Category Archives: Potcake Poet

Potcake Poet’s Choice: David Whippman, ‘Who Were You?’

I never really found out who you are.
I only saw what I preferred to see.
I realise now it wasn’t meant to be.
I thought you were my one true shining star.
My cordon bleu, champagne and caviar
But really you’re a lukewarm cup of tea.
I thought you cared: you soon enlightened me.
I should have just admired you from afar.

It really was a silly thing to do,
Dropping my guard to let you in my head.
You left such an emotional mess behind.
And now you’re gone, I look around and find
An empty wallet and an empty bed.
And still there is the question: who are you?

*****

David Whippman writes: “As someone who is by aptitude a prose writer (much as I love poetry, both reading and writing it) I gravitate to a structured form of verse because I don’t have that  instinct necessary for writing good free verse. The sonnet form gives a ready-made structure and discipline, but allows some fluidity as well.

David Whippman is British, in his 70s, long retired after a career in healthcare. He writes stories and articles as well as poems. Outside of writing, his hobbies are music, chess and visual art. (And reading, of course.)

Image: “question mark” by WingedWolf is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, ‘Cleveland Krater’

This column krater once held watered wine,
Its figures, red on black, an illustration
Of how it served the daily and divine.
On one side Hera offers a libation
With Artemis, Apollo, and their mother,
While three nude athletes and a bearded man
Are drunk with more than liquor on the other.
I stare through all four panes of glass that ban
All but my eyes from learning every curve,
And I can only dream that luck and nerve
And my own art may earn a chance to feel,
As one of few who cares to understand
That ancient try to make one ideal real,
To feel it push through time with my own hand.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “A poem is language in meter that evokes emotion in the reader. Those who write to express themselves are doing something other than writing poetry. No reader accomplished enough to be engaged in reading poems is in it for the writer’s blurt. It may be that the writer is trying to evoke the same emotion in the reader that the writer felt in the poem’s circumstances, but the goal remains to evoke that emotion in the reader, not merely recount the writer’s emotion.

Poems that fail to evoke emotion in the reader are failed poems and, alas, every poet has several. They wait patiently like the mythic swordsman in fairytales to keep the protagonist from going through the door behind them. Our hero or heroine arrives in the room, the swordsman puts down Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ – in the original German – and smiles, drawing a sword. The writer, however already wounded or tired from the effort of getting there, engages and soon enough, after an elaborate exploration of the waiting swordsman’s skills, is disarmed. The swordsman bows, kicks the writer’s sword back to him, sheathes his own, picks up his book, and sits down again, angles it to the light from the only window, nods goodbye, and resumes his perusal. The writer picks up the disgraced weapon, and trudges back out the way they came in. That poem still does not do what the writer intended to do: evoke emotion in the reader; all it remains as is an account of his or her own emotion.

It is the strength of that felt emotion that keeps the writer coming back to the failed poem, ever hopeful that it is an exception to the unyielding rule that the poem is for the reader, not the poet. Some poets make careers out of performing such things, their agents guaranteeing that the poet will cry during the performance, sure that the promoters are only interested in the performance, not in its effects on the audience. And there are audiences for whom watching the performer fail in their presentation is the point. No one involved in that scenario is there for poetry.

Unfortunately, this poem, ‘Cleveland Krater’ is one of those failed poems. Absent the actual krater, I have finally come to realize, the reader is not going to experience the emotion I did. I have come back and back to this piece, always after having visited the krater again, examining it closely through its Plexiglas box, looking for the clues that moved me and still move me, to try to shove them into words that will bring that impact I felt to the reader. Maybe if I just admit my failure I will get free of the draw of its blade when I arrive at it, again, hoping that this time I’ll do better than the dismissive kick of my sword clattering across the stone floor.”

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’).

An extensive review of the Cleveland Krater and its creator can be found at https://www.academia.edu/12708103/The_Cleveland_Painter. You don’t need to log in or register, you can simply scroll down to read the entire pdf.

Photo: provided by the Cleveland Museum of Art https://www.clevelandart.org/art/1930.104#

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Richard Fleming, ‘Blackbird’

With catapult, once school was finished,
I went to hunt in woodland, high
above the town, in summer light
and heard, among leafed branches spread,
a blackbird, singing like a bell.
I took aim, shot; the missile flew
unerringly, my aim was true,
with awful suddenness it fell,
all broken. Exultation fled,
to be replaced by sickly fright.
I knelt to watch it slowly die.
Within me somewhere, light diminished.

*****

Richard Fleming writes: “I wrote Blackbird, an autobiographical poem, many years ago, with a rhyme scheme that I believed I’d invented. I’ve since learned that the pattern is well established and is known as Chiasmus, the repetition of any group of verse elements in reverse order, such as the rhyme scheme ABCDEEDCBA. Examples can be found in Biblical scripture (“But many that are first / Shall be last, / And many that are last / Shall be first”; Matthew 19:30). The poem records a coming-of-age event and such experiences can sometimes be traumatic.”

Richard Fleming is an Irish-born poet currently living in Guernsey, a small island midway between Britain and France. His work has appeared in various magazines, most recently Snakeskin, Bewildering Stories, Lighten Up Online, the Taj Mahal Review and the latest Potcake Chapbook ‘Lost Love’, and has been broadcast on BBC radio. He has performed at several literary festivals and his latest collection of verse, Stone Witness, features the titular poem commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day. He writes in various genres and can be found at www.redhandwriter.blogspot.com or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.fleming.92102564/

Photo: Male common blackbird with feed in Lausanne, Switzerland, by Shantham11, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 11, ‘Lost Love’

‘Lost Love – poems of what never happened, and of the end of things that did’… how bittersweet; but what a collection of poets, and what a diversity of stories and observations!

Seventeen poets are packed into this chapbook. Seven have appeared before: Marcus Bales, Melissa Balmain, Michael R. Burch, Vera Ignatowitsch, Martin Parker, Gail White and myself. Ten are new to the series, with wicked little pieces from Brooke Clark, Cody Walker and three from Wendy Cope, and with longer poems from N.S. Thompson, James B. Nicola, Mary Meriam, Helena Nelson, David Whippman, Richard Fleming and Vadim Kagan. Bios, photos and links to read more of their work can all be found on the Sampson Low site’s Potcake Poets page, while all the chapbooks in the series, showing which poets are in which, are here. Each of the 11 chapbooks is profusely illustrated (of course) by Alban Low, and can be yours (or sent to an ex) for the price of a coffee.

Heartbreak has never had a happier manifestation!

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jerome Betts, ‘Morning Calls’

Though buds, light-headed, arrow to the sun,
Wood-pigeons cautiously descend to drink
As through the roof the first faint cheepings run
From half-fledged nestlings in some straw-warm chink,
While welling far and near − to float and sink
Like spidery fibre silvered on the lawn −
Mercurial lark song trails out link by link,
Rocking serrated-throated crows have drawn
Their broad indelible raw weals across the dawn.

Jerome Betts writes: “Have only tried the intricate patterning of the ‘Spenserian stanza‘ a couple of times. On the first occasion it seemed to suit a comment on the design of a 4th century Roman mosaic floor and on the second, in ‘Morning Calls’, appearing in Snakeskin, a memory of the rich dawn chorus in rural Herefordshire many years ago. The point of particular interest for me is the phrase ‘rocking serrated-throated crows’ in Line 8, unchanged from one jotted at the time. The words fitted a rocking or bobbing movement, but why ‘serrated-throated’?  This is appropriate for ravens with their ‘shaggy throat feathers’  (RSPB Handbook 2014) but not, I thought, crows. The words resisted attempts at tweaking and the stanza stalled. Some weeks later I saw a crow standing on top of a Devon street light rhythmically calling and rocking . . . and as it did so its neck feathers briefly parted on the upstroke of the movement. The line had preserved an exact observation made when young and then forgotten.”

Jerome Betts edits the quarterly verse webzine Lighten Up Online in Devon. His work has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Angle, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Pennine Platform, Light, The Rotary Dial, and Snakeskin, other American, British and Canadian publications and two Iron Press anthologies.
www.lightenup-online.co.uk

Photo: “A Crow calling – gardenDSCN9711” by ianpreston is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Review: ’51 Poems’ by Marcus Bales

This is poetry as it is meant to be: evocative and word-for-word memorable. Fair disclosure: I am an online friend of Marcus Bales – and I am so because his poetry is evocative, memorable, witty… and it all rhymes and scans in the most natural and elegant way.

His collection of ‘51 Poems‘ contains sections with very different moods. The first ones recapture childhood and wartime experiences and then give way to my personal favourites, a series of poems of love, love that in one way or another is unattained, incomplete: Pre-Flight, “I called goodbye. By then she couldn’t hear.//I pulled the chocks away, and she was gone.” Broken Sunlight “streaming down his face.” Have You Forgotten “it all, and all so soon?” Me and the Moon. Dancing with Abandon. And Precipice: “and knowing everybody knows//I’m dancing on a cliff edge, unaware//of where the precipice gives way to air.”

Others of his poems are portraits of very diverse people, political or social commentary, and (most memorably) flawless parodies of Keats, Poe, W.S. Gilbert, Auden, Shakespeare, Kipling among others. It is in the parodies that he shows the greatest diversity of rhyme and metre, because his ear catches the rhythms of other poets as easily as it understands iambic pentameters.

Online you will find him knocking out sarcastic little quatrains almost daily in Facebook. He was a standard contributor in The Rotary Dial (now sadly defunct), and frequently appears in the Potcake Chapbooks. Read 51 Poems for the wit and the human insights, and you will be rewarded with memorable earworms of wordplay and verbal dexterity.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Neglect’

What good are tears?
Will they spare the dying their anguish?
What use, our concern
to a child sick of living, waiting to perish?

What good, the warm benevolence of tears
without action?
What help, the eloquence of prayers,
or a pleasant benediction?

Before this day is over,
how many more will die
with bellies swollen, emaciate limbs,
and eyes too parched to cry?

I fear for our souls
as I hear the faint lament
of theirs departing …
mournful, and distant.

How pitiful our “effort,”
yet how fatal its effect.
If they died, then surely we killed them,
if only with neglect.

Michael R. Burch writes: “This original poem has over 3,000 Google results, perhaps because it has been published by Daily Kos, Black Kos, Course Hero, Think Positive, Katutura (Namibia), Vanguard News (Nigeria), Best Naira News (Nigeria), The World News Platform, Darfur Awareness Shabbat, Genocide in Art, Genocide Awareness, and other human rights organizations including the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency).”

Photo: “Carrying a lifeless and dying child (Famine Memorial)” by Can Pac Swire is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

My own comments: The statue in the photo is at House Quay, Dublin, and relates specifically to the Great Famine, the Great Hunger, the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 in which a million died and two million left the country then and in the next couple of years. The potato blight also impacted continental Europe, causing a further 100,000 deaths there and becoming a contributory cause of the widespread Revolutions of 1848.

So let us be clear: whether children are dying from famine, climate disaster, pandemics, government inaction, or warfare (all present in today’s world)–dying without in any conceivable way being culpable–there is not just a moral duty to help, there is self-interest in helping, self-interest in preventing civil unrest and floods of refugees. Refugees are the product of an intolerable domestic situation: all other things being equal, people would rather make their future in the place they were raised, with familiar friends, family, foods, festivals. It is the duty of all governments to make all places so pleasant that no adults or children feel forced to leave, that no one is left to die.

Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Ramadan kareem.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, ‘(Under)worlds Collide – (an ovillejo chain)’

Makaría, my girl, though you’ve heard 
Every word 
Of this myth I’ve recounted before, 
I implore 
You—indulge me again. For at last 
You’ve surpassed
Fragile childhood’s constraints. Now hold fast 
And let fantasy shift into creed. 
You’re Persephone’s daughter; please heed
Every word, I implore. You’ve surpassed 

Expectations I set at your birth.
From my dearth 
You drew bountiful joy; from disgrace 
You forged grace.
And it’s clear that your eyes could induce 
Mighty Zeus
To devise an elaborate ruse 
That would send you careening unseen
Down to Hades, where I was once queen. 
From my dearth, you forged grace mighty Zeus—

Who, three decades ago sent me bound 
Underground
As a chthonian bride—would aspire 
To acquire. 
Once, Demeter’s stray heart, all aglow
For the beau
She’d just met, allowed Zeus to sow woe.
He pared back the earth’s crust, laying waste 
To her harvest and left me displaced 
Underground to acquire. For the beau

Who then claimed me, I burned seven years. 
Through her tears, 
Fair Demeter cursed Earth and repealed
Springtime’s yield,
Vowing Winter would linger ‘til I
Bid goodbye 
To the underworld. Hades complied, 
For the innocent girl he’d once craved 
Was no more. As I rose, Mother waved 
Through her tears. Springtime’s yield bid goodbye

To its seven-year drought. But although
Status quo 
Seemed to flourish again, when detained
I’d retained 
Hades’ seed. It entrenched its black song
For so long 
In my belly, no matter how wrong,
The abyss still enthralled me. When eight 
More years passed, I spit out the innate 
Status quo I’d retained for so long,

And descended at twenty to reign
Hell’s domain.
Disavowing my schooling to seek 
Dark’s mystique,
In the city, I stripped on a stage
To assuage 
What convention had trapped in a cage.
And I deemed each male patron a thrall
On whose worship I’d draw to recall
Hell’s domain—dark’s mystique. To assuage 

The lacuna lost innocence spread 
In its stead,
I sought lust, ‘til a man who’d paid much 
Dared to touch 
Me as Zeus had once touched. But his ploy
To destroy
My esteem served instead to deploy 
Comprehension. Mercurial youth
Had to forfeit illusion that truth,
In its stead, dared to touch—to destroy.

While these decades I’ve learned to delight
In the light,
I acknowledge I’ll always endure
Dark’s allure. 
For the Hades against which I strain 
Lives to reign.
Makaría, I’ll need not explain
When, from underworld’s embers you rise
And return to me, blinking your eyes 
In the light—dark’s allure lives to reign.

Originally appeared in Star*Line, Fall 2018

Mindy Watson writes: “‘(Under)worlds Collide,’ which originally appeared in Star*Line’s Fall 2018 issue, constitutes my most ambitious attempt at restructuring a prior creative nonfiction/memoir essay (the initial ‘Underworlds Apart: A Story for Ailie’ piece appeared in Adelaide Magazine’s online March 2017 edition) into poetic form—in this case, an 8-stanza string of linked ovillejos. While the poem follows the original memoir’s metaphorical trajectory and overarching narrative—that is, a mother leverages a well-known Greek myth’s parallels to her own coming of age story to relay a “moral” (of sorts) to her burgeoning young daughter—I wanted the compressed, verse form to read less like a dark bedtime story and more like a literary song… but without losing the original’s intensity. While in hindsight I concede that my chosen form’s line/length constraints hampered my ability to clearly align my real-world characters to their mythological counterparts (a far easier feat via prose), I believe the form’s stipulation that each terminal ovillejo line contain a convergence of previously distinct phrases conferred a sense of interconnectedness between one elapsed past and another possible future that no mere prose ever could. I applaud George Simmers for penning ‘Strip,’ which made me remember my prior manifesto, and Robin for posting it.”

Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Snakeskin, Think Journal, the Poetry Porch, Orchards Poetry Journal, Better Than Starbucks, Eastern Structures, the Quarterday Review, and Star*Line. She’s also appeared in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets: Form in Formless Times chapbook series and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology. You may read her work at: 
https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite.

Photo: “Persephone’s Rape at Uffizi -II” by Egisto Sani is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: George Simmers, ‘Strip’

The pub’s old-fashioned, and is somewhat seedy.
The clientele, all male, look lumpish, needy,
And when the stripper comes, their eyes are greedy.

A smile fixed firm upon her painted face,
She starts gyrating with a teasing grace,
Smoothly undressing at a languorous pace.

She struts through routine choreography
Removes her bra, and lets her breasts go free
The silent men watch her impassively.

And still they stare unmoving as she slips
The golden panties from her mobile hips,
Pauses a sec, then sensually unzips

Her smooth pink skin, and flings it open wide, 
To show the flesh and beating heart inside.
Her audience observes all this, dead-eyed.

The flesh from bone she now expertly rends,
And now it’s just her skeleton bops and bends
Seductively until the music ends.

Silence. She picks up flesh and skin, and drawers
So often dropped before on grubby floors.
The men are stirred to offer mild applause.

She dresses quickly, picks up a pint glass,
And then begins the customary pass
Among the men, who goggle at her arse,

Say nothing, but poke fivers in the pot
Because that is expected. They do not
Even try to meet her eye, or speak of what

They’ve seen, but, weekly ritual complete,
Get up, and, bodies drooping with defeat,
They head out to the grey indifferent street.

George Simmers writes: “It must be thirty years ago that I was in a run-down district of some industrial city, looking for a pub that would sell me a pint and a sandwich. I passed one with a sign that said ‘Stripper: 1.30’ and I thought: ‘Why not?’
The audience was very much as described in the poem, though the performance was less extreme. It was a fairly melancholy occasion, and one that stayed in my memory. It was a long while ago, and the pot that day probably filled with £1 notes (maybe even ten bob) rather than fivers, but I thought £5 would be the appropriate donation today – if lunchtime pub strippers still exist. They’re an endangered species in the North of England, I gather, and lockdown has probably killed them off completely.
I wrote this in triplets because the first three lines came to me together, and I thought I’d see how well I could continue. I feel the form somehow suits the subject, or at any rate is better than couplets, which tend to be faster-moving. The triplets seem (to me at least) sluggish and a bit unusual.
I dimly remember years ago seeing an animated film in which a stripper goes on to unzip her skin, so to that extent the poem is not original. But it was the deliberately unimpressed audience I really wanted to write about, and making them still stolid even after watching the impossible made my point, I hoped.
This is one of a series of poems that I’ve written over the past couple of years, telling stories that are extreme or somewhat gothic. I may get some of them together into a short collection later in the year.”

George Simmers used to be a teacher; now he spends much of his time researching literature written during and after the First World War. He has edited Snakeskin since 1995. It is probably the oldest-established poetry zine on the Internet. His work appears in several Potcake Chapbooks.
https://greatwarfiction.wordpress.com/
http://www.snakeskinpoetry.co.uk/

Photo: “luchavavoom stripper” by ourcommon is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, ‘Miniver Cheever III’

Miniver Cheevy Junior’s kid
Despised his own contemporaries,
Like his poetic forebears did,
As functionaries.

Miniver missed old apartheids,
South Africa and Mississippi,
And longed to go on freedom rides
And lay a hippie.

Miniver yearned for days gone by,
For free love’s newly bra-less boobies,
For Woodstock, rock and roll, tie-dye,
And smoking doobies.

Miniver mourned for Owsley Blue,
The name, he understood, for acid.
At Kool-Aid Tests and love-ins, too,
He’d be less flaccid.

Miniver loved the Beatles, Stones,
Frank Zappa, Zep, and, yes, the Monkees;
He didn’t care, he had a jones
For tuneful junkies.

He cursed the mosh-pit debutantes,
And viewed hip-hop with open loathing;
He missed the sight of Mary Quant’s
Bell-bottomed clothing.

He metaphored and analogued
And similed to try to flout it;
Miniver blogged, and blogged, and blogged,
And blogged about it.

And so there’s Miniver number three,
Who’s no more dour but no less bitter.
He shakes his head and sighs. Then he
Logs in to Twitter.

Marcus Bales writes: “Here’s one that has its own built-in reason for writing it: DF Parry had done such a good job, who could resist? But Miniver Cheevy III was written so long ago, now, that possibly it’s time to explore IV.”

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”), and would like you to be familiar with the forerunners to his ‘Miniver Cheevy III’:

‘Miniver Cheevy, Jr.’ by D.F. Parry

Miniver Cheevy, Jr., child
Of Robinson’s renowned creation
Also lamented and reviled
His generation.

Miniver similarly spurned
The present that so irked his pater,
But that langsyne for which he yearned
Came somewhat later.

Miniver wished he were alive
When dividends came due each quarter,
When Goldman Sachs was 205
And skirts were shorter.

Miniver gave no hoot in hell
For Camelot or proud Troy’s pillage;
He would have much preferred to dwell
In Greenwich Village.

Miniver cherished fond regrets
For days when benefits were boundless;
When radios were crystal sets
And movies soundless.

Miniver missed the iron grills,
The whispered word, the swift admission,
The bath-tub gin, and other thrills
Of Prohibition.

Miniver longed, as all men long,
To turn back time (his eyes would moisten),
To dance the Charleston, play mah jong
And smuggle Joyce in.

Miniver Cheevy, Jr., swore
And drank until the drink imperiled
Health, then sighed, and read some more
F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The original, of course, is Miniver Cheevy‘ by Edwin Arlington Robinson:

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.