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Critical Acclaim


What the Critics Say About Fredrick Zydek














The Conception Abbey Poems

Copyright © 2011 (3rd edition)

by Fredrick Zydek

Winthrop Press ornate, even elegiac, style which counterpoints his subject...formal language and rhythm sustain its aloof seriousness and acceptance ...eloquent... — The Hudson Review

Fredrick Zydek...has a delicacy with words. He has lived and worked to master them, has uncovered their unavailable intricacies...he pleases by distinctive phrasing and by control of the language — Richard Eberhart, Annex 21

In the Abbey Poems, Zydek is able to discover, or at least, attempt to discover, his place in a place, the Abbey, and its place and power over him. It is, essentially, the study of a man interacting with what he understands is God, nature, himself, all the usual suspects, indeed. Zydek elevates the Abbey to his own Paterson — it is a place that he listens to, and wants and allows to listen to him. — Eric Hoffman, Nebraska Territory


Charles Taze Russell

Copyright © 2009

by Fredrick Zydek

Winthrop Press

The biography of an American original. Charles Taze Russell was founder of the Watchtower Bible and Track Society. Many religious groups, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, the International Bible Students Association, the Laymen's Home Missionary Movement, Dawn and other Bible student groups have formed around his teachings. &151; from the publisher.


Learning the Ways of Coyote

Copyright © 2010

by Fredrick Zydek

Rag and Bone Books

Learning the Ways of Coyote. is a fictionalized story of the last Quinault woman to live in the old ways and what it took to move her from her traditional home along Lake Quinault to government housing in the upper village. It is a story of tenacity that is rich with Northwest Indian lore and tradition, a story that endears us to Grandmother Redwing and her grandsons who are being mainstreamed into American culture. It is a novel of pathos and humor, a story of cultural conflicts and spiritual maturity. — from the publisher


Old Pinhead

Copyright © 2011

by Fredrick Zydek

Winthrop Books

This novel is s great reminder why we began and maintain community based programs for people with developmental disabilities. Institutions were often hell holes and prisons. This is Zydek’s best novel yet — a real insight into the way it was to be born with retardation in the past and an superb reminder and beacon for normalization in the lives of this population. — Christopher Thomas, author of On Plums and Dying

In his own story, the character Donald Walters - “Old Pinhead” - describes the trajectory of all human transformation: from love, to its disappointment, and back again. Realities collide as the residents of the small Washington town of Perkins Prairie confront issues of race, ability, sexuality and religion. This is a vision of rural America in the 1950s that foreshadows the social complexity of our own time and dares us to consider the “other” in our midst. This book will make you want to change your world., — Jason Ranek, author of The Crossing

Zydek's novel takes us back to the time in America when people with retardation were forced to live in state institutions. They were either warehoused or worked like slaves, depending upon their abilities. This is the story of how one young man planned and executed his escape over a five year period and the circumstances that finally lead him to a life that permits him freedoms and choices.

This is, without question, one of the best novels I've ever read. — Eric Hoffman

I was on the edge of my seat. It was like being at the movies. I could see it all. Well written. What my dad used to call "a real page turner." — William Fredricks

It's not only a good red — it's a book the helps us remember a time in our history to which we must never return. — Marjorie Steltz

I'm so glad I read Learning the Ways of Coyote first. Knowing the characters ahead of time made these new adventures all the more interesting. His characters grow as the story develops. Keep 'em coming. — Patrick Kemp


Storm Warning

Copyright © 1983

by Fredrick Zydek

Inchbird Press

Fredrick Zydek...innovative and sometimes startling revealing fundamental struggles to master the invisible and match the incredible in rich landscapes. — Laura M. Grover


Stumbling Through the Stars

Copyright © 2004

by Fredrick Zydek

Holmes House Publications

Contrary to its self-effacing title, this fine collection takes us on a graceful journey through realms of sun, star, moon, and planet — those elemental forces that have moved humans to ponder the meaning of the universe ever since we first stood upright and gazed at the night sky. We're fortunate that Fredrick Zydek decided to offer us his own meditations on these ancient symbols, for in his wise and poignant poems he manages the difficult feat of vividly portraying what he calls the "celestial stuff caught in the sacred act of dancing." It's a triumph that transports us, through the power of his language, to a wonderful place where "the magnificent defeats of life fizzle into nothingness. — Steven Blaski, author of Keep the Killer Asleep

Yes, in these compelling poems Fred Zydek does indeed go "stumbling through the stars / one moral maze at a time," but the celestial irony is that he does the stumbling with grace, imagination, and well-crafted control. And a further irony is that for him the stumbling seems more a blessing than a curse: "Some days I'm so full of the light-headedness / of doubt, I don't even trust the mirror/ in the hall. Why are questions so delicious?" Zydek's poems take him, and the reader with him, into the maw of a solar system that offers no pat or watered-down solutions. Those are for the complacent and the brain-dead catechized. "Pity the moon," he writes, "and all those things with answers. / Better to wade out into the stuff/ butt naked." Bravo and amen! — William Kloefkorn Nebraska State Poet

Zydek's title reminds me of Herrick's wish to "Knock at a star with my exalted head." It is a collection that might have been foreseen from his earlier books, with their emphasis on the visionary and spiritual values of everyday experience; it is also a collection that no one else could have written. From the tongue-in-cheek "Flapping the Sheets" to the sober lyricism of "Day Moon" and "Terra Firma," these poems show a mind measuring itself against the vastness of interstellar space. First and last, the poems are celebratory, and what they celebrate is life itself. — Roy Scheele, author of From the Ground Up

There are no better moon poets than Fed Zydek. Nor are there better mullers. Again and again he shows me in this collection that mulling is no porous art. No matter how small or large, even stones have songs. And I am delighted to believe him. — Don Welch, author of The Alley Poems

To buy Fred Zydek's Stumbling Through the Stars, send a check for $7.95 ($6.95 + $1.00 for postage & handling) to Holmes House Publication, 530 North 72nd Avenue, Omaha, Nebraska 68114.

There’s something disarming about Zydek’s poetry; it requires some attention to his unadorned, straightforward lines to realize how profound they really are. Most of Zydek’s poems are stylistically modest and accessible, though others (generally the best of them) feature startling metaphoric leaps and even passages of outright surrealism. Zydek’s is also the poetry of a man who would really like to know The Truth about the Cosmos but has a chastened, amused sense of our inability to do so. His poetry has always had a distinct spiritual cast, though the thought of DNA-programmed, carbon-based lumps of flesh trying to make contact with the Beyond strikes him as at once moving and comic. — Lance Wilcox


This Is Not a Prayer

Copyright © 2004

by Fredrick Zydek

Pudding House Publications

Fredrick Zydek is the author of five collections of poetry. He was raised and educated in the Pacific Northwest. After a four-year tour of duty with the United States Air Force, he returned to the Seattle area to attend Seattle University and the University of Washinton. Formerly a professor of creative writing and theology at the University of Nebraska and later at the College of Saint Mary, he is now a gentleman farmer when he isn't writing. He is the editor for the Lone Willow Press. — from the publisher

To buy a copy of This Is Not a Prayer, contact Pudding House Publications, 81 shadymere Lane, Columbus, OH 43213 (


T'Kopachuck: The Buckley Poems

Copyright © 2009

by Fredrick Zydek

Winthrop Press

It's a triumph that transpoorts us, through the power of language. — Steven Blaski, author of Keep the Killer Asleep

The poems in Fredrick Zydek's newest collection are an elegy for a lost world, a world richly brought to life in these sad, touching and delightful poems. Zydek's ghosts are real. He is our finest poet of memory. — Eric Hoffman, azuthor of Life at Braintree


Lights Along the Missouri

Copyright © 1979

by University of Nebraska Press


From the Introduction of Lights Along the Missouri

             Fred Zydek is a religious man who almost keeps a sense of religion out of his poetry, but it keeps coming through.  His secular nature presents screens of effort coping with the natural world and practical truth.  The light of religion sifts in from time to time despite his cryptic realism, the apt actualities of his verse.

            He has a delicacy with words.  He has lived and worked to master them, has uncovered their unavailable intricacies, has found out their possibilities as related to him.  His work is strong, present, real and good.  He is a pro-testant who long since got over protesting and as a philosopher can exhibit man sided truth.  It is indicative of his humanity that many of his poems are dedicated to friends.  The fact that he is generous in this way impresses the reader with the social nature of poetry.  Zydek is not a pious man in a cloister, nor is he a shouter in the street, but he is  thinking man of deep reactions to feelings, who has lived widely and fully.

            From “The Death of Plecostomus” with its humor, from his adroit villanelle “Coast Song” and “Last Words for Ralph: The Oldest Goldfish I know” to “The Death of a Jesuit” Mr. Zydek’s poems are informed by wit and re pleasurable by wit and charm.  In the days of Fem Lib it is eye-catching to read his “24th Meditation: Man to Man:, not vindictive or superior, but a poem of novel force and invention.  He pleases by distinctive phrasing and by control of the language, by dramatic timing and endings, and by the richness of what he has to say, which gives a sense of purity and mature style to his directness and to his subtleties.


- Richard Eberhart

Inner and Outer Weather: Coping With the Season


Copyright © 2009

by Fredrick Zydek

Winthrop Press

Recently one among us told the true story of a five-year-old boy and his father who went into a store bursting with Christmas decorations a week before Thanksgiving. The boy looked at all the holiday glitz in wide-eyed amazement and urgently asked his father: "Daddy, did we miss Thanksgiving?"

Such is the seasonal madness which faces us every December. 'Tis the season to be shopping. Did you read about the latest sales gambit - the children's gift registry at Toys "R" Us? I'm not much of a shopper. I hate to shop except for books and computer "stuff." I think it was Ernst Becker who said that shopping was a form of mental illness - or did he say suicide? I've forgotten.

I'm at the age when I am beginning to consider how to reduce the amount of "stuff" that clutters my life. I can't bear the thought of paring down my library, but I am trying to streamline my wardrobe, and hope for no new shirts or bathrobes or slippers for Christmas - please.

I have been too long concerned with ownership. A child of the Depression, I have something of an anal personality. But then I'm quite oral too. In any event, I don't want to be defined by the "stuff" in my life, but by the "stuff" inside of me. That's why I was taken with Fredrick Zydek's poem, "Praying for stuff."

"Sometimes I forget
to consider the lilies
of the field which neither
toil nor labor for their keep.

Part of me is always searching
for stuff instead of seeking
ways to improve the merchandise
of gratitude and prayer.

Some mornings, rather than fall
to my knees to give praise,
I scan the want ads for stuff.
Cheap stuff. Stuff for nothing.

Stuff enough to crowd out
the emptiness I know it brings.
Why can I never read a book
unless I know I own it?

It's the same with art, furniture,
and the sounds of electric pianos.
I have urges that want to walk
the corridors of divine mysteries

but spend my time gathering glitter.
Once I had a dream. I stepped before
the throne of God. He (sic) asked only
one question: "Did you become

who you were supposed to be?"
"I'm not sure," I told him (sic).
"But when I died, I had so much stuff,
it took three days to find me."

Yet, I like the Christmas season - in fact - I like seasons - the fascinating unpredictability of Western New York weather; we know that such uncertainty prepares us for real life. For, with all the discombobulating dangers of ice and cold and snow we know for sure that there will be random bursts of beauty as Mother Nature shows off in frosty signatures on window panes, glints of diamond sunshine through trees and billowing waves of white expanse across undulating fields.

We who choose to live in this clime talk a great deal about the weather, but we do nothing much about it except complain or hunker down in survival mode. In any case it demonstrates we are made of sterner stuff than our compatriots who think every day should be like Club Med. What a bore!

In literature there is the pathetic fallacy linking human emotions to nature, "the attribution of human feelings and characteristics to inanimate things - for example, the angry sea, a stubborn door."

I'm not sure what one calls the attribution of natural phenomena to human emotions, but I am convinced there is an outer weather and an inner weather in our lives and that their relationships is well worth exploring.

Carl Sandburg does this powerfully in his poem "Wilderness." He likens the many moods that mark our inner weather to animals whose ways are more of less familiar to us. There is a wolf and a fox and a hog in me - as well as a fish and a baboon, an eagle and a mockingbird. And if Sandburg had gone on I'm sure he could have mentioned the curiosity of the cat, the gentleness of the deer, the wisdom of the owl and the song of the sparrow and much, much more.

Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary defines weather as "The climate of an hour. A permanent topic of conversation among persons it does not interest, but who have inherited the tendency to chatter about it from naked arboreal ancestors whom it keenly concerned. The setting up of official bureaus and their maintenance in mendacity prove that even governments are accessible to suasion by the rude forefathers of the jungle."

The inner/outer weather distinction was one of the major poetic themes of Robert Frost. According to one student of the "poet laureate of New Hampshire," he "cultivated a certain air of outward arrogance toward others - a self-protective shell against those who thought him a failure or a lazy good-for-nothing.... He could close the doors and windows against them and against rough outer weather, and retreat into his inner life. But at night all those things would get past his guard and sometimes turn his dreams into nightmares."

In "Tree at My Window" he wrote,

"But, tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost."

In "Lodged" he identified with nature:

"The rain to the wind said
'You push and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay Lodged - though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt."

Frost had a sense that while we could not control the outer weather of our lives - the natural elements, people and events, we could do much more with our inner weather - the way we react to things - how we feel about them.

And so he wrote, "You're always believing ahead of your evidence.... The most creative thing in us is to believe a thing in, in love, in all else. You believe yourself into existence. You believe your marriage into existence, you believe in each other, you believe that it's worth while going on."

And so in spring he could write, in words set to music in our hymnal,

"O give us pleasure in the flowers today,
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest."

And who can forget his little paean of praise for ultimately benign winter weather in "Stopping in Woods in a Snowy Evening."

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

There is some mystical equation between outer weather - that objective environment in which we find ourselves - and inner weather - that subjective realm where we sense the meaning of our place in the great scheme of things. Weather is an apt metaphor for the working of the human spirit.

I love the northeast because of its weather. And while winter may seem a dead time, nature as we know is far from dead, it is merely sleeping. The "bleak midwinter" is a time, not to fold up our tents in a kind of religious hibernation until warm winds blow away our spiritual sloth.

It is a time of relative stillness, silence, solitude, in which we are admonished to slow down - not to count daisies - but snowflakes. It is a time to reassess priorities, to make plans, to rejuvenate ourselves for the work of the world.

The trees and shrubs, now devoid of their leafy cover, reveal intricate and strong shapes, new visions of beauty, new vistas of natural architecture. The stark shape of the trees reveals an angularity that must be called beautiful. Stripped of their green cover, we sense anew their strength.

The new view of winter with its outer weather is but a metaphor for our inner weather - what might be - what should be - happening within.

Events of our outer weather may fly about us willy-nilly, in random and reckless fashion, but an inner calmness of the spirit, and inward tranquillity of the soul, gives us the power to endure - even to enjoy what fate flings at us in its caprice.

Friday of this week I attended an early morning meeting of a citizens group determined to reduce violence in our community. There was an African-American woman who strikingly illustrated the way our inner weather can see us through very turbulent outer weather. She was raised in a poor city household and seemed destined to go the way of many of her peers, she said - early pregnancy, scattered schooling and a life on welfare. But her mother took her to the Threshold program for youth which helped her find self-esteem and self-confidence.

Now she is a nurse who visits homes much like her own - to help teen-agers survive and flourish in tough times. I was struck by her strong inner calmness and yet fierce determination to make a difference in our sometimes violent urban environment.

And so, with apologies to Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg, I leave you with my own poem on inner weather - giving thanks that we are such wondrously complex beings as to have any - and with the fervent hope we explore it as tenaciously as our 11 o'clock weather forecasters explore the outer weather in this turning time of the year.

There is a volcano in me ... explosions that may reach the surface ... or may not, depending on my mood ... explosions of rage at what seems wrong ... unjust ... unfair ... or spilling molten hot lava sometimes at life's frustrations ... exploding just for the hell of it when life is too much with me ... explosions, too, of joy - when life seems so rich and good I want it to last forever ... explosions of the ecstasy of existence ... sheer unadorned, but beautiful existence.

There is a storm in me at times - a wild and uncontrollable wind that takes all in its wake - how good it comes so seldom. I doubt I could live with a storm a day - that would be too much. But a storm can clean out the system - can cleanse and purify much of the heavy, humid air in me - can strip the unessential from my being and remind me I am - after all - alive.

There is a warm front in me too ... when life is tender touching and the hair on my head stands on end and my skin prickles ... that delightful prickling that tells me - as if I didn't know - that I am deeply moved. It is a warm front that dispels those nasty whirlwinds of cold that come from time to time.

There is a blizzard in me - a cold sweep of doubt and despair that obscures everything on my inward landscape. It comes howling down the west wind of winter and out of the depression that sometimes centers itself in me. Digging out is hard work, but the satisfaction lingers.

There is a monsoon in me - rain that covers my inner ground and soaks deep into the roots - if it does not first run off my unsuspecting mind. It is water that I need for there are so many thirsty times - so many thirsty times.

There is spring in me - sprouts of feeling and blossoms of thought seem to be bursting out all over and my slackened pace picks up...

And there is summer in me - long leisurely thoughtful days when life is good and one day follows another in perfect procession....

And there is autumn in me - the brisk air and the spangled leaves showing off the beauty in my life - at the same time reminding me the days are not endless....

And there is winter in me - the cold prompting me to drink in the warmth of community and nestle by the fireside of fancy, myth and legend.... the snow covering my terrain with an even sheen while at once protecting what needs to grow in me.

O, I have weather in me - inner weather - systems so complex there's not a weather man or woman who can finally figure it out - least of all myself. And I have something else - it is a sense that this inner terrain is endlessly fascinating - constantly changing - rich in risk and adventure - cold in danger and foreboding - and this complexity - more complex perhaps than the weather that beats at my window - this complexity is the ultimate mystery.

To probe it and penetrate it is the most inviting work in the world. I am more than an observer of this weather - intriguing as it is to wonder at. I am the manager of this weather system - a manager with limited power - to be sure - but manager nonetheless. I come from the weather. I am the weather.

And the point of it all - Ah, yes - it must all have a point. If this poetic meandering has a point, it is this: in the midst of the outer weather, with its storms and stresses, we live in a different weather system which gives us balance - which is as Robert Frost put it, "our stay against confusion."

And the forecast..... There will be a 100% chance that tomorrow will be different from today - and more than a 50/50 chance that it will be better - if I will and work to make it so.

Richard Gilbert
December 7, 1997


Talk About It


Episode: Walking the Edge of the Ancient Sea, With Poet Fred Zydek
Original air date: Thursday, August 18, 2011

Episode Description:
Dr. Tom's guest this week is Fredrick Zydek, Nebraska poet, educator and theologian. Fred has published 10 volumes of poetry, two novels and the celebrated biography of Charles Taze Russell, as well as numerous articles, essays and poems in more than 300 magazines and journals. He holds an MFA from the University of Washington and a masters of divinity from Seattle University. Until retirement he taught theology at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, where he occupied the Archbishop Bergan Chair for Lectures. Zydek makes his home in Omaha, where he continues to write full time. His new collection of poetry, At the Edge of the Ancient Inland Sea: The Nebraska Poems, is forthcoming from Backwaters Press. He and his partner have been designated the 2012 Couple of the Year by the Governor of Nebraska. A year ago he left Unity for the United Methodist Church. This will be a wide-ranging, far-reaching discussion about poetry, politics and theological possibilities.

Listen to the Interview