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  • Tara Crutchfield

Secret Poet Nicole Nikdel

Plutarch said, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” Nicole Nikdel speaks volumes through themes of grief and growth, time and transition, with a visual aspect that paints the finishing touches onto her words. Her Instagram handle, @extroverted_introspection, is an ode to the beautiful contradiction that is Nicole Nikdel. She’s as highly extroverted as they come, but said, “I do find myself trying to stay grounded, and very insightful, thoughtful and self-aware.” In middle school, she was in an exploratory class that had her take right brain/left brain tests. Hers was always dead even – analytical and creative. She’s a spreadsheet whiz with a creative spirit. We love her for it. You probably do, too, if you’ve been reading her poetry in our magazine over the last year. 


Nikdel grew up in Orlando, where she lived until college. She attended the University of Florida, earning an Industrial and Systems Engineering degree. Winter Haven became home to Haven’s secret poet 11 years ago. 


When she isn’t the Organizer of Destruction for Destroyer Media, Nikdel is working on her small craft business, you crazy child, which she started as a creative outlet during the pandemic. The name comes from a lyric in the song “Vienna” by her favorite musician, Billy Joel. The song, about not moving too fast through life, resonated with Nikdel. “And I also have a crazy child,” she said of her seven-year-old son Tucker. “So it was very fitting.” The clock on her you crazy child logo shows the time Tucker was born. 


MELDING MUSICAL EXPRESSION  


In her middle school Gifted English class, with teacher Mrs. Yenisch, Nikdel first dove into her poetic well. “It was those lessons that really stuck with me and made me fall in love with it,” she said. A music lover and musically inclined, Nikdel started piano at age five and played bassoon throughout middle and high school. She grew up jamming out to whatever her dad flicked onto the car radio. Plenty of 50s, 60s, and 70s – though she’s an 80s fanatic. Another of her favorite artists are Simon and Garfunkel. “We learned in her class how lyrical and poetic a lot of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs are,” she said. The students poured over their lyrics on paper. “It is such true poetry,” Nikdel said. “That was definitely a big part of it – melding that musical expression. [...] Poetry was my way of getting that thought process out in a form I enjoyed.”


So much did poetry call to Nikdel that she began writing outside of the classroom and even submitted her work to contests and books. “I loved it. I would just jot in little notebooks everywhere, all the time.” She was an early fan of lyrics, poetry, and stories. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe are two of her favorite works. She particularly enjoys the intensity and introspection in his work. 


Some of the scrawlings in those ‘little notebooks’ surely dealt with boys and BFFs, but it was deeper topics that she often drifted to. “I had three significant deaths that occurred in my life between seventh and eighth grade. A lot of my poetry was about life and learning, and some of that darkness – how life can be fleeting.” Those losses ranged from a school friend to her best friend’s 50-year-old mother and her own grandmother. The scope of that sadness impacted her writing. It became an exercise in expression and processing for the pre-teen. “It was a way to get those feelings out without feeling like I was draining on friends and family.”


Since high school, her writing has ebbed and flowed. “I’ve led objectively a really good life,” she reflected. “I was raised in a great family and had a good upbringing and don’t have a lot of complaints. But I’ve found that most of my writings have come from times in my life when I’m in down periods. I find that when I’m happy, I don’t need to express it, and I find that when I’m sad, I do more.” Her life is now in a period of flux, and she’s again returned to pen and paper. “That’s me being a high-happy-extrovert person, finding an outlet for my sadness and my emotions.”


A PUBLISHED POET  


Nikdel doesn’t readily share this part of herself with others, and she was nervous about having her words published. “I don’t even know if my parents would know I’m this big into poetry,” she said. She’d begun writing again and took note of Haven’s first secret poet, Austin Tharp. “I loved that he could do it anonymously, and it gave me the courage to do it myself.” Now felt like the right time to reveal herself as the secret poet. “I’m in a period of transition and regrowth and grounding myself in a lot of ways,” she said. 


For Nikdel’s published poetry, she prefers to focus on the events and ethos of her life. In January, she wrote about new beginnings and last month she wrote “birthday” because her birthday is on Earth Day. “I’ve always been a little hippie at heart,” she said. If not prompted by the time itself, her son Tucker is often her muse. “He is a little spitball of fun and light and intelligence. He’s just my whole world.”  

She discussed a poem she wrote for Tucker entitled “roller coaster.”

 

Through your eyes 

Fresh new and curious 

I watch your spirit as it flies 

 

With curiosity and amazement you move 

Each day anew 

Nothing yet to prove 

 

You’re now on life’s roster 

Up and onward you go 

A sense of wonder it will foster 

 

My hope for you is this 

A life worth living 

One full of pure bliss 

 

When trouble does arise 

Struggle in the journey 

But reach for clear skies 

 

Journey on, little one 

Go forth with no fear 

The ride has only just begun

 

It’s one of her favorite poems. Her life is mid-metamorphosis, and so is his. “I was trying to look at the bright side and think through him, how he’s going to see the world. A lot of my focus has shifted to him. I’ve spent the last several years going to therapy and learning who I am and why I am the way I am, and that’s helped me want to get back into writing.”


The secret poet finds inspiration online as well. “Given this time in life and all the things that are going on in the world, I’ve been trying to avoid the doom scroll as everyone collectively does. […] Part of that was trying to find accounts and people that I find inspiring for one reason or another. I’ve been trying to follow more makers and artists on Instagram.” One such artist is Morgan Harper Nichols


(@morganharpernichols). Nikdel appreciates the daily joy and encouragement she gets from Nichols’ vignettes, poems, affirmations, and artwork. “Every day, she sends out more to the poem or the reason behind it, or she’ll describe why she made it,” Nikdel said. “I get those every morning, and I can’t tell you how many of those I’ve saved in my phone that relate to various things in my life.”


The presentation, too, has been a fun, creative piece to her poetic puzzle. “I’ve tried to find things in nature or life that have reflected what I’m feeling in my poem without giving too much away.” Her poem ‘coolest’ about the city she loves is photographed in a bed of bright yellow peanut flowers that grow in the city’s rain gardens along Avenue A. Her work ‘cadence.’, an introspection on time, lies beneath the hour and minute hands of the clock at her house, and ‘radiance’ is only right to be before the lovely “Lady on the Wall” mural. Her poem, ‘lost,’ is printed on a map between where she’s been and where she is now. This artistic approach to presenting her poetry has become central to her process. 


YOU’RE NOT ALONE


Nikdel had advice for other poets looking to get started or share their work. “I think back to how many stanzas there are, should I be writing in a certain form, should it be a limerick, should I follow as a sonnet…No. I learned all that, which helped me figure out the style I like to write in. I prefer that spoken from the heart – no true rhyme or reason [poetry]. […] I think that eludes more to the emotion behind it and how I’m feeling about it,” she said. “Just do what feels right for you. Especially if you’re doing it for yourself, there is no right or wrong. If it feels good, it is good. If it makes you happy, who is anyone else to judge you for it?”


Asked what she hopes readers glean from her poetry, Nikdel said, “Much like music and poems have done for me, I hope somebody can find something in it that makes them feel good or feel like they’re not alone for feeling those feelings. It’s big to feel validated. People just want to be heard and know they’re not alone.”


Photograph by Amy Sexson

 

IG @extroverted_introspection

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