Category Archives: Potcake Poet

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.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, “The Seraph and the Six of Swords”

Mindy Watson

My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch. We’ll kneel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade,
Unearthing all your heart desires. Let’s deal.

I’ve drawn your future card. Does this reveal
Some truth to you: this Six of Swords I’ve played
That paints a boatman on a blade-pierced keel?
My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade

Me burnish to a shine. You’ve always stayed
Our cosmic course, but now you wish to steal
Away by sea upon this ship you’ve made
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch? We’ll kneel

Beseechingly before His judgment’s steel
For this infraction. Think before you trade
Celestial wings for shawl. Return to heel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade.

What’s that? This passenger, the mortal maid
Our card depicts, denotes your soul’s ideal?
And tedium’s degraded our crusade,
Unearthing all your heart desires? Let’s deal

Then with the Throne when need decrees. Conceal
Your downcast head; pin back your wings arrayed
In fear. I’ll steer this vessel’s rigid wheel
And whisper, when we reach the port portrayed,
“My seraph, enter.”

Mindy Watson writes: “The Seraph and the Six of Swords” originally appeared as a February 2018 Star*Line Editor’s Choice poem. This rondeau redoublé—which at face-value chronicles one disaffected and divination-inclined angel convincing another (via a contraband tarot card deck) to thwart angelkind’s “cosmic course” and set sail for unknown shores—began unassumingly enough in 2017, with one Dark Tranquility song phrase—”Enter, suicidal angels”—that I couldn’t scrub from my subconscious. Because, at the time, I was also some three weeks away from starting what I (correctly) suspected would be an operationally thrilling, yet all-consuming new job, this poem served not only as a mentally grounding reiteration of my sincerest loves—mythology, individualism, rejection of unsubstantiated strictures—but also a vehicle by which my then two warring selves—the timid self clinging to comfortable complacency versus the brave self hellbent upon exploration despite the costs—could enact a healthy, internal dialogue. While the poem obviously features a “winner” of sorts, I intentionally framed the poem’s overall trajectory and final concluding stanza to favor, instead of the rebellious self’s unliteral triumph, a perspective blending by which—as the titular Six of Swords tarot card depicts—two entities/selves willingly embark upon a forward-looking journey where, while one serves as instigator/primary traveler and one serves as grounding facilitator—both ultimately undertake the voyage. While I rather compulsively followed “Seraph and the Six of Swords” with two rondeau redoublé sequels (respectively titled “The Fallen Angel’s Ace of Wands” and “The Guardian at the Gated Tower,” which appear in Star*Line’s Spring and Summer 2018 issues) that extend the featured angels’ saga, this original remains my favorite. And while a seemingly mundane job shift originally inspired “Seraph,” I can’t help but re-visit it mid-2020, as we stand stricken by a global pandemic’s impacts, upon the precipice of another pivotal U.S. presidential election decision. For better or worse, the journey continues, spurred forward—I hope—by our “better angels.”

Bio:
Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Eastern Structures, the Poetry Porch, the Quarterday Review, Snakeskin, Star*Line, and Think Journal. She’s recently 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.

 

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Frank Hubeny, “True”

Frank Hubeny

Frank Hubeny

The cloudy image on the lake
Comes from the gracious morning light
We left the darkness of the night,
Became aware of what’s at stake.
We now renew, rejoice, remake,
Reflect on what we know as true.
Our part seems small, like morning dew,
But later when the victory’s won
We may find out it was well done
And fully know and be known too.

Frank Hubeny writes: “I often write to prompts. I know other people who are also participating in the prompt will at least give the poem a glance. Ronovan is one of the many people out there posting writing prompts. He has a weekly Décima Poetry Challenge. This form has ten 8-syllable lines with a particular rhyme scheme: abbaaccddc. I do like the sound of four beats per line. I often post my own photos and so write about them if the theme of the prompt permits. For this poem I posted two photos of clouds on a pond in Techny Prairie in Northbrook, Illinois. The last line of the poem is intended to suggest 1 Corinthians 13:12 about seeing reflections, knowing in part and then knowing fully and being fully known. The being “fully known” is what was foremost in my mind. That thought along with the reflections on the pond in the photographs and Ronovan’s challenge to use the word “true” as a rhyme word in a décima motivated me to write this poem.”

Frank Hubeny lives between Miami Beach, Florida, and Northbrook, Illinois.  He has been published in The Lyric Magazine, Snakeskin Poetry Webzine, Ancient Paths Literary Magazine, Visual Verse and Vita Brevis.  He regularly posts photographs, short prose and poetry to his blog, https://frankhubeny.blog

Potcake Poet’s Choice: LindaAnn LoSchiavo, “A Visit to Cemetery Hill”

LindaAnn LoSchiavo

When was it? How did I become the kind
Who failed to cherish life, discarded laughs?

I’d done no Christmas shopping since Dan died.

Strange forces urged me out as more snow fell,
Filling the windows, decorating trees,
Avoiding certain branches — — just like folks
Who know how to keep apart. The weatherman
Advised pedestrians to stay indoors.

Barely protected, wearing an old coat,
Worn out boots, steered by impulses alone,
I trudged along until I realized
The yuletide hypnotized my weary eyes.

Against my will, those luminarias
Attracted. Coffined lights, like sentinels,
Marked gates of Cemetery Hill, where we
Had bid adieu. Temptation made me stoop
To steal a souvenir — — when he appeared.

I tried to run. My heavy rubbers clung,
Wet mud imprisoning me like quicksand.
My footprints left a useless trail behind,
Uncertain as redemption once denied.

The faceless creature merged with me. Mid-gait,
My right leg was suspended, awkwardly,
When I heard singing — — yes! — — “Die Fledermaus,”
Our favorite, the last performance Dan
And I enjoyed together — —happy times
Resurrected at Prince Orlofsky’s ball,
As Strauss’s music peeled away sorrow,
A ghostly partner lifting me, leading
Us effortlessly in a waltz. I felt
Like Rosalinde, my shearling a silk gown,
Fond debutante who danced, dipped, all aglow.

As quick as this possession overtook
Me, it departed. My boots made contact
With earth. I watched as the transparent male
Took two steps, disappeared. The sun came up.

I headed home, discovering the snow
Completely cleared away, and whistling
That overture. Attempting to make sense
Of this experience, all I knew was
Words do not live entirely inside
Language and neither does such new found joy.

LindaAnn Schiavo writes: “This ghost poem (pasted in below) is based on an actual New York City yuletide encounter with a spirit.

Back-story:
Right before Xmas, in the mid-1990s, I had just left The Strand Bookshop in NYC.
The sidewalk is unusually wide on Broadway by Grace Church.
But when I saw the ghost, I deliberately altered my path to collide with it.
Poor soul, roaming around, was probably visiting a neighborhood he once knew.
He was wearing a dark hooded tracksuit.
His nylon work-out pants had light stripes down the side of each leg.
He had a slim, athletic build — — a man cut down in his prime.

I just had to “make contact.”
Why? To offer my warmth, my joy, my essence as temporary comfort to this restless spirit.

Process notes:
Twenty years later, I fictionalized it.
My protagonist became a lonely, joyless widow who meets a ghost [i.e., her dead husband].
I imagined an emotional yet mysterious “reunion” on Xmas Eve that would somehow offer comfort to a woman, enabling her to regain her joy even though she can’t quite explain what happened.

After my 1,500-word short story was published and also translated into Russian, I revised it as a poem.”

 

LindaAnn LoSchiavo, recently Poetry SuperHighway’s Poet of the Week, is a member of SFPA and The Dramatists Guild. Her poetry collections “Conflicted Excitement” [Red Wolf Editions, 2018], “Concupiscent Consumption” [Red Ferret Press, 2020], and Elgin Award nominee “A Route Obscure and Lonely”‘ [Wapshott Press, 2020] along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles.

“A Route Obscure and Lonely” speculative poetry by LindaAnn LoSchiavo is available on Amazon.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Rob Stuart, “Bliss”

Rob Stuart

 

Rob Stuart

 

The Bible offers this advice;
Repent of all your sins. The Lord
Will grant the worthy Paradise
As their reward.

But what kind of incentive’s this?
Who wants to spend eternity
With upright folk? Who’d deem that bliss?
Not bloody me.

When dying, I’ll abjure the priest
And trust St. Peter recommends
Damnation, for in Hell at least
I’ll be with friends.

Rob Stuart writes: “Whatever this poem’s shortcomings may be, it has the rare distinction of having turned out exactly as I had intended, making the journey from concept to page without incurring any significant damage along the way. You can deduce quite a lot about my world view from these twelve short lines, I think, and it’s very much representative of the kind of poem I am always trying to write – short, snappy, and simultaneously humourous and barbed. I showed it to a colleague once and she immediately declared ‘I want that read at my funeral.’ I thought that the best possible endorsement.”

Rob Stuart’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and webzines including Ink Sweat and Tears, Light, Lighten Up Online, M58, Magma, New Statesman, The Oldie, Otoliths, Popshot, The Projectionist’s Playground, Snakeskin, The Spectator and The Washington Post. He lives in Surrey, England with his family.
http://www.robstuart.co.uk/

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jane Blanchard, “Transactions”

Erice, Jane Blanchard

Erice, Sicily

Transactions (in Sicilia)

The merchant was polite as I came in
on Monday afternoon to browse for wine,
but conversation happened only when
we spoke the common language of the vine.

A dozen bottles were selected, then
examined, labels studied, line by line,
at last set back into the proper bin,
except for one most likely to taste fine.

It did, so I returned to that same store
throughout the week and found the bill to be
a little less each time. I said no more
than grazie, smiling ever pleasantly.

By Saturday, I had a patron’s status,
awarding me a bar of chocolate gratis.

Jane Blanchard writes: “Transactions, first published in The Tau (2017), appears in my latest collection, In or Out of Season (2020). I am inordinately fond of reading and writing sonnets, perhaps because I studied so many of them while in graduate school. This particular sonnet is anecdotal; its speaker is my husband Jimmy, who accompanied me to Bread Loaf in Sicily in 2013 and wandered around Erice while I was in a workshop led by Stanley Plumly. Currently, it is hard not to feel nostalgic about such experiences.”

A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia, USA. She has earned degrees from Wake Forest and Rutgers Universities. Her collections to date have been published by Kelsay Books.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, “Single Malt Drinker”

Marcus Bales

Marcus Bales

Single Malt Drinker

He’s a single malt drinker, and he’s told us a story or two,
And everyone’s heard one they swear has just got to be true.
He always has money whenever it’s his turn to buy,
And carries himself so that bigger men nod and don’t try;
And all sorts of women have paused there to give him the eye,
And some of us do and some of us don’t wonder why.

He’s a single malt drinker and he’s got a nice touch with a cue.
I won’t say that he’s never lost but the times have been few.
He doesn’t get drunk though he sips through a fourth of a fifth;
His memory’s remarkable, poems, sport, science, or myth.
But he never has hinted which outfit that he was once with,
And there’s hardly a pause when you ask and he says his name’s Smith.

He’s a single malt drinker, no piercing, no ring, no tattoo,
And unlike the most of us he doesn’t snort, smoke, or chew;
He knows the back alleys that we know, Berlin to Lahore,
And speaks all the languages we do and a couple of more.
We’re waiting ‘til spouses have called us to stop at the store
On the way home to comfort — and wonder what he’s waiting for.

He’s a single malt drinker, and he’s told us a story or two,
And maybe we’ve missed out on hearing the one that is true:
Those wound up too tight for too long will all wind up unwound,
And everyone knows that each of us ends in the ground,
So find you a place where you choose your own unwinding sound —
We’re laughing and drinking and swapping our stories around.
We’re laughing and drinking and swapping our stories around.

Marcus Bales writes: “No comment from me. I think it’s narrative enough to not need one. Mike Whitney sings it here, if you want to call his interpretation of it an author’s comment.”

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.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Chris O’Carroll, “Ode to Old Age”

Chris O'Carroll

Chris O’Carroll

Ode to Old Age

I walk into a room and suddenly
I’m at a loss. What did I want in here?
That puckish brain-tweaker, reality,
Has learned to shift its shape or disappear.
I used to have to smoke expensive weed
To tune in to this zoned-out paradigm.
Today my skull packs all the buzz I need.
I’m high on failing cells and passing time.

Each friend or relative that I outlive
Is one less witness to my foolish youth.
Now any version of the past I give
Is more or less the undisputed truth.
What names and numbers I may have forgotten
Are obligations I’ve been glad to shed.
Untangled from the past I once was caught in,
I rest in peace before I’m even dead.

Chris O’Carroll writes: “When my late mother was in her early 80s, and could still notice and comment on the progress of her dementia, “losing my marbles” was her term of choice for the experience. I gave some thought to titling this poem “Ode to Lost Marbles” in her honor. Laughter can’t make decline and death any less terrible, but it sure does make life more fun in the meantime.”

Chris O’Carroll is the author of The Joke’s on Me (White Violet Press, 2019).  He has been Light magazine’s featured poet, and his poems have appeared in Literary ReviewThe New StatesmanThe SpectatorLove Affairs at the Villa Nelle, and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology. “Ode to Old Age” was originally published in Light.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Martin Elster, “The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills”

The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
will tip its head to howl,
yet not a woof nor a whimper spills
from him, not one faint growl.

He savors human company
and charms you with sad eyes;
but when those orbs turn fiery,
they herald your demise.

He leaves no prints in sand or snow,
appears when the sun is bright,
or at dusk on a crest in the full moon’s glow—
ethereal as night.

It’s said that long ago a pup
that wandered with its master
en route to rugged heights trudged up
a path, straight to disaster.

On the loftiest ledge its keeper lurched
and plunged from ridge to gorge.
The mongrel, lost and restless, searched
the woods for broken George,

but never found the man who’d reared
and steered him through those wilds.
I’d hiked there once, and a dog appeared;
it tagged along some miles,

beguiling me as it larked and leapt,
then bounded off like a buck.
The next time it appeared, it crept
in shadow. Terror-struck,

I lost my footing, nearly tumbled
into a gulch; discerned
a phantom’s gaze. My courage crumbled.
Unruffled, I returned

one early April dawn to climb
those treacherous traprock trails
where copperheads and deer kill time
with toads and cottontails.

Hawks wheeled and whistled, corvids clamored,
thrushes thrilled to fill
the ears of Earth, woodpeckers hammered—
when all went suddenly still.

The cursed cur, his eyes cerise,
materialized anew.
I free-fell, easy as the breeze.
My backbone cracked in two.

My eyes flew open: there I saw
the milky fangs of death,
watched venom dribbling from its maw,
although I felt no breath.

Way up above us hung the cliff
I fell from. Then I stirred
and rose, refreshed; I wondered if
a time warp had occurred.

My steps, as light as a lunar cricket’s,
drew me toward the summit
far from the mass of tangled thickets.
Flying! Soaring from it!

Now night and day and all year round
I hike here with a breed
as black as ravens, hushed—a hound
I never have to feed.

Martin Elster writes: “I used to occasionally hike in the hills above the town of Meriden, Connecticut with my friend, Joe Z., who grew up in that town. We were always accompanied by one or two of my dogs. For the last few years, however, my friend has been in a nursing home (in a different town) and recently tested positive for COVID-19.

I called him up to ask him if he could name his favorite poem in my new book, Celestial Euphony, thinking his feedback might help me pick a poem for the Potcake Poet’s Choice. Without hesitation, he said, ‘The Black Dog’. It didn’t surprise me since my poem was inspired by and is loosely based on a local Meriden legend about a ghost dog that is said to haunt those ‘Hanging Hills’.

My friend couldn’t talk anymore, as he was coughing a lot. But I thanked him and knew then and there which poem I would submit. Incidentally, neither Joe nor I have ever encountered that supernatural canine—which is a good thing!”

Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.
His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies including of course Sampson Low’s Potcake Chapbooks.
His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations. His new book Celestial Euphony is available from Amazon.