A meeting of hearts and minds: Peter Buckland, J. Harlan Ritchey and Heartwood


Standing among ruins in the Scotia Barrens, author Peter Buckland holds his recent book of poetry, Heartwood, while illustrator J. Harlan Ritchey displays a piece commissioned for the book. The location has served as inspiration to both.

story by J. Harlan Ritchey

One of the most enjoyable things about getting into art is all the people you meet. Some may become your friends. Or your teachers. Or even clients! It’s rare for a person to be all three, but that’s what this story is about—that and the artwork that was the result.

I first met Peter Buckland in middle school, 25 years ago. We quickly became friends, partly over a shared interest in art. Over the years, our paths have diverged, meandered, and crossed again multiple times. We’ve collaborated on everything from comics to tattoos to album art for Peter’s bands.

But when Peter told me he had some ideas for a book he wanted me to illustrate, it was clear that this project would be the most ambitious yet. Already an established author, he began emphasizing poetry in 2013–14, writing over 100 poems during that time to (in his words) “observe… who and how [he] was in the world and the world was in itself… and put those reflections into evocative poems.”

It was good timing: after years of dithering with various themes, I had recently “found my own voice” in realist landscape, building a solid portfolio of about twenty pieces. I offered Peter his choice of illustrations—whichever ones he felt best matched the poems. For months, we juggled work, family, and other art projects with book development. Eventually he had a rough draft: a little chapbook with the working title Heartwood, whose margins we filled with notes during our meetings.

peter buckland grinning

Buckland in Scotia, one of the many landscapes evoked by his poems

Then, the big breakthrough: Peter approached Penny Eifrig of Eifrig Publishing, in Lemont, PA, to ask if she would be interested in printing Heartwood. She gave an enthusiastic “yes,” adding that Heartwood—many of whose poems deal with empowerment, sustainability, and community—was a perfect match for the values of Mt. Nittany Press (an imprint of Eifrig). After a few more rounds of negotiation and editing, Peter was able to hand me an actual copy of Heartwood last October, with an official publication date of January 2016.

Having a project come to fruition is always satisfying, especially when you’ve been working for years. Like any undertaking, you know the effort, the risks, and the sacrifice. But there’s no comparison to reaping the rewards with a good friend, and if Peter and I can do it, so can you and yours. I know we both look forward to working together again.

For information on Heartwood including how to purchase, visit www.eifrigpublishing.com/non-fiction/heartwood.html

For Peter’s work, including poetry, essays, and fiction, visit https://peterisintheforest.wordpress.com/

To see Harlan’s illustrations from Heartwood (and others), visit www.jharlanart.com.