Peninsula Poetry: Poet Larry Eriksson has fun with language

Larry J. Eriksson is a writer and poet who splits his time between Madison and Ellison Bay with his wife, Karen. He’s a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP) and has been a featured reader in the Dickinson Poetry Series at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Door County several times since the series began in 2009.

When Eriksson was young, his mother – a lifelong reader herself – encouraged him to read by giving him books and taking him to the local library, and his father recited lines from poems he had memorized as a young man.

In high school, Eriksson enjoyed “The Bells” and “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and unusual poems such as those written by e.e. cummings.

As an engineering student in the 1960s, he began writing poetry – mostly modest efforts for his future wife, Karen. She gave him his first poetry book, One Hundred and One Famous Poems, which he still has.

During the 1990s, Eriksson returned to writing poetry more regularly.

His works preserve memories, clarify thoughts, explore feelings or simply have fun with language. They’ve appeared in numerous WFOP Poets’ Calendars and many other publications, and they’re available at

Eriksson holds three degrees in electrical engineering and is a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and the Society of Automotive Engineers, as well as a senior member of the IEEE. For 25 years, he was vice president of research at Nelson Industries, where he co-founded Digisonix and specialized in acoustics, signal processing and active noise control. 

Eriksson has written many technical papers, chapters in two engineering books, two books on sociopolitical issues, a book on the history of Digisonix, numerous poetry chapbooks and poetry collections, and several memoirs. He enjoys reading, walking, swimming and cycling. He and Karen have two adult children and five grandchildren.

1. What’s your writing routine?

I enjoy writing poetry and prose. My prose writing is for longer pieces and often early in the morning. I write poetry whenever the spirit moves me. I often have an idea and write down a few words whenever and wherever that might be. I later take the idea and expand it into a poem quickly, and then edit it repeatedly until I reach what I want.

Many of my poems have been written as I prepare for readings at the Dickinson Poetry Series, either during the open-mic session or as the featured reader. I publish some of these new poems in a chapbook. My latest poetry collection, String Theory and Other Selected Poems, along with other chapbooks, are available for no charge at my website.

2. What do most poorly written poems have in common? What do most well-written poems have in common?

I am not comfortable pretending to know what is a poorly written or well-written poem. Over the years, I have read many poems, and the variety of the writing is so great, I find it difficult to establish any firm rules. While the quality of the writing is an important part of any poem, there are many other aspects that are also important, such as the subject selection, the flow of ideas and the emotional impact. We all have our personal view of what we like best.

3. Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to “solve” it?

I try to write my poems so the reader will understand what I’m getting at, but it is often not apparent until the end of the poem, where I like to have an unexpected twist.

4. What book are you reading right now?

I read several books at the same time – often one novel and one nonfiction book. Now I am finishing Lincoln on the Verge, an excellent and timely book on Lincoln’s trip from Springfield, Illinois, by rail to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration; and Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (the pen name of J.K. Rowling), a fascinating mystery story and the fifth in her Cormoran Strike series.

Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry in 2015 and continues to meet.

Living with Richard Parker

Inspired by The Life of Pi and our changing climate

A boy and a tiger
named Richard Parker,
sharing a lifeboat
on the vast ocean,
looking for a way
to live together.

Reducing their needs
to a minimum
and depending on
each other as they
struggle to survive
on the endless sea.

Without the boat,
they both die;
without the boy,
the tiger starves;
without a companion,
the boy gives up.

Six billion people,
sharing our planet
with countless other
plants and animals,
need a new covenant
for the care of the Earth.

Waging war on nature,
wages war on ourselves –
bringing us closer
to the tipping point
of our little boat
on the sea of life.

The Sorcerer’s Broomsticks

A long line of steel
transmission towers
marching together
across fields of grain,
holding power lines
under outstretched arms.

Sorcerer’s broomsticks
moving megawatts
with no moving parts,
electric power
for distant cities –
engineers’ magic.

The End of Time

Soft morning light filters
into the quiet room,
a hot cup of coffee
steams in the chilly air,
the sweet sound of music
begins to fill the space.

Visions of the past mix
with thoughts of the future,
well-worn books line the shelves –
memories of times past,
familiar dreams persist –
unopened flower buds.

The past never returns,
the future never arrives,
past, present, and future
fused together into
an unending present,
bringing an end to time.

Special Collections in the Library Annex

The room of abandoned books,
     obscure novels and treatises
     that are too long, too boring,
     with too many ideas
     that demand too much
     from the reader.

The room of burned books,
     filled with the ashes of volumes
     that challenged religious beliefs
     or used unacceptable language,
     that sought to create change
     or threatened those in power.

The room of unfinished books,
     thick stacks of manuscripts,
     some with no beginning,
     others that go nowhere,
     some with missing chapters,
     still others with no ending.

The room of unwritten books
     by authors yet to be born,
     a room full of empty shelves
     awaiting news from the future,
     written with new words
     to describe a new world.