Launch: Potcake Chapbook 7, ‘Murder ! – poems of killings past and present’

07 Murder!

Potcake Chapbook 7: ‘Murder!’

Murder needs no formality of gats,
violin cases or fedora hats
or any other long-outdated memes.
Murder is merely social discord that’s
taken to interpersonal extremes.

Murder. Here we present victims ranging from the unidentifiably unknown to the rich and powerful, and from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It appears to be something with which we humans are permanently infected. 

The poems–all formal, of course!–are as usual in a variety of forms. This chapbook contains sonnets, a double dactyl, quatrains, rubaiyat, parody and nonce forms. They were authored by Potcake newcomers A.M. Juster, Marilyn L. Taylor, LindaAnn LoSchiavo and Frank Hubeny, and old-timers Chris O’Carroll, Marcus Bales, Vera Ignatowitsch, Noam D. Plum, Michael R. Burch and myself. And powerfully illustrated, as always, by Alban Low.

For the price of a fancy greeting card you can, through the wonders of PayPal, get this 16-page chapbook online for £2.60 + £1.20 P&P to a UK or European address, or £2.60 + £2.20 P&P to a Worldwide address.

Or you might prefer to browse themes and poets here, and photos and bios here, and choose between poems on travel, or love affairs, or the working life… or relatives, or modern life, or poems to amuse and amaze. Life, after all, is more than just Murder!

Eliot, Woolf and Vivien

T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and the unfortunate Vivienne Eliot

“T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf were almost exact contemporaries, readers and critics of each others’ work, and friends for over twenty years. Their writings, though, are rarely paired.” So says the Amazon entry on Modernism, Memory, and Desire by Gabrielle Mcintire, which “proposes that some striking correspondences exist in Eliot and Woolf’s poetic, fictional, critical, and autobiographical texts, particularly in their recurring turn to the language of desire, sensuality, and the body to render memory’s processes.”

An article in the New Yorker from some years ago paints a different picture of Eliot: “he held all the English writers in contempt. It was a cool and disinterested contempt; it came from arrogance, not from pettiness or insecurity, and he gave just enough of a hint of it to make people nervous. The only contemporary writers he considered his peers were Pound and Lewis (though he knew their limitations extremely well). The only one he looked up to was Joyce.”

Virginia Woolf is only mentioned later in passing in the article, with a quote from her diary wishing “poor dear Tom had more spunk in him, less need to let drop by drop of his agonized perplexities fall ever so finely through pure cambric. One waits; one sympathizes, but it is dreary work.”

As for Eliot’s first wife, Vivienne, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary: “Oh – Vivienne! Was there ever such a torture since life began! – to bear her on one’s shoulders, biting, wriggling, raving, scratching, unwholesome, powdered, insane, yet sane to the point of insanity, reading his letters, thrusting herself on us, coming in wavering trembling … This bag of ferrets is what Tom [Eliot] wears round his neck.”

Tim Miller, who blogs interesting excerpts of whatever he is reading, has more from Virginia Woolf’s diary: you can read it via First Person: Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, “Dutch Elm”

Maryann Corbett

That trees would die
yearly, we knew. The columns of the nave
of Summit Avenue, the architrave
of openwork where canopies unfold,
green or briefly gold,
the arched, leaf-dripping limbs
backlit with sky—

in every year, some go.
Some ends arrive with force: the papers warn
with pictures, after every storm,
of fallen branches, hollow at the heart,
or great trunks snapped apart,
battering cars and houses with the blows.
(We knew, but now we know.)

Some ends are quiet: the red
stripes appearing, like a garotting wound,
on trunks where the inspectors found
beetles in bark, bare limbs lurking in shade.
The tree crew and the chainsaw blade
will come—we know now—soon—
The stripe says, This is dead.

They make short work of things
with sweat and cherry pickers, saws and zeal
rope and rappelling acrobatic skill
and limb-shredding machines.
Only the stump remains
and is soon sawdust: nothing left to chance
but next year’s fairy rings.

No help for it, then.
This cut to sky, this coring of the heart.
These trees too far apart.
This just delivered balled-and-burlapped stick,
its trunk two inches thick,
decades from beauty. What we always knew:
We start again.

Maryann Corbett writes: “All day today I’ve been hearing, and sometimes watching, the process of the removal of my neighbor’s enormous elm, which peeled apart suddenly in a recent storm, exposing a hollow core. I was reminded that I’ve seen this process so many times in my city that it prompted a poem over a decade ago, and it’s a poem I’m happy to remember. It first appeared in The Lyric and is included in my second book, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter.”

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write in plain English and coordinating the creating of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry after thirty years away from the craft in 2005 and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length collections already published, and a forthcoming book. Her fifth book, In Code, contains the poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and is included in anthologies like Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Her web page: maryanncorbett.com

Poem: “Time”

Time takes the young child by the hand
and leads it through a golden land
so timeless it will never note
Time’s other hand is at its throat.

This little poem was just published in Snakeskin, in one of its richest issues ever. I’m glad to have been included, along with several others–Claudia Gary, Tom Vaughan, George Simmers, Marcus Bales–of the formalist poets who appear in the Potcake Chapbooks. And a shout-out to Nikolai Usack, who made me clear up clumsy pronouns in the original draft.

August 3: Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day

Wallace_Stevens,_1948

Wallac Stevens

“Engaged at the office all day on a sonnet – Surreptitiously.” This charming journal entry by Wallace Stevens for August 3, 1906, triggered a fine sonnet by Frank Osen some years ago:

Cover Memo

To Distribution:
Stevens was aware
That many poets must go leopard-like
Among the striped, yet not be spotted there.
This isn’t easy, when desire may strike
At work, although it called in sick last night,
And, stricken, one must chase in search of tea
Or oils or oranges, to some distant height—
Or only to the nearest OED.
Yet, when protective coloration’s risked,
A job transcends that mental game preserve
Where fauna don’t go frolic, but get frisked.
For all who bear an office to observe,
We ought to mark each August third this way:
As Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day.

This in turn caused a rueful villanelle by Marcus Bales:

August Third

On August Third I have to write a sonnet
As Wallace Stevens did in Nineteen Six —
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

And ever since Frank Osen got right on it
By writing his he’s put us in a fix:
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I hope you’ll Vladimir-and-Estragon it,
While I arrange my sonnet’s final mix
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

It may be that allusion’s over-drawn – it
May not be your cliques that I transfix
When August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I haven’t got a shocking denouement – it
Isn’t how a villanelle does tricks,
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it,

So as you don your writing hat, or bonnet,
Don’t mix your forms as I did, dicks and chicks —
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle. Doggone it,
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

Well! What will today bring, I wonder?

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, “The Seraph and the Six of Swords”

Mindy Watson

My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch. We’ll kneel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade,
Unearthing all your heart desires. Let’s deal.

I’ve drawn your future card. Does this reveal
Some truth to you: this Six of Swords I’ve played
That paints a boatman on a blade-pierced keel?
My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade

Me burnish to a shine. You’ve always stayed
Our cosmic course, but now you wish to steal
Away by sea upon this ship you’ve made
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch? We’ll kneel

Beseechingly before His judgment’s steel
For this infraction. Think before you trade
Celestial wings for shawl. Return to heel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade.

What’s that? This passenger, the mortal maid
Our card depicts, denotes your soul’s ideal?
And tedium’s degraded our crusade,
Unearthing all your heart desires? Let’s deal

Then with the Throne when need decrees. Conceal
Your downcast head; pin back your wings arrayed
In fear. I’ll steer this vessel’s rigid wheel
And whisper, when we reach the port portrayed,
“My seraph, enter.”

Mindy Watson writes: “The Seraph and the Six of Swords” originally appeared as a February 2018 Star*Line Editor’s Choice poem. This rondeau redoublé—which at face-value chronicles one disaffected and divination-inclined angel convincing another (via a contraband tarot card deck) to thwart angelkind’s “cosmic course” and set sail for unknown shores—began unassumingly enough in 2017, with one Dark Tranquility song phrase—”Enter, suicidal angels”—that I couldn’t scrub from my subconscious. Because, at the time, I was also some three weeks away from starting what I (correctly) suspected would be an operationally thrilling, yet all-consuming new job, this poem served not only as a mentally grounding reiteration of my sincerest loves—mythology, individualism, rejection of unsubstantiated strictures—but also a vehicle by which my then two warring selves—the timid self clinging to comfortable complacency versus the brave self hellbent upon exploration despite the costs—could enact a healthy, internal dialogue. While the poem obviously features a “winner” of sorts, I intentionally framed the poem’s overall trajectory and final concluding stanza to favor, instead of the rebellious self’s unliteral triumph, a perspective blending by which—as the titular Six of Swords tarot card depicts—two entities/selves willingly embark upon a forward-looking journey where, while one serves as instigator/primary traveler and one serves as grounding facilitator—both ultimately undertake the voyage. While I rather compulsively followed “Seraph and the Six of Swords” with two rondeau redoublé sequels (respectively titled “The Fallen Angel’s Ace of Wands” and “The Guardian at the Gated Tower,” which appear in Star*Line’s Spring and Summer 2018 issues) that extend the featured angels’ saga, this original remains my favorite. And while a seemingly mundane job shift originally inspired “Seraph,” I can’t help but re-visit it mid-2020, as we stand stricken by a global pandemic’s impacts, upon the precipice of another pivotal U.S. presidential election decision. For better or worse, the journey continues, spurred forward—I hope—by our “better angels.”

Bio:
Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Eastern Structures, the Poetry Porch, the Quarterday Review, Snakeskin, Star*Line, and Think Journal. She’s recently also appeared in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets: Form in Formless Times chapbook series and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology. You may read her work at: https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite.

 

Poem: “Prose and Poetry”

I long for Prose – but darkly, distantly,
She looks at far-off lands.
It’s Poetry who brings persistently
Small gifts in small white hands.

I confess that I have always wanted to be a novelist rather than a poet… but when, over the years, several novels remain as unpublished manuscripts but the poetry contributes to bubble up and find a home, what can you do? Smile ruefully and accept the gifts you are offered, and be grateful.

This poem was originally published in Lighten Up Online. And my only published novel is The Gospel According to the Romans… self-published, of course. The publishing score so far: Poetry, 300 – Prose, 1. “You can’t always get what you want… but…

How You Can't Always Get What You Want became Donald Trump's ...

you get what you need.”

 

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Frank Hubeny, “True”

Frank Hubeny

Frank Hubeny

The cloudy image on the lake
Comes from the gracious morning light
We left the darkness of the night,
Became aware of what’s at stake.
We now renew, rejoice, remake,
Reflect on what we know as true.
Our part seems small, like morning dew,
But later when the victory’s won
We may find out it was well done
And fully know and be known too.

Frank Hubeny writes: “I often write to prompts. I know other people who are also participating in the prompt will at least give the poem a glance. Ronovan is one of the many people out there posting writing prompts. He has a weekly Décima Poetry Challenge. This form has ten 8-syllable lines with a particular rhyme scheme: abbaaccddc. I do like the sound of four beats per line. I often post my own photos and so write about them if the theme of the prompt permits. For this poem I posted two photos of clouds on a pond in Techny Prairie in Northbrook, Illinois. The last line of the poem is intended to suggest 1 Corinthians 13:12 about seeing reflections, knowing in part and then knowing fully and being fully known. The being “fully known” is what was foremost in my mind. That thought along with the reflections on the pond in the photographs and Ronovan’s challenge to use the word “true” as a rhyme word in a décima motivated me to write this poem.”

Frank Hubeny lives between Miami Beach, Florida, and Northbrook, Illinois.  He has been published in The Lyric Magazine, Snakeskin Poetry Webzine, Ancient Paths Literary Magazine, Visual Verse and Vita Brevis.  He regularly posts photographs, short prose and poetry to his blog, https://frankhubeny.blog

Sonnet: “The Four Evangelists of the Apocalypse”

 

Apocalypse

Corporate Apocalypse

The evangelists of the apocalypse,
our old friends Murder, Murk, Lucre and Grab,
advance, all slinging guns and swinging hips–
valkyries, horsemen, ravens – rend and stab,
corporate-coloured red, blue, yellow, green–
give opiate online lives, plant-meat kebabs,
while sucking out the everything between
to flesh and farm their diabolic labs
where rats, replaced by chimps, replaced by us
are harvested, dissected and thrown out.
The Evangelists, a giant octopus,
seize and build all that maximizes clout
till A.I., comet-like (think Yucatan)
wipes homo sapiens out, grows Superman.

This apocalyptic SF sonnet was published in Star*Line, now edited by F. J. (Jeannie) Bergmann of Wisconsin. Think of it as pure optimism: the evil corporate giants were sucking humanity dry, but then A.I. takes over and, yes, wipes us out altogether, but at least replaces us with something better! The optimism being that we may not be actually eliminated, more like upgraded…

Do I believe that? No. But I also don’t think we can even guess at what the world will be like by the end of this century. Humans will be transforming themselves unpredictably by then. So hopefully the planet will still have some form of us around, and not just postnuclear cockroaches.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: LindaAnn LoSchiavo, “A Visit to Cemetery Hill”

LindaAnn LoSchiavo

When was it? How did I become the kind
Who failed to cherish life, discarded laughs?

I’d done no Christmas shopping since Dan died.

Strange forces urged me out as more snow fell,
Filling the windows, decorating trees,
Avoiding certain branches — — just like folks
Who know how to keep apart. The weatherman
Advised pedestrians to stay indoors.

Barely protected, wearing an old coat,
Worn out boots, steered by impulses alone,
I trudged along until I realized
The yuletide hypnotized my weary eyes.

Against my will, those luminarias
Attracted. Coffined lights, like sentinels,
Marked gates of Cemetery Hill, where we
Had bid adieu. Temptation made me stoop
To steal a souvenir — — when he appeared.

I tried to run. My heavy rubbers clung,
Wet mud imprisoning me like quicksand.
My footprints left a useless trail behind,
Uncertain as redemption once denied.

The faceless creature merged with me. Mid-gait,
My right leg was suspended, awkwardly,
When I heard singing — — yes! — — “Die Fledermaus,”
Our favorite, the last performance Dan
And I enjoyed together — —happy times
Resurrected at Prince Orlofsky’s ball,
As Strauss’s music peeled away sorrow,
A ghostly partner lifting me, leading
Us effortlessly in a waltz. I felt
Like Rosalinde, my shearling a silk gown,
Fond debutante who danced, dipped, all aglow.

As quick as this possession overtook
Me, it departed. My boots made contact
With earth. I watched as the transparent male
Took two steps, disappeared. The sun came up.

I headed home, discovering the snow
Completely cleared away, and whistling
That overture. Attempting to make sense
Of this experience, all I knew was
Words do not live entirely inside
Language and neither does such new found joy.

LindaAnn Schiavo writes: “This ghost poem (pasted in below) is based on an actual New York City yuletide encounter with a spirit.

Back-story:
Right before Xmas, in the mid-1990s, I had just left The Strand Bookshop in NYC.
The sidewalk is unusually wide on Broadway by Grace Church.
But when I saw the ghost, I deliberately altered my path to collide with it.
Poor soul, roaming around, was probably visiting a neighborhood he once knew.
He was wearing a dark hooded tracksuit.
His nylon work-out pants had light stripes down the side of each leg.
He had a slim, athletic build — — a man cut down in his prime.

I just had to “make contact.”
Why? To offer my warmth, my joy, my essence as temporary comfort to this restless spirit.

Process notes:
Twenty years later, I fictionalized it.
My protagonist became a lonely, joyless widow who meets a ghost [i.e., her dead husband].
I imagined an emotional yet mysterious “reunion” on Xmas Eve that would somehow offer comfort to a woman, enabling her to regain her joy even though she can’t quite explain what happened.

After my 1,500-word short story was published and also translated into Russian, I revised it as a poem.”

 

LindaAnn LoSchiavo, recently Poetry SuperHighway’s Poet of the Week, is a member of SFPA and The Dramatists Guild. Her poetry collections “Conflicted Excitement” [Red Wolf Editions, 2018], “Concupiscent Consumption” [Red Ferret Press, 2020], and Elgin Award nominee “A Route Obscure and Lonely”‘ [Wapshott Press, 2020] along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles.

“A Route Obscure and Lonely” speculative poetry by LindaAnn LoSchiavo is available on Amazon.