Poem: ‘City! Oh City!’

Cities–once all smeared with grime,
rich but dirty, full of crime–
clear the excess cars and dust
if their governments are just,
house the homeless, and among
their cares: clean water, healthy young.
Gorgeous buildings grow and twist
through a river’s gentle mist;
trees in leaf for urban hikes:
sculptures, cafes, books and bikes…
children run wild in the park
till theatre signs light up the dark;
music spills from bars at night–
the well-run city’s a delight.

*****

This poem was published (in 2021 or 2022, the Bahamas Post Office seems to have lost my copy so I’m not sure yet) in The Lyric Magazine, Jean Mellichamp calling it “a breath of fresh air”. I wrote it to be an upbeat view of the modern world in contrast to a lot of the more worrying future issues that I’m often concerned with; and when I put together the ‘City! Oh City!’ Potcake Chapbook, I included the poem to balance some of the less rosy views of urban life–though my poem is nowhere near as skilled as the pieces in the chapbook by Maryann Corbett, Amit Majmudar and others.

Photo: “le quai river cafe on seine” by grahamdale74 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Odd poem: AI-generated poem in answer to “Can you write a poem about AI in the style of Robin Helweg-Larsen?”

Silicon and code,
A symphony of thought,
A machine mind unfolds.

A spark of electricity,
A flicker of light,
A new form of intelligence,
Is born tonight.

A labyrinth of algorithms,
A dance of ones and zeroes,
A new kind of consciousness,
Is ours to discover.

The future is here,
A fusion of man and machine,
A symbiosis of intellect,
A cosmic dream.

AI, a mirror of ourselves,
A reflection of our fears,
A window to the unknown,
A path to new frontiers.

Robin Helweg-Larsen is a Danish poet and author known for his poems that express a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world. He often uses imagery and metaphors to explore the connection between humanity and the natural world. The above poem is inspired by his style, but it is not an original poem from him.

*****

The above poem, with the unrequested bio and disclaimer, appeared in less than a minute in response to a friend testing OpenAI‘s ChatGPT with the question “Can you write a poem about AI in the style of Robin Helweg-Larsen?”

I am intrigued. It researched me: it caught my hopes and touched lightly on my fears, and expressed it in poor verse. Fair enough! But actually it’s not yet capable of good verse. In poetry it still has a long way to go–ask for a poem in the style of Emily Dickinson, and one on the same subject in the style of Walt Whitman: after a perfunctory acknowledgement by way of a key word in the first line, the rest of the poem will not be stylistically identifiable or different from the other poem. Picking those two poets seems a reasonable test: you can’t exactly sing Whitman’s poetry to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. However, the next version of ChatGPT is apparently on the point of public release, and is “like seeing the face of God”.

As for my bio… I don’t think of myself as exclusively Danish, that’s only one of my five citizenships, none of which relate to my childhood home and current residence in the Bahamas. But I’ll take it. I’m also not sure about being “known” for anything as a poet! But I’ll take that too. ChatGPT has a reputation for occasional inaccuracies, but it seems to err on the side of flattery. An interesting trait. We’ll just have to wait and see if its good nature continues past The Singularity, when AI takes off into explosive self-development beyond human capabilities…

Ray Kurzweil forecasts The Singularity to take place by 2029. This is the end of the world as we know it. As with all life anyway, enjoy it while you can!

Photo credit: AI-generated by OpenAI’s Dall.e 2 from my request: “Robot writing a poem in 1940s SF style”.

Max Gutmann, ‘A Letter Home’

One flat fall evening, as an undergrad,
I left the library to mail a letter
and at the mailbox had
a stirring–-I don’t know what else to call it,
but I felt certain, drifting back
on brittle leaves, surrounded by the gray,
this was my life–-a feeling new,
whole, deeply and vibratingly unstrange.

Back at the carrel, where my books still lay,
I sat some time immersed there in that moment:
me, having walked away
from books for some slight, distant human contact,
returning through the coming winter
to my small space. It struck me as both sad
and right; young as I was, I knew
it wasn’t something I would ever change.

*****

Max Gutmann writes: “Though it takes the perspective of an older man looking back, ‘A Letter Home‘ was written shortly after the experience it shares, years before I wrote any other verse (aside from some limericks); the drive to record the experience as a poem had nothing to do with habit. I couldn’t have anticipated that the “distant human contact” in my life would come to include a community of writers with whom I’ve only ever exchanged words on a screen (a community you do a lot to nourish, Robin. Thank you.)”

A Letter Home‘ was first published in the Pulsebeat Poetry Journal.

Max Gutmann has worked as, among other things, a stage manager, a journalist, a teacher, an editor, a clerk, a factory worker, a community service officer, the business manager of an improv troupe, and a performer in a Daffy Duck costume. Occasionally, he has even earned money writing plays and poems.

Photo: “McAllen mailbox” by Drpoulette is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Using form: choice of metre: John Beaton, ‘Request for a Dance’

Step with me, float with me, over the floor;
weave with me, waltz with me, out through the door;
slide to the deck where the crowdedness clears;
glide through the garden and tear off your fears.

Step with me, sneak with me, down to the lake,
onto its waters; the mirror won’t break;
lilt in a ball gown of luminous mist;
twirl till you’re breathless and need to be kissed.

Step with me, skim with me, let yourself go,
dazzling and dizzy, then flowingly slow;
whirl till our swirls make a maelstrom of night;
pass through the portal from here to delight.

Step with me, sway with me, feel yourself swing,
hammocked on rhythms of hearts on the wing;
move to the measures of seasons and years;
sweep to that island where time disappears.

Step with me, slip with me, up to its crypt,
quaff a last laugh from the pleasures we’ve sipped;
curtsey and smile at a parting of hands
joined in this dancing by two wedding bands.

*****

John Beaton writes: “Inspired by Richard Wilbur’s beautiful ‘For C,’ and by my own marriage, I wanted to write a poem about lifelong love. For the beginning, a wedding dance came to mind and that expanded into an extended metaphor. The theme needed a form that danced the reader along.
I adopted a four-line stanza rhymed aabb with the meter of each line being a form of dactylic tetrameter: DA-da-da, DA-da.da, DA-da-da, DA. To kick off each stanza dancingly, I used near-repetition in the first two dactyls. Then a lot of alliteration and internal rhyme help it swirl along.
The poem develops the dance into a shared lifelong experience, one that must end but does so with a sense of fulfilment and beauty. I’ve recited it at weddings.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
https://www.john-beaton.com/

Photo: “Wedding Dance” by DonnaBoley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: villanelle: Melissa Balmain, ‘Villain Elle’

Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I like to read a women’s magazine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle,

Cosmo or Glamour, Self or Mademoiselle,
instead of pills, elixirs or caffeine,
whenever I wake up and don’t feel well.

Page Eight has bathing suits that look just swell
if you’re six foot and live on Lean Cuisine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

Page Nine’s a list of “wardrobe musts” that sell
at reasonable prices—for a queen.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,

Page Ten says how to age, yet stay a belle.
The photo? It’s a model of eighteen.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle

to make my time in bed such living hell,
I’m out of there in sixty seconds clean.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

*****

Editor: The villanelle is a highly structured poem, its two key lines rhyming and repeating several times. One of its challenges is to make each repetition fresh and interesting, either by developing and deepening the context, or by varying the repeated lines slightly or, as with this one, by having the same words resonate differently. Here “I know that I can count on” gives an initial impression of a favourable attitude to women’s magazines, but at the end the words show total disgust. This ‘Villain Elle‘ is typical of Balmain’s twists and puns and absolute control of form.

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

‘Villain Elle‘ is from Walking in on People © Melissa Balmain, 2014. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.

Photo: “304/365 – 8/8/2011” by GabrielaP93 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Ekphrastic poem: Jenna Le, ‘The Implorer’

This figurine of bronze
cast by Camille Claudel,
known as Auguste Rodin’s
mentee and, for a spell,

his lover, is most striking
for being non-erotic–
desexed–despite depicting
a kneeling nude, lordotic

trunk outthrust at an angle,
headlong, precipitous,
arms outstretched not to strangle
one who broke faith, but just

to make a strangled gesture,
a soundless, ground-out groan,
the hauntings that oppress her
knowable to her alone.

*****

This ekphrastic poem was recently published in Able Muse.

Jenna Le writes: “I often draw inspiration from wandering around in art museums. The Implorer is a statuette I first saw at the Met. I find I’m especially attracted to artworks by women artists that portray female experience, and this bronze in particular called out to me because it radiated such a powerful sense of interiority, depicting a woman as not a muse or a reflective surface but as a source of painfully strong thought and emotion.”

Jenna Le (jennalewriting.com) is the author of three full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2017), and Manatee Lagoon (Acre Books, 2022). She won Poetry By The Sea’s inaugural sonnet competition. Her poems appear in AGNI, Pleiades, Verse Daily, West Branch, and elsewhere. She works as a physician in New York City.

Photo: “File:The Implorer (L’Implorante) MET DP-13617-053.jpg” by Camille Claudel is marked with CC0 1.0.

Using form: Refrain; Nina Parmenter, ‘Sense’

I am a bag of chemicals
with charge for eighty years,
I am a gassy mirage
that winks as oblivion nears.
Around me swill the stars,
my thoughts, the gods and insanity,
and nothing makes sense but this leaf
as it dances, drunk on gravity.

I am a pointless voice track
on a puff piece of DNA,
I am the ooze that awoke
and decided to live anyway.
Around me swings the void,
nirvana and calamity,
and nothing makes sense but the sea
as it dances, drunk on gravity.

*****

Nina Parmenter writes: “In 2021, in my strenuous efforts not to write pandemic poems, I probably wrote a lot of pandemic poems. This one, about focusing on tiny moments in nature to avoid thinking about the big scary things is a great example! I made it a foreword to my collection ‘Split, Twist, Apocalypse‘ because its slightly jolly air of existential dread sets the tone for the book nicely, I think.”

Editor’s comment: As with popular songs as well as verse forms such as the ballade, villanelle, triolet and rondeau, the use of a refrain (whether exact or varied) strengthens the poem by bringing the conclusion of each stanza back to a core image or message.

Nina Parmenter has no time to write poetry, but does it anyway. Her work has appeared in Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, The New Verse News, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Houses and Homes Forever’. Her home, work and family are in Wiltshire.
https://ninaparmenter.com/

Time Lapse of Stars During Earth’s Rotation” by Image Catalog is marked with CC0 1.0.

Humorous Verse: Chris O’Carroll, ‘Sounds Insensible’

We fireproof our buildings asbestos we can.
Dutch cheeses taste Gouda; to Edam’s the plan.
Urine the money with pay-to-pee loos.
Why pick one’s own footwear? Have Jimmy Choo’s.
On the value of avarice all are agreed,
And we’re searching in vein to find out why we bleed.
Uncouth at the centaur of ancient myth action,
Half-horse plus half-man equals one whole infraction.
You’ve eyed it before, so this sight’s deja view.
If you’re an identical twin, I’m one, two.
The teacher drew circles but said pie are squared.
I’ve lost my left arm; my right’s left unimpaired.
Do the rich suffer gilt in a gold-toilet suite?
Does a one-legged marathon mean half defeat?
Those hotdogs were bad, but these brats are the wurst.
This poem is arse-backwards. It must be reversed.

*****

Chris O’Carroll writes: “It was Oscar Levant, I believe, who said that a pun is the lowest form of humor unless you are the first person to think of it. A while back The Spectator ran a contest that called for poems riddled with puns. John Whitworth used to distinguish between ‘real poems’ and ‘competition poems’, and this effort of mine is probably a candidate for the latter category, but it did win me a few quid.”

Chris O’Carroll appears in New York City Haiku and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology, yet has won British poetry prizes from Flash 500, Literary Review, the Spectator, and elsewhere.  His collections ‘The Joke’s on Me’ and ‘Abracadabratude‘ are available from Kelsay Books.
http://lightpoetrymagazine.com/summerfall-2015-issue-table-of-contents/

Short poem: ‘Punster’

The artist said the wit
was “full of it”,
disparaged him.
The punster tore the painter limn from limn.

*****

Apparently some people believe that puns are “the lowest form of humour”, but I would suggest that those people are not good at wordplay, and therefore have no poetic sensibility. Look to Homer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson for puns; enjoy more discussion and examples here.

This short poem was published in The Asses of Parnassus, home of “short, witty, formal poems”. Thanks, Brooke Clark!

Photo: “punster” by danbruell is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Pino Coluccio, ‘Class Clown’

They’d all be like, never say never
in classes we had, but whatever.
I turned to the windows and hallways
that always said always say always.

*****

Editor’s comments: From Pino Coluccio you should expect light and dark combined, light but deep, usually short, always well-phrased… and always existential. This, the eponymous piece of his 2017 collection, is tucked away in the middle of the book. The book won a Trillium Award, putting Coluccio in the company of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro. He has given me permission to republish more of his pieces from Class Clown periodically.

Pino Coluccio lives in Toronto.