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Poem: ‘Ex-Rover’

I was a rover, footloose treasure-trover,
Bahamian, Brit, Dane, Aussie, Canadian,
Easily settling, never for very long,
Followed the sun and the moon with a song.

Now roving is over, Death’s raving and raging,
The threatening madman, waving a knife.
Even my babies have babies, are ageing –
Aren’t there any more decades left in my life?

I was a rover – no grass
Grew under my feet as I’d pass.
Now grass grows and I cut it.
And it grows, and I cut it.
I was wired, now I’m tired;
Fired up, now I’m mired.
And the grass grows again… I give up.

Let me sleep in the sun, and sleep slow.
Let me sleep deep.
When was that rover me?
Let the grass grow.
Let the moon be the stone over me.

This poem has just been published in The Orchards Poetry Journal, where it immediately follows the poem I posted here a couple of days ago, ‘Roughing It In Europe‘. It makes a nice, somewhat sardonic, pairing. Appropriately, this one was written several years after the more enthusiastic earlier one. (From the Orchards link above you can download the Journal as a pdf for free, or buy the very lovely finished product.)

‘Ex-Rover’ is one of those poems that stretches the meaning of the word “formal”. But it has enough rhythm and rhyme to make it relatively easy to learn word for word, and that is a lot of the point of poetry in any language. I feel barely any shame in putting it into the world in this ragged form. The ragged form suits the mood of the piece, after all.

“wanderer” by Cornelia Kopp is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Nonce 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. Now the poem is just being reprinted in The Orchards Poetry Journal whose Summer edition is due out today. 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 one 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 was written in a simple form, nine 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 with 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”. You’d be unlikely to find another poem structured quite like this.

Photo: “Hitchhiking in Amsterdam” by Teppo is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘For Eliot’

I guess
Success
Not elation
Or creation
Alone may men not mock;

God bless
T.S.,
Spared the temptation
Of our generation —
Writing rhymes for rock.

First published in Metverse Muse in India. As you might guess, I wrote this before Andrew Lloyd Webber set that “Old Possum” T.S. Eliot‘s rhymes to music for the West End and Broadway hit Cats, disturbing everyone (except the Poetry Foundation)’s understanding of both Eliot and musicals.

Photo: “T.S. Eliot” by duncan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short poem: ‘My Life Twists’

My life twists
Dangling in the mists
A spider in the earliest hint of dawn.
My mind roams
Lost in a thousand homes,
Amnesiac messenger still trying to warn.

Sometimes a poem is just a mood. This is one such. It was first published some years ago in the now defunct Candelabrum. And, yes, it rhymes better in English than in American…

“Unidentified Spider on a Thread DSC_0197” by NDomer73 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Dreams’

In the back alleys of our nightly dreams-–
Where cartoon murders repay debts of grudge,
And all’s not graspable nor as it seems,
And logic leers, then sneers and disappears,
And our warped lusts of power, sex and pain
Live stray cat lives, are killed, and live again
To yowl and fight, to scavenge, hunt, give birth-–
We overlay fresh civilized veneers
On age-old dynamos of massive girth.
So the thin skin of life upon the Earth
Cannot restrain the molten mass beneath
(Driving relentless change despite crust’s sheath),
Till, trampled and forgotten in the sludge,
Our empires are mere broken plastic toys.
Dreams run from us like cats from evil boys.

Dreams, the unconscious, one’s Muse… cats, ravens, the Earth… time and timelessness, change and continuty… so many of these ideas return again and again, always the same, always differently organised, a true kaleidoscope. And this isn’t a sonnet–too many lines, no pattern to the rhymes–even if it sort of feels like one; it’s more of a kaleidoscope itself.

This poem was first published in The Lyric. As far as I remember, its editor wanted the removal of the word “on” from the ninth line; they thought this improved the scansion, and the editor is always right so I allowed it. But I’ve put it back now, anyway.

“My cat running away from the camera #cat #iphone #cats” by gargudojr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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.