written by Laura Burkhart
edited by Michael Foley
softcover ~ 64 pages ~ 6" x 8" ~ $15.00
ISBN 978-0-9881229-3-2
2nd edition, released spring 2013


Watermarks highlights the often subtle yet indelible impact of ordinary and profound life experiences. Traversing physical landscapes from Saskatchewan to Hawai`i, with stops in Asia and the Middle East, these poems explore the emotional landscapes of life’s transitions. With humour and optimism, the poems invite the reader to examine closely and feel deeply the spectrum of emotions that come with maturity, life changes and acceptance.

Comments History Why read these poems | Excerpt | Author reading 
Conversation points | Meet the author | Photo gallery | Buying notes


  • Daniel Parr
    The poems in Laura Burkhart's Watermarks by @WildSagePress are intimate and expansive at the same time.
  • Eric Greenway
    Watermarks, Laura Burkhart's second book of poetry, will make you laugh. You can hear the poet's glee in many of these poems-and you wonder how she maintains such fine control of language while giving herself over to all-out play.
         The levity begins with the first poem, "Advice from Noah's Wife", who can "hardly breathe halfway through, let alone tell Noah he should have hired a female ark-tech who knows the ins-and-outs of cleaning."
         It's fitting that a poet who achieves a high level of playfulness with language should include a poem about strategically placing the word "Envy" on a (somewhat altered) Scrabble board, then topping that move with an even better score-"well let's just say/your fellow players will turn/a not-unpleasant shade of green/when you also use all seven/letters for the 50-point bonus."
         In "Writing the Old Frogs Home" the amphibious narrator admits that "Maybe this frog/hospital doesn't even exist/outside our own lily-/livered minds. Maybe this/is really a frog-leg emporium/and that's why there are so many/wheel chairs down by the pond." And, from the same poem, have you heard the one about Mr. Weber, the tenth-grade chemistry teacher? We watch him "roll mercury around the palm/of his hand while the class recited/the periodic table boron, boron,/boron…".
         Of course, Watermarks is not all fun and games-and even at its funniest moments, we apprehend something darker under the surface. Mercury is lethal after all, and Noah's wife is well-placed to make a comment or two about male privilege. 
         To start with, Watermarks is a subversive title for any paper-and-ink book. After all, a watermark is not there to be noticed-unless you have a specialist's interest in the lineage of paper or the authenticity of postage stamps and banknotes. The title suggests that what's most worthy of your attention is what is normally overlooked, something in a realm that is beyond the veil of text and the page.
         Offering glimpses of the ineffable may be a poet's stock-in-trade-but it's not often achieved as breathtakingly as in some of these poems. Burkhart navigates the knife edge between technical mastery of language and the courage to surrender control, to give in to the "strange animal" that "steals my thoughts".
         The poet's voice in "Anniversary" is spare, refuses to call attention to itself. Marking the year that has passed since an ex-husband's accidental death, the poem's opening lines ("Early morning gap between/birdsong quiet as death./I open red curtains.…"), direct our focus, not to the words of the poem, but to the silence that the words gesture towards. The uncurtained window is like the poem itself, almost transparent, an opening for the reality-beyond-the-poem.
         In a similar vein, "Dream of the Dead" steers clear of poetic effects, employing language that is stripped-down and conversational: "My father is still dead./I've seldom thought of him/these last five years, and then, usually/with an arrogant kind of pity". Later in the poem: "When he was dying he asked me: is this/all there is? You're born, you live, you die?" The power of the poem flows from simple, unadorned details, closely observed-"…a shadow/silent in the hallway when I pass,/sitting with Reader's Digest at the kitchen table…."
         Beyond the geographies of  love and death and sexual politics, landscapes are woven throughout Watermarks, exotic and not-so-exotic -a Southeast Asian market, Regina in winter, a summer morning in Vermont, a textiles shop in Egypt. 
         But the landscape most present in these poems is the Big Island of Hawaii, the writer's home. It's a place of contradictions, temperate and fruitful, with mangoes "…poised/On the branch like a word of wisdom." But it's also an island with a long-active volcano, where the earth beneath your feet may prove anything but firm. "Where will you be when the earth trembles/like an enraged lover?" is the question posed by "In Both Languages". "How will you translate into meaning/what you grab to take along?" Where the land may prove volatile, "Sound of Water" suggests that it is better to learn to trust the ocean that "holds me drop/by drop when I plunge/off rocks. I can no/longer see the spray-/beneath the waves is silence."
         The language of Watermarks is finely-crafted-intelligent, witty, impeccably cadenced, a sensual pleasure to read aloud. But the genius of this exceptional collection is that it invites us beneath the surface, to a place beyond language, to silence and mystery. 
  • David Jauss, after reading a pre-publication copy of Watermarks
    Laura Burkhart is one of those rare poets who realize that what the light reveals is more mysterious than what the dark conceals. Instead of the obscurity and vagueness so fashionable these days, she offers us lucidity and mystery, those secret twins. She writes about the drama of the domestic, about motherhood, love and loss, and her poems not only communicate, they sing. Here is a poet with an ear to match her eye, and a heart to match her mind. Here, in short, is a poet who matters. 
  • David Jauss, after receiving a published copy of Watermarks
    I already knew [Watermarks] was beautiful inside, and now I know it's beautiful outside too. Wild Sage did a terrific job. 
  • Susan Stenson
    These are patient poems, as mountains or oceans, "praying quietly to a kinder god before another forty-day disaster"; cautionary tales for the human heart. 
  • Michael Foley
    Watermarks is splendid...It's beautifully put together, such a fine tip of the hat to the making of books... 
  • Author Laura Burkhart shares some of the comments she has received from people about her book Watermarks: 
    - Wonderful
    - Amazing
    - Beautiful
  • Debora Abood
    I just received my books [Watermarks and How to Be a River] in the mail a couple of hours ago and I am so thrilled with how stunningly beautiful they are. The paper, the covers, the attention to all of the detail is truly remarkable. They are just gorgeous and I needed to let you know…..they are wonderful to look at, to touch, to feel and of course the reading of them is/and will be the most exciting. 
  • Shar Mitchell, in her email to author Laura Burkhart
    We laughed out loud at your first poem about Noah's wife. What a wit you have and what a brain. Thank you for the gift of spending the day with your creative mind. And congratulations on a wonderful book of poetry. That coming from such a non-poet as me is a huge compliment. 
  • Devin Pacholik Read the full review...
    ...truly, Burkhart’s 
    Watermarks is a tour of gaping wonder. While asking the big questions about life, her command of sound alone lifts us to that higher plane of the sublime. 



The first edition of Watermarks was published in a handbound limited numbered edition (100 copies) and launched in October, 2012. By May 2013, it was sold out. 




 cover of first edition



Six reasons to read these poems, even if you've never read a poem before

  • They're accessible. The narrative (usually) makes sense/tells a story, moves from point one to point two in terms of plot or emotional movement.
  • Some of the poems are funny - readers will get a laugh or two (or three or four or…).
  • Everyone will identify with some of these poems, and when they resonate at some level will find their lives enhanced.
  • They're not a novel - if people who only have a minute or two open the book and read a poem, they might just take away a bit more energy for whatever they're doing next.
  • Ultimately, these are optimistic poems. Adding a few lines of optimism to the day is as good as, or better than, a dash of salt or a sprinkle of sugar…
  • This poetry is not only technically excellent, it is moving and entertaining.


Night Light

At sunrise even the morning star sleeps.
All those twinkles gone: each name,
trajectory, history overwhelmed
by dawn. Now they slumber like cows

in the pasture while we fill our days
with other escapades that keep
us from remembering the awe.
We go about our lives as if our sun

were an only child, this earth the only
spinning orb, our petty irritations,
thoughts, opinions, the only ones
that matter. Last night even the wind 

held its breath, windmill ceased to spin,
when the sky dropped its jeweled cloak,
gentle hymn of cows, the stars,
duet of light.

Author reading

Watermarks' author Laura Burkhart reads her poem "In Both Languages" (1 minute and 45 seconds). This poem is featured, along with art by Julia Rooney, on a limited edition Wild Sage Press broadside

Conversation points

If you are a member of a book club, like to discuss what you read with family and friends, or enjoy interior dialogues with yourself, a few questions follow to get the conversational ball rolling.

  • Which physical landscapes in which poems speak to you? How? 
  • What kinds of emotions do you experience as you read the poems?
  • What is the difference in emotional tone between Dreaming Your Ex and Dreaming Your Current? Which poem do you prefer, and why do you prefer it?
  • Having read Advice from Noah's Wife, is there an historical character, real or fictional, that you would like some advice from, or would like to give some advice to? Who and what?
  • How does the juxtaposition of stories in Twenty Easy Payments make each narrative more powerful?
  • Which poems are playful? What about them amuses you?
  • Which of the poems are about writing poems? What perspectives do they bring on how to write?
  • What transitions do the poems highlight?
  • In what ways do the photos influence your interpretation of the poems they belong to?
  • Which poems do you relate to most, and what is it about the poems that connect you to them?
  • How would you describe the nature of the emotional landscapes that the poems explore?

Meet the author - Laura Burkhart

Laura Burkhart & guide dog Arika

 Born in Ontario and raised in Alberta, Laura spent most of her adult life in Saskatchewan. Laura holds an MFA in poetry and fiction from Vermont College.

In addition to writing, Laura’s background includes psychology, adult education and community development. She has served as Writer in Residence at Waimea Community Education, conducted creativity workshops in Canada and the US, practised as a therapist, and worked as an international gender adviser and trainer. She has travelled in North America, the Middle East, South America and Asia.

Laura has three children and four grandchildren. She currently writes, works and swims in Hawai`i, where she lives with her husband Michael, guide dog Arika and cat Leonard.

 photo by Mimi Song


About Laura's writing

Laura’s first book of poetry, Venus Rising (Hagios Press), was short-listed for two Saskatchewan book awards. She has had work published in literary journals, broadcast on CBC Radio, and performed by Regina’s Globe Theatre. Her latest writing venture is a mystery novel. Visit Laura's website.

 Questions and answers with author Laura Burkhart

Where did you write the poems? 
The majority were written since I moved to Hawai`i in 2004, but it seems no matter where I write, the landscape of whatever I need to write about emerges. So I have poems set in Cambodia, Egypt, Montreal, and of course the prairies, as well as different islands of Hawai`i.

What inspired the poems?
Some arose from a daily writing practice: I would set my timer for a certain length of time, pick a title, topic or other "prompt" and start to write. Often a first draft would arrive this way. Others are based on aspects of personal experience, my own or how I perceived someone else might respond to the specific situation. For example, Household Effects was triggered by a line in a short newspaper article. Blind Faith arose from an encounter with a young friend. Market Scene was based on a post card, and Motocycles Comiot on an art print. Hotel Room started out as a list of what I saw in front of me in an actual hotel room. Writing the Old Frogs Home grew out of a "prompt" at my weekly writers' group meeting. 

What is your general writing process?
I write best when I am disciplined and consistent, even if only for half an hour a day. I am freshest first thing in the morning, and in my ideal world I include that writing time in my morning ritual. Some of the poems in Watermarks had their genesis in the early morning writing time. I also set myself writing goals, both in terms of end-date and productivity. That way I am accountable to myself. I make the goals reasonable and achievable. Of course, life often intervenes and brings another agenda, but I did say "in my ideal world" and this schedule is what I work toward. I also find that when I write close to first thing in the morning I carry that orientation with me throughout the day, am likely to have an insight, receive another line of a poem, or see the solution to some structural problem I'm grappling with. It's all about openness, and daily writing helps me stay open to inspiration. 

Do the poems come full-formed or a bit at a time?
For me, a poem that arrived fully-formed would be like winning the lottery. Sometimes poems sit for months or years until the next piece falls into place. Sometimes I return to poems to find only a line or two that is salvageable, and these lines might be the genesis of a new poem. I like to think of my notebooks of partly-written poems as compost - they may grow into adult poems, or they may feed ideas for other poems. As a rule I do a lot of revising, and the juggling act involves knowing when to stop revising. Generally, when I'm so tired of the poem I think it's lost all its energy and I want to throw it out, I put it aside for a while to gain some perspective. I have a couple of trusted writer friends who read drafts of my poems and give feedback. My writers' group is often the first-response team to first drafts.

Photo gallery







 At the launch!

Photo above right is by Shelley Banks and photos below are by David Rosenbluth. Photos are of the Regina launch (Oct. 16, 2012, in partnership with Connaught Branch, Regina Public Library). For more details and photos, visit the Events page.
















The Watermarks Hawaiian launch was held Nov. 26, 2012, at the North Kohala Library, with participation by Laura's fellow Inkwells' members. All photos are by Elena Graham, except for the one of Randall Wappler, below right, which is by Laura Burkhart. For a description of the launch, visit the Events page.












Watermarks editor Michael Foley on the left and Watermarks cover image artist Julia Rooney on the right.

Photos below by Laura Burkhart: Refreshments with poetry excerpts.


























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