Monthly Archives: January 2023

Max Gutmann, ‘A Letter Home’

One flat fall evening, as an undergrad,
I left the library to mail a letter
and at the mailbox had
a stirring–-I don’t know what else to call it,
but I felt certain, drifting back
on brittle leaves, surrounded by the gray,
this was my life–-a feeling new,
whole, deeply and vibratingly unstrange.

Back at the carrel, where my books still lay,
I sat some time immersed there in that moment:
me, having walked away
from books for some slight, distant human contact,
returning through the coming winter
to my small space. It struck me as both sad
and right; young as I was, I knew
it wasn’t something I would ever change.

*****

Max Gutmann writes: “Though it takes the perspective of an older man looking back, ‘A Letter Home‘ was written shortly after the experience it shares, years before I wrote any other verse (aside from some limericks); the drive to record the experience as a poem had nothing to do with habit. I couldn’t have anticipated that the “distant human contact” in my life would come to include a community of writers with whom I’ve only ever exchanged words on a screen (a community you do a lot to nourish, Robin. Thank you.)”

A Letter Home‘ was first published in the Pulsebeat Poetry Journal.

Max Gutmann has worked as, among other things, a stage manager, a journalist, a teacher, an editor, a clerk, a factory worker, a community service officer, the business manager of an improv troupe, and a performer in a Daffy Duck costume. Occasionally, he has even earned money writing plays and poems.

Photo: “McAllen mailbox” by Drpoulette is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Using form: choice of metre: John Beaton, ‘Request for a Dance’

Step with me, float with me, over the floor;
weave with me, waltz with me, out through the door;
slide to the deck where the crowdedness clears;
glide through the garden and tear off your fears.

Step with me, sneak with me, down to the lake,
onto its waters; the mirror won’t break;
lilt in a ball gown of luminous mist;
twirl till you’re breathless and need to be kissed.

Step with me, skim with me, let yourself go,
dazzling and dizzy, then flowingly slow;
whirl till our swirls make a maelstrom of night;
pass through the portal from here to delight.

Step with me, sway with me, feel yourself swing,
hammocked on rhythms of hearts on the wing;
move to the measures of seasons and years;
sweep to that island where time disappears.

Step with me, slip with me, up to its crypt,
quaff a last laugh from the pleasures we’ve sipped;
curtsey and smile at a parting of hands
joined in this dancing by two wedding bands.

*****

John Beaton writes: “Inspired by Richard Wilbur’s beautiful ‘For C,’ and by my own marriage, I wanted to write a poem about lifelong love. For the beginning, a wedding dance came to mind and that expanded into an extended metaphor. The theme needed a form that danced the reader along.
I adopted a four-line stanza rhymed aabb with the meter of each line being a form of dactylic tetrameter: DA-da-da, DA-da.da, DA-da-da, DA. To kick off each stanza dancingly, I used near-repetition in the first two dactyls. Then a lot of alliteration and internal rhyme help it swirl along.
The poem develops the dance into a shared lifelong experience, one that must end but does so with a sense of fulfilment and beauty. I’ve recited it at weddings.”

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/

Photo: “Wedding Dance” by DonnaBoley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: villanelle: Melissa Balmain, ‘Villain Elle’

Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I like to read a women’s magazine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle,

Cosmo or Glamour, Self or Mademoiselle,
instead of pills, elixirs or caffeine,
whenever I wake up and don’t feel well.

Page Eight has bathing suits that look just swell
if you’re six foot and live on Lean Cuisine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

Page Nine’s a list of “wardrobe musts” that sell
at reasonable prices—for a queen.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,

Page Ten says how to age, yet stay a belle.
The photo? It’s a model of eighteen.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle

to make my time in bed such living hell,
I’m out of there in sixty seconds clean.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

*****

Editor: The villanelle is a highly structured poem, its two key lines rhyming and repeating several times. One of its challenges is to make each repetition fresh and interesting, either by developing and deepening the context, or by varying the repeated lines slightly or, as with this one, by having the same words resonate differently. Here “I know that I can count on” gives an initial impression of a favourable attitude to women’s magazines, but at the end the words show total disgust. This ‘Villain Elle‘ is typical of Balmain’s twists and puns and absolute control of form.

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

‘Villain Elle‘ is from Walking in on People © Melissa Balmain, 2014. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.

Photo: “304/365 – 8/8/2011” by GabrielaP93 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Ekphrastic poem: Jenna Le, ‘The Implorer’

This figurine of bronze
cast by Camille Claudel,
known as Auguste Rodin’s
mentee and, for a spell,

his lover, is most striking
for being non-erotic–
desexed–despite depicting
a kneeling nude, lordotic

trunk outthrust at an angle,
headlong, precipitous,
arms outstretched not to strangle
one who broke faith, but just

to make a strangled gesture,
a soundless, ground-out groan,
the hauntings that oppress her
knowable to her alone.

*****

This ekphrastic poem was recently published in Able Muse.

Jenna Le writes: “I often draw inspiration from wandering around in art museums. The Implorer is a statuette I first saw at the Met. I find I’m especially attracted to artworks by women artists that portray female experience, and this bronze in particular called out to me because it radiated such a powerful sense of interiority, depicting a woman as not a muse or a reflective surface but as a source of painfully strong thought and emotion.”

Jenna Le (jennalewriting.com) is the author of three full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2017), and Manatee Lagoon (Acre Books, 2022). She won Poetry By The Sea’s inaugural sonnet competition. Her poems appear in AGNI, Pleiades, Verse Daily, West Branch, and elsewhere. She works as a physician in New York City.

Photo: “File:The Implorer (L’Implorante) MET DP-13617-053.jpg” by Camille Claudel is marked with CC0 1.0.

Using form: Refrain; Nina Parmenter, ‘Sense’

I am a bag of chemicals
with charge for eighty years,
I am a gassy mirage
that winks as oblivion nears.
Around me swill the stars,
my thoughts, the gods and insanity,
and nothing makes sense but this leaf
as it dances, drunk on gravity.

I am a pointless voice track
on a puff piece of DNA,
I am the ooze that awoke
and decided to live anyway.
Around me swings the void,
nirvana and calamity,
and nothing makes sense but the sea
as it dances, drunk on gravity.

*****

Nina Parmenter writes: “In 2021, in my strenuous efforts not to write pandemic poems, I probably wrote a lot of pandemic poems. This one, about focusing on tiny moments in nature to avoid thinking about the big scary things is a great example! I made it a foreword to my collection ‘Split, Twist, Apocalypse‘ because its slightly jolly air of existential dread sets the tone for the book nicely, I think.”

Editor’s comment: As with popular songs as well as verse forms such as the ballade, villanelle, triolet and rondeau, the use of a refrain (whether exact or varied) strengthens the poem by bringing the conclusion of each stanza back to a core image or message.

Nina Parmenter has no time to write poetry, but does it anyway. Her work has appeared in Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, The New Verse News, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Houses and Homes Forever’. Her home, work and family are in Wiltshire.
https://ninaparmenter.com/

Time Lapse of Stars During Earth’s Rotation” by Image Catalog is marked with CC0 1.0.

Humorous Verse: Chris O’Carroll, ‘Sounds Insensible’

We fireproof our buildings asbestos we can.
Dutch cheeses taste Gouda; to Edam’s the plan.
Urine the money with pay-to-pee loos.
Why pick one’s own footwear? Have Jimmy Choo’s.
On the value of avarice all are agreed,
And we’re searching in vein to find out why we bleed.
Uncouth at the centaur of ancient myth action,
Half-horse plus half-man equals one whole infraction.
You’ve eyed it before, so this sight’s deja view.
If you’re an identical twin, I’m one, two.
The teacher drew circles but said pie are squared.
I’ve lost my left arm; my right’s left unimpaired.
Do the rich suffer gilt in a gold-toilet suite?
Does a one-legged marathon mean half defeat?
Those hotdogs were bad, but these brats are the wurst.
This poem is arse-backwards. It must be reversed.

*****

Chris O’Carroll writes: “It was Oscar Levant, I believe, who said that a pun is the lowest form of humor unless you are the first person to think of it. A while back The Spectator ran a contest that called for poems riddled with puns. John Whitworth used to distinguish between ‘real poems’ and ‘competition poems’, and this effort of mine is probably a candidate for the latter category, but it did win me a few quid.”

Chris O’Carroll appears in New York City Haiku and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology, yet has won British poetry prizes from Flash 500, Literary Review, the Spectator, and elsewhere.  His collections ‘The Joke’s on Me’ and ‘Abracadabratude‘ are available from Kelsay Books.
http://lightpoetrymagazine.com/summerfall-2015-issue-table-of-contents/

Short poem: ‘Punster’

The artist said the wit
was “full of it”,
disparaged him.
The punster tore the painter limn from limn.

*****

Apparently some people believe that puns are “the lowest form of humour”, but I would suggest that those people are not good at wordplay, and therefore have no poetic sensibility. Look to Homer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson for puns; enjoy more discussion and examples here.

This short poem was published in The Asses of Parnassus, home of “short, witty, formal poems”. Thanks, Brooke Clark!

Photo: “punster” by danbruell is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Pino Coluccio, ‘Class Clown’

They’d all be like, never say never
in classes we had, but whatever.
I turned to the windows and hallways
that always said always say always.

*****

Editor’s comments: From Pino Coluccio you should expect light and dark combined, light but deep, usually short, always well-phrased… and always existential. This, the eponymous piece of his 2017 collection, is tucked away in the middle of the book. The book won a Trillium Award, putting Coluccio in the company of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro. He has given me permission to republish more of his pieces from Class Clown periodically.

Pino Coluccio lives in Toronto.

Using form: Roundel: Susan McLean, ‘No Thanks’

No one wants to be the damsel in
distress, the one in need of chivalry,
chained to a rock in nothing but her skin.
No!  One wants to be

the one who skirts the trap and steals the key,
testing the rope bridge with a shaky grin.
Whoever longs for victims he can free

is not a hero, but the villain’s twin.
So save yourself.  Don’t go expecting me
to play the clingy wimp, the might-have-been
no one wants to be.

*****

Susan McLean writes: “This poem got its start when I heard that Kirsten Dunst said, about playing Mary Jane in Spider-Man (2002), “I just don’t want to be the damsel in distress. I’ll scream on the balcony, but you’ve got to let me do a little action here.” It struck a chord with me. I was so tired of watching action movies in which the male hero does all of the derring-do and the female lead exists only to be saved, over and over again. Men still write, direct, and produce most films, so I guess it is not surprising that most movies reflect male fantasies. But women have fantasies, too, and screaming while I wait to be saved is not one of mine.
“The poem is a roundel, a poetic form invented by Algernon Swinburne. As in a rondeau, the poem has only two rhymes, and the first part of the first line appears twice more. Part of the fun of writing it lies in finding ways to vary the repeating line, and part lies in the challenge of finding five rhyme words for each rhyme. English averages fewer rhymes per word than French, the language in which the rondeau originally appeared. Swinburne chose to make the roundel shorter than the rondeau (which is fifteen lines long) in order to make it easier to write in English.
” ‘No Thanks‘ originally appeared in Mezzo Cammin, an online journal that features female formalist poets. It was also included in my second poetry book, The Whetstone Misses the Knife.”

Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
https://www.pw.org/content/susan_mclean

Painting: ‘Andromeda Chained to the Rocks‘ by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, ca. 1630

Using form: Ballade: Marcus Bales, ‘Scary Home-Life’ (for GTZ)

Get up, get out, and get away–I went
as early as I could to leave one vile
exposure for another. School. It meant
escape from home at least a little while,
not long enough, and trading family guile
for reading sullen peers and teacher spin,
except for you, beside me on the aisle–
I was the girl with the scary home-life and bad skin.

I was first to homeroom every day.
And how did Mr Romo ever know
that half a sausage sandwich was the way
a skinny girl survived. He’d always go
“Good morning,” handing me a half as though
that half were mine and we were somehow kin;
I’d nod my thanks and sit in the back row–
I was the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

And you, who sat beside me, always kind
to me, and always kind of sassy tough
to other kids who other years combined
to make me almost miserable enough
to stay at home, from you I learned to bluff
my inner fear, to fake a cocky grin,
and start to walk as if it wasn’t rough
to be the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

L’envoi
Yeah, it was you and Mr Romo, in the end,
who gave me things that I could not begin
to pay you back for, so even I’d befriend
the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “I have a modest file of poems that have got me unfriended, blocked, or banned by people or publications, for one reason or another. Sometimes, as in this case, the reason is unknown to me. 

“Back in the old days when I was a working salesman at the sort of retail store where it takes an hour or two to walk around the store with your salesperson and discuss wants and needs and preferences, it is often the case that the customer gets comfortable enough to tell things about themselves or their lives that they might hesitate to repeat without canny encouragement. Here, a vivacious and attractive young couple were moving in together and needed furniture and a bed. They were excited, and money was not an issue. It turned out the young woman had been an officer in the Marines or the Army — I forget which at this distance — in one of the rougher, tougher units, and I admired her for having the stuff to lead in that mise en scene. She recounted that she had felt driven to it by a harrowing early family life, complete with the sort of acne that is every teen’s nightmare. A scary home-life and bad skin was her description of it. After the sale was completed I wrote most of this poem in the break room in the back, after climbing on the table to turn off the Muzak speaker so I could think. 

“I discovered she had friended me on Facebook and had written some nice things about me at the store, which was very nice of her. Of course even back then I was posting my poems on Facebook, and posted this one, without her name, but with her initials. All the details are entirely fictional. I made them all up, except for that one line. She blocked me right away.”

Editor’s note: a ballade is a very suitable form for this poem, with iambics for thoughtful mood, claustrophobically restricted rhyme scheme, steady refrain, and final summation addressed to a superior person. From the Wikipedia entry ‘Ballade (forme fixe)‘: “The ballade as a verse form typically consists of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent metre and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain. The stanzas are often followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi) usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is therefore usually ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC, where the capital C is a refrain.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Photo: “skinny girl” by Villegación is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.