Early in 2008, when Noel Volk was diagnosed with multiple 
myeloma, a form of blood cancer, there was no anticipation of his death nine months later. However, in late March he was admitted to hospital, and was to remain there without break, with frequent 
periods of intensive care, until he died at the end of September.

Nothing could have prepared him or his wife for the experience that they shared.

Valerie wrote In Due Season, a collection of poetry sub-titled Poems of Love and Loss, as an expression of her feelings during the last year of her husband’s life. Writing became her coping strategy, a way of dealing with the experiences and emotions that the passing months brought. Its publication by Pantaenus Press was an unanticipated outcome.

The book of poems is both a chronicle of a year of great sorrow and great joy, and a recollection of Noel and Valerie's lives together. It is also a  tribute to a remarkable man, and the richness 
of the marriage that Noel and Valerie shared.

The poetry is varied in both form and mood, ranging from formal and measured sonnets and rhymed poems, to the more anguished raw emotion of the free-verse poems. Throughout, there is a personal tone which makes this poetry accessible to 
all readers.

"In this moving and personal account of death in the family there is a deep feeling not only of loss but also of lives lived and shared, so that it becomes universal in its outreach. The technical accomplishment in the writing contributes largely to the 
achievement; I particularly admired the villanelle. The set of sonnets gives a boundary to the anecdotal account of hospital visits, pushing these into a memorable expression. In the free verse the poet does not lose the sense of command over line-lengths and the assured cadence that typifies the collection as a whole. The book deserves to reach a wide readership." (Thomas Shapcott. Professor Emeritus of 
Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide)

"No matter our colour or creed, our intellect or status, grief will humble, level and unite us. Yet in our holding of the pain and the love in the same moment we have the potential to be 
transformed. Valerie Volk, in her poems of grief, offers a voice to the strange confusion that confronts each of us. It is her gift to us." - Judith Murray, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Queensland

Lecturers and counsellors in the grief and loss field believe that the feelings explored in these poems will be 
recognised by anyone who faces similar experiences.

Read more reviews and collapse each review by clicking on the title.

REVIEW: Southern Cross, NSW, May 2009.

Insight column, Southern Cross

“How could you manage to write this book during the year that he was dying?”

Even the people who didn’t ask me the question often looked it  - and I could understand why.

For most of 2008 my dearly-loved husband was in hospital. After a totally unexpected diagnosis of multiple myeloma (a form of blood cancer) in early January, he did not get the five to ten years of life that had been predicted. Instead, other problems put him in hospital from the end of March until his death on September 30.

Nine months. Six of them in hospital, in and out of intensive care until that ward became our second home. A year that now, twelve months later, I look back on with a sense of incredulity. A year that was both terrible, and yet wonderful.

It was a year of amazing and fulfilling closeness, in which we spent every day together, a gift that not all couples who face death have the privilege of experiencing. It was also a year of spiritual strengthening for all who knew him, as we watched the unfaltering certainty of his faith.

And it was the year in which I found – I was given – another way of coping with all that happened. Writing had always been important to me. Now in writing poetry there was a way of expressing all the anguish and the misery of this time, but also the unexpected flashes of joy, the enduring happiness of being together during these months, the comfort of small memories and recalled experiences.

After he died, I continued to write, and in times when feeling was unbearable I would find myself reaching for pen and paper, and deal with the pain by letting it flow into the words I was writing, the poems I was creating.

I had never planned or expected to publish this very personal record of the year, but a small publishing house in Adelaide, Pantaenus Press, convinced me that what I had written might be of value to others facing similar experiences, that it might offer them a way of articulating feelings they did not know how to put into words.

It seems to be so. I have had heart-warming letters, emails, phone calls from others who have walked, or are walking, down this same road. But the poems are not only poems of grief; they are also a celebration of love and life and gratitude to God. They are poems for anyone who has ever loved, and all who recognise that one day lovers must part.

Southern Cross NSW  (May 2009)

REVIEW: Bruce Dawe, July 2009.

Valerie Volk , In Due Season: Poems of love and loss, Pantaenus Press, 2009

How do we deal with the loss of a much-loved partner? How do we make our life bearable after such loss? And how, if possible, do we make our memory the dutiful servant returning the loved one in memorable forms accessible to others, and thus pay lasting tribute to the life shared for so long (and yet, of course, not long enough)?

Valerie Volk, in her very moving book, answers those questions admirably. As those who have lost dear ones know only too well, the answers can be not only the very means of the bereft one’s survival, as Valerie acknowledges in the Foreword to this collection, but also ‘a reminder to us all to cherish what we have’. Readers of In Due Season will be impressed by the extent to which Valerie has realised this intention.

In ‘Tenebrae’, the Maundy Thursday ceremony is for Valerie and Noel a foreshadowing of their own situation. In the washing of the feet, for example, the recipients, ‘Uneasy with this unfamiliar role’, are unsure whether they should watch the kneeling figure

‘or better to glance 

Heavenward, and pretend this is not happening‚’

The poet's comment sums up the situation: ‘I can relate to that’.

While this particular service is a momentous one for Christians, the poet's ironic comment here is one of many in these poems where the situation of those grieving, the lover and the belovéd nevertheless distance them from the customary (and natural) responses of others. In ‘A Kindness of Strangers’ the concerned enquiries of strangers at a time when all seem strangers, underline this aspect:

‘How are you? They all ask 

curiously, compassionately, wary. 

They handle me with care 

like a fragile parcel that might detonate 

and leave them with embarrassing scraps 

to be disposed of.’

Grieving is a time of often seemingly helpless self-consciousness. But, in these poems, Valerie deals with this complex experience most effectively. The poems are powerfully supplemented by the photographs (mostly her own) and shots of the University of Melbourne scene where Valerie and Noel first met.

Valerie traces the earlier stages of the lovers’ final journey in the ‘Travelling to Golgotha’ sonnets, where she seeks for comfort in the bleak context of Noel's hospitalization, and that new life‚ which is anything but... Dread and love accompany her as she drives to visit him, hold-ups for road-work sharpening her impatience:

‘stalled at intersections, we all sigh 

While roadwork monsters dominate the scene.  

Impatient fingers tap on wheel and screen 

As cranes thrust, probing blindly, to the sky.’

The rituals by which we live are necessarily re-aligned when those we love are subject to incapacity. Noel, a meticulous clock-winder at home, now passes on this duty to his wife:

‘”Ah well,” he wryly smiles and strokes my wrist,  

“Best that you wind the clock each night instead”.’

However, those later definitive funerary rituals are seen, in ‘After Death’, as leaving the one still living ‘besieged, awash in a sea of words’, while the pathos of ironing shirts ‘you’ll never wear’‚ reminds the poet of her mother’s ironing clothes ‘dampened in tradition’s way’.

One of the major strengths of Valerie Volk's book is the ease with which past and present merge with a natural sense of their inter-relatedness. ‘Noli me tangere’ deals with an occasion when, in hospital, he asks her not to touch him, and this request is linked to the later occasion of ‘Voli me tangere’ when, her husband gone, she reaches out across the empty space in the church pew, ‘Knowing, while I do, there’s no hand there.’

Whatever the particular mood in which various poems were written, the details of a loving relationship are firmly established. His regular hunting for the car keys, their mutual understanding (‘”Coffee?” one of us would say’), are among the hidden treasures concealed in the commonplace which confirm a loving long-term relationship (‘the little things that scarcely seem to count’) like their love of crosswords, echoed in the final lines of the Epilogue:

‘Yet when some days, no matter how I try 

I still can't find the answer, 

I simply hear again your words, my love, 

Tomorrow we'll see what it was.’

These present this love affair of just under 50 years as immediately and movingly accessible.

These moods are reflected in the various forms of verse adopted, so that we get the sense of a person working through such forms while not being constrained by them. Thus, we have several free verse poems as introduction, followed by a number of sonnets mostly employing Shakespearean or Petrarchan rhyme schemes, further free verse, and, in ‘But Commonplace‚’ rhyming quatrains and iambic pentameters which match the wry humour:

‘Now all this over. How I’ll miss it too... 

I'll choose my clothes - but where's the one who’ll say 

“I've always really like that skirt on you” 

When I had bought it only yesterday?’

In her Foreword Valerie says that the use of the sonnet form may have been ‘to impose some order and structure on what was a welter of chaotic emotions!’ That aim has been skilfully achieved and ‘A villanelle forbidding mourning’ further demonstrates the wisdom of this approach, the villanelle being one of the most difficult of all poetic forms.

Shakespeare's tribute to true love as ‘an ever-fixèd mark’ could have no better contemporary exemplar than that presented In Due Season by Valerie Volk.

Bruce Dawe (July 2009)

REVIEW: Zaphon, August, 2009.

The power of writing

Publication earlier this year of Valerie Volk’s collection of poetry, In Due Season, is a reminder to all writers of just how powerful the act of creation in words can be  - not only for the reader, but also for the writer.

The collection of poems is subtitled ‘Poems of love and loss’ – an accurate reflection of the book’s content. These poems were written between March and December, 2008, the year of the writer’s husband’s unexpected diagnosis of cancer in January, unfulfilled promise of five-ten years of future life, and death at the end of September.

It was, says Valerie, a year of turmoil and trauma, of inexpressible anguish but also of great joy. It was a year that she coped with by writing, and the act of creating these poems became not only an endurance strategy, but also a form of catharsis. The poems record, in a variety of forms, the entire experience, from dealing with the initial diagnosis, in Tenebrae, through the months of her husband’s hospitalisation and the aftermath period following his death.

Although many of the poems are grim, written in times of pain and grief, the book as a whole is a happy experience, because it is celebratory, at times even light-hearted and funny, as she writes with wry amusement of memories and experiences. It is a book of love, and records a happy fifty year relationship  -  it has been her tribute to a much loved man and a great marriage – even while it laughs at the small niggles that are part of any good relationship.

Since its publication, In Due Season has attracted huge support from the many organizations who are using it with clients – places like the Leukemia Foundation, Lifeline, the Cancer Council, palliative care bodies, university psychology and counselling departments, to name a few. Most heart-warming, says Valerie, are the phone calls, emails, letters she gets from people who have read her book. “You have put into words,” they tell her, “just what I was feeling but didn’t know how to say.”

This has made publishing it worthwhile, she says. “As a writer, I gained so much from expressing my own emotions. I have never before realised what a powerful tool writing can be. The fact that readers have responded as they have has been an additional gift to me.”

As poetry, the book has been reviewed in many places in glowing terms; as the record of an emotional journey and a year of living it has found a wide and responsive audience.

In Due Season is available from selected bookshops or from the author’s website for online ordering at  for $29.95 including postage and handling.

Zaphon (August, 2009)


In Due Season Poetry


There were roses blooming in the garden beds
outside your hospital windows
when we entered this place first in March.
Autumn flowers, full flush, glowing in the still-hot sun.
Then winter brought its sudden gusts
that swept the delicate petals to the ground. I grieved.
“They’ll come again,” you said.

We watched them prune the roses. Soon
only barren stems remained, thick-set, ugly.
The men seemed brutal, slashing last remaining flowers
which lay discarded as they worked.
I would have liked to go and gather them, but you said no.
“They’re almost finished. Let them be.”

That winter I began to fear.

Now spring has come once more.
Outside the window, first growth shows
the promise of renewal. Tender green of shoots
and the fresh red of tips where new life generates.
It hurts to see them there
because their promise is belied
by what we know in here.

Renewal fails.
Here there will be no blossoming in summer –
Next season’s roses will bloom unsurveyed.


All in the mind!

The experts write of grief as an emotion.
It’s true we toss the words around quite unaware.
Gut-wrenching … heart-ache … years on years
I’ve casually used these terms
oblivious of what they really mean.
No one had told me grief is physical.
A pain so real, an ache so absolute
that for a moment it is hard to breathe.
A constant sickness, with days passing
before you think to eat. You find yourself, abstracted,
finishing a meal that others put before you
but you have not tasted. A life on automatic,
while you manage pain.

Grief’s a street fighter – he doesn’t play by rules.
He sneaks behind you,
then socks you in the solar plexus when
your mind is otherwise engaged.
You’re watching for him in the ringside,
or you’re attending to the corner,
but there he is, vicious on the ropes behind you;
a winded victim, you can only gasp,
and double up in sudden anguish.

Grief’s good at that – the catching unawares.
You’re staring in shop windows innocently,
but there, quite unprepared, you see reflected in the glass
an older couple seated on the bus stop bench.
He puts his arm around her shoulder;
she leans towards him, as we used to do.
The spasm of pain is so acute
it makes a mockery of those who tell you
that grief is merely a phenomenon of mind.


But commonplace …

The morning ritual still starts each day.
Cocks crow, sun rises, paper lands,
A dull thud, then the van speeds on its way,
The world’s news waiting for our hands.

The bathroom’s always been our meeting place.
I still conduct our daily morning chat –
You never answered much in any case
But let me ramble on with this and that.

Always an amiable bicker at the shower …
‘Don’t put the fan on – makes the room too cold!’
So, irked, I’d watch steam thicken by the hour.
Oh yes, I sometimes did as I was told.

We’d talk about the day to come, swap notes
On what we planned, or seek advice.
Important, some, or trivial anecdotes,
In this togetherness, banalities suffice.

You’d watch me put on make-up, criticise,
I’d joke about your greying beard and hair,
You’d tell me that you loved my eyes,
Surround me with your tenderness and care.

The little things that scarcely seem to count,
The warp and weft of simple daily life,
But over years how they can grow and mount,
Cementing us together – man and wife.

Now all this over.  How I’ll miss it too …
I’ll choose my clothes – but where’s the one who’ll say
“I’ve always really liked that skirt on you”
When I had bought it only yesterday?


from In Due Season ... closing lines.

Seasons in the music come and go.
As I sit and listen, I feel
a quiet gratitude. To everything a time,
a purpose, whether it is clear or not.

The music stops. It’s over. Reluctantly,
with tender hands I put the CD in its proper place.
Vivaldi’s Seasons now have ended; yours also.
For others, somewhere, spring will come again –
yet, in due season, all we needed has been ours.