Toni Ortner’s Daybook III, Morning Is Long Since Gone infuses her inner life’s dreamscape, her singing tree with realities that scream over the land. Ortner’s surreal meditations in corridors persistent with memory evoke a world of redemption shattered in the ashes of hope. She writes in a minor key, for love, for life, with apocalyptic images that disturb and surprise. Listen, as Ortner’s waves rhythmically wash over us, like murmured prayers trapped in frozen rivers, crossing borders into a metaphysical disturbance in the field. She invokes: Is this what it means to grow old,


Whether she is writing prose poetry or crisp short poems, Toni Ortner’s work is dreamlike, crisp, and sensory. She knows that in one way or another “you spend your life telling stories to yourself”, and the stories she tells herself seize upon memory, experience, and language. Exploring loneliness, aging, and solitude, her work is compelling in existential ways.

Elayne Clift–Author/Poet of Around the World in Fifty Years: Travel Tales of a Not So Innocent Abroad by Braughler Books, 2019

A sense of foreboding

In ‘Daybook III, ‘ Toni Ortner leverages the power of brevity in fiction that feels all too real in our current reality

BRATTLEBORO-WHAT A perfect time for Toni Ortner’s book, Daybook III: Morning Is Long Since Gone, to come out!

This third “daybook” is comprised of a series of imaginings and musings – maybe dreams, maybe reveries, maybe memories – interspersed with 14 illustrations by Ortner’s collaborator, Linda Rubinstein.

A very short chapter might be prompted by world news of the past, present, future. Sometimes there is an exploration of personal insights based on these dreams or imaginings.

These short “set pieces” — the longest is three pages – are arranged by date, as in a journal from Feb. 2, 2019 to March 30, 2019. It was written pre-pandemic, but there is a sense of foreboding throughout. Doors are open, then – suddenly, mysteriously – they close. The narrator expresses a sense of claustrophobia, of being trapped.

Ortner has inserted herself into these scenarios, almost like a written version of contemporary photographer Cindy Sherman’s work, though in a decidedly-more-serious, less-ironic vein….

ORTNER’S RECOUNTING of dreamlike scenarios, many causing anxiety-provoking emotions, gains strength through her “just the facts” manner of telling.

A much-published long-time poet, Ortner knows the power of brevity. Her prose, while sometimes describing scenes that could be inspired by disturbing world situations, as in “Laos Seen From Above,” which imagines the writer being among those on the ground as U.S. bombs rain down on the country, is straightforward, yet not strident with message, as it so easily could have been in the hands of another writer.

Nevertheless the message is clear: While an act of imagination, the story is above all a plea for compassion….

At times I wanted to know if what I was reading was dreamed or imagined, or whether (and to what extent) a vignette was influenced by real-life events. Eventually, I came to go with the ambiguity, even appreciate it. It adds a note of intrigue.

There are shades of magic realism, too, as in “What If Time Were a Frozen River?”, which starts out talking about fat brown speckled trout and ends up with the narrator seeing slides of scenes from her life, floating, brushing up “against a frog, a turtle, a rock, and moss.”

Then, suddenly, the reader comes across a prose-poem asking existential questions, as in “It Is Definitely a Message”…

THE WRITING IS interspersed with illustrations, figures, and abstract designs by Linda Rubinstein of Dummerston.

Rubinstein’s paintings, usually done in watercolor, also seem like dream imagery: figures dance or tumble in midair, or they are bedecked in leaves or flowers. Many are minimalist, bordering on abstract, and playful. They are a lovely counterpoint to Ortner’s text.

This surprising and engaging book, published by Ardent Writer Press, is available at Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro and from

–Arlene Distler
Author /Poet of Voices Like Wind Chimes by The Finishing Line Press, 2014

To fold space around you like a cloak.

–Terry Hauptman,
Author/Poet of On Hearing Thunder, The Indwelling of Dissonance,
and The Tremulous Seasons, a triptych of poetry books from the North Star Press



The Daybook Series is inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf in which she said, “What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something… so elastic that it will embrace anything solemn, slight, or beautiful that comes to mind. I should like it to reflect the light of our life.

Daybooks I and II were published by Deerbrook Editions. The entries in the Daybook III Morning Is Long Since Gone are dated and contain what drew my attention like a magnet. It might be a conversation, a dream, climate change, the plight of refugees, a memory, a letter to the dead, or a vision of the future. I try to capture the spontaneous flow of the mind at play.

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