Category Archives: Chapbooks

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Gail White, ‘Julian of Norwich in Seclusion’

Because an anchoress could have a cat,
We may assume she had one. That it sat
Beside her while the pilgrims came and went,
Giving, like her, a lesson in content.
That it was quiet when her visions came
And when they passed it slumbered just the same,
But any mice who trespassed in the cell
Were given reason to believe in hell.
That with a feline love of body heat
It nestled in her lap or on her feet.
That it died peacefully, grown old and fat.
Love was my meaning, purred St. Julian’s cat.

Gail White writes: “The Ancrene Wisse or Ancrene Riwle (Rule for Anchoresses), written in Middle English in the 13th century, states that an anchoress might have a cat, although other animals were forbidden. I have therefore taken the liberty of sketching the life of a cat belonging to Julian of Norwich. Her book, A Revelation of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings, ends by asking if the reader wishes to know God’s meaning in her visions, and replies ‘Love was His meaning’. I have transferred this sentiment to her cat.”

Gail White is the resident poet and cat lady of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Her books ASPERITY STREET and CATECHISM are available on Amazon. She is a contributing editor to Light Poetry Magazine. ‘Tourist in India’ won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award for 2013.

Her poems appear in several of the Potcake Chapbooks:
Tourists and Cannibals
Rogues and Roses
Families and Other Fiascoes
“Strip down,” she ordered
… all available at https://sampsonlow.co/potcake-chapbooks/ for the price of a coffee.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jean L. Kreiling, ‘The Waves’

Sprawled on a pew of sand, you meditate
on miracles of tide and time. Without
a prayer but apparently devout,
and humbled by the water’s shifting weight,
you watch with wonder, even venerate
this higher power rolling in and out:
omnipotence too obvious to doubt,
authority too awful to debate.
Like salty spray, some blue-green grace may cling
and seep unsanctified into your soul,
without a psalm or sermon—for the sea
makes its own joyful noise: the breakers ring
uncounted changes, and no church bells toll
more faithfully or irresistibly.

Previously published in 14 by 14. 

Jean L. Kreiling writes: “Growing up on the beach, and living on another coast in adulthood, I have never lost the sense of awe and humility that the sea inspires.  And of course I have never succeeded in capturing its magic in words, but I hope I’ve made a start in this poem.  Its form, my favorite, imposes the sonnet’s graceful structure onto what might otherwise have been an amorphous rhapsody; in addition, its meter and rhyme might suggest a bit of the ocean’s own rhythms and harmonies.”

Jean L. Kreiling is the author of two collections of poetry: Arts & Letters & Love (2018) and The Truth in Dissonance (2014). Her work appears widely in print and online journals, and has been awarded the Able Muse Write Prize, three New England Poetry Club prizes, the Plymouth Poetry Contest prize, and several other honors.  She is Professor Emeritus of Music at Bridgewater State University, and an Associate Poetry Editor for Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art.   

Her poem ‘The Salisbury Crags’ which first appeared in the Orchards Poetry Journal, is included in the ‘Travels and Travails’ Potcake Chapbook.

Various updates

I am shifting the focus of this blog to give more coverage to the wide range of formal poets currently writing (especially those who have contributed to the Potcake Chapbooks) and to songwriters who, at their best, are superb poets with tricks up their sleeves not accessible to regular versifiers.

The Potcake Chapbooks continue to be produced on an occasional basis: the tenth in the series, ‘Travels and Travails’, came out recently and the 11th, ‘Lost Love’, has been assembled to be illustrated by Alban Low. Future titles may (or may not) include chapbooks on cities, on teachers, on the seasons, on pets… it all depends on my finding or being sent enough strong and diverse poems on an interesting theme.

I had hoped to have a Christmas-season-themed chapbook out this year, but I am having difficulty finding the diversity I want. Not only diversity of style, but also of content: I would like to acknowledge not just Christmas and Christmas trees and Christmas parties, but also Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus… everything around the solstice that has given birth to celebrations of the change in the year. (And with some recognition that this looks very different in the southern hemisphere.) Perhaps I will find enough to pull this chapbook together for the end of 2022.

In the meantime I welcome submissions of formal poems on any theme to robinhelweglarsen@gmail.com, but I prefer poems previously published: I don’t have an “accept or reject” procedure, I simply hang onto poems I like until, one of these years, I may have a use for some of them. So, as I don’t want anyone getting antsy about a poem not being available for use elsewhere, the Potcake Chapbooks should not normally be your first place publishing any given poem.

“Temple of British Worthies” by foshie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, ‘Shore’

They grind across the continental shelf,
enormous in their long, well-muscled swells;
I know their sweaty smells of staling spray
and fishy sand; and oh, all by myself
I’ve heard the tide tell what it always tells:
some things wash up and others wash away.

They rise out there a long way from the beach,
and curl and pitch up face down on the sands
from roaming just too far to make it home,
and try to hold with fingers scrabbling, reach
for us, and fail and, failing, trail their hands
under water backwards in the foam.

Finally, though, the greyest weather clears:
small lapping waves replace exploding spume,
and one deep-breathing moment seems sublime;
sweet breezes sway embroidered window sheers
while pleasant sunlight fills the hospice room,
now empty, clean, and ready for the next time.

Marcus Bales writes: ‘The problem with me choosing or talking about one of my poems is that the impetus behind most of them is the same: a phrase or circumstance became a donnee because it resonated in some instant way, and I used it — and sometimes the actual donnee doesn’t survive the process of writing — to write something. It’s the resonance that interests me to turn the phrase over and look at it, clean it up, smear it with something, make it start, make it finish, bury it in the middle, whatever. The question that strikes me about a phrase with resonance is why does it resonate? The poem is the answer. In my view poetry is what a poet does to make a reader feel that resonance by putting it in a context that moves the reader to a feeling. I reject the notion that poetry is the poet expressing their feelings — at least, I don’t say poets cannot express their feelings, but that that expression must be in the service of making the reader feel the reader’s feelings in a directed way. Poetry is a method to make the reader resonate emotionally in response to the words.. If the best you can do is blurt out your pain or joy or whatever, then you’re doing it wrong. Yes, wrong. Write it in your diary, because poetry has never been about the poet. It’s always been about how the poet can make the reader feel in a directed way by using words, not a therapy-substitute for the poet. If you need therapy, get it, but don’t scatter the resulting words across ragged-margined pages and call it poetry.’

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.

Marcus Bales has appeared in several of the Potcake Chapbooks:

Tourists and Cannibals
Rogues and Roses
Careers and other Catastrophes
“Strip down,” she ordered
Wordplayful
Murder!
Houses and Homes Forever
Robots and Rockets

all available at https://sampsonlow.co/potcake-chapbooks/ for the price of a coffee.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Amit Majmudar, ‘Eyespots’

Caterpillars build their bunkers out
of terror. Transformation hunts them, haunts them
as oak leaf peepholes open underfoot
to bare the air, the emptiness that wants them.
I have a measure of infinity
inside me. A is no and mit is measure
in an ancestral tongue that haunts me, hunts me.
I’m half in love with what I have to be.
The other half is looking for a razor
to make of me the Amit who was once me,

my yogi’s beard a clump of Spanish moss
limp at my feet, a piece of furry roadkill.
I’m no ascetic. Half in love with loss,
I’ll seek out beauty, or at least my ode will,
night-blooming jasmines dooming my samadhi,
scenting, resenting my hermetic dark
because they know a yogi, breathing in
his first girlfriend’s perfume, unarchives her body,
and drives her, after dusk, to the vanished park
where memory of sin cocoons the sin.

Caterpillars ravel bunkers into
bodybags—no way for them to know
the moment that they poke themselves a window,
the rebirth they were hiding from will show:
Two stained-glass windows mounted on my back,
two earshaped eyespot petals I can flex
and fold, a flailing that transforms to flight
while all the darkling jasmines that I lack,
past loves that called me onward to the next,
unpetal in the bodybag of night.

In love, or half in love, with mere aesthetics,
I’ve daydreamed Himalayan caves, a hive
that hums with “Aum” from ninety-nine ascetics,
their senses hibernating, half alive.
No one has ever scaled Kailash, the peak
where Shiva sits in bud, in shut-flytrap samadhi
with ashes smeared across his chest and arms.
But that’s just not the changelessness I seek.
I want my language, shapely as a body,
to weave and rive cocoons, enchantments, forms

with giant wings inside their ashgray berries.
I want my transience to live in speech,
if only as a resonance that carries,
like jasmine scent, beyond my voice’s reach.
I tell myself: Old soul, don’t be afraid
of changing. You are old enough to know,
whenever something changes, something dies,
but the dark you flowered in won’t let you fade.
A crack in this cocoon admits a glow.
The blue moon butterfly will wear your eyes.

Amit Majmudar writes: “This poem, ‘Eyespots’, is what I think of as a Keatsian ode, borrowing its stanzaic form and (I hope) something of its musicality. Yet the poem incorporates Hindu religious imagery throughout and sings of self-transformation in a way that isn’t to be found in Keats. This hybridization of Eastern and Western traditions in the poem feels idiosyncratic. There remain elements still opaque to me about it; so I never really delved into the metaphysical significance of the title’s false eyes, these seeming sense organs that are not actually sensing anything, but, given the focus on ascetic imagery, there seems to be something in that. Maybe in another essay? Or another poem….

I feel as though there are poems I have written that someone else could conceivably have written. But not this one; even ignoring that my name hides caterpillar-like inside the cocoon of the poem, I feel that the range of influences and ideas is simply too idiosyncratically “me” for this to have come from any other poet’s hand. Will everyone like it? Probably not, for precisely that reason. But I know that no one else could have produced this sequence of words, so I confess a certain fondness for it. It’s the one of my literary children who most resembles me. And it’s as good a way as any to get to know me as a writer.”

Amit Majmudar is a diagnostic nuclear radiologist who lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his wife and three children. The former first Poet Laureate of Ohio, he is the author of the poetry collections What He Did in Solitary and Dothead among other novels and poetry collections. Awarded the Donald Justice Prize and the Pushcart Prize, Majmudar’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Best of the Best American Poetry, and the eleventh edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature. Two novels are forthcoming in India in 2022: an historical novel about the 1947 Partition entitled The Map and the Scissors, and a novel for young readers, Heroes the Color of Dust. Visit www.amitmajmudar.com for more details.

‘Eyespots’ was first published in Measure Review.

Review: ‘Ruth Pitter, Selected Poems’

An excellent selection of some of the better-known and some of the previously uncollected poems of one of the 20th century’s least known but most accomplished poets. Ruth Pitter‘s first book of poems was published with the help of Hilaire Belloc in 1920; her work was admired and praised by Yeats, Larkin, Skelton and Gunn; she was the first woman to win the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955, and was awarded a CBE in 1979. She died in 1992.

My personal favourite in this large chapbook from HappenStance is “Smoky Kettle, Stinging Nettle”, for its magical incantation of life and afterlife, of love and loss, of the countryside and all things human:

Smoky kettle,
Stinging nettle,
Lily my darling,
Toad and starling,
Fox in wood,
Solitude,
O be there, be there again,
When my end I shall attain,
When the knot is all unravelled,
And the tangled path is travelled.

But the poem is not typical of her work, and was not previously collected in a book. More commonly her style is like the beginning of ‘Spectrum’:

A little window, eastward, low, obscure,
A flask of water on the vestry press,
A ray of sunshine through a fretted door,
And myself kneeling in live quietness:

Heaven’s brightness was then gathered in the glass,

Her usual style is quiet, understated, with simple metre and rhyme scheme. Often there is a religious element–she was a friend of, and was influenced by, C.S. Lewis–and even an element of Anglican hymns. But none of that was enough to stop the militantly atheist Philip Larkin from including four of her poems in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. And I found enough of interest in this 44-page chapbook to warrant ordering a copy of her ‘Collected Poems’, to explore further.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 10, ‘Travels and Travails’

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but surely we’re going to get back to casual international travel again some day soon? The 10th chapbook in the Potcake series is now being mailed out from London, and I trust it augurs well for the happily peripatetic. As usual, the chapbook contains an assortment of the bright (D.A. Prince), the dark (Tom Vaughan) and the flippant (Max Gutmann), with everything in between, and all in rhythm and rhyme–and illustrated of course by Alban Low!

Returning poets are A.E. Stallings, John Beaton, Julia Griffin, Anthony Lombardy, Marilyn L. Taylor, D.A. Prince and Tom Vaughan; joining them are Amit Majmudar, Mike Cooper, Jean L. Kreiling, Ed Shacklee and Max Gutmann. (The links in the names are a mixture of websites, bios, and places to buy their books.) Most, but not all, of the poets are listed on Sampson Low’s webpage of Potcake Poets.

Let’s get everyone vaccinated so we can all start travelling again!

Call for Submissions: Christmas etc holiday poems

It has been suggested that the Potcake Chapbooks really ought to include one for the Christmas season, as people already send out some of the chapbooks in place of greeting cards to friends and family. Well, it’s August – if I can find a wide enough assortment, perhaps we can get a chapbook out by the beginning of November… otherwise, we should be able to do it by next year.

What I’m looking for, of course, is a diversity of poems in a diversity of forms, but all with rhythm and rhyme. Not too long, because there will only be 13 pages of poetry – two to 20 lines preferred. With a mix of attitudes: sentimental, cynical, happy, rueful, whatever, but preferably elegant and witty. And not just Christmas, but all holidays of the season: Hanukkah, Divali, Kwanzaa, Festivus, New Year’s Eve, office parties, skating parties, special meals and drinks, customs and habits… (And of course I can only take 12-15 poems anyway.)

That’s a lot to ask for a little chapbook, we’ll have to see if it’s workable. If you have something you think I might like, on this or any other topic, preferably previously published, please send poems in the body of the email or as a single attachment to robinhelweglarsen@gmail.com. Contributors receive five copies.

Photo: “Christmas Cookies” by Kiss My Buttercream is licensed under CC BY-NC-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/

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/