Potcake Poet’s Choice: Kathryn Jacobs, ‘The Innocent’

They trust us, and they shouldn’t: butterflies
and earnestly pursuing preschoolers
careen among us, prone to accidents,
disasters in the making. Both of them

incapable of short-cuts, see-sawing
oblivious among the negligent,
convinced that we know best, who disregard
how short their legs and lives are.

Some of them
(the lucky and unswatted) mobilize
their stubby forces to stay out of reach,

But most of them launch headlong, more afraid
of being left behind or swallowed, than

of damaged wings and feelings, wedged against
rude curb-stops or cupped hands –

Kathryn Jacobs writes: “I am choosing The Innocent because it reminds me of what I’ve lost: of my son Raymond in particular (though he is not in the poem overtly). Ray died at 18. I am sending a photo of Ray with his twin: it’s a photo that reminds me of more Innocent days.”

Kathryn Jacobs is a professor at Texas A&M-C and editor of The Road Not Taken. Her fifth book of poetry (Wedged Elephant) appeared in Kelsay Books. Her poems have appeared in Measure, The New Formalist, Southern Poetry Anthology, Mezzo Cammin, etc. Currently she is working on a book of Dan.
http://journalformalpoetry.com/

Short Poem: ‘Chronosynclastic’

In the chronosynclastic infundibulum
That is God’s fantastic waiting room,
You’re always barely on the score,
One show away from being shown the door.

“God’s waiting room” normally applies to places considered to have a large population of retirees, like Eastbourne in the UK, or Victoria, BC, or the state of Florida. But we are all mortal, and all facing an end at an unknown time. So Kurt Vonnegut’s dark existential humour seems universally applicable. He created the term ‘chrono-synclastic infundibulum’ in ‘The Sirens of Titan’ as a label for a place, or a moment, where all the different kinds of truths fit together, and where there are many different ways to be absolutely right about everything.

Take the concept of ‘God’. Though we can all agree on the meaning and validity of “God’s waiting room”, we may disagree vehemently on the meaning and validity of the word “God”. Can there be a place in which all the understandings of that word are simultaneously correct? Perhaps. We are only tiny-brained creatures in an obscure solar system in an unimportant galaxy, and can hardly presume to know all the answers, any more than any of our stone age ancestors did when they thought they knew everything.

Anyway, my poem (first published in Lighten-Up Online) pays homage to the author of ‘The Sirens of Titan’, ‘Cat’s Cradle’, ‘Slaughterhouse Five’… I put Kurt Vonnegut right up there with Tolstoy in the ranking of People Who Should Have Won A Nobel Prize But Didn’t.

So it goes.

Photo: “The Chronosynclastic Infundibulum – Front Elevation” by Fulla T is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Poem: ‘Oxford’

Purple voices, rich and rare,
Glowing in the jeweled air,
Handling esoteric themes,
Mysteries like running streams
Dammed with unexpected care
Into almost-answered prayer
Where you’d think no calmness could
In the wildest of the wood.
Thoughts and unknown meanings dance,
Wordwise weave you in a trance,
Darkly glowing, rich and rare,
Purple voices, glowing air.

This was first published in Candelabrum, the now-defunct journal dedicated to keeping formal/traditional poetry alive in the UK through the darkest days of free verse, i.e. from 1970 to 2010. I only discovered the magazine in 2004, better late than never–I had almost given up writing poetry, having been unable to publish anything at all up to that point. I remain grateful to its editor Leonard McCarthy, the Anglo-Irish formalist poet.

Photo: “Deep in conversation” by NatBat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: John Beaton, ‘Bedtime Story’

The sun has smouldered low. Its flaxen light
drizzles through the birches to the snow
where sheep stand still as hay-bales, beige on white.
A shepherd with a shoulderful of straw,
brindled by the shadows, softly walks.
The sheep flock round; he swings his load to strew
the strands on pillowed drifts like yellow locks,
then hastens homewards bearing sustenance
against the ghostly dark. He holds small hands
and spins his children tales of happenstance
and golden fleeces in enchanted lands.
Their minds woolgather. Snuggled down in bed,
they drift on snowy pillows; yellow strands
of hair glow like the hay their father spread.

John Beaton writes: “My wife and I have five children and one of my great delights was reading to them in bed when they were little. We covered a lot of ground, from Shel Silverstein’s poems and Roald Dahl’s stories to whole books like “Watership Down” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” This poem came to me when I was looking at the painting “Shortening Winter’s Day” by Joseph Farquarson (shown above). It was reminiscent of the place where I grew up in Scotland. The image of the shepherd feeding sheep in the gloaming light evoked the feeling of security and contentment that imbued those evenings of reading. I recite my poetry and tend to write for sound almost as much as for sense. I like the sounds of this one. Also, when picking subjects for poems, I’m more drawn to happiness and beauty than to sadness and misery. All in all, this poem fits my preferences quite nicely.”

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/

Short Poem: ‘The Logophile Picks a Fight’

By the spots of shame with which your life is spattered,
Your position, sir, is grossly overmattered –
Overmattered, sir, or greatly undermined;
And I cannot help but find
That the lot of humankind
Would be bettered, not embittered, were you battered!

After having kicked around for years, this short piece–which has no purpose other than wordplay–finally got an explanatory title (instead of just the first few words) and was published in this month’s Lighten-Up Online in the section ‘Words, Words, Words’. Thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Picking a fight for net neutrality #ind12” by Kalexanderson is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo has been cropped.

Short poem: ‘Yogis’

Though mystified why yogis walk
Across the burning coals,
We know they stand upon their heads
To elevate their soles.

This was first published in Metverse Muse, an Indian magazine put out by Dr. Tulsi Hanumanthu that champions structured verse in English. The poem’s pun seems so obvious to me that I’m still surprised I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Be that as it may, I’m a proponent of the health benefits of five-minute headstands, which I have been doing irregularly since I wrote the poem nearly 50 years ago, after spending a month in the Sivananda Vedanta Yogashram in Val Morin, Quebec.

As for timing five minutes while in a headstand, I do it by mentally reciting the first 18 verses of Matthew Arnold’s ‘The Scholar Gypsy’. After years of those 180 lines, I keep thinking I could replace it with 45 quatrains of ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’… but somehow I always get stuck pondering which edition of the Rubaiyat I prefer…

Photo: taken by Eliza.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Julia Griffin, ‘The Buck Stops’

A buck stopped here last Saturday early,
Just as the streets were turning blue.
A fine six-pointer, bronzed and burly:
What had it come for? Nobody knew.

It took its stand at the central bus stop,
Silent, proud-footed, thorny-topped.
There perhaps it had once seen us stop;
All that morning, nobody stopped.

It hardly seemed the thing to confront it.
We’ve little practice with bucks or deer;
Anyway, nobody tried to hunt it;
Anyway, nobody asked it here,

Maimed it, lamed it, blamed or shamed it!
This, in fact, is the most one can say:
A buck stopped here and nobody claimed it.
It waited a while, then it wandered away.

Julia Griffin writes: “I like the central image of a buck stopping. And it seems so widely applicable… I turn everything into an animal poem if I can.”

Julia Griffin lives in south-east Georgia/ south-east England. She has published in Light, LUPO, Mezzo Cammin, and some other places, though Poetry and The New Yorker indicate that they would rather publish Marcus Bales than her.

More of her poetry can be found in Light, at https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/?s=julia+g&submit=Search

Sonnet: ‘Drifting’

Drifting and drifting in an eddying stream
The leaf cannot recall the maple tree;
Pieces fall off; it has nor plan nor scheme;
How could a leaf have sense of destiny?
Its work is done; tree-feeding fades like dream,
Tree-making’s not a possibility.
It drifts and rots, nibbled by perch and bream
Or reaches finally the endless sea.

The sea itself moves, rhythmical and blind:
Is calm, or sprays salt as the waves make foam.
Seas have no will, no parliament of mind,
To make directives like hives make bees roam
To pollinate the world, defend their kind,
And with their mind create their honeycomb.

This sonnet drifts in several ways. The rhythm of iambic pentameter is meditative, rambling. The rhyme scheme is slow, repetitive, changing between the octave and sestet: ABABABABCDCDCD. And the ideas drift: the leaf is left behind when it reaches the sea, and the sea is abandoned for bees. The form seems suitable for the content.

‘Drifting’ has just been published in this month’s Snakeskin, whose editor commented “I like the way it moves from one idea to another that you don’t expect.” Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: “Like a Leaf in a Stream” by Referenceace – Working! is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘What Lasts?’

Munch’s Scream fades, and the Taliban
blow up the grandest statues that they can.
Safer are spoken treasures of the mind:
poems and songs outlast objects that rust,
or bust, or slowly crumble into dust.
Until from cave or dig comes some strange find…
but when Lascaux and Willendorf were young,
what was recited, or what songs were sung?

As regards “immortal” works of art… anything that is still respected in a hundred years is pretty good, anything still talked about after a couple of thousand years is doing very well… Songs and poems can manage that length of time, especially if connected a religion or other social ritual; but there is very little oral survival beyond that, and the survival of physical artifacts from tens of thousands of years ago is of the luckiest, perhaps of the lost or the most overlooked, not necessarily the best.

How wonderful if in the future we can recapture sounds from the Stone Age! At present there is no way to see how it could ever be done. But at least we have a few cave paintings and small carvings…

This poem was just published a short while ago in The Asses of Parnassus. Thanks, Brooke Clark!

“Austria. Wien Naturhistorisches museum Venus von Willendorf. Die Venus von Willendorf ist eine Venusfigurine aus der jüngeren Altsteinzeit (Jungpaläolithikum), dem Gravettien, und ist als Österreichs bekanntestes Fundstück heute im Naturhistorischen Museum” by Morton1905 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Friendly Advice’

“Listen, old feller-me-lad,” he said
With a rugger-player’s laugh
(Not that he was big and brawny,
Only about scrum-half)
“You can muck about till you’re blinking dead
Without a career or a wife,
But (I know that it sounds damn corny)
You’re wasting your bloody life!

“Look, Slater Walker would snap you up!
Anyone can see you’re no fool.
Or why not go round to the Honkers and Shankers?
You’ve been to a decent school.
But before you do, go and have a haircut
You can’t go through life as a clown.
Get a good job! You’ll only thank us
For helping you settle down.

“Work with a Bank, and go overseas,
That’s where you’ll get the best pay.
Look at us: Jill and I are content,
With our two kids, and one on the way.
We’ve enough for a car, and boarding-school fees,
And her clothes, and my drinking and smoking;
And the Bank pays us our large flat’s rent,
And we’ve got our own place in Woking.

“So we’ve got our means, and we’ve got our ends,
And we’re happy through and through;
But you, you do nothing, although you’re clever,
And we worry a bit about you.
Now look, we like you, we’re speaking as friends:
Settle down! Get a job and a wife!
You can’t go on mucking about for ever –
You’re wasting your bloody life!”

In my gap year between school and university I worked in the local Barclays Bank in my home town of Governor’s Harbour. My subsequent university career only lasted a matter of months and I began wandering between countries, but my former boss at Barclays had friendly advice for getting me back on track. His Englishness is there in the poem, which dates itself with references to the once-mighty Slater Walker investment house and with the nickname of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank before it became HSBC. It was a while ago… if Tim Clark is back in Woking with his wife Jill, they must be in their 90s by now.

The scansion of the poem is a little casual, but there are alternating 4 and 3 feet to a line. The rhyme scheme is tighter, ABCBADCD in each verse. I think it works well as a piece of casual one-sided discussion. First published in Lighten-Up Online – thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Bored at Work” by D Street is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0