Barbara Nickel

A Poem for Beth


On Tuesday, Beth Nickel–musician, mother of three, wife, teacher, friend, sister, daughter, colleague, reader of poetry, the list goes on–died of complications after surgery for brain cancer diagnosed only at the beginning of January.

Reeling with all who knew her warmth and spirit and music, I did the only thing I could–write a poem.

I invite you in.

Yesterday we howled for grief 

                        Beth Nickel (d. February 2, 2021)

because she was so young and left
us gaping on a dark day into the truth
of her not here, the rift

of her viola in its case. Even her name–
one syllable–music. Say
it again, again. Unflappable as math,

desk partner playing
that impossible gig. She wouldn’t flinch.
They’re saying sweet, yes, but say

steel too. For every inch
of score, deep-throat notes, core,
she bent with pencil clinching

up-bow, down-bow, slur, fourth
finger here, more accent there, to stent
a field of sound into a hearth—

heart, earth, ear, her constant
calm. Send a text,
her reply is instant;

she will come and crouch to fix
the strings of a jangly, small
violin as if she’s kin and just next door.




Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been selected as a finalist for the 2023/2024 Chocolate Lily Book Award. 

Barbara’s poem “Three-in-One,” originally published in Grain Magazine, has recently appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2024  (Biblioasis) edited by Bardia Sinaee.

Check out Barbara’s 45-minute teaching video on Creating Believable Characters for the BC and Yukon Book Prizes’ In Class video library.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla was a finalist for the 2022 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been nominated for the 2023 Rocky Mountain Book Award (Alberta Young Readers Choice Award).

The Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards (MYRCA) has nominated Dear Peter, Dear Ulla as a 2023 Northern Lights (Grades 7-9) finalist!

Essential Tremor reviewed in The Vancouver Sun. Read full review here.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla is reviewed and “Highly Recommended” in CM (Canadian Review of Materials)! Read the full review here.

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