Monthly Archives: November 2021

Sonnet: ‘Exiled Leader’

I’ve few wants on my planet, fewer needs –
I like seas, trees, exploring what I’ve made,
Prospecting for the transgalactic trade,
Composing music while collecting seeds.
I like green islands, but won’t interfere
If eco climate needs a waste of ice
Or rock-filled deserts simply are the price
Of balancing the seas and atmosphere.
I’m rarely lonely, happy to create:
Atonal opera, atoning for
Those antisocial acts that led to war,
Jailed on the planet that I populate.
So I plant trees, make insects, have a swim,
Watch, read, compose… my life’s an endless whim.

This sonnet is one of four I wrote after Maryann Corbett commented on the bleakness of my future visions. I suppose this doesn’t really contradict that comment… we’ll have good news and bad news: the good news is, obnoxious leaders will still (occasionally) be deposed, jailed, or exiled to play golf; the bad news is, transgalactic warfare will be pretty awful. But to me, the future’s not bleak if humans keep on developing, changing, growing, exploring, discovering, creating. I think that’s the most likely scenario, that we move out into the galaxy as transhumans and then as post-humans. Though when I say “we” I don’t mean to suggest that includes me! Neither moon nor Mars excite me. I like woods and gardens by the sea.

This poem was published in Star*Line, the official print journal of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (thanks, Jean-Paul Garnier). Its poetry includes the full range of styles from formal to free. And the SFPA has another, online, journal called Eye To The Telescope. For reasons unknown my poems haven’t found lodging in ETTT yet.

“The Little Prince” by manfred majer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Review: Helena Nelson, ‘Starlight on Water’

Helena Nelson’s 2003 poetry collection ‘Starlight on Water’ is quiet, reflective, beautiful and intensely intimate. Not necessarily personal – in some of the poems the poet has no children, in others a daughter or two, so there is no guarantee Nelson is writing of herself – but intimate with the senses and memories of existence. One of my favourite poems is ‘Ironing Day’:

I’ve never had an ironing board cover that fits
or a baby of my own.
None of the doors here properly shuts
and the garden wall’s come down.

But I shouldn’t ever want to lose my iron.
Pressing hard, I remember
grass between my toes
and the soft rain of September.

This speaks to several of my biases: going barefoot, enjoying rain, tolerating imperfection, triggering memories… and the music of casually rhythmical rhymed verse.

Not all of her verse is in the same style. Some poems are formally structured, some are free; the bulk of the book wanders all over internal and external landscapes, while the last third circles around and around Mr. and Mrs. Philpott, first one and then the other, a very caring couple of very distinct individuals in their mature second marriage. Here are some opening lines at random from the 19 Philpott Poems:

At the kitchen window
in his dressing gown,
Philpott stands alone
his sons have gone.
He’s on his own.

and

The sweetness of June, a summons conveyed
from strawberry fields, calls her to pick.
She drives to the farm, the car arrayed
with Tupperware tubs.

and

His father died at fifty-eight
and so he will die at fifty-eight.
He fetches a tumbler.
Two years to go.

and

Philpott’s anger lives in his shoes.
It tangles in the laces
and he wrestles like a lover

The first part of the book is about all manner of things – the spirit of a dead cat, say, or a night in an isolated Scottish cottage, or the teasing poem ‘Genderalisation’:

Women keep scales in their bedrooms;
Men keep weights.

The latter part of the book is just the Philpotts. What the whole book has in common is, without any sentimentality, the deep love that comes from respect, patience and close observation. It is all very intimate, and Nelson appropriately ends the Philpotts and the book with this short poem, ‘Love’:

He has tipped, he has spilled
his soul into her
and she carries it still
like starlight on water.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Paula Mahon, ‘Driven to the Mall in December’

I must go back to the mall again for the holidays are nigh
and all I ask is a parking space with direction posts nearby
in a covered lot, or a shoveled spot with room for a Chevy van.
There are two more days till the 25th and I have no Christmas plan.

I must go down to the mall again for the lure of the discount sale.
There’s just empty space ‘neath my Christmas tree, and I simply cannot fail.
And all I ask is some helpful clerk and ample stock for buying.
If there’s nothing left or the cost too dear, there will be a lot of crying.

I must go back to the mall again for the twinkling Christmas lights
that bedeck the trees and storefront shows of holiday delights.
I have had it with the crowds and lines, I’m no happy shopping rover
I can’t wait till the 26th when the holidays are over.

Paula Mahon writes: “I have just the timely thing for your blog… a holiday parody poem of John Masefield’s Sea-Fever.  This was originally published in Light.”

Paula Mahon is a practicing family physician and medical director of Health Care for Homeless in Manchester, NH. Her essays, poems and stories have been published in the Boston Globe, Light, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Pulse and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Strip Down – poems of modern life‘; she won The Lyric’s 2020 New England Prize for a poem called Two Points of View. She is married to Robert d’Entremont and mother to a son, Raymond, adopted from Kazakhstan.

‘Old Sailors’ – one poem, two forms

Two tars talked of sealing and sailing; one said with a sigh
“Remember gulls wheeling and wailing, we wondering why,
“And noting bells pealing, sun paling — it vanished like pie!
“And then the boat heeling, sky hailing, the wind getting high,
“And that drunken Yank reeling to railing and retching his rye,
“John missing his Darjeeling jailing, and calling for chai?
“While we battened, all kneeling and nailing, the hurricane nigh,
“And me longing for Ealing, and ailing?”
His mate said “Aye-aye;
“I could stand the odd stealing, food staling, not fit for a sty,
“And forget any feeling of failing, too vast to defy –
“Home-leaving your peeling-paint paling too far to espy –
“All because of the healing friend-hailing, the hello! and hi!
“And, with the gulls squealing, quick-scaling the mast to the sky.”

That was the original version, published in Snakeskin. Two sailors talking, each with a long, rambling reminiscence. When I submitted the poem to Beth Houston for consideration for the ‘Extreme Formal Poems: Contemporary Poets‘ anthology she was assembling, she suggested reformatting it to break each line between the two talkers, leading to a rapidfire (and constantly interrupted) flow of memories.

Two tars talked of sealing and sailing,
One said with a sigh:
“Remember gulls wheeling and wailing—”
“We wondering why—”
“And noting bells pealing, sun paling—”
“It vanished like pie!”
“And then the boat heeling, sky hailing—”
“The wind getting high…”
“And that drunken Yank reeling to railing—”
“And retching his rye!”
“John missing his Darjeeling jailing—”
“And calling for chai—”
“Us battening, kneeling and nailing—”
“The hurricane nigh!”
“Me longing for Ealing, and ailing—”
“This mate said ‘Aye-aye’—”
“I’d stand the odd stealing, food staling—”
“Not fit for a sty!”
“Forget any feeling of failing—”
“Too vast to defy!”
“Home-leaving your peeling-paint paling—”
“Too far to espy—”
“Because of the healing friend-hailing—”
“The hello! The hi!”
“And, with the gulls squealing, quick-scaling—”
“The mast to the sky.”

Here the two sailors alternate every half-line. (I’m having difficulty insetting the second half in WordPress, the way it shows up in the printed book.) Beth Houston made a couple of other editorial changes, in part to create better sense within this alternation (for example, the original break of ‘His mate said “Aye-aye” is modified to “This mate said ‘Aye-aye’—”) and in part because her Extreme Formalism manifests in rigourous syllable-counting, and she ruthlessly eliminates the occasional excess syllable at the beginning of a line which I allow for conversational flow.

But I find it interesting to see essentially the same poem structured in two different ways. Does it make a difference? Does the new variant lose the “good nautical rhythm” and “finely composed wordy-whirlwind of images” that others have commented on, or does it enhance them? Is version preferable to the other? Does one read more easily, or is one more vivid, or is one easier to memorise? I’m stuck on this, and need outside opinions. I would truly appreciate a comment below from anyone reading this.

Poem: ‘Hunting’

The Osprey splashes, misses, and flies by
skimming the waves, rising, five yards away.
What’s its success rate? Does it care?
The Stingray searches, gliding, mouth to sand
five yards beyond the shallows where I stand.
Its Roomba-work’s its own affair.
The water splishes, burbles random rhythms.
The sun confuses, over-hot, then hidden.
The Oystercatcher calls. The Osprey rocks
on its branch in a casuarina,
flaps down-beach to another.
Along the margins of the shore, alone, each stalks.
They hunt for food
and I hunt them for what they mean, or could.

A semi-formal poem: rhymes and slant rhymes, iambic rhythm, but little structure beyond that. I was hunting for a poem about hunting for a poem, and, well, you don’t catch everything you want every time…

Published recently in the British periodical ‘Obsessed With Pipework‘ – thank you, Charles Johnson!

“Osprey landing_9566” by Don Johnson 395 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Review: ‘The Lesser Mortal’ by Geoff Lander

Geoff Lander has produced a score of full-page formal poems about various scientific luminaries: Maxwell, Einstein, Mendeleev and so on, combining career highlights with odd trivia about them. The poems are technically very skilful, with a variety of forms and metres being used (though the book is marred in a couple of places by the typesetting failing to follow the structure of lines and rhymes). Here is an excerpt from ‘On the Shoulders of Others’:

Does the gentle polymath,
Monsieur Henri Poincaré,
buried there in Montparnasse,
ponder how it came to pass
Einstein’s name now dominates
all things relativité?
(…)
In the central USA
near St. Louis one fine day
in 04 he first declared
E might equal mc2.

That was news to me. And it does raise the question of why Einstein should get all the recognition. Another of Lander’s poems, ‘Socks Off to Einstein’, suggests a possible answer:

While others may claim to have seen mc2,
they weren’t sock-eccentric, they weren’t spiky haired.
Their names are forgotten. Quite rightly that rankles–
the price you might pay if you coddle your ankles.
So three cheers for Albert, and get your heels bared!

Lander is a chemist by training and a computer programmer by profession, and poetry only came along when he started writing out other people’s verse to help his right hand recover from a stroke. Then, “encouraged from Scotland by Helena Nelson and from the grave by John Betjeman”, he started writing his own verse of which only a tiny fraction has been published.

New historical information and skilful light verse makes for a powerful combination! This very interesting little book from HappenStance Press contains most of what Geoff Lander has published to date.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jerome Betts, ‘In Northampton Museum’

Among the hide-and-canvas lace-ups made
For some poor elephant’s giant tender feet
And leathery minutiae of trade
     In boots, dissected or complete,

Mint Army-issue, every shade of bruise,
With Tudor scraps from trenches workmen dig,
You find a case containing John Clare’s shoes,
    Asylum-worn, and very big.

Jerome Betts writes: ”In Northampton Museum, published in Angle and The Hypertexts, is for me one of those pieces in which some lines just seem to arrive fully formed. In 1969-70 I lived for eighteen months in Northampton and sometimes visited its Shoe Museum whose displays reflected the traditional local industry. The town also still had the former Northampton County Asylum (now a private psychiatric hospital) where John Clare spent his last years. Somehow, the military  footwear, the curious elephant boots and Clare’s shoes all seemed to come together. Oddly enough, nearly  two years ago  I received a Lighten Up Online contribution about elephants from someone in the USA who, it turned out, knew another contributor who knew the American leader of the expedition in 1950, testing some theory about Hannibal’s’ crossing of the Alps, for which the elephant boots had been made.”

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,  Extreme Sonnets, Extreme Formal Poems 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.

https://www.lightenup-online.co.uk/

Odd poem: Abraham Lincoln, ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’

Here where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from out your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

This poem was published anonymously in the April 25, 1838 edition of The Sangamo Journal of Springfield, Illinois, under this introduction: “The following lines were said to have been found near the bones of a man supposed to have committed suicide, in a deep forest, on the Flat Branch of the Sangamon, sometime ago.” For various reasons it is now commonly assumed that this is the poem that Lincoln’s friend Joshua Speed told Lincoln’s biographer William Herndon about, a poem that the President had written on suicide as he struggled through a period of deep depression.

A full discussion of the identification of the poem with Lincoln can be found in the magazine Shenandoah, and I happily quote their assessment of Lincoln’s merits as a poet:

The poem is similar to other mortality poems of the period, though even more melodramatic than most (the last stanza, in which the speaker continues to narrate his feelings after he has stabbed himself through the heart, is particularly painful). Aside from the historical curiosity of its authorship, the piece—with its glamourizing of suicide and its overwrought morbidity—does little to distinguish itself from other amateur poetry in the school of Poe.

Photo: “16 Abraham Lincoln” by US Department of State is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Terese Coe, ‘The Bumbly’ (after Edward Lear)

He ran the State in a daze, he did,
In a daze he ran the State:
In spite of howls and obnoxious jeers
And those who said it would end in tears
In a daze he ran the State!
And when the daze became a rout
That turned the country inside out
The Bumbly cried, I’m much too big!
I’m Alpha male, I’m never-fail,
the biggest gig and vig!
In a daze I’ll run the State!

So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

He carried on in a daze, he did,
In a daze he carried on,
With carrion eaters on his staff,
Perpetual sneers and snickery laughs,
And predators stalking prey;
And though they said they’d legislate
They knew too little and much too late,
And worse, they could not stand up straight!
For in their skin was a powerful hate
That chewed them up till dawn.
So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

And while he ran the State, he did,
And flew far over the seas
He incurred great debt and was bought by a bro
With a host of spies and some quid pro quo
And a hive of slithery sleaze.
And he bought a city or two, and some laws,
And when he was fitted with monkey claws
His climbed a tree, shrieked Chee-chee-chee!
And his arms reached down to his knees.
So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

In twenty years they all were dead,
In twenty years or less,
And the people said How good they’re gone!
For they’d been through the muck of the Swamp-a-Thon,
And the dung of Fakery Cess.
And they feasted and drank at the Bumbly grave
With homemade wine and a weeklong rave,
And everyone sang, We shall live in chalets!
If only we live! We’ll attack and raze
The ruins of Fakery Cess!

So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brayed;
His face was green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

Terese Coe writes: “Writing this was more fun than I can say!”

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, 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

‘The Bumbly’ was first published in Xavier Review, 2019. Her ‘Apology From Fiji’ appeared in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Tourists and Cannibals’ from Sampson Low Publishers.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Edmund Conti, ‘In Memoriam’

John Betjeman cannot read his In Memoriam.  Not
Today
    Or ever.

So what’s the use of writing another jot.
    Why, pray,
    Endeavor?

For he who could best compose one is decomposing.  Rot!
    Away
    Forever.

His spirit lives in every ingle-nook where England claims the heart
    And soul.

That poet so lightly musical, so serious and straight (an art)
    And droll.

Whose lines were seen and heard in every church, in every mart.
    And knoll.

Muckby-cum-Sparrowby cum Sphinx, County Westmeath, Cheltenham;
    The set.

Henley-on-Thames, also Highgate, Bristol, Clifton, Mint-on-Lamb:
    Gazette.

Places etched forever in his poems, each one a Betje-gram.
    Je bet!

We remember chintzy cheeriohs in his brilliant combinations.
    Cheeribye.

Farewell, so long, bunghosky, too — Goodbye to all his permutations.
    Never grim.
    Never dry.

Well, it’s getting time for supper and we’ve had our ruminations.
    This is him.
    Dry your eye.

Edmund Conti writes: “I remember saying (to myself) in high school after writing a few verses, “I’m not a poet I don’t like poetry, I just like to rhyme and scan.” I had an image of who poets were and what poetry was, and it just didn’t fit my imagined profile. I stuck to my guns for a while even as I was sending out my verse and getting comments like, “Please, no more rhymes” and “How about sending your smug cloaca elsewhere?” But eventually some poems were accepted and published and I met more poets and I got married. Marilyn loved poetry (no, she didn’t say real poetry but I imagined her thinking it). She was a member of a woman’s poetry group that called themselves The Lady Blue Stockings. They would smack their lips over Amy Lowell (“Christ, what are patterns for?”) and E. E. Cummings (“How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?”). Marilyn tolerated my poetry but didn’t appreciate any of my parodies of her favorites.

Meanwhile, I met other poets and joined two groups: The South Mountain Poets and the Bards Buffet. The former was a local group (in NJ) and met weekly and discussed each other’s poems. I was usually advised to have more gravitas. The Bards, all light versifiers, met in a penthouse dining room of an insurance company in Manhattan.  Among them Willard Espy, William Rossa Cole, inventor of River Rhymes and other well-published poets.

So, in spite of myself, I was becoming a poet and appreciating others. Among them, Wallace Stevens, Robert Wallace, Vachel Lindsay, Frank O’Hara, and Robert Southey. And more and more swam into view. Luckily Marilyn brought many poetry books to the marriage and I found myself one day leafing through “John Betjeman’s Collected Poems.” There I came across his poem titled (entirely) “I.M. Walter Ramsden, ob. March 26 1947, Pembroke College, Oxford”. I loved the poem, the rhyming and the place names. Of course, I had to write my own version, not as parody, but an appreciation.  It was fun playing with the format and making up some English place names. One of my two or three favorite poems.

This was originally published in Orphic Lute. Later I sent it to Lighten-Up Online. They accepted it, made some changes to the place names and changed some of the wording. It was republished in my book “Just So You Know” from Kelsay Books. There I had problems with line lengths, some lines longer than Kelsay’s book limits allowed. Here it is, back in its original format.

Edmund Conti has recent poems published in Light, Lighten-Up Online, The Lyric, The Asses of Parnassus, newversenews, Verse-Virtual and Open Arts Forum. His book of poems, Just So You Know, released by Kelsay Books
https://www.amazon.com/Just-You-Know-Edmund-Conti/dp/1947465899/
was followed by That Shakespeherian Rag, also from Kelsay
https://kelsaybooks.com/products/that-shakespeherian-rag

His poems have appeared in several Potcake Chapbooks:
Tourists and Cannibals
Rogues and Roses
Families and Other Fiascoes
Wordplayful
all available from Sampson Low Publishers