Poetry Resources: Snakeskin

Probably the oldest continuously published poetry zine on the web – possibly the oldest literary zine of any type – is Snakeskin, published monthly by George Simmers since December 1995.

George Simmers

George Simmers, editor of Snakeskin

There are many unique aspects to Snakeskin, including in the archives:

  • the pervasive wit and humour, tolerantly secular, expressed in the zine’s name from the first issue with Wayne Carvosso’s poem “Credo” – “we are the kindred of the snake.”
  • a long interview of George conducted by Helena Nelson, entirely in iambic pentameter (for George is a skilled and fluent poet, though he rarely publishes in Snakeskin these days)
  • projects and experiments, including various hypertexts
  • and a standard feature for the past several years, Bruce Bentzman’s blog-like soliloquies, or essays – a very sensitive and deeply emotional journey.

But what is particularly nice for poets is that George has no interest in names, reputations or bios – he just reads the poems, and chooses what takes his fancy. Very few of the issues are themed in advance, but they may reflect his mood or the time of year or whatever, and end up with a mood of their own.

And, despite what the Credo states —

“Nor shall we sit to lunch with those
Who moralise in semi-prose.
A poem should be rich as cake,
Say the kindred of the snake” —

George takes any form or lack of form, so long as the piece works for him. This may reflect the tolerance of someone who had a career as a teacher; or it may reflect the Yorkshireman’s well-known preference for the practical over mere theory. In either case, it presents a wonderful opportunity for a new poet to break into publication in an internationally recognised magazine.

Read an issue or two – there’s something for everyone!

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Formal launch! Potcake Chapbooks 1 & 2

The first two chapbooks in Sampson Low’s Potcake series are up and running! Not only that, but they have already made it into the Official UK Chapbook Chart, with one of them at No.1 for two weeks in a row. And I was going to try to make it as easy as possible for you to buy a copy… they’re not expensive, about the cost of a fancy greeting card, and easily mailed as they weigh less than an ounce.

Hey Potcake, wanna buy a chapbook...

Hey Potcake! Wanna buy a chapbook?

However, the problem is that they are too inexpensive! It simply isn’t worth this blog paying all the fees to upgrade to business class in order to have a Paypal button, or to pay Amazon’s monthly fees or initiation fees or fulfilment fees or sales commissions or whatever else, in order to make them easily available in North America.

So we will treat this a formal launch… and you’ll just have to go to that Sampson Low website and put your order in there. Don’t worry, it’ll be mailed right away. Just be glad you’re not trying to do things through the Bahamas post office, where domestic mail takes 1-3 months, and international takes up to a year…

And with “Tourists and Cannibals” and “Rogues and Roses” up and running, the next two in the series are now in preparation. Expect “Careers and Other Catastrophes” and “Families and Other Fiascoes” in the beginning of the year, with many of the earlier poets reappearing but supplemented by many others joining us for the first time. And, of course, with Alban Low’s illustrations.

The series is joyful, lighthearted, and already popular!

Using form to convince: “Conviction”

Verse has magical powers to engage the minds of its audience and, through that engagement, sway opinions and change attitudes. This is more than the tricks that make it easy to learn verse. It is more than Coleridge’s “Prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in the best order.” It is that poets and singers chant, and enchant. The musician chants, the magician chants, if it is well done it creates enchantment. It changes moods, it changes minds. It is used by all religions, all football teams, all angry mobs, and all gentle singers of lullabyes. The fact of the idea being expressed in verse is used as unspoken proof of the idea’s appropriateness.

Chanting

Poetry in motion

In my last post I said that “rhyme can be used to create a sense of inevitability”. Let me explain:

CONVICTION

True verse has a rhythmic twitch
that needs ongoing action.
Rhyme’s an open pattern which
asks for satisfaction.
Give the right words, strong and bright,
and the listener knows “That’s right!”

Conviction carries over, bought
with the words expressed.
The listener believes the thought
because it came well dressed.
Give the right words, strong and bright,
and the listener knows “That’s right!”

In other words, because the words sound right (in meter and in rhyme), our minds are prepared to accept that their meaning is right, their argument is valid. As O’Shaughnessy wrote,

“With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities
(…)
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample a kingdom down.”

And that is why Shelley was able to claim that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. Poets everywhere agree!

Using form for argument: “To Myself in 50 Years Time”

Arguing a point has a structure, which tricks of rhetoric can enhance. Additional tricks of reinforcement are possible in verse, where meter can set a tone, rhyme scheme can create a sense of inevitability, and line length can be used to differentiate between premises and conclusion.

Ageing Man in Mirror

TO MYSELF IN 50 YEARS TIME

Old fool! You really think yourself the same
As I who write to you, aged 22?
Ha! All we’ve got in common is my name:
I’ll wear it out, throw it away,
You’ll pick it up some other day….
But who are you?

My life’s before me; can you say the same?
I choose its how and why and when and who.
I’ll choose the rules by which we play the game;
I may choose wrong, it’s not denied,
But by my choice you must abide….
What choice have you?

If, bored, I think one day to see the world
I pack that day and fly out on the next.
My choice to wander, or to sit home-curled;
Each place has friends, good fun, good food,
But you sit toothless, silent, rude….
And undersexed!

Cares and regrets of loss can go to hell:
You sort them out with Reason’s time-worn tool.
Today’s superb; tomorrow looks as well:
The word “tomorrow” is a thrill,
I’ll make of mine just what I will….
What’s yours, old fool?

(First published in Snakeskin No. 147, September 2008)

Each stanza presents an aspect of the superiority of present youth over future age. (Premise and conclusion aren’t necessarily made as statements, many times rhetorical questions are used instead.) The structure of each stanza is to begin with pentameters for a sense of reasonableness in the first three lines, pick up the pace for the next two lines, and end with a short punchline. I find it aggressive and effective.

I admire the chutzpah, the audacity, of the 22-year-old I was. I still have some years–not many–to think of a suitable answer.

Official UK Chapbook Chart – who knew?!

Great news! Our chapbook of formal verse “Rogues and Roses” is Number One on the Official UK Chapbook Chart… for the second week in a row!

Official UK Chapbook Chart

Sampson Low’s chart-topping Potcake Chapbook, “Rogues and Roses”, with editor.

1 (1) Rogues and Roses – A.E. Stallings, Ann Drysdale, Brian Allgar, Chris O’Carroll, Daniel Galef, Edmund Conti, Gail White, George Simmers, Jerome Betts, John Beaton, Marcus Bales, Robin Helweg-Larsen  (Sampson Low, 2018)

2 (2) A Chapbook Of Poems – Prince Unsworth (Independently published, 2017)

3 (7) The Cows – Lydia Davis (Sarabande Books, 2011)

4 (4) Creance; or, Comest Thou Cosmic Nazarite – Andrew E. Colarusso and Matthew Shenoda (Northwestern University Press, 2019)

5 (New entry) On Imagination – Mary Ruefle (Sarabande Books, July 2017)

6 (8) Purity of Aim: The Book Jacket Designs of Alvin Lustig – Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger (RIT Press, Sept. 2010)

7 (9) Puro Amor  – Sandra Cisneros (Sarabande Books, 2018)

8 (New entry) The Putterer’s Notebook – Akilah Oliver  (Belladonna Books, 2008)

9 (New entry) Tourists and Cannibals  – A.E. Stallings, Ann Drysdale, Daniel Galef, Edmund Conti, Gail White, Jerome Betts, John Beaton, Marcus Bales, Martin Parker, Robin Helweg-Larsen, Terese Coe (Sampson Low, 2018)

10 (New entry) Poem – Timmy Reed (Dostoyevsky Wannabe CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform , 2018)

And not only that… our other Potcake Chapbook, “Tourists and Cannibals”, has entered the chart at Number 9! How nice that formal verse is increasingly a major force in the world of literature again, after its decades in the wilderness. Chapbooks may only be a small part of that world, but they are arguably at the forefront of literary movements.

Welcome to the formal future!

Call for Submissions: Careers, Families

The next titles in the Potcake Chapbooks series are tentatively named “Careers and Other Catastrophes” and “Families and Other Fiascoes”. This is a call for submissions to them.

Potcake Chapbooks

Poems should be in formal verse, from 2 to 24 lines in length preferred but up to 50 lines possible, witty, vivid, elegant, and previously published.  Contributors receive five copies, and a discounted rate on additional purchases.

By submitting you acknowledge you are the sole author and give us the right to publish your poem; you retain copyright. Please identify the place of prior publication so that we can acknowledge it. Simultaneous submissions are fine. The chapbooks are scheduled for publication in January/February 2019.

Email in a doc file to robinhelweglarsen -at- gmail.com

 

Potcake chapbooks

George Simmers has been publishing Snakeskin, a monthly online poetry magazine, for over 20 years – possibly the oldest continuous online literary magazine in the world. I will post a more detailed blog about it soon, but in the meantime: Thank you George, for announcing “Rogues and Roses”, the second of the Potcake Chapbooks, to the world!

Snakeskin's Blog

Snakeskin poets seem to be spreading their wings everywhere these days, and the latest enterprise to feature several of them is the new series of Potcake Chapbooks, published by Samson Low.

These are neat little pocket-sized pamphlets, sixteen pages packed with poems, mostly witty, all featuring the snap and buzz of rhyme.

The first pamphlet, Tourists and Cannibals, is about travel; the second, Rogues and Roses is full of poems about love and sex. More titles are on the way.

Edited by Robin Helweg-Larsen, whose work will be familiar to Snakeskin readers, these modestly priced (£2.60) pamphlets are just the right size for slipping in with a Christmas card to spread seasonal good cheer.

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