Monthly Archives: July 2019

Poem: “Roughing It In Europe”

One two three four
Is OK, but you need more:

Un deux trois quat’
If you want a welcome mat

En to tre fire
With the krone getting dearer,

Bir iki uç dirt
Selling off your jeans or shirt

Wahid zoozh teleta arba
In a cafe by the harbour

Üks kaks kolm neli
For some food to fill your belly;

Jeden dwa trzy cztery
Language may be shaky, very,

Uno dos tres cuatro
But they’ll love you if you’re up to

Eins zwei drei vier
Trying freely, laughing freer.

This poem, more fully titled “(On the value of learning languages, when) Roughing It In Europe”, was originally published in Unsplendid, actually a splendid magazine that unfortunately has been quiet for the past couple of years. The poem dates back to my early hitchhiking days, when I was based in Copenhagen but wandering around Europe, North Africa and North America. My experience was that you could wander into any country without any plans, prior contacts or knowledge of the language, and survive so long as you quickly learned to say Yes, No, Please, Thank you, Hello, Goodbye and to count from zero to ten – and so long as you smiled, and were comfortable being laughed at for all kinds of mistakes. Case in point: the word “zoozh” that I learned for “two” in Morocco won’t get you very far in most Arabic-speaking countries… So it goes.

Technically, this poem written in a simple form, 11 rhymed couplets, four feet to a line. The second line of each couplet has mostly trochaic feet (i.e. with two syllables, a stressed or accented one followed by an unstressed one). But the first line of each couplet is simply counting out 1-2-3-4 in different languages, and therefore the feet vary with the words of the language. But as we are used to counting to four in a steady rhythm, everything sounds rhythmic regardless of the number of syllables.

So this shows another type of “form”: each couplet is structured the same in the sense of the first line counting 1-2-3-4, always in a new language, and the second line having four feet and rhyming with its first line’s “four”. And therefore the poem has a “nonce” form – I created this form for this specific poem; it was created “for the nonce”.

 

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Poem: “Jam Jar” (was “Fireflies”)

In the night’s jam jar of my memory
My long-dead parents live as fireflies.
My thoughts of them worn by time’s emery,
Their faint light still suggests where my path lies.


“Jam Jar” was published last year in the September issue of
Amsterdam Quarterly (as well as in the AQ 2018 Yearbook). I originally titled it “Fireflies”, but AQ editor Bryan Monte had published a piece with that name in the previous issue, and naturally requested a change. Such are the vagaries of the publishing world.

Catching fireflies in a jar is such a childlike activity. And that’s appropriate here: no matter how old you become, you will always be the child of your parents.

Technically: it’s a short, simple poem. Iambic pentameter suits the meditative mood, the ABAB rhyme scheme is a natural for four lines.

Potcake Chapbooks: Call for Submissions

Potcake Chapbooks (named for the stray dogs of the Bahamas and Caribbean) come together when enough good poems – in a diversity of forms with a diversity of attitudes and by a diversity of poets – have crossed my path and appear to have some common theme or topic. The next three are likely to be on Modern Troubles, on Wordplay, and on Translations… but they are close to full already.

After that – if I am able to hold artist Alban Low‘s attention long enough – the next topics might be Lost Loves, or Various Heresies, or Portraits Unpleasant, or Seasons, or Age, or Pets, or who knows. It will depend on what shows up.

Poems should be in formal verse, from 2 to 20 lines in length strongly preferred (but up to 50 lines barely possible), witty, vivid, elegant, and previously published. Flippant, emotional and meditative are all equally welcome. Contributors receive five copies.

By submitting you acknowledge you are the sole author and give the publisher, Sampson Low, 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. Warning: There is no time frame for acceptance or rejection! The chapbooks have been appearing periodically since last October, but there is no fixed schedule. We will check with you before a poem is published, but until then I simply store an inventory of possible poems. 

Email poems that you feel are in the spirit of the Potcake series, preferably in a single doc file, to robinhelweglarsen -at- gmail.com

Poem: “And Then You Die”

And then you die. So what have you achieved?
Your house, your place of work, both turn to dust.
You’re honoured? But who’s on a marble bust
none knows or cares, or if the honour’s thieved.
You cheated? Centuries later, none’s aggrieved.
You fought for Freedom? But in history’s dust
no war is seen as necessary or just.
You were a saint? None cares what you believed.
Why all this striving, more than to survive?
Millennia hence a random rubbish heap
will be more studied than your claimed success.
So find a sunny sea, be calm, alive,
swim, then float on your back and fall asleep.
Life can be no more perfect; death no less.

This sonnet was published in Snakeskin a couple of weeks ago. I was very happy with its formal Petrarchan rhyme scheme, until I suddenly noticed, reading it for the umpteenth time, that I had used the word “dust” twice in the rhymes. Given the enormous number of alternatives I could have chosen from, I’m a little embarrassed. All I can say is, the word just seemed so natural, in both places…

But, in the spirit of the poem, so what? The swimming is lovely today!

Poem: “I Started Out Alone”

I started out alone
with no numbers and no words.
The people gave me food and clothes.
I loved the sun and birds.

And when I reach the end,
numbers and words all done,
have to be fed and dressed again,
I’ll love the birds and sun.

This little poem was published recently in Bewildering Stories, and I like it for a couple of reasons: its simplicity (echoing the simplicity of the states of beginning and end of life, the simplicity of the basics of being human); and its completeness – it covers an entire life, and I can’t think of more words that could be added; and the formality, not only of the simple rhythm and simple rhymes, but of the structure, the line-by-line echoing of the beginning of life in the end of life.

For all these reasons it is an easy little poem to remember and recite, and that is satisfying in itself.

Formal Launch: Potcake Chapbook 4 – Families and Other Fiascoes

The fourth Potcake Chapbook is now launched into the wide world, with its contributors coming from England, Wales, Greece, the Netherlands, Canada, and coast to coast in the US.

04 Families and Other FiascoesPoets new to this series are, in order of appearance, Maryann Corbett, Vera Ignatowitsch, Kathryn Jacobs, Anthony Lombardy, Susan de Sola, Jane Blanchard and Michael R. Burch.  A glance at their profiles in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets page will show you they include editors at Able Muse, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts and The Road Not Taken, as well as various prizewinners.

Returning contributors are A.E. Stallings, Ed Conti, Tom Vaughan, Ann Drysdale, Gail White and Chris O’Carroll, who of course can boast their own editing and prizewinning. And returning as well is the artwork of Alban Low.

It’s hard to do justice to families in a mere chapbook. Not only are there dozens of possible family relationships (and the number is actively increasing thanks to both social changes and biotech developments), but each of those relationships can close or distant, sweet or bitter, simple or complex, present or merely remembered. It requires science fiction to describe an individual entirely without a family.

This chapbook touches on a great deal, but by no means all, of what “family” means. Send a copy to someone who appreciates the bittersweetness that accompanies family love, up and down the generations.