has and chooses to spend on contests and submissions, the importance of actually being published, etc.  There is no one answer—no “one size fits all.”  

All of my chapbooks and books have been published by small, traditional publishers I have published with FootHills Publishing (often closed to submissions), Rank Stranger Press (an invitation-only press), and Main Street Rag Publishing Company (  Each publisher has his/her own business model.  Some required pre-sales, and some did not.  Publishers have to make money (earn their living) in some manner.

When and if I have another manuscript ready for publication, which I presently do not, I will have to ask myself all the same questions I have listed above. 

By what methods or sources are you trying to market your works with?  Do you find marketing your works for exposure easy or difficult?  Please list their names, websites and links.

I try to market my books through readings, word of mouth, e-mail, my blog, and FaceBook.  I do what my publisher tells me to do.

Where can we find your works?  Feel free to show links or websites.

Individual or Groups of Poems are all over the internet.  Here are a few examples:

JMWW (Summer 2006) “Just Before the Dawning”

Lily, (September 2007) Night of Waiting”

Blue Fifth Review, (Spring Supplement 2008) Three poems 
Redheaded Stepchild (Fall, 2009) “It should be obvious”

Scythe, (April 2010) Three poems

vox poetica, (June 9, 2010) “Far and Away”

Referential Magazine (various dates) Six Poems
The Pedestal Magazine, (October 2010) “The Perseids”

Wild Goose Poetry Review, (Fall 2010) “Beyond Childhood”  nominated for Pushcart Prize.

THRUSH, (May 2012)  “Captured Moment”

For more, Google me.

Shape Of a Box,  Folded Word Press (January 2009) “Recorded In Time’

Literary North Carolina: “The Eagle at Sunset”

from Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont by Georgann Eubanks

For more, check 


Gathering the Broken Pieces (FootHills Publishing, 2004)

Paper Snowflakes (Southern Hum Press, 2006  )  out of print

Mansion of Memory (Rank Stranger Press, 2012)  available only from the author

(This is a reprint of Paper Snowflakes with additional poems, sold to raise funds for Joplin Bright Futures Tornado Fund.)


Seriously Dangerous (Main Street Rag, 2011) or

I have copies of Better With Friends, Seriously Dangerous, and Mansion of Memory for sale.

Do you have any parting words for our readers; any words of wisdom to share?

When you get “famous” like me, plan on spending the better part of your day answering questions for others.  It’s what poets do!
And if you don’t enjoy revision, don’t call yourself a poet, and please don’t send me your poems.  If you wrote it last night, it’s a first draft. 


  1. Wonderful interview. Helen is an inspiration to poets everywhere.

  2. You know, I'd love to hear from Helen and the others what up & coming poets are worth looking out for, as it would not only help publicise them, but it would also hopefully keep us reading the next generations to come our way.

  3. Hi Phillip and Scott thank you for you comments reference Helen Losse, she is a wonder addition to my interview list and a real inspiration to small press everywhere.

  4. I'm also looking forward to any websites that help writers find publishers, forums, advise sites, poets exploring new avenues i.e. audio poems and pictures, YouTube experiences. My only problem is on this new blogger I can't figure out to do links properly. I used to go to layout, then gadgets and add links-for some reason it is not working on this site the same way and any advise would be appreciated. I would also like to have a small forum here to discuss these ideas but not sure how to create it here. Any suggestions would be helpful.

  5. Thank you, Scott.

    Phillip, I don't have any way of giving you an inclusive list of up and coming poets. I mentioned Jessie Carty and Clare Martin. There are lots of poets in NC. Check the websites of Main Street Rag (Charlotte) and Press 53 (Winston-Salem).

    Check Best New Poets
    Best of the Net
    Pushcart Prize (available in bookstores)

    Helen Losse

  6. Hi Helen I'm familar with Jessie Carty she has actually published a few of my poems and would be a possible contributor here.

  7. How is education in the United States different from education in other countries? Which country's education system do you like best?

    phlebotomy schools in north-carolina