Category Archives: Potcake Poet

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Terese Coe, “Letter to Anton Chekhov”

Terese Coe

My Dear Anton,

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

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jerome Betts, “View of the Old Market”

Jerome Betts

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.

https://www.lightenup-online.co.uk/

Potcake Poet’s Choice: D.A. Prince, “The Window”

D.A. Prince

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.

http://www.happenstancepress.com

The Spectator Competition: “Paradise Lost in four lines”

Milton Dictating to his Daughter, 1793, Henry Fuseli

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‘:

foreplay
(more play)
errings, ummings
(and cummings)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Edmund Conti, “My Son the Critic”

Edmund Conti

Edmund Conti

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.”

Edmund Conti has recent poems published in Light, Lighten-Up Online, The Lyric, The Asses of Parnassus, newversenews, Verse-Virtual and Open Arts Forum. His book of poems, Just So You Know has been recently released by Kelsay Books.
https://www.amazon.com/Just-You-Know-Edmund-Conti/dp/1947465899/

http://www.short-humour.org.uk/10writersshowcase/10writersshowcase.htm#EDCO

https://www.facebook.com/edmund.conti/

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Claudia Gary, “Blues Manqué”

Claudia Gary

Claudia Gary

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).

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Tom Vaughan, “Save the Last Page for Me”

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
defines, connects.

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.

https://tomvaughan.website

 

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 7, ‘Murder ! – poems of killings past and present’

07 Murder!

Potcake Chapbook 7: ‘Murder!’

Murder needs no formality of gats,
violin cases or fedora hats
or any other long-outdated memes.
Murder is merely social discord that’s
taken to interpersonal extremes.

Murder. Here we present victims ranging from the unidentifiably unknown to the rich and powerful, and from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It appears to be something with which we humans are permanently infected. 

The poems–all formal, of course!–are as usual in a variety of forms. This chapbook contains sonnets, a double dactyl, quatrains, rubaiyat, parody and nonce forms. They were authored by Potcake newcomers A.M. Juster, Marilyn L. Taylor, LindaAnn LoSchiavo and Frank Hubeny, and old-timers Chris O’Carroll, Marcus Bales, Vera Ignatowitsch, Noam D. Plum, Michael R. Burch and myself. And powerfully 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.

Or you might prefer to browse themes and poets here, and photos and bios here, and choose between poems on travel, or love affairs, or the working life… or relatives, or modern life, or poems to amuse and amaze. Life, after all, is more than just Murder!

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, “Dutch Elm”

Maryann Corbett

That trees would die
yearly, we knew. The columns of the nave
of Summit Avenue, the architrave
of openwork where canopies unfold,
green or briefly gold,
the arched, leaf-dripping limbs
backlit with sky—

in every year, some go.
Some ends arrive with force: the papers warn
with pictures, after every storm,
of fallen branches, hollow at the heart,
or great trunks snapped apart,
battering cars and houses with the blows.
(We knew, but now we know.)

Some ends are quiet: the red
stripes appearing, like a garotting wound,
on trunks where the inspectors found
beetles in bark, bare limbs lurking in shade.
The tree crew and the chainsaw blade
will come—we know now—soon—
The stripe says, This is dead.

They make short work of things
with sweat and cherry pickers, saws and zeal
rope and rappelling acrobatic skill
and limb-shredding machines.
Only the stump remains
and is soon sawdust: nothing left to chance
but next year’s fairy rings.

No help for it, then.
This cut to sky, this coring of the heart.
These trees too far apart.
This just delivered balled-and-burlapped stick,
its trunk two inches thick,
decades from beauty. What we always knew:
We start again.

Maryann Corbett writes: “All day today I’ve been hearing, and sometimes watching, the process of the removal of my neighbor’s enormous elm, which peeled apart suddenly in a recent storm, exposing a hollow core. I was reminded that I’ve seen this process so many times in my city that it prompted a poem over a decade ago, and it’s a poem I’m happy to remember. It first appeared in The Lyric and is included in my second book, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter.”

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write in plain English and coordinating the creating of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry after thirty years away from the craft in 2005 and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length collections already published, and a forthcoming book. Her fifth book, In Code, contains the poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and is included in anthologies like Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Her web page: maryanncorbett.com

Poem: “Time”

Time takes the young child by the hand
and leads it through a golden land
so timeless it will never note
Time’s other hand is at its throat.

This little poem was just published in Snakeskin, in one of its richest issues ever. I’m glad to have been included, along with several others–Claudia Gary, Tom Vaughan, George Simmers, Marcus Bales–of the formalist poets who appear in the Potcake Chapbooks. And a shout-out to Nikolai Usack, who made me clear up clumsy pronouns in the original draft.