Guitar Without Strings

by Larina Warnock

$15 US
Chapbook - 19 poems & proseChapbooks.html

Table of Contents


The Listening

Even Grown Ups Have Heroes

Where the Truth Hides


Things My Father Gave Me



Solitaire is an Angry Game

Inmate Mail


Life Cycle

No Remission


This Poem Has No Ending

Elegy for a Bipolar Fisherman



Broken String

About the author:

Larina Warnock is an award-winning author/poet who lives in Corvallis, Oregon with her husband and four children.  Her work has appeared in such venues as The Oregonian, Poet’s Market 2011, Space & Time Magazine, Today’s Caregiver, PEMMICAN, Thresholds, Touch: The Journal of Healing, and many others.  She has been a presenter at conferences such as PRESS: a cross-cultural literary conference and the Northwest Poet’s Concord, has served as the site administrator for the Academy of American Poets’ online discussion forum, and as reviews coordinator for CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women.  Currently, she also serves as the president of Writers on the River and as editor of The Externalist: A Journal of Perspectives, both of which she cofounded.  A believer in civic service, Larina is an appointed member of the Committee on Citizen Involvement for the City of Corvallis, a graduate of Leadership Corvallis, and a member of Corvallis Kiwanis Club Sunrisers.

While Guitar Without Strings is a deeply personal chapbook, Larina maintains that literature is about change—change of thought, change of perspective, and ultimately, change of culture.  She believes that there are multiple truths to every circumstance and advocates for inclusion of the truths that are often underrepresented in education, community development, and disability rights.  She is currently a student at Saint Xavier University’s graduate program in curriculum and instruction.  In writing, she is focusing on the completion of her first novel, Keeper’s Calling.

From the author:

The will to survive is inextricably entwined with the people who love us and how well we love them in return.

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From the publisher:

To read this collection is to walk in the shoes of a poet who has worked sincerely to understand the personality, the life, and the decisions made by her father.  More than just personal reflection, this body of work speaks with insight from the perspective of someone who has devoted her life to helping others even when the support of those closest to her wasn't entirely there.  It is all the more remarkable, then, to read such powerfully candid and open writing that somehow is in the same moment as reflective as it is expressive.

Over the past few years, through numerous conversations, I have come to know more about Larina and her life beyond the writing.  Larina has spoken and written about, and fought for, the rights of children, the struggles of women, the needs of the underrepresented, the inequities of Native Americans, the challenges (whether physical or mental) faced by the handicapable, the prejudices struggled against by peoples of color, the discriminations suffered by peoples of faith, and the societal pressures born by all peoples in need, and she has done this selflessly because she believes it is the right thing to do.

Her gifts to the poetry community at large are numerous, but even more are her gifts of self to the community she lives in, the broad spectrum of communities inhabited by the disenfranchised, and each of the many people she has assisted with their own unique challenges.  It is completely understandable for anyone who doesn't know Larina Warnock to ask why anyone would go to such lengths for strangers.  It is my hope that after reading this collection of poems and prose you will have your answer.

Though several of the pieces were written during the time they occurred, the majority were written after her father, Kurt, had died.  During his life, Kurt suffered from bouts of depression and alcoholic breaks.  When his alcoholism and depression got to the point his family couldn't handle him any more, they sent him to live with Larina in Idaho.  When Larina moved with her family to Oregon, she asked Kurt to come with them, but he refused.  After she moved away, Kurt went into a severe depression and his alcoholism peaked to the point where he wouldn't leave the house.

After he spent time in jail for a DUI, Larina brought him to live with her in 2007 where he stayed with her family for most of the next three years.  He tried to live on his own a few times, but was evicted from several apartments, each time moving back in with Larina.  In June of 2009, just after moving again to his own apartment, Kurt took Larina to her first reunion with his family.  On his way home from the reunion, he became ill and was soon diagnosed with lung cancer.  Larina believes Kurt wouldn't have told her of his cancer if he didn't have to, and he kept it from her until after the 4th of July because he didn't want to ruin their holiday.  Because he was unable to break the news to Larina himself, Kurt told Larina's husband, Mark, and then asked Mark to break the news to her.  He died three months later.

I remember as I was writing these poems, I needed to explain our relationship to myself.  I realized I couldn't do that without really looking at how our relationship had grown and changed over time.  When he was struggling with alcoholism, I knew he wouldn't change, and I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?"  I had to explain my grief to myself, and this was the way that I did it.  [The work] came out much stronger than I had anticipated or intended.  There was a lot of documenting the relationship and how the relationship had impacted me.

I have always known without a shadow of a doubt that my father had a tremendous impact on me.  There was this sense of unconditional love.  He would give anything up for me except the booze.  The last three months [of his life] made me realize that it was as much a part of him as his hair color.  I never held back in telling my dad what I thought, what I felt.  I always tried to make him know that our relationship was important to me because it was important to him.  What I felt was that I wish I had explained this to myself a long time ago so that it would have made some of those things not as hard as they were.

Whether you read poetry for personal pleasure or perhaps you are a poet yourself, after reading this chapbook cover to cover you will been taken on a journey into the lightness and darkness of love.  And through the gift of the author's openness, we are given a chance to reflect on our own personal relationships and perhaps with the same honest clarity come to our own deeper answers.  When form and meaning come together in poetry, in the genius of a six-stringed prose piece or in the carefully crafted tones of each line, the timbre of the instrument that is the author's voice is something that inspires the heart to listen even more deeply to the moments of life.

To those of you who know Larina, whether as a family member or friend, a mentor or someone she has helped to grow, note the respect with which she has treated the subject of this body of work, her father and her relationship with him.  There is no judgment here, nor are there accusations or blame, simply, there is a search for understanding.  A search shared in vulnerability that I hope will resonate in the hearts of all who read.

O.P.W. Fredericks, Editor

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From the critics:

Larina Warnock’s Guitar Without Strings is a startling and refreshing piece of work.  It’s simultaneously an elegy for her father, the story of their relationship, and an honoring of its readers.

The author’s voice is that of daughter, poet, and citizen.  She expresses much grief and frustration: her father, a talented and passionate guitarist, was bipolar and alcoholic.  He was in and out of her life repeatedly during her childhood and adolescence.  During his last ten years, Warnock cared for him in her home, along with her own four children.  She tells her story without a trace of self pity.  It holds my interest all the way through.

The pivotal image, a guitar without strings, is mentioned only once near the very end.  But it’s a background image throughout.  It refers to the father’s life, the father-daughter relationship, and her wish to make that relationship whole.  Her father states, “Even a guitar without strings can be beautiful,” and demonstrates how, on his guitar.  This conveys faith that something can be made out of nothing.  Believe in your dreams and follow them is what she learns.  But as we see throughout, he was broken, stubborn, often unable to function, and Warnock felt she had to pick up the pieces from an early age.

The work is structured by six pieces of narrative, each followed by several poems.  Each bit of narration is prefaced with an alphabetical letter that corresponds with one of the six strings on a guitar.  So we see Warnock can be stubborn too, and to advantage.  A guitar without strings?  She’ll show us strings.  In the first section, “E,” we see her purchasing a guitar so that she can learn to play.  She also needs the guitar to help her remember childhood and adolescent memories, and thus move through her grief.

The narration provides both pertinent background and a window into the author’s present.  We receive enough information but not too much.  She speaks in a tone that comes close to inviting the listener/reader into conversation.  Only once, briefly, in the first paragraph of “A,” does she slide off into unnecessary detail, flatly stated.

Regarding the poems: I could quote one sharply honed, poignant, pitiless, merciful passage after another, but wouldn’t know where to start.  I highly recommend reading Guitar Without Strings and look forward to future work from this relatively young poet.

Marjorie Power, author of Birds on Discovery Island, Main Street Rag Publishing Company; Faith in the Color Turquoise, Pudding House Publications; Cave Poems and The Complete Tishku, Lone Willow Press.

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Larina Warnock’s collection, Guitar Without Strings, plays on “the invisible strings between people…strings that are tuned / and retuned somewhere between ‘I’m sorry’ / and ‘I love you’” as Warnock says in the final poem. This collection poignantly elegizes the poet’s father in the tradition of Heaney, Auden, and countless others who have immortalized their loved ones for the benefit of future generations of readers and mourners.

Shaindel Beers, author of A Brief History of Time

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Reviewing Guitar Without Strings is a daunting task that I could not complete the first time I read it, and not because I was insanely busy, which is true, or at least not totally for that reason. The real reason, which I feel even now as I write this, is that what do you say about a work in which every word is the right word, in the right order? A work so effortlessly, devastatingly musical? For example, the very first line: "Nylon strings have a softer sound," the salesman tells me." Obviously alliterative, but notice the inner structure: the "st" and "sa" make sharper sounds on the outside, containing a soft core of "so" sounds. By sound, it creates meaning. And that's just the very first line.

Having announced that it means business, the technical accomplishment of the work does not flag. Consider metaphors like "everyone else flowered me with Barbie dolls," or "I become a malignant mass eagerly eating every moment that looks like a cure," or "I woke up empty and orphaned, a bundle of tangled blankets at a stranger's door." Again, the right metaphor or image at the right time. Warnock's excellence consists in this: finding your weakness and striking it unerringly.

The narrative of the work concerns a girl's relationship with her father, and the music that allows them to relate to each other, specifically guitar playing and guitar strings. True to form, what could have been sentimental or simply depressing in the hands of a less skilled poet becomes the best kind of disturbing, the kind that really hits your emotions, rather than tells you "Emote here". For example, these lines, already partly quoted, from the astonishing poem "The Listening".

When everyone else flowered

me with Barbie dolls and pink lace

that looked more like drapes than dresses,

you brought me Lincoln Logs and Legos.

I built towns that sprawled across my

bedroom floor.  I named my buildings after you.

In the final sentence Warnock communicates an entire complex of emotion in six words.

Guitar Without Strings is work that I want to stop talking about and read again, and you will find yourself wanting the same, when people ask you if that book by Larina Warnock is any good. It is. It is very, very good

Gary Charles Wilkens is the author of The Red Light Was My Mind, published in 2007 by the Texas Review Press. His poems have appeared in the anthology I Was Indian (before being Indian was cool) from FootHills Publishing, 2009, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume II: Mississippi, The Texas Review Press, 2010, as well as numerous journals, including Adirondack Review, The Cortland Review, The Prague Revue, and MiPOesias. He is the co-founder and poetry editor for The Externalist, and currently Assistant Professor of English at West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery, West Virginia. His website is

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