Mosquito bite yuman, Now e full a blood. Lizard eat mosquito Say, man dis is good.
Lizard help hatch mosquito, Raise dem up good. Send dem out like good daddy Fe go find yuman blood.
Mosquito so happy Dem eat plenty blood. Lizard so happy Dem mosquito taste good.
Politician same like dis: Yu clap an yu sing, Yu eleck im an den E tax yu ting an ting.
I don’t normally write dialect verse, but it seemed appropriate for this idea. It was originally published in Snakeskin, republished in both The Hypertexts and Better Than Starbucks. The Bahamian accent can sound impenetrable to foreigners, but the words and grammar are not so different from standard English. By the way, “ting an ting” is just the non-specific plural of “tingum”–unspecified “stuff” rather than a specific “thing”.
Photo: “Brutality against mosquitoes.” by Bobinson K B is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Les sanglots longs Des violons De l’automne Blessent mon cœur D’une langueur Monotone.
Tout suffocant Et blême, quand Sonne l’heure, Je me souviens Des jours anciens Et je pleure;
Et je m’en vais Au vent mauvais Qui m’emporte Deçà, delà, Pareil à la Feuille morte.
English translation: Autumn Song
The long sobs Of the violins Of autumn Wound my heart With a monotonous Languor.
All breathless And pale, when The clock strikes, I remember The old days And I cry;
And I go In the ill wind Which carries me Here, there, Like the Dead leaf.
Published as part of his first collection ‘Poèmes saturniens’ in his early 20s, ‘Chanson d’automne’ has always been one of Paul Verlaine’s most popular poems. Even if a very young man saying “I remember the old days, and I cry” seems as questionable as the teenage Mary Hopkin singing “Those were the days, my friend”, the poem rings true. And Verlaine was certainly unsettled. Attracted to men, he soon married a young woman to try to “heal himself of the disease”. But then came Rimbaud.
Le Bateau ivre
Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles, Je ne me sentis plus guidé par les haleurs : Des Peaux-Rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles Les ayant cloués nus aux poteaux de couleurs.
English translation: The Drunken Boat
As I went down impassive rivers, I no longer felt myself guided by the haulers: Yelling Redskins used them as targets Having nailed them naked to coloured stakes.
This is the first quatrain of Arthur Rimbaud’s 100-line poem The Drunken Boat, one of his very best, written when he was 16. It is technically traditional, written in alexandrine quatrains rhyming abab. Told in the voice of the boat itself on a river, the drunken boat is throwing off the restrictions and requirements of its old life, feeling an inescapable desire to follow the natural flow to its destiny, the sea. Some of the sights are appalling (like a dead whale rotting), some ecstatic (like phosphorescent waters), as the boat fills with water and the desire to be completely absorbed.
Earlier that year Rimbaud had explained his approach to poetry in a letter: “I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.”
He then introduced himself to Verlaine by letter with various poems including The Drunken Boat. Verlaine, 11 years older than him, invited him to stay and fell for him completely. Rimbaud moved in, behaved scummily (belching and spitting at the table, talking with his mouth full) and made an immediate enemy of Mrs Verlaine who he only ever referred to as “the rat”. He had to leave. None of Verlaine’s friends could put up with him, so Verlaine rented rooms for him. Within a year Verlaine had effectively abandoned wife and young son, moving in with Rimbaud, and so together to London, then Brussels. Having fired a couple of pistol shots at Rimbaud in a fit of drunken jealousy, Verlaine was imprisoned for 18 months. Rimbaud moved on to new lovers and new countries–Java, Aden, Ethiopia, writing ever more experimental poetry, before returning to die in France at age 37. Verlaine taught in England for a few years, then taught English in France; he fell in love with one of his pupils, but lost him to typhus. He wrote increasingly symbolist poetry and sank into drug addiction, alcoholism (absinthe, of course) and poverty. He died five years after Rimbaud, aged 51.
And now the French government is grappling with a petition to relocate both poets from their comparatively obscure burial places to the Pantheon, “alongside other great literary figures like Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas, Hugo and Malraux”. The Culture Minister is in favour of the idea, but there is an angry backlash. There is a BBC story here.
But there is no argument that the poetry itself is among the best produced by France.
Sure never yet was antelope Could skip so lightly by. Stand off, or else my skipping-rope Will hit you in the eye. How lightly whirls the skipping-rope ! How fairy-like you fly ! Go, get you gone, you muse and mope — I hate that silly sigh. Nay, dearest, teach me how to hope, Or tell me how to die. There, take it, take my skipping-rope, And hang yourself thereby.
This odd little poem appeared in the 1842 ‘Poems by Alfred Tennyson’, and was reprinted in every edition until 1851 when it was suppressed. I’ve italicised one of the two speakers in order to make the poem easier to understand on first reading. There is no visual indication, otherwise, that this is a conversation between an admirer and the irritated rope-skipper.
The very simple structure, very regular iambics, and very repetitive rhyme scheme are perfectly in keeping with the monotonous activity of skipping. I’ve always found the poem charming and amusing in its bizarre way.
(The photograph is “Girl with skipping rope, Albert Lomer studio, Sydney” by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies.)
We dreamed we could fly to the moon With six grey geese pulling our sleigh. We dreamed we could fly to the moon – We can, but not in that way.
We dreamed we could see round the world With a magical mirror display. We dreamed we could see round the world – We can, but not in that way.
We dreamed we could live forever By doing whatever gods say. We dreamed we could live forever – We can, but not in that way.
It seems to me that anything that humans can imagine, some of them will try to achieve. Further, that the fairytale and fantasy dreams of preliterate days still continue, and they are indeed being achieved–though not necessarily as was originally imagined. Can we (or our descendants) attain indefinite lifespans? I think so, but probably not as the kind of human that we are today. After all, if you could halt ageing, if you could rejuvenate the body, what else would you think of tinkering with?
James Joyce’s ‘Chamber Music’ was published in 1907, a tightly organised collection of very singable little love songs published three years after he met his future wife, Nora Barnacle. She was a chambermaid from Galway, and their first outing together–a walk through the Dublin suburb of Ringsend–was sufficently memorable (she masturbated him) that the date of 16 June 1904 was made the day of the events of Joyce’s novel ‘Ulysses’, and is now celebrated in various fashions around the world as Bloomsday.
The first poem of ‘Chamber Music’ sets the tone, not necessarily what you would expect from Joyce, but definitely related to his very fine singing voice:
Strings in the earth and air Make music sweet; Strings by the river where The willows meet.
There’s music along the river For Love wanders there, Pale flowers on his mantle, Dark leaves on his hair.
All softly playing, With head to music bent, And fingers straying Upon an instrument.
Yes, well… Anyway, apart from the Joycean suggestiveness the lyrics provide a simple narrative over the 36 poems, short poems of eight to 18 lines. He sings of a girl, a maiden, shy, beautiful; she is a dove, a sweetheart, his true love, and only becomes a lady in Number 28. Then in the last three we have the “unquiet heart”, then “the grey winds”, and finally the last dream poem begins “I hear an army charging upon the land” and ends “My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?”
The narrative of the lyrics does not reflect Joyce’s life with Nora. She had moved with him to Austria-Hungary in 1904, and they stayed together until his death in 1941.
I just came from The Seagull, and it’s still the tour de force it was when it was written. The jaded past, a tragic Russian vaudeville, ushers in the star-struck and the smitten, the ingénue, the predator, hard-bitten, artists in a trance-like state and sordid, bewitched by when and how they’ll be rewarded.
Success too young is said to be a curse for writers—yours was neither smug nor rude. By twenty-one, your stories filled a purse to pay your famished family’s rent and food. Your father’s violence had finally been subdued. Doctor, writer, you could dress a wound or stage a scene of pettiness lampooned.
Though philistines have claimed your plays lack action there are secret histrionics of the mind where characters break through the stupefaction and character unfolds when it’s confined. Whether tight, oblivious or blind, the diva crippled by her little fame reveals herself in fear of change, or shame.
Your plays still plumb the interplay between words and silence, plotlessness and plot in which you show an uneventful scene composed entirely of what was not to be—the spent emotion scattershot around the stage in wraiths of lost pretension, and meaning haunted by the fourth dimension.
How women loved Antosha! You could be flippant, daring, timid, or a charmer. Biographers today are on a spree: computers link to lovers and their armor, unsigned stories, letters to a farmer, notes on pets. But did your gentle crane mean more to you than Masha or demesne?
And Lydia Avilova! Tantamount to love affair or game of cat-and-mouse, no one could say by reading her account of unrequited love, the empty house once lent by friends, your hunch her child and spouse (Karenina, or Lady with a Dog?) would haunt her like a countermarch, a fog.
Or worse. Perhaps it was her child for whom you stopped. Could she have let him go? It might have meant despondency and doom, and why should history have the need to know? Eventually Avilova’s book would show the years you spent inventing cryptic ruses, the stifled passion, the letters bearing bruises.
Four years before you died, you took a wife, the theater’s Olga Knipper—Like a colt, you said—who thrived on acting, laughter, life, and you. Your own Teutonic thunderbolt. Masha would be the sister in revolt. She’d broken her engagement years before at your insistence. Masha was keeping score.
Juggling marriage, jealousy, TB, and writing plays, in Yalta you missed Moscow, Olga, the theater—in Moscow you craved the sea, the ease, the heat. You dreaded every flow of springtime melt, the break of ice and snow. With spring came spitting blood, and you were weak. Writing was a trial. You couldn’t speak.
In youth, you wrote: Of all the doctors in town, I am the sorriest case. My carriage is broken, my horses mangy, I don’t know the roads, I frown at night and still can’t see, and I’m awoken by pleas for cash, of which I’ve none. Unspoken disease is rampant. I tire very quickly, practice medicine gratis, and am sickly.
My paraphrase, and fraught with emendations. The tragedy is clear. The truth is that you struggled with the people’s deprivations and gave yourself away sans caveat. En route to France’s kinder habitat, you died a “doctor’s death”—TB, champagne, the German spa, and morphine for the pain.
Terese Coe writes: “The letter-poem speaks for me.”
Terese Coe’s poems and translations have appeared in Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Moth, New American Writing, New Writing Scotland, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, Potcake Chapbooks, The Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, and the TLS, among many other journals. Her collection Shot Silk was listed for the 2017 Poets Prize. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terese_Coe
Through the honeyed halls of Autumn
Hums the angry ageing bee;
As its work faces fruition,
And its life, redundancy.
This little poem was originally published in Candelabrum, a 1970 formalist hold-out that ran for forty years in the UK under Leonard McCarthy. More recently, it was just republished in Jerome Betts’ latest Lighten-Up Online.
Epigrammatic couplets and quatrains, being rhyme- and stress-based, are common throughout Indo-European languages. They hold the same natural place that haiku, senryu and tanka have in syllable-counting Japanese. It is easier to learn by heart a poem whose form uses the natural strengths of the language, rather than something written in a language-inappropriate form.
Similarly, when reading a poem in translation, you get the ideas and the imagery but you normally lose the enhancement of mood caused by the metre, the rhythm of the verse, as well as by the rhyme. So ideas and imagery alone give you prose, not poetry.
Consider the differences in tone of gravity or levity set by rhythm in these opening lines (and you need to read them aloud–in your head if you can do that, otherwise really aloud, in order to hear the rhythm, the beat of the lines):
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky...
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three...
On the top of the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle Wangle sat...
The first is meditative, the second full of action, the third is casual, informal… and those moods are set by the rhythm alone.
Metre is an essential component of English poetry. Make the metre-rule your yardstick. Don’t leave home without it.
Well-known British poet Robin Houghton has a blog that is also connected to her list of British and Irish poetry magazines, with information about their submission opportunities and requirements. This is similar to Trish Hopkinson’s blog and lists of predominantly American poetry magazines, with this major difference: Trish Hopkinson produces individually themed lists for the enormous US poetry scene, whereas Robin Houghton provides a single list of (currently) 107 magazines. (Subscribe to Robin Houghton’s free email list to get quarterly updates.)
But that’s not bad for formal poets, as British and Irish poetry magazines are far more likely than American ones to publish traditional (especially innovatively traditional) verse. I put the cultural difference down to the educational systems, at least as they were in my school days, decades ago. For those not familiar with the matter, the British system started with subject-specific teachers at the beginning of primary (= elementary) school, the American system not for another five or six years. So in those formative educational years, the Brits were learning English from an English teacher… while the Americans were learning from a generalist who was teaching English, history, mathematics, science, Spanish, etc etc, and doing it from an approved book because they didn’t necessarily have any particular knowledge or love of any of those subjects.
English teacher: let’s learn this poem by heart. Read it so you can hear the rhythm, catch the rhymes, that’s how you learn songs. Now try writing one.
American teacher: anyone can write poetry, it’s your feelings. Write down three words that describe how you feel today. That’s a poem! See? It’s easy.
The result is that the UK and Ireland have the rhythms and rhyme and background culture of verse more firmly embedded in their population than Americans do.
Robin Houghton’s list of poetry magazines is very rewarding for anyone who wants to work their way through the listings, look up a couple of sample poems and get a feel for a magazine, and find a new place to submit their own work–generally speaking, formal poetry is more likely to be accepted in the UK and Ireland than it is in North America.
The sun comes out. Street-closing hills that climb Below the scoops of cumulus from Wales Are woodland backdrops lit for pantomime, Bright as the ribbons round the horses’ tails.
Where steam-frilled dung and strawy puddles mix In iron pens, the mud-scaled cattle groan; The auctioneers outbawl the rapping sticks And rattling bars and hobnails scraped on stone.
Lost in the din, the gaiters, boots and wheels, The lambs cry, unregarded. Overhead, The clock, white marble up in front, conceals That all behind is brickwork’s weathered red.
A stray dog pauses, sniffs, then, deaf to shouts, Swings up its leg against a net of sprouts.
Jerome Betts writes: “I’m attached to this piece, first printed in Pennine Platform, as it began as wispy free verse in university days and gradually metamorphosed over many years. The bellowing from the market punctuated lessons in a West Midlands cathedral city and other elements were attracted, like the ribbons in the horses’ tails and then a reminder of the street-ending hills in a small town in Castilla y León, and the closing couplet from another in the East Midlands.But, aided by the grappling-hook of rhyme, something unexpected emerged from the depths and took over with the lambs and the clock, often an intriguing result of struggling with formal constraints.”
Jerome Betts was born and brought up on the Welsh border, but now lives in South Devon, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. In addition to articles and verse in consumer and specialist magazines his work has appeared in Pennine Platform, Staple and The Guardian, as well as anthologies like The Iron Book of New Humorous Verse, Limerick Nation, Love Affairs At The Villa Nelle, and The Potcake Chapbooks 1 & 2, and online at Amsterdam Quarterly, Angle, The Asses of Parnassus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts, Light, The New Verse News, Parody, The Rotary Dial, Snakeskin, and other sites.
On those days when, because you felt attacked, you just won’t speak, it’s like a dress rehearsal for one of us being dead. (So, a prehearsal?) Can’t speak for you, how you’d react, but for myself, if you die, I know only: I’d be lonely.
After the slow dispersal of the acquisitions of the years from yard sales, impulses, unfinished plans– after the children’s and grandchildren’s tears, (their own mortality foretold in Gran’s) there’d be an emptiness.
Routine unravels: I’d need an act of will to even shave– the dogs don’t care how I behave. All I need’s here in cupboards, shelves, on line. I’d be just fine… apart from growing restlessness.
I guess I’d restart travels. Meanwhile I’ve learned how it will be to live without you, just your memory, a silent apparition in this room and that, the ghost of one who used to laugh and chat.
Think of this as a melancholy love poem, written in a temporary (thank goodness) state of being that can occur in any relationship.
This poem was published this month in Snakeskin No. (or #) 276. I feel proud to be in the issue, as I rate it as one of the best ever in the 20+ years that George Simmers has been putting the magazine out. Though much of the poetry is formless (but still worth reading!), there is some truly impressive work by Tom Vaughan and Scott Woodland, with well-structured work by Robert West, Nick Browne and Jerome Betts, and with interesting innovations in form by Marjorie Sadin, Claudia Gary and George himself–in this last, the character of the verse becomes more lively as the character in the verse becomes more alive.
Technically the form of the poem–uneven lengths of iambics, all lines rhyming but not in a structured way–is one that allows the line breaks to echo your intact chunks of thought as well as the rhythms of speech. It is the form of Eliot’s Prufrock and, earlier, of Arnold’s A Summer Night:
And the rest, a few, Escape their prison and depart On the wide ocean of life anew. There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart Listeth will sail;
It is a casual form, but it retains enough of the hooks of more formal verse to make it easy to memorise and recite.