Category Archives: Chapbooks

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.

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.

John Beaton, ‘A Sweetness Absent From the Ocean Air’

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The Weeping Window bleeds ceramic poppies
that blush St. Magnus’s cathedral wall
and each seems miniscule among them all—
the throng comprises nigh a million copies:
one bloom per British serviceman who died
in World War One, a massive flower bed
entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
displayed in London where it dignified
that War’s centenary. Now part has traveled
to Orkney, here to mark one century
since dreadnought fleets waged battle on the sea
near Jutland. Lifelines tangled and unraveled—
in two short days eight thousand men and more
succumbed as riven battleships went down.
With Princess Anne, the envoy of the Crown,
their relatives are welcomed at the door
of this, the Viking edifice erected
in memory of Magnus, who eschewed
bad blood in favour of the holy rood,
a man of peace, nine hundred years respected.

Some families take pause and stare, as if
they hope the flower avatar of their
lost sailor lad will wave. As they repair
into the church, the poppies stand up, stiff
like soldiers at attention on parade;
their stems are wire, their heads are crimson clay
and, grouped, they seem ethereal, a fey
honour guard shipshapedly displayed.
The British and the German brass bands march
along the harbour front then through the streets;
this day there are no triumphs or defeats—
they gain the church grounds through a common arch—
and then the pipe band, clad in kilts, assemble.
No instrument of war can so foment
bravado then bestow such dark lament:
Great Highland Bagpipes set the air atremble,
the Weeping Window work of art revives,
more vehemently, the ones who drowned and bled,
and now we see, in child-tall blooms of red,
a sad cascade of young, foreshortened lives.

*****

John Beaton writes: In the late spring of 2016, my wife and I, on an annual trip to Orkney, attended a commemoration ceremony. The venue was St. Magnus cathedral, a magnificent edifice of Viking origin in Kirkwall, the main town on that little group of windswept islands off the north tip of Scotland.  To commemorate the centenary of the 1914 outbreak of World War I, artists had created a display outside the Tower of London: 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British soldier killed in that war. To commemorate the centenary of its largest naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland, organizers had taken a subset to Kirkwall and set it up as ‘The Weeping Window’, a dramatic crimson cascade from a lancet window high on the cathedral’s central tower. This poem describes the ceremony.
It won Goodreads Poem of the Month for December 2017 and has been previously published on the Thomasgray2016.org website and in my recent book, Leaving Camustianavaig (Word Galaxy Press).

Photo: Tom O’Brien, The Arcadian/ Orkney Media Group

Opposing Poems: Marcus Bales, ‘All the Blues’, ‘When the Sun Shines’

Since you left the sky’s expanse of grey
Is what the sun and clouds may briefly cruise
As light comes after dark for each dull day;
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

And since she left me I’ve been color-blind;
Now half the world’s in greys I cannot use
Since vivid red and yellow’s all I find:
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

My friends assure me better times will come,
But tinkly happy songs do not amuse
My soul still wants the searing wail and thrum
Of pain and sadness spreading like a bruise,
But now instead of tunes there’s just a hum —
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

Oh, since she left I don’t miss her at all
Though autumn leaves spread half a rainbow’s hues
Across a landscape ripening to fall:
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “Barbara Ehrenreich happened to read my poem ‘All the Blues’ on Facebook when I posted it some years back, and left the terse comment “It’s even worse when the sun shines.” I was at the moment so into the notion of the fall and the coming dark that I was startled by her insight, which prompted another poem, ‘When the Sun Shines’. I was gratified by her notice.

When The Sun Shines
for Barbara Ehrenreich

They sing their songs of their pure pain;
They lose their taste for the real wines
Of love and life when they weep rain.
It’s even worse when the sun shines.

When the sun shines
And the birds sing
And the green twines
On everything
And your love’s gone
And life’s a curse
In the dim dawn
Each poem’s lines
Are even worse
When the sun shines.

They write like they’ve known every hell
And mined despairing’s deepest mines;
But no one knew how far I fell.
It’s even worse when the sun shines.

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: “Shut out the world.” by Neil. Moralee is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Political poem: Nina Parmenter, ‘Led by Donkeys’

Donkey, show me your big boy teeth,
show me expensive dentistry.
Mine are NHS wonky,
but you’re a donkey.

Donkey, show me your pearly hooves,
stomp them down on my two-bit shoes.
Mine are M&S clonky,
but you’re a donkey.

Donkey, show me your government car
driving to where the dollars are.
Mine is a wee bit shonky.
You’re still a donkey.

Donkey, show me your public school,
show me your passport to ruin us all.
You think it’s your right, but you’re wrong, see,
cos you’re a donkey.

*****

Nina Parmenter writes: “As the world looks on, bewildered, the political stupidity in the UK continues to know no bounds. The title of this poem is borrowed from a group of political activists – they, in turn, borrowed it from a First World War phrase describing British soldiers as ‘Lions led by donkeys’.

Today we have different threats – hunger, a declining health service, fuel poverty – but our leading class of donkeys remain seemingly blinkered to ordinary people’s welfare. Money, after all, is their master.

All this is build up to a rather silly poem in which donkey is proudly rhymed with wonky, clonky and shonky. A quick terminology guide for non-Brits: NHS = National Health Service, M&S = Marks and Spencer (a Very Ordinary Store), and ‘public school’ in the UK means a private school – no, don’t ask, I don’t understand why either. 😉”

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/

Photo: “Charming” by Another Seb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Julia Griffin: ‘Arachne’s Double’

We had a lot in common:
Grey eyes to stop and summon;
A taste for shifts and shuttles,
For instigating battles;
An aptitude for order,
A talent to embroider.
We kept ourselves in stitches;
We were each other’s matches.

As deity and woman,
We shared a kind of famine;
Vicarious in action,
Our work confined to fiction,
To woven elegiacs,
We craved our own heroics:
To beat our favourite heroes;
To share their blazing sorrows.

What have we now in common,
Besides not being human?
Only the understanding
Of what is past amending:
That all this endless weaving
Is just suspended living.
That loving is devouring.
That starving is enduring.

*****

Julia Griffin writes: “That appeared in Mezzo Cammin 14.2 (Winter, 2019). I’m pleased with it because I feel the form works with the subject-matter. It was inspired by a dear friend of mine, Candy Schille, who died tragically in November 2017: she was so quick and charismatic, and we had a sort of sparring relationship before we became friends.”

Julia Griffin lives in south-east Georgia/ south-east England. She has published in Light, LUPO, Mezzo Cammin, and some other places, though Poetry and The New Yorker indicate that they would rather publish Marcus Bales than her. Her poem ‘Wasp Waste’ was reprinted in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Robots and Rockets‘, and much more of her poetry can be found in Light, at https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/?s=julia+g&submit=Search

Photo: “Arachne” by J. Star is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Marcus Bales: ‘Villains, Too’

Villains, too, believe they’re righting wrongs,
Their traumas just as blunt as yours or mine.
They write their manifestoes, sing their songs,
And hope their cancer screens turn out benign;
It’s where they differ that the trouble lies.
Their personal concerns are all they see.
For them there are no others’ laughs or cries —
We’re furniture to them, not you, not me.
They see us not as people, but as means
For them to harm a world that helped their foes,
Or if we give them pleasure, as machines
To give whatever pleasure that they chose.
They see themselves as victims who must seize
Their rights to do whatever they may please.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “Villains, Too is one more in a series of attempts to write this poem. If I knew exactly what I was trying to say I hope I’d have actually said it by now. The forlorn fragments of phrases strung through my notes for poems show that this business recurs and wants something from me. I hope to get this done, eventually. In the meantime, without spending too much time trolling through my own failings, here’s the last time I tried:

Grinning Henchmen

They do not wake up sharing bwahahas
With grinning henchmen as they shave, and think
“Today I shall be evil!” No, the laws
Are on their side. They never even blink
At all the tears and suffering they cause.
They’ve got their lives to live, and they don’t shrink
From living them, like you and me, with flaws
And virtues, growing families, food and drink,
And love and death. They look at life and view it
Just like us. And in our common murk
They did each evil deed and never knew it
To be evil. No one, king to clerk,
Has thought they’re doing evil as they do it;
They always think they’re doing some god’s work.”

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.

Photo: “Villain with fire” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.