Author Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

About Robin Helweg-Larsen

Director, Andromeda Simulations International, Bahamas: a global education company providing online and in-person workshops in business finance. Series Editor, Sampson Low's 'Potcake Chapbooks'. Formal verse about traveling, family, love, etc...

J.D. Smith, ‘Consultative’

The noted scholars of the institute
Are tasked with framing issues and debate.
Through data and the values they impute
By proxy–or assume—they correlate

The wealth of nations and their policies,
Distinguishing phenomenon and cause
Until equations cut through fallacies,
Assuming over time the air of laws.

Accordingly, with every factor weighed,
The State will be apprised of how to spend.
In high demand, proportionately paid,
Those who’ve advanced their field approach day’s end

With puzzles yet to solve, but satisfied,
And step around the beggars stretched outside.

*****

J.D. Smith writes: “The poem arises from the daily–and uneasy–contrast between ‘Washington’, the arena of politics and policy that draws players from around the world, and ‘DC’, the place that most residents know, with all the attendant problems of urban life in the United States. (I work in the former, though in a minor capacity, and live in the latter.) A complex society needs experts, so I won’t get on the bandwagon of anti-intellectualism, but I remain deeply troubled by the disconnect between many of those experts’ abstract work, accompanied by ambition, and how they address or refuse to address the actual human beings they encounter.”

J.D. Smith has published six books of poetry, most recently the light verse collection Catalogs for Food Loversand he has received a Fellowship in Poetry from the United States National Endowment for the Arts. Smith’s first fiction collection, Transit, will be published in December 2022. His other books include the essay collection Dowsing and Science. Smith works in Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife Paula Van Lare and their rescue animals. Twitter: @Smitroverse

Separated at Berth” by Chicago Man is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Death Spiral’

We spiral round the sun, like water
spirals round a drain;
herded like sheep to the slaughter,
it’s an old refrain–
what you coulda, what you oughta…
so few years remain.

*****

This short poem was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus – thanks, Brooke Clark! Btw sorry if the poem seems morbid – fall/winter has always made me reflective; I’ve been feeling time running out since my teens.

File:Pool drain vortex as viewed from above the water at Grange Park wading pool.jpg” by Glogger at English Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Melissa Balmain, ‘Not So Snow White’

Things started so well: found a chick in a box,
got her out, and days later, we wed–
such a snap because, speaking of life’s pleasant shocks,
my stepmom-in-law turned up dead.

Home that night, after finally fooling around
(happy ending for both!), I sighed, “Heaven.”
But my wife simply stared at the ceiling and frowned:
“Is that it? I’m accustomed to seven.”

*****

Melissa Balmain writes: “This poem comes from my latest collection, The Witch Demands a Retraction. To anyone who has mistakenly bought a copy of it for little kids: I am sorry. Maybe the book’s subtitle (fairy tale reboots for adults) should have been printed bigger. Or maybe the illustrator, Ron Barrett, should have made his drawings less adorable. Either way, to prevent further disasters in gift-giving, here’s a partial list of topics in the book: Interspecies adultery. Corrupt puppets. Kinky princes. Elderly cannibals. Impotent baked goods. Porcine insurance fraud. And, yes, eightsomes that include Sneezy, Happy and Dopey.”

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.

Photo: “Snow White Mural” by ATIS547 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Quincy R. Lehr, ‘Heimat’ (short excerpt, ‘Observation’)

It’s in the observation, not the action–
asymmetries of night, the fractured day,
the bum note sung, the slightly tawdry way
the chiaroscuro plays against a curtain,
a moment of condescending satisfaction.
The problem’s hardly certain

except in observation, not the move
to rectify the flaws, to seek the feeling
but not offend or end up too revealing–
the phrase that’s blurted out, the sense of shame,
the passion, and the point one has to prove.
The love for one’s own name

is lost in observation, disconnected
from anything but this–a set of scenes,
possible debate on what it means,
and details of what may as well be fact
in present time or vaguely recollected.
It never is an act

but only observation that suffuses
this sense of permanence, a thing that’s set
not in the vapors trailing from a jet,
but in an observer’s blank and steady eye
that searches, not for things that have their uses,
but for the subtle lie

that even observation can’t dispel
but only note in hope of preservation
of something that will outlast a vacation
or office trauma. Shadows of a wraith
fall across the prosody and swell
to what resembles faith.

I’m just observing, as I said before.
Talk to the prophets hanging out next door.

*****

Quincy R.Lehr writes: “As for ‘Heimat‘ more generally, it was a reflection on the nation-state, its pull on one’s basic sense of self, even while it obscures other, more materially important things such as class and colonialism. I had been back in the U.S. for about a year after a two-year stint in Ireland when I started writing that poem, and being a foreigner for a time turbocharged my interest in nation and nationalism as political phenomena.

“I wrote ‘Heimat‘ over a roughly three-month period, fueled by chain-smoking and reckless levels of coffee consumption. I doubt I’m unhealthy enough to pull off a project of that scale and ambition these days. 2009 really was the summer of ‘Heimat‘ for me.”

Born in Oklahoma, Quincy R. Lehr is the author of several books of poetry, and his poems and criticism appear widely in venues in North America, Europe, and Australia. His book-length poem ‘Heimat‘ was published in 2014. His most recent books are ‘The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar‘ (2015) and ‘Near Hits and Lost Classics‘ (2021), a selection of early poems. He lives in Los Angeles.
https://www.amazon.com/Quincy-R.-Lehr/e/B003VMY9AG

Melissa Balmain, ‘Fallen’

As a kid growing up in New York,
I considered our fall second rate:
how I longed for the grand, mythological land
we exotically labeled Upstate.

In that Eden, I’d heard, leaves turned bright,
endless acres of yellows and reds,
while my single tree browned, dropping one tiny mound
that I kicked to the curb with my Keds.

Now I live several hours to the north,
and the maples and oaks truly blaze—
hues so loud they look fake—till the time comes to rake
without stopping, for numberless days.

And I daydream of trips farther south,
of the places I’ll shop, stroll and dine
in that part of the map where the leaves may be crap
but you don’t need a rod in your spine.

*****

Melissa Balmain writes: “Like so many poems I write, this is a case of making lemonade out of lemons—or, more accurately, salad out of way too many leaves. My husband would like it known that in our family, he does most of the raking. But I do most of the talking about raking.”

‘Fallen’ was first published in Lighten Up Online.

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.

Photo: “A walk in the woods” by Let Ideas Compete is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Susan McLean, ‘Out-of-Town Conference Texts’

He:      Met with a colleague for cocktails.  Last night is a blur.
            Having a wonderful time.  Wish you were her.

She:     I’ve been tidying up and arranging while you’ve been gone.
            When you want to retrieve your things, they’re out on the lawn.

*****

These two couplets by Susan McLean were recently published in The Asses of Parnassus; she comments: “I got the idea for this poem by misreading a line in a poem by Amit Majmudar.  It is not the first time I have gotten an idea for a line by misreading or mishearing something: aging has its unforeseen benefits.  The line was the standard phrase from postcards, “Wish you were here,” which I misread as “wish you were her.”  I immediately saw the comic potential of that phrase, and at first I thought of the exchange as written on postcards. But then I realized that conferences are often short, making sending a postcard impractical, and that no one tends to send postcards anymore.  So I reconceived the poem as texts–which also have to leave a lot unsaid because of their length.  I left open the question of whether “her” was an accidental typo or a deliberate choice.”

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

Photo: “Business Affairs” by edwicks_toybox is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Jerome Betts, ‘Grim Harvester’

Two walkers once, who left the path
With fleeting union in mind,
Were reaped – oh, tragic aftermath! –
And permanently here combined.

*****

Jerome Betts is the Featured Poet in the current issue of Light. I was glad to provide an introduction to the man and his poetry in that magazine’s Spotlight – the short poem I’ve quoted above is a personal favourite: it is a tight, well-structured play on the ‘grim reaper’ and the ‘combine harvester’.

He lives in Devon, England, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. Pushcart-nominated twice, his verse has appeared in a wide variety of UK publications and in anthologies such as Love Affairs At The Villa NelleLimerick Nation, The Potcake Chapbooks 1, 2 and 12, and Beth Houston’s three Extreme collections. British, European, and North American web venues include Amsterdam QuarterlyBetter Than StarbucksLightThe Asses of ParnassusThe HypertextsThe New Verse News, and  Snakeskin.

Photo: “Combine Harvester (Deutz-Faher TopLiner 4090 HTS) – at work at Moyvalley, Co. Kildare, Ireland. September 1st 2011” by Peter Mooney is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Thoughts Pop’

Thoughts pop in your head…
should you say them or not?
There’s a lot to be said
for not saying a lot.

*****

This little poem goes very nicely with another short one, ‘Rainbow‘. They were published together in Light this month.

thought” by freshphoto is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Susan McLean, ‘My Evil Twin’

My evil twin is full of feminine
self-deprecation. Don’t be taken in
by her rapt nods and deference, which mask
her sly, satiric humor. While you bask
in her respect, she’ll turn away and grin.

You think you’ve won an argument? Her chin
is cocked. She’s packing nitroglycerin.
Why can’t she let the matter slide? Don’t ask
my evil twin.

One minute she’s as sweet as saccharin,
but then, like any snake, she sheds her skin.
If you suspect that it’s a hopeless task
to coax this genie back into her flask,
you’re right. But don’t be fooled: I’ve always been
my evil twin.

*****

Susan McLean writes: “I have always loved the French repeating forms for their songlike appeal. The villanelle is my favorite among them, and I have also written a fair number of triolets, but the rondeau is a form I have rarely tried. At fifteen lines long, with only two rhymes, it is extremely demanding to write, since in English most words have relatively few rhymes. That difficulty made for a fascinating challenge and some unusual rhymes. It’s hard to imagine another poem in which I would use both ‘nitroglycerin’ and ‘saccharin.’

Twins have a long history of featuring in comedies of mistaken identity, from Plautus to Shakespeare and onward, but the ‘evil twin’ is a relatively recent development, I think, with origins in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. Soap operas, comic books, and serial dramas are full of them. Yet in real life, most people behave differently at different times and with different people. Actors often prefer playing the villain to playing the hero; viewers love to watch characters who break taboos with impunity, a sort of vicarious release from the inhibitions of civilized life. So, is this poem a self-portrait? More a self-caricature, but caricatures are often more recognizable than photographs.

This poem was originally published in the online journal Umbrella, and it also appears in my second 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

Photo: “(Be Gone) Evil Twin Gum” by found_drama is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Rainbow’

God made the rainbow as a sign
for post-Flood men to see.
The sign says, “I am Merciful–
and you better fucking agree.”

*****

According to the Book of Genesis, after God flooded the entire world He told the one surviving family: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”

There are so many things to love in all this: the Noah’s Ark story, and the toys of it that delight children; the beauty of rainbows themselves; the alternative explanation that Irish leprechauns make rainbows to mark where they bury their gold; the Biblical suggestion that water droplets didn’t cause refraction of light before the Flood; the calculation that rain, to have flooded Mount Everest in 40 days, must have fallen at 29 feet per hour for that entire time… and above all the idea that God needed the rainbow to remind Him not to kill everyone whenever He gets angry.

But hey – rainbows are beautiful, at least we can all agree on that.

This poem was published in the most recent issue of Light.

Noah’s Ark” by Svadilfari is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.