Short poem: ‘When Your Flesh Freshly’

When your flesh freshly and your face flushly
Face the imperatives of flesh,
I find your mind now unleashed lusty-lushly…
Must we not then enmesh?

*****

This little poem was triggered by pondering the nearness to each other of the words fresh, flesh and flush, and jamming them all together. The result was coherent enough for publication in (naturally) ‘Rat’s Ass Review‘ – thanks, Rick Bates!

Photo: “The Redhead Piano Bar” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Parody poem: Marcus Bales, ‘Slash Wednesday’

I
Because I do not do the limerick line
Because I do not do
Because I do not do the limerick
Desiring this man’s schtick or that man’s joke
I will stick to knocking out free verse
(If here and there a rhyme so much the worse)
In mournful moans
Presented ragged-right upon the page.

II
There once was a Lady with three
White leopards, a juniper tree,
And a bag full of bones
That sang their sad moans
Of what they had once hoped to be.

III
At every turning of the turning stair,
Your breathing hard, your eyesight edged with dark,
You see the face of hope and of despair.

You breathe the vapor of the fetid air
And toil as if some atmospheric shark
At every turning of the turning stair

Was hunting through the gathering darkness there,
While back and forth across the narrative arc
You see the face of hope and of despair.

At every turning there’s a window where
You contemplate a drop that’s still more stark
At every turning of the turning stair.

Instead you circle upward as you swear
Like you are looking for a place to park.
You see the face of hope and of despair.

You can’t endure the future’s dismal dare
Nor drag yourself to put out your own spark
At every turning of the turning stair.

You’re learning how to care and not to care
And whether you will make or be a mark.
You see the face of hope and of despair
At every turning of the turning stair.

IV
Higgledy piggledy
Here we are all of us
Trudging along where some
Billions have trod

Smelling the flowers and
Trusting religionists’
Tergiversational
Rodomontade.

V
If the word that is lost isn’t lost,
And the word that is spent isn’t spent
Then silence is actually speaking,
And meaning is something unmeant.

If the meaning is what is unheard
And the word is the thing that’s unspoken
Then how do you hear if a word
Has a meaning that hasn’t been broken.

If the unspoken word must be still
And the unheard is what it’s about
To have heard the unhearable meaning
The inside has got to be out.

If the unheard were out of this world
And the light shone in darkness were dark
Then the unlit unheard would be meaning
If the snuffer provided the spark.

If the yadda can yadda its yadda
And the pocus was what hocus took
Then gobble must surely be gobble
Though dee separates it from gook.

VI
Awake! Your hope to turn or not to turn
Is wasting time – but go ahead and yearn
To see the light or hear the word to know
A heaven human beings can’t discern.

There’s nothing there for such as you and me;
We make our meaning up from what we see
And hear and touch and taste and smell and think —
But all there is is fragments and debris.

The steps are just the steps, the stairs the stairs,
The rest is merely human hopes and prayers
That do no more than hopes and prayers can do,
And nothing’s chasing you except your heirs.

No unmoved mover writes upon some slate
That mortals may abate or not abate;
No hope and no despairing of that hope
Reveals what nothing states, or doesn’t state.

Whatever happens happens because of us
We get a muss when we don’t make a fuss
Demanding right from wrong not mere convenience:
We’re all complicit underneath this bus.

Awake! Don’t hope to turn or not to turn,
Don’t pray that this is none of your concern.
Awake! What will it take for you to learn
That if it all burns down you, too, will burn?

*****

Marcus Bales has produced this wonderful set of parodies of the long T.S. Eliot poem ‘Ash Wednesday‘, beginning with a piece in the poem’s style for Part I,
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope

but then moving into a limerick for Part II’s
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree

and a 22-line villanelle for Part III’s
At the first turning of the second stair

and a double dactyl for Part IV’s
Who walked between the violet and the violet

and quatrains for Part V’s
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;

and finally rubaiyat with a strong flavour of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyam for Part VI’s
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Ash Wednesday‘ has proved one of Eliot’s best-known and most quoted poems, with its signature mixture of Christian mysticism, personal emotion, loose form and scattered rhyme, rich imagery and memorable wordplay. Bales’ ‘Slash Wednesday‘ is an appropriate tour de force of a back-handed homage, mocking Eliot’s ragged rambling with a sampling of forms that could have been used (inappropriately) instead.

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘form in formless times’).

This is being posted two days late for T.S. Eliot’s birthday, but as it’s for the already late T.S. Eliot that shouldn’t matter too much…

Photo: “File:T S Eliot Simon Fieldhouse.jpg” by Simon Fieldhouse is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 12, ‘City! Oh City!’

City! Oh City! – poems on the light and dark of urban life. Thirteen of the best contemporary English-language poets present their wildly differing takes on the glamour and squalor, the joy and heartbreak, the varied people and the hidden wildlife of our modern cities.

Five of the poets are new to the Potcake Chapbook series, and I’m delighted to be adding Kate Bingham of England, Francis O’Hare of Northern Ireland, Pino Coluccio of Canada, and Quincy R. Lehr and J.D. Smith of the US. They join eight returning poets. Amit Majmudar and Maryann Corbett deserve special mention for their brilliant use of form to capture contradictory situations: Majmudar’s static street scene which suddenly changes pace to a hectic chase, Corbett’s interwoven Baroque chamber ensemble and homeless encampment with their separate realities in a shared evening in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In addition: Michael R. Burch, Jerome Betts, Terese Coe, Marcus Bales, Martin Elster and myself; everyone contributes to this memorable capture of the complexity of the modern city.

Bios, photos and links to read more of their work can all be found on the Sampson Low site’s Potcake Poets page, while all the chapbooks in the series, showing which poets are in which, are here. Each of the 12 chapbooks is profusely illustrated (of course) by Alban Low, and can be yours (or sent as an intriguing gift) for the price of a coffee.

Value the city – citification is civilisation!

Poem: ‘Some Fling Away’

Some fling away
Some stay and cling—
Each their own Way
To do their own thing.

Sacrifice meaning
For love of the rhyme;
Know that in dreaming
You make up the time.

Sacrifice meaning—
When thought becomes sight
Your soul from its mole-hole
Blinks into life-light.

*****

An early poem, from when I was searching for meaning and questioning the various Meanings that were presented. Decades later, I feel the answer to the meaning of everything is best expressed by Leonard Cohen at the end of Tower of Song. That, and by John Cleese in the photo’s poster, and Douglas Adams’ “42”. Do your own thing, indeed; and keep dreaming and rhyming.

‘Some Fling Away’ was first published in ‘Metverse Muse‘ in India.

Do Your Own Thing” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Poem: ‘Homage From British Expats’

Thou noble, purest British race!
Thy children we,
Inheriting thy every trace;
From thy straight back, unmoving face,
We learn the truest social grace,
Pomposity.

To thee the new is never good,
’Tis duty shirked.
Thou’dst never think, and much less brood;
Thou duty-bound eatst wooden food;
Thou ever ramrod-straight hast stood,
And never worked.

Britain! Served on a silver tray
Thine Empire’s tea –
Respectfully we beg to say
We praise thee, but we cannot stay,
We have our duty far away,
Escaping thee.

*****

This is the third of the poems recently published by Pulsebeat Poetry Journal, and I’m pleased at how different the three of them are. ‘Ultimate Control’ is a Science Fiction sonnet, ‘Ticking Away’ is a meditation on time, life and death, and this one was written almost 50 years ago in reaction against (some aspects of) being sent to boarding school in England.

A little personal context: I was raised as an expat in the Bahamas by my Danish father and English mother. After five years of Church of England primary boarding school in Jamaica (when at least I came home three times a year) I went to England for five more years of boarding school, and came home rarely. The countryside setting of Stowe was delightful, and I got a good education with a lot of poetry, and I learned sarcasm. It all uprooted me from being fully Bahamian, but failed to make me fully English. In the 1970s the Bahamas didn’t want me and I didn’t want England. So… Denmark, then Canada, then the US, and finally the Bahamas again as a foreign resident. I have been an expat all my life – and frequently sarcastic about it.

The poem is a nonce form – I used to produce them easily in my 20s, I wish I still did. It’s in iambics rhyming ABAAAB, with four feet to the A lines and only two to the B lines – the last line of each verse being a punch line and the shortness of the line helping strengthen that effect.

Image” by spock-ola is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Poem: ‘Ticking Away’

You have hopes. You don’t expect
that they’ll ever come to pass
but you drink, think and reflect
as you look into the glass…
And you wonder what will happen
while your life just ticks away:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of play.

Science’s prognostications,
things you’d pick up in a flash:
soon they’ll start rejuvenations
if you only had the cash…
Cash cuts those who’d live forever
from the rest as with a knife:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of life.

But you don’t like thoughts of dying
so you hope you’ve got a soul;
and though preachers are caught lying
Heaven seems attainable…
But there’s got to be a Heaven
or prayer’s just a waste of breath:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… towards death.

Though you think that you’re so clever,
you’ve got goals but not the How.
Play the lottery for ever
it must pay off – why not now?
But you never do the homework
so at question time you’re stuck:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… out of luck.

That affair you never had
with the person down the street
for you’re really not that bad
and besides, you rarely meet…
But it sits there like a present
that’s unopened on a shelf:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of self.

So there’s all the other options
for the things you’d like to do:
travel, study, home, adoptions,
building family anew,
but you’re aging while you’re thinking
and the chances go on by:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… till you die.

*****

On this funereal day I take happy morbid pleasure in remembering that we are all mortal. Let’s keep on ticking as long as we can! ‘Ticking Away’ was published in the most recent edition of David Stephenson’s ‘Pulsebeat Poetry Journal‘, a recent and welcome addition to the growing cadre of formal-friendly magazines. It’s a nonce form, shaped in the writing of it; the lines rhyming ABABCDD, and the metre being a rapid patter broken by the ticking in the last line of the stanza.

You could say it’s mostly written in incomplete trochaic tetrameter, the form of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,

But I prefer to read it with the rapid beat of W.S. Gilbert’s

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

which, technically, you could read as iambic octosyllable

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

but not all of those stressed syllables have equal weight. Gilbert’s lyrics are patter, built on highly stressed, semi-stressed and unstressed syllables. English poetry is flexible and chaotic, and its analysis can be contradictory, because the poetry is a fusion of casual Anglo-Saxon verse which counts stresses but not syllables, and formal French verse which counts syllables but not stresses. This mirrors the creation of English itself which is a fusion of various Germanic and Romance languages… with a dash of Celtic grammar thrown in. (Where do you think the pointless auxiliary verb “do” comes from in the phrase “Where do you think”, rather than a more straightforward “Whence think you”? Answer: Celtic.) But the educated literati of the past few hundred years learned all their analysis of grammar and poetry from the French who in turn were drawing on the Greeks and Romans. And some of that thinking is irrelevant to Germanic and Celtic structures.

TLDR: Write what feels natural, enjoyable and memorable. Personally, I’m always glad to remember I don’t have to write everything in iambic pentameter…

Photo: “Self portrait – Ticking away” by MattysFlicks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Ultimate Control’ (from the series ‘Voices from the Future’)

If you’ve the aptitude and love the role,
the Army’s always been the place to be.
Rise in the ranks, absorbing strategy:
coordinate, consolidate, control.
And what a blessing when those new implants
gave mind-to-mind awareness… and command.
Like the unthinking fingers on your hand
you can maneuver thousands with a glance.
The battle then’s to see what you can wrest
from other leaders, fighting mind-to-mind;
you have to grow, or you get left behind:
can you control ten million, like the best?
Of would-be kings there’s never been a dearth…
will it be only one who rules all Earth?

*****

This sonnet has just been published in Pulsebeat Poetry Journal’s 3rd issue (thanks, David Stephenson!) It is one of a series written in response to a comment from Maryann Corbett (a brilliant formalist poet) about the bleakness of my vision of the future. Well, she’s a Christian, so she has a totally different take on humanity’s future from my irreligious SF-infused speculations. Another sonnet in the series, ‘Exiled Leader‘, was published by Star*Line.

I don’t find it bleak to think that there will be unprecedented individual and planetary disruptions. I’m not distressed at the thought of humans being supplanted some posthuman higher intelligence. Should the earliest rat-like mammals of 145 million years ago be upset to learn that their human descendants build cities and kill any rats they find in them? Should they identify only with the familiar rats and wish that evolution had stopped there, or instead be proud that they have also developed into humans (and dogs, and whales, etc)?

For myself, life is a wild ride, and I long to see where it will take humans in a hundred or in a thousand years. Because of the current revolutions in genomics, robotics, AI and nanotechnology, I doubt we can reasonably forecast even a hundred years into the future. We can speculate all we like but once we merge a human with AI, create a cyborg, all bets are off.

20120401 – Hand – IMG_2898” by Nicola since 1972 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Poem: ‘Village Fetes’

Come learn your fates at the village fêtes,
hosted by kindly vicars;
there’s lots to eat, don’t be discreet –
but your attention flickers…

the boys want toys with lots of noise,
the girls want glittery stickers,
while a gypsy tent, being devil-sent,
offers both lust and snickers.

The fêtes are fine for beer and wine,
less so for fancy liquors;
if you want to cruise for a bit of booze,
they’re not for city slickers;

but the real thrust builds on the trust
of godly, sinful vicars –
it’s being caressed by a gypsy breast
that puts a twist in their knickers.

*****

The latest edition of Rat’s Ass Review (for Fall/Winter 2022) has just been published, and I’m delighted to have this irreverent (pun intended) piece included. (As the journal’s title suggests, the editor doesn’t care if you don’t agree with his selections and opinions.) Thanks, Rick Bates!

Romany Rose” by timnutt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Semi-formal poem: ‘The Viking in Winter’

O it is a wide winter, windy with gales,
Hard, harsh and horizonless, cold,
And I can do nothing more this year
But sharpen the swords, mend the gear,
Mend cloth, patch sails,
Listen to tales told by the old,
Listen to horses stamp in stalls.
Feel the blood in my veins going nowhere,
Feel the river halt, the bay iced in,
The sun brief and thin
The food dried, smoked, salt
And no fresh fruit, fresh meat,
No fresh lands, fresh goods,
No fresh deeds, fresh girls,
No seas running and blood running
And people running and tales running…
For what is the good of inaction
Save to prepare for fresh action;
And what is the good of fresh action
Save for fresh tales;
And what is the good of fresh tales
Save for the glory and the name
And the fame that lives past the death rattle
For the sword singer,
Word winger,
The Bard of Battle?

*****

I feel the same fascinated connection to my Viking ancestors that I feel to my even earlier chimp-like forbears and modern chimp and bonobo cousins. All have social networks, hierarchies, politics, violence and ways of overcoming violence, cherished families, a sense of fairness and ways of cheating. I suspect the Viking gods would be far easier for chimps and bonobos to accept than modern scientific understanding could ever be. I greatly enjoy Vikings, chimps and bonobos, recognise that a lot in me comes from them, and am thankful to have outgrown much of their limitations. (And to neo-Nazis who think they are Vikings, I say this: “You’re not; don’t be so stupid.”)

This rambling semi-formal poem was first published in Snakeskin; thanks, George Simmers!

Icy sea” by piropiro3 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Michael R. Burch: ‘For All That I Remembered’

For all that I remembered, I forgot
her name, her face, the reason that we loved …
and yet I hold her close within my thought:
I feel the burnished weight of auburn hair
that fell across her face, the apricot
clean scent of her shampoo, the way she glowed
so palely in the moonlight, angel-wan.

The memory of her gathers like a flood
and bears me to that night, that only night,
when she and I were one, and if I could …
I’d reach to her this time and, smiling, brush
the hair out of her eyes, and hold intact
each feature, each impression. Love is such
a threadbare sort of magic, it is gone
before we recognize it. I would crush

my lips to hers to hold their memory,
if not more tightly, less elusively.

*****

Michael R. Burch writes: “For All That I Remembered” is one of my personal favorites and one of a number of poems I have written about the transience of memory, along with “The Effects of Memory,” “Violets,” “Moments,” “Distances,” “Redolence,” “Vacuum,” “Afterglow” “Memento Mori” and “Remembrance.” “For All That I Remembered” has been published by The Raintown Review, Boston Poetry Magazine, la luce che non muore (Italy), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Kritya (India), Jewish Letter (Russia), Gostinaya (in a Russian translation by Yelena Dubrovin), Freshet, Orchards Poetry, Poetry Life & Times, Sonnetto Poesia (Canada), Trinacria, The New Formalist and Pennsylvania Review.”

Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch’s poems, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared more than 7,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, and, according to Google’s rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. Burch’s poetry has been taught in high schools and universities, translated into fifteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, set to music by twenty composers, recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos, and used to provide book titles to two other authors. To read the best poems of Mike Burch in his own opinion, with his comments, please click here: Michael R. Burch Best Poems.

Memory” by Kris Krug is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.