The Poetry of Wendy McVicker & Cathy Cultice Lentes

Claire Bateman Banner 2023

I believe, oh yes! We will get there./We’ll row out from these islands/where we’re marooned, sorting shells/and scribbling notes to send/into the dark. We’ll gather/on that porch and lift our glasses/in a salute to survival./We’ll fall asleep to the waves’/shushing, and when we wake,/our pens will dance like sandpipers/across the page./Keep flashing your beacon/in this direction, friend./With that light I can brave/storms and tumbled rocks—/find my way home.”by Wendy McVicker

Speculative Friction

By Claire Bateman

Poets Cathy Cultice Lentes & Wendy McVicker. (Photo: Lynette Peck). 
Poets Cathy Cultice Lentes & Wendy McVicker. (Photo: Lynette Peck.)

Claire Bateman

GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Hubris)—April 2023—Wendy McVicker, 2020-2022 Poet Laureate of Athens, Ohio, is a longtime Ohio Arts Council teaching artist. Her books include Zero, a Door (2021), Sliced Dark (a collaboration with visual artist John McVicker, 2019) and The Dancer’s Notes (2015). She loves collaborating with other artists and performs with instrumentalist Emily Prince under the name another language altogether whenever she gets the chance. Stronger When We Touch is her first full-length collaboration with another poet.

Cathy Cultice Lentes recently retired from teaching and working with students with disabilities as part of the Special Education/Psychology team in Meigs County, Ohio. In 2016, she published a poetry chapbook, Getting the Mail (Finishing Line Press). In addition to poetry, Lentes writes creative nonfiction and a variety of works for children. She earned her MFA in Writing for Young People from the Solstice Program in 2013.

Wendy McVicker and Cathy Cultice Lentes admired each other’s work from afar before becoming good friends and have often published in the same literary journals and anthologies, most recently, I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing, Ohio’s Appalachian Voices (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2022).

Says Wendy McVicker, “In the winter of 2021, COVID vaccines were just being rolled out: it was our first full winter of lockdown. I was anticipating the creeping fog of depression and had been thinking since fall of ways to feed the spirit when we were all so isolated and afraid. The Cincinnati poet Pauletta Hansel, whose work I knew and admired, and with whom I’d had delightfully illuminating poetry experiences, offered an Epistolary Poetry class over Zoom that February. Virtual classes were a lifeline when we couldn’t gather to write and workshop together, when we were so longing for the live voices and warmth of others. This class was perfect for that time and focused on two things Cathy and I both love: letters and poems. We read various examples of epistolary poems and thought about how to get the intimate ‘newsiness’ of a letter into the pared-down form of a poem. Pauletta created pairs of poets who would write to each other over the course of the month: Cathy and I were one such pair.

“I found myself writing poems that were looser, more discursive, more ‘chatty’ than usual—perhaps also more direct, less allusively lyrical. I’d always been a ‘tell it slant,’ ‘no ideas but in things’ kind of poet, especially when it came to deeply personal material, which is what Cathy and I found ourselves exploring. We dove into personal histories and growing up as girls in mid-20th-century America, as well as what was going on in our world in 2021, the fear and brutality and violence unleashed around us. It felt like writing to hypothetical readers. Meanwhile, the seasons continued their ceaseless unfurling rhythms, in spite of human madness. Writing to a particular other presented challenges that were a pleasure to navigate, in the way that an interesting puzzle can be. It seemed that together, we could find the pieces and make them fit.”

Cathy Cultice Lentes says, “What began as class assignments soon blossomed into much more. As the class ended, Wendy and I did not want to stop our correspondence, so we continued to write our letter poems back and forth as the seasons and the world changed around us. At some point, it occurred to me that these poems, these letters between friends, had things to say not just to us, but to a larger audience. I proposed to Wendy that we might, just might, have a book. When conditions allowed, we met in person with printed poems in hand, and then spread out on my front room floor. How to make a collection that worked as poetry and also as letters that moved forward in time with a narrative drive? Since we both wrote first poems, and then poems that answered each other’s poems, it was a complicated process. We edited individually over time, and each took stabs at ordering this collection. Wendy tended to reduce her lines toward poetry while I decided to keep more of a letter feel, yet neither of us wanted to lose the initial spontaneity of our original epistles. We helped each other find a happy meeting place between poetic techniques and prose narrative.

“One thing that was magical in our collaboration was how we read each other carefully and then deepened the discussion by continuing themes and specifically reusing individual vocabulary in new ways. As our process developed, and a book began to emerge, we were drawn to write letters to our readers with Wendy beginning the exchange and me penning the closing letter. We also felt that our book needed visuals and so we scavenged our albums and phones to find just the right images to accompany our words. The finished product is one we are both proud of, and early readers have responded enthusiastically to its unique take on epistolary poetry and friendship. The journey of writing and publishing with Wendy has been a joyous adventure.”

Cathy to Wendy

Mistaken Eagles

A beat-up blue dump truck spreads cinders
over snow and ice on my road, though, it is
not my road. Yet, in the thirty-plus years of
living here, I’ve growled at unfamiliar vehicles,
“Who is that driving down my road?”
like a troll scaring off trembling
billy goats . . .

Friends remark on my Beatrix Potter life,
but even Beatrix took time to find her true
animal way. I love any woman who finds
her way
no matter how long it takes.

In morning meditation, Tara Brach
reminded me
of original goodness.
How I adore that.

My family, Billy Graham on TV crusade,
preached original sin. Born of woman
all were lost. Because of some snake,
an apple,
a short-ribbed

Eve delighted in all she touched and smelled,
saw and heard. Though all was provided, she
wanted more. She wanted to know the world
inside her. Is it wrong to want more?
Even if you have everything?

My ex made fun of me for being excited
by weather. He thought, mistakenly, that I was
fearful or timid. No, I was born in tornado country.
I’m not naïve about mother nature, the strength of
feminine will.

But weather is unscripted, real.
Despite models, charts, all the best brains,
weather moves us, leaves us gasping,
grasping, at times, to stay alive. Reminds
us we are alive.
Alive, and grateful.

Original. Goodness.
The poet, David Whyte, urges us
to ask the more beautiful question.
Friend, what is the more beautiful question, today?

Friday morning, on my snowy drive, I counted hawks,
so many solitary hawks. Then, I thought I saw an eagle.
Another. But they were mistaken eagles. Regal
white heads turned into snow-capped nests of leaves
as I drove closer, leaning forward to see what
nestled in nooks and elbow branches of trees.

Still, the wonder shook me.
The unknowing.
The beautiful, ragged edges
of what can be.

Did I ever tell you
that since childhood,
I’ve dreamed of taking
a hurricane flight
straight into the eye
of a storm?

Wendy to Cathy

A Missive to my Friend, the Lighthouse Keeper

You’ve brought the ocean
into my room, my heart, and even
my dreams, where it glinted just
out of reach. If only the blank snow
surrounding my house were sand:
sand we walked together
in the Before Time, that reflected
light into our faces and powdered
our skin, that swirled
down the outdoor drain to return
to the sea.

I long to feel the salt-laden
wind whip my hair, and hear
the rhythmic roar and hush
of waves beyond the dunes.
Gulls crying, shrill syncopation.
Watch dolphins arc their way
south in the morning, and north
as the sun loosens its brazen grip.

I believe, oh yes! We will get there.
We’ll row out from these islands
where we’re marooned, sorting shells
and scribbling notes to send
into the dark. We’ll gather
on that porch and lift our glasses
in a salute to survival.
We’ll fall asleep to the waves’
shushing, and when we wake,
our pens will dance like sandpipers
across the page.

Keep flashing your beacon
in this direction, friend.
With that light I can brave
storms and tumbled rocks—
find my way home.

Wendy to Cathy


We have slipped
beyond our mothers’ reach,
and into the wide fields
of our own dreams.

They may have tried
to erase us, but here
we are.

I like to think
they wanted to help.
Why else decant

the dulled pain
of their own erasure
into us?

We managed to escape
their strictures: be a lady,
keep your voice down,
defer, defer, defer.

Within those narrow walls
we learned to write
our way out of darkness.

Even if no one was listening,
we kept writing, probing
the walls with our pens,
tunneling out.

We can slow down, now,
and savor forsythia lighting
cool shadowy corners,

fragrant hyacinth pushing
through last year’s leaves.
I am tired, friend, but I too
celebrate rebirth, and the joy

of enough, of claiming
my space in the world,
right next to you.

Cathy to Wendy

Tunneling Out


You wrote of erasure, escape, probing
the walls with our pens. I thought of times
in childhood when I ran to the cool, shadowy
corners of my backyard woods where hidden
behind dripping branches of blossom, I scooped
mud pies for imaginary friends, talked to the void
which always listened. How the birds and squirrels
chattered in my ear, how my small dog wandered
near in search of scent, sun or shade, heat, or grassy
damp to cool her furred body.

On the strung line between two poles, clothes
waved. Too many trees, my mother claimed, for a
good garden or spotless wash. There was always
something wrong. In first grade, the boy behind me
cut a slip of fabric from my dress with scissors.
How could you not know? My nose facing the board,
teacher’s beady eyes, her whip-quick aim and
yardstick reach, aisles of potential shame.
Did I feel a tug? Did I dare turn?
Did I dare tell mother?

I learned to spin tales early.


In fourth grade, my pen woke up, but mostly it was
pencil then, my first mechanical, a wonder purchased
for the entire class to keep us at our desks away from
the lure of the wheeled wall grinder.

I did not mind sitting, staying.
Glorious, metallic, refillable. Red.


This teacher saw something in me, words itching
to get out. The lanky girl who counted change,
circled favorites in the Scholastic Book Club pages,
clipped her order blank, sealed all with a lick, handed
over her envelope. Those raw, bitten nails.

So many escapes. Over and over. Lost girls.
Some became teachers. Nurses. Secretaries.
What else could they be? Mothers. Always
the roles assigned. Subsidiary. Didn’t we all
dream of stringing up more than crisp whites
on the clothesline, of burning the kitchen


When I married, I had no idea how to be. Who
was I now that I had achieved what was expected
of me? Teaching license in hand, gold band on my
finger, baby soon on the way. Long nights in a
strange city, baby boy at my breast, I rocked, and
wrote in my head. Stolen time.

In the light of day, I put words down, looked for
jobs half-heartedly, found a class to take, a group
to call my own. How those circles saved me.
Looped letters on a page, writers camped on couches,
chairs pulled close, the round of sending out, and later
receiving a reply.


Looking back, I see my mother at the kitchen table,
oil cloth scrubbed clean, head bent, scowling over
the round keys of her father’s black Underwood,
lean fingers clicking away.

What did she write?
What was she desperate to say?

All poems from Stronger When We Touch (The Orchard Street Press, 2023), by Cathy Cultice Lentes & Wendy McVicker.

To order copies of Claire Bateman’s books, Wonders of the Invisible WorldScape, or Coronology from Amazon, click on the book covers below.

Bateman’s Wonders of The Invisible World.


Bateman Scape


Bateman Coronology

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Claire Bateman’s books include Scape (New Issues Poetry & Prose); Locals (Serving House Books), The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan University Press), Friction (Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize), At The Funeral Of The Ether (Ninety-Six Press, Furman University), Clumsy (New Issues Poetry & Prose), Leap (New Issues), and Coronology (Etruscan Press). She has been awarded Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Surdna Foundation, as well as two Pushcart Prizes and the New Millennium Writings 40th Anniversary Poetry Prize. She has taught at Clemson University, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and various workshops and conferences such as Bread Loaf and Mount Holyoke. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina. (Please see Bateman’s Author’s Page for links to all her publications, and go here for further information about the poet and her work.) (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)