Category Archives: Chapbooks

Poem: “Implants and Biotech”

These are the scarecrow years
When frost tears glisten
On moulded and painted cheeks, beside ears
That no longer listen
Being more deaf than dead
And hearing only
Through implants and inputs into the head
Bonily, stonily.

Fears come while certainties lapse:
Fears of the dark,
Of abandonment, monsters, uncertainty. Now (perhaps)
Some Schrödinger’s shark
Divides cosmonaut, cryonaut, chrononaut
From those who can’t trust
The unknown, are ill-taught, or die without thought.

Thrive on change, or be dust.

This was first published in The Rotary Dial, an excellent online monthly of a dozen formal poems that was put out by two of Canada’s best poets, Pino Coluccio and Alexandra Oliver. Unfortunately The Rotary Dial folded in 2017 and Pino, after winning Ontario’s Trillium Book Award for ‘Class Clown’, disappeared off the radar.

The poem subsequently appeared in the fifth Potcake Chapbook: ‘Strip Down – poems of modern life’, where it has a page facing A.E. Stallings’ far gentler and more positive view of modern medicine, ‘Ultrasound’.

Review: “Frozen Charlotte” by Susan de Sola

Frozen Charlotte

Susan de Sola’s ‘Frozen Charlotte’ is a book of strong poetry, both formal and free verse, collected after prior publication in 30 publications as diverse as Able Muse, Ambit, American Arts Quarterly, Amsterdam Quarterly… and The Dark Horse, and Light, and Measure. One of the pieces in this collection, ‘Twins’, has already been reprinted in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Families and Other Fiascoes’.

Her casual comfort with verse forms is shown in the last poem of the book, ‘Bounty’:

The fruit flies find our fruit, they slip
beneath the lid, a silver dome.
The dark fruit scent has drawn them in,
no other lures them out again.
They settle on apples, puckered figs,
they gorge in perpetuity,
may never fly back to their home,
(if they have ever had a home).
An allegory of choice? Well, yes–
in that we have no choice.
The fruit is fine, the day is long.
Let us feed, buzz, rejoice.

The poem divides into two pieces: the first eight lines describe the scene, and are in iambic tetrameter with mere hints of rhyme. The last four lines step back and philosophise, and alternate tetrameter and trimeter, the trimeters rhyming.

Personally, though I like the whole poem, I find the last four lines far more satisfying. The change of rhythm is good, but I don’t see any reason not to embed more formal rhyme in the first part. She is capable of sustained rhyme, as in another of my favourites, ‘Holistic Practice’. Here a middle-aged holistic therapist who has failed to create a whole life for herself – living in a one-room flat and with no family – is depicted in ten 5-line stanzas as she comes for a visit and shares pictures of her cat. The last stanza is:

But no, her Boop, he was her treasure;
her angel and her source of pleasure.
“Oh , look, how cute!”–a cat bow tie!
I grin and nod, divided by
a deep, holistic urge to cry.

I will admit that her free verse can be very engaging as well, as in her ‘ATM’:

Somehow, it’s sexual,
the rim crotch-high,
the shuffling buttocks,
the hands fumbling in secret.

Gone the dainty dialogue,
the date stamp in a little leathery
book of records, at set times. Now,
an onanism of cash, walls with mouths.

This is an example of a poem that I would hesitate to modify into a formal structure for fear of losing the way that each short line is a punchline in itself. But for the most part the less formal poems, though they often have rich ideas, are not as memorable as the well-structured ones. Blank verse in itself has no merit for me – Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ rambles tediously, without the need for concision imposed by rhyme. Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ may be long but it is packed with many more stories. It rhymes, and that leaves no room for waffle. No surprise then that with Susan de Sola’s work the longest poems are unrhymed and the least tight.

As for ‘Frozen Charlotte’, the title of the book and of one of its poems, I can only say I am grateful that a page of notes at the end gives the explanation that this was a common, naked, 19th century German doll that acquired its nickname in the US in relation to some ballads. I was unfamiliar with Frozen Charlottes. As a book title it seems memorable but disconnected, as Susan de Sola’s poems are, above all, full of warmth and life.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 6, “Wordplayful”

06 Wordplayful

The sixth in the series of Potcake Chapbooks, ‘Wordplayful – poems to amuse and amaze’, is now beginning to wander around on both sides of the Atlantic (and hopefully further afield). This one is a little different from the earlier ones in the series: puns and puzzles, poems that can be read vertically or in reverse, wordplay in a variety of forms… but, yes, all formal poems, stuffed full of rhyme, rhythm and rich language.

Returning Potcake poets are Marcus Bales, John Beaton, Ed Conti, Daniel Galef, Chris O’Carroll, George Simmers, Alicia Stallings, Rob Stuart and myself; newcomers are Sam Gwynn, Bob McKenty, the unlikely Noam D. Plum and the elusive Dervla Ramaswamy. Mini-bios and photos for most of them are on the Potcake Poets page.

Alban Low has again provided all the art work, but he will now be taking a five or six month break to work on other things, especially the annual Art of Caring exhibition which opens in St George’s Hospital in Tooting in London in May, and moves to St Pancras Hospital in July – or at least it did in 2019. But Alban promises to re-engage with us in the early summer, by which time we may have more idea of what further Potcake Chapbook themes to pursue.

Updated: Formal Launch: Potcake Chapbook 5 – “Strip Down”

05 Strip Down

“Strip down” the cashier ordered…

Potcake Chapbook 5, “Strip Down – poems of modern life” is now up and out, the post office is delivering the first copies in some countries, and others like myself will have to wait a couple of months before the post office gets its act together. So it goes.

With a mixture of lighthearted and flippant poems and others that are more meditative and bittersweet, all illustrated by the amazing Alban Low, “Strip Down” follows the formula of the earlier chapbooks. Returning Potcake Poets are Brian Allgar, Marcus Bales, Susan De Sola, Robin Helweg-Larsen, Vera Ignatowitsch, George Simmers, A.E. Stallings, Tom Vaughan and Gail White; newcomers to the series are Antonia Clark, David Galef, Claudia Gary, Paula Mahon and D.A. Prince.

Why does the potcake on the back cover wear a bow tie? Because he, like the poems, is in favour of the formal.

Why does the man on the front cover wear neither a bow tie nor anything else? Well, you’ll just have to read Marcus Bales’ little gem inside.

Sonnet Contest: Cash prizes, no entry fee!

poetry magazine, Better than Starbucks logo

Better Than Starbucks has just opened its annual sonnet contest, an opportunity for all lovers of formal poetry to practice their skills and show off their best work.

Open through October and November (closes December 1), the contest has no entry fee but awards prizes of $100, $50 and $25 for the top three sonnets, which will be published in the magazine along with seven runners-up.

Expect the competition to be fierce! Better Than Starbucks already has a solid following among formal poets. Last year’s competition drew 560 sonnets, this year’s will undoubtedly see more. And you can only send two sonnets. Make sure they are good!

What “good” means can be gleaned from looking at last year’s results in the January 2019 issue, and more sonnets on the Formal Poetry page in March 2019. There are explanatory notes on the contest page, showing some leniency in the definition, and clarifying that previously-published work is acceptable:

This contest is for a metrical sonnet.
Your sonnet can be shakespearean, petrarchan, spenserian, rhymed, or slant-rhymed.
Blank verse is fine, as long as the sonnet form is clearly identifiable.
We’ll consider tetrameter, hexameter, etc. as well as pentameter.
Some metrical variation is fine, but don’t forget the volta!
As always, we do accept previously published work.

Good luck!

Potcake Chapbooks: Call for Submissions

Potcake Chapbooks (named for the stray dogs of the Bahamas and Caribbean) come together when enough good poems – in a diversity of forms with a diversity of attitudes and by a diversity of poets – have crossed my path and appear to have some common theme or topic. The next three are likely to be on Modern Troubles, on Wordplay, and on Translations… but they are close to full already.

After that – if I am able to hold artist Alban Low‘s attention long enough – the next topics might be Lost Loves, or Various Heresies, or Portraits Unpleasant, or Seasons, or Age, or Pets, or who knows. It will depend on what shows up.

Poems should be in formal verse, from 2 to 20 lines in length strongly preferred (but up to 50 lines barely possible), witty, vivid, elegant, and previously published. Flippant, emotional and meditative are all equally welcome. Contributors receive five copies.

By submitting you acknowledge you are the sole author and give the publisher, Sampson Low, the right to publish your poem; you retain copyright. Please identify the place of prior publication so that we can acknowledge it. Simultaneous submissions are fine. Warning: There is no time frame for acceptance or rejection! The chapbooks have been appearing periodically since last October, but there is no fixed schedule. We will check with you before a poem is published, but until then I simply store an inventory of possible poems. 

Email poems that you feel are in the spirit of the Potcake series, preferably in a single doc file, to robinhelweglarsen -at- gmail.com

Formal Launch: Potcake Chapbook 4 – Families and Other Fiascoes

The fourth Potcake Chapbook is now launched into the wide world, with its contributors coming from England, Wales, Greece, the Netherlands, Canada, and coast to coast in the US.

04 Families and Other FiascoesPoets new to this series are, in order of appearance, Maryann Corbett, Vera Ignatowitsch, Kathryn Jacobs, Anthony Lombardy, Susan de Sola, Jane Blanchard and Michael R. Burch.  A glance at their profiles in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets page will show you they include editors at Able Muse, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts and The Road Not Taken, as well as various prizewinners.

Returning contributors are A.E. Stallings, Ed Conti, Tom Vaughan, Ann Drysdale, Gail White and Chris O’Carroll, who of course can boast their own editing and prizewinning. And returning as well is the artwork of Alban Low.

It’s hard to do justice to families in a mere chapbook. Not only are there dozens of possible family relationships (and the number is actively increasing thanks to both social changes and biotech developments), but each of those relationships can close or distant, sweet or bitter, simple or complex, present or merely remembered. It requires science fiction to describe an individual entirely without a family.

This chapbook touches on a great deal, but by no means all, of what “family” means. Send a copy to someone who appreciates the bittersweetness that accompanies family love, up and down the generations.