I heard the squelch of death again – or was it just a neuron firing deep within my boggy brain,
or possibly a cell expiring down amongst a mucus mess? It could have been my heart perspiring
(that may be a thing I guess) or, deep down in the adipose, the squealing of a fat-lump pressed
to serve as fuel, and I suppose it might have been a small mutation – ‘Pop!’ (we get a lot of those),
a bronchiole’s sharp inhalation, ‘Hiss!’ a membrane’s gooey breath, a bile-duct’s bitter salivation…
Probably, it wasn’t death.
Nina Parmenter writes: “I had such a good time writing this poem. For a start, I got to have a lovely little geek-out researching a few anatomical details. I do like writing poems which require a little research, and biology seems to be a favourite subject at the moment. With bronchioles and bile ducts firmly in place, I granted myself permission to fill the rest of the poem with as many gooey, yucky words and noises as I pleased. And who wouldn’t enjoy doing that?
To compound the pleasure, I wrote the poem in terza rima form – such an elegant, flowing puzzle of a form, and one of my favourites to write in.
Honestly, this is one of those poems that I wish had taken me longer, because I didn’t want the (slightly dark) fun to stop.”
Home is where you hang your hat, as they say, but it’s more than that. It can be a place of endless work and frustration, or a place of peace and relaxation and deep, strong memories. Houses and homes are part of what makes us who we are.
These poems–all formal, of course!–are as usual in a variety of forms. They were authored by Potcake newcomers Melissa Balmain, Kate Bernadette Benedict, Kathy Lundy Derengowski, Nina Parmenter and Jennifer Reeser, and returning contributors Marcus Bales, Maryann Corbett, Ann Drysdale, Daniel Galef, D A Prince, A.E. Stallings and Tom Vaughan. And well illustrated, as always, by Alban Low.
For the price of a fancy greeting card you can, through the wonders of PayPal, get this 16-page chapbook online for £2.60 + £1.20 P&P to a UK or European address, or £2.60 + £2.20 P&P to a Worldwide address; the seven earlier chapbooks in the series are available as well.
An overview with photos and bios of all the Potcake Chapbook poets is here, all having a home in this big, rambling house.
When, at last, auditions ended parts were cast and roles assigned. By the time the vows were taken expectations had declined.
She replaced the silk with sweatshirts He drank beer instead of wine, They had tired of pretending Both agreed that it was fine.
Sometimes laundry went unfolded, furniture grew thick with dust. They had made accommodations Every happy couple must.
When her garden went unweeded when he failed to take out trash they hung in there, through the hard times long on love, though short on cash.
Through the years of strife and struggle, obstacles they couldn’t plan they held fast, to face the future- each the other’s biggest fan.
Leading man and leading lady both had heard the casting call. Their romantic comedy became the envy of us all.
Kathy Lundy Derengowski writes: “I selected this poem for submission, because it is one that just “fell into place” and because it still captures the essence of a satisfying marriage.”
Kathy Lundy Derengowski’s work has appeared in Summation, California Quarterly, Silver Birch Press, Autumn Sky Daily, Turtle Light Press, the Journal of Modern Poetry, as well as the latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Houses and Homes Forever‘. She has won awards from the California State Poetry Society and was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards poetry chapbook category.
Although she does not have a website or blog, you can find a reading of a few of her earlier poems on YouTube under Kathy Lundy Derengowski.
I just came from The Seagull, and it’s still the tour de force it was when it was written. The jaded past, a tragic Russian vaudeville, ushers in the star-struck and the smitten, the ingénue, the predator, hard-bitten, artists in a trance-like state and sordid, bewitched by when and how they’ll be rewarded.
Success too young is said to be a curse for writers—yours was neither smug nor rude. By twenty-one, your stories filled a purse to pay your famished family’s rent and food. Your father’s violence had finally been subdued. Doctor, writer, you could dress a wound or stage a scene of pettiness lampooned.
Though philistines have claimed your plays lack action there are secret histrionics of the mind where characters break through the stupefaction and character unfolds when it’s confined. Whether tight, oblivious or blind, the diva crippled by her little fame reveals herself in fear of change, or shame.
Your plays still plumb the interplay between words and silence, plotlessness and plot in which you show an uneventful scene composed entirely of what was not to be—the spent emotion scattershot around the stage in wraiths of lost pretension, and meaning haunted by the fourth dimension.
How women loved Antosha! You could be flippant, daring, timid, or a charmer. Biographers today are on a spree: computers link to lovers and their armor, unsigned stories, letters to a farmer, notes on pets. But did your gentle crane mean more to you than Masha or demesne?
And Lydia Avilova! Tantamount to love affair or game of cat-and-mouse, no one could say by reading her account of unrequited love, the empty house once lent by friends, your hunch her child and spouse (Karenina, or Lady with a Dog?) would haunt her like a countermarch, a fog.
Or worse. Perhaps it was her child for whom you stopped. Could she have let him go? It might have meant despondency and doom, and why should history have the need to know? Eventually Avilova’s book would show the years you spent inventing cryptic ruses, the stifled passion, the letters bearing bruises.
Four years before you died, you took a wife, the theater’s Olga Knipper—Like a colt, you said—who thrived on acting, laughter, life, and you. Your own Teutonic thunderbolt. Masha would be the sister in revolt. She’d broken her engagement years before at your insistence. Masha was keeping score.
Juggling marriage, jealousy, TB, and writing plays, in Yalta you missed Moscow, Olga, the theater—in Moscow you craved the sea, the ease, the heat. You dreaded every flow of springtime melt, the break of ice and snow. With spring came spitting blood, and you were weak. Writing was a trial. You couldn’t speak.
In youth, you wrote: Of all the doctors in town, I am the sorriest case. My carriage is broken, my horses mangy, I don’t know the roads, I frown at night and still can’t see, and I’m awoken by pleas for cash, of which I’ve none. Unspoken disease is rampant. I tire very quickly, practice medicine gratis, and am sickly.
My paraphrase, and fraught with emendations. The tragedy is clear. The truth is that you struggled with the people’s deprivations and gave yourself away sans caveat. En route to France’s kinder habitat, you died a “doctor’s death”—TB, champagne, the German spa, and morphine for the pain.
Terese Coe writes: “The letter-poem speaks for me.”
Terese Coe’s poems and translations have appeared in Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Moth, New American Writing, New Writing Scotland, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, Potcake Chapbooks, The Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, and the TLS, among many other journals. Her collection Shot Silk was listed for the 2017 Poets Prize. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terese_Coe
The sun comes out. Street-closing hills that climb Below the scoops of cumulus from Wales Are woodland backdrops lit for pantomime, Bright as the ribbons round the horses’ tails.
Where steam-frilled dung and strawy puddles mix In iron pens, the mud-scaled cattle groan; The auctioneers outbawl the rapping sticks And rattling bars and hobnails scraped on stone.
Lost in the din, the gaiters, boots and wheels, The lambs cry, unregarded. Overhead, The clock, white marble up in front, conceals That all behind is brickwork’s weathered red.
A stray dog pauses, sniffs, then, deaf to shouts, Swings up its leg against a net of sprouts.
Jerome Betts writes: “I’m attached to this piece, first printed in Pennine Platform, as it began as wispy free verse in university days and gradually metamorphosed over many years. The bellowing from the market punctuated lessons in a West Midlands cathedral city and other elements were attracted, like the ribbons in the horses’ tails and then a reminder of the street-ending hills in a small town in Castilla y León, and the closing couplet from another in the East Midlands.But, aided by the grappling-hook of rhyme, something unexpected emerged from the depths and took over with the lambs and the clock, often an intriguing result of struggling with formal constraints.”
Jerome Betts was born and brought up on the Welsh border, but now lives in South Devon, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. In addition to articles and verse in consumer and specialist magazines his work has appeared in Pennine Platform, Staple and The Guardian, as well as anthologies like The Iron Book of New Humorous Verse, Limerick Nation, Love Affairs At The Villa Nelle, and The Potcake Chapbooks 1 & 2, and online at Amsterdam Quarterly, Angle, The Asses of Parnassus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts, Light, The New Verse News, Parody, The Rotary Dial, Snakeskin, and other sites.
That was my first job, he said, as we gazed at the insignificant window. Down the slate steps, and looking from the raised salt-pitted pavement, where this end of town gets hammered by the sea, it looked so small. But sturdy, strongly-made enough to prove that here his father fitted him with all the craftsmanship he’d need. It wouldn’t move or crumble. Each year he’d return, to see his work enduring. Then brought me, to know a detail of our family history and let this shabby mullioned window show something inherited – that stone and wood, well-built, can last a lifetime and go on drawing the clean light in and doing good. I think about it often now he’s gone.
D A Prince writes: “Sometimes a poem travels far further than expected. When I wrote ‘The Window’ I felt it was a quiet and, for me, unusually personal poem which would have a limited readership. It was published in South, and the editors subsequently submitted it to the Forward 2020 Anthology. I was pleased they had chosen it but given the cutting-edge nature of the Forward anthologies I never thought it would be selected. After all, it’s formal; that’s not how twenty-first century poetry is. To my astonishment it was selected and included — perhaps a reminder that rhyme and metre are still part of our landscape.”
D A Prince lives in Leicestershire and London. Her first appearances in print were in the weekly competitions in The Spectator and New Statesman (which ceased its competitions in 2016) along with other outlets that hosted light verse. Something closer to ‘proper’ poetry followed, with three pamphlets, followed by a full-length collection, Nearly the Happy Hour, from HappenStance Press in 2008. A second collection, Common Ground, (from the same publisher) followed in 2014 and this won the East Midlands Book Award in 2015. HappenStance published her pamphlet Bookmarks in 2018. Light verse continues to be an essential part of her writing as a way of honing technical skills while having fun.
Lucy Vickery runs a competition in the British weekly The Spectator–a truly venerable publication which recently reached its 10,000th weekly issue. Its politics are a bit too conservative for my taste, but the competition is in a class of its own (The New Statesman having dropped its similar competition a few years ago).
The most recent challenge was this: “In Competition No. 3163 you were invited to submit well-known poems encapsulated in four lines.” The gorgeous responses prompted Lucy Vickery to call the results “Paradise Lost in four lines”, after this entry by Jane Blanchard:
Satan found himself in hell — Eve and Adam also fell — Good gone bad got even worse — Milton wrote too much blank verse —
(which exactly reflects my feelings, having had to waste too much of my A Level studies on Paradise Lost at the expense of more interesting poets such as John Donne and Matthew Arnold.)
My personal delight in The Spectator’s competitions is in seeing so many Potcake Poets there (in this case not just Jane Blanchard, but also Chris O’Carroll, Martin Parker, Jerome Betts, George Simmers and Brian Allgar), and in identifying more poets to keep an eye on for possible future chapbooks.
Anyway, if you want to see nice condensations of famous poems, have a look at that specific competition’s results. My favourite is Martin Parker’s take on e.e. cummings’ ‘may i feel said he‘:
Read me a bedtime poem, said my son.
So I read him this:
We say hippopotami
But not rhinoceri
A strange dichotomy
In nature’s glossary.
But we do say rhinoceri, he said. Look it up.
So I read him this:
Life is unfair
For most of us, therefore
Let’s have a fanfare
For those that it’s fair for.
I smell a slant rhyme, he said, sniffing.
So I read him this:
While trying to grapple
With gravity, Newton
Was helped by an apple
He didn’t compute on.
My teacher says that’s not poetry, he said.
So I read him this:
René Descartes, he thought
And therefore knew he was.
And since he was, he sought
To make us think. He does.
That made me think, he said. But not feel.
So I read him this:
My hair has a wonderful sheen.
My toenails, clipped, have regality.
It’s just all those things in between
That give me a sense of mortality.
Did the earth move? I asked. Anything?
Nothing moved. He was asleep.
Ed Conti writes: “I sent the following quatrain to John Mella at Light and he accepted it (those were the good old days).
We say hippopotami
But not rhinoceri
A strange dichotomy
In nature’s glossary.
I don’t remember what the title was but I’m sure it didn’t hurt the poem. A few weeks later dis-accepted the poem. He had consulted with a fellow editor (I didn’t know they did that!) and found out you do say ‘rhinoceri.’ Now what? I didn’t want to trash the quatrain, not with ‘t those felicitous rhymes. So how to keep the verse and note the error. That was it, link a whole bunch of poems with their shortcomings (and I have a lot of those) and do a learned dissertation on what their problems were. And who better to do that than one of my two sons. Which one? It wouldn’t matter, I wouldn’t name him. That way if one of them said he didn’t remember that happening, I would say it was the other son. Besides they were too young to worry about personas (personae?) And I wasn’t sure if I actually knew what they were.
So what does the reader get out of this poem? Probably nothing. I write for myself because it’s fun. If the reader chooses to enjoy this poem, that’s his problem.”
I’ve suffered, but I can’t quite sing the blues.
My troubles are occasional, not chronic.
My angst is true, but not the kind you’d use
against the everyday, to find or lose
your heart. My chords are major and harmonic.
I’ve suffered, but I don’t dare sing the blues.
Any attempt would probably amuse,
but not in ways your songs have made iconic.
Your angst is true, while mine’s nothing to use
in threatening to blow a major fuse
or skip to Paris on the supersonic.
I’ve not suffered enough to sing the blues.
Saying I have is asking for a bruise.
You’ll throw tomatoes. They’ll be hydroponic.
This angst is true, but nothing I can use
to make you say mine is the pain you’d choose.
The plates I spin are porcelain, not tectonic.
I suffer from a need to sing the blues
with insufficient angst, too kind to use.
Claudia Gary writes: “I chose this poem because people have seemed to enjoy it at various readings, as did the wonderful editors who chose to include it in “Love Affairs at the Villa Nelle.” Also, villanelle is one of the forms I love to teach at writer.org—currently online, so people can “Zoom” from anywhere in the world and wear their pajamas to class.”
Claudia Gary teaches villanelle, sonnet, and meter “crash courses” at The Writer’s Center (writer.org). A three-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award and semifinalist for the Anthony Hecht prize (Waywiser books), she is author of Humor Me (David Robert Books, 2006), chapbooks including Genetic Revisionism (2019), and poems appearing in journals and anthologies internationally. She also writes chamber music, art songs, and health/science articles. See also pw.org/content/claudia_gary, @claudiagary (twitter), and claudiagarypoet (instagram).
We choose what gives us meaning. I
chose you. That’s why
when people ask
me to unmask
and tell them if I’m ‘happy’, they
head off astray:
that’s not the glue.
But what I knew –
in the first minute, when we met
(part pledge, part threat) –
was that our text
Of course, it’s only when you turn
the last page, learn
its backward view,
say farewell too,
that you can fully understand
an author’s plan.
So bugger books
and how we’ll look
to hooked, impatient readers who
will hurry through
to reach the end.
Leave that unpenned.
Tom Vaughan writes: “The poem I would choose to represent myself, Save the Last Page for Me, first published in Staple, represented a particular challenge. I’d come across the form (‘minute’ poems, i.e. 60 syllables in each stanza, with rhyming couplets and a pattern of four or two foot lines) which it was suggested was only for comic poetry. I wanted to say something serious, and hope I succeeded. Writing the poem was also another reminder that at least sometimes the more you work within the confines of a strict form, the more you discover what you wanted to say. The poem is about my wife, Anne.”
Tom Vaughan is not the real name of a poet whose previous publications include a novel and two poetry pamphlets (A Sampler, 2010, and Envoy, 2013, both published by HappenStance). His poems have been published in a range of poetry magazines. He currently lives and works in London.