Category Archives: Poems

Poem: ‘Earth Competition’

The Earth
Gives birth
To insects, animals and birds;

Each names,
Marks, claims
Its stake without our tools of words.

The seas
Like bees
Create fresh lands like hives of honey;

Our bands
Seize lands
And value them in human money.

We make
Our stake
Without considering others’ use;

And when
Beasts then
Eat crops or homes, we grunt ‘Abuse’.

They fight,
Scratch, bite,
To chase the competition off;

We too
Will sue,
Or wave knife or Kalashnikov.

We each
Just reach
For good resources to control;

In fact
Impact
Each other in true Darwin role.

I’m always glad when I find I’m writing something with a new structure, and not yet another sonnet. I love the sonnet form more than any other, but it’s nice to try out something more idiosyncratic occasionally.

This poem was first published in Bewildering Stories #794. Thanks, Don Webb and John Stocks!

“Predator and Prey” by EricMagnuson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Kate Bernadette Benedict, ‘The Sureties’

Some things you can still rely on.
Forsythia hedges contribute their usual yellow;
Callery pears exhibit their annual white.
The vernal light is cast as it was cast last year—
Cimmerian, then milky, then bright.
Tulips accrue, woodpeckers adhere
to their nourishing boles, a piccolo.
sounds in the park. Lovers have new grass to lie on.

Some things you can still depend on.
I buried my mother today in the family plot.
Her ashes were housed inside a simple casket—
an easy-to-carry container with little heft,
light as an already plundered Easter basket
when only a couple of elegant eggs are left.
I’d been there before; I’d stood on the very spot.
I’m accustomed to the conditions that lives end on.

Kate Bernadette Benedict writes: “Sureties are few in life yet I feel sure that many of us today are going through our daily motions in an elegiac mood—because of the pandemic, of course, and the illness and deaths we learn of on the news and experience in our lives. Last spring (2020), we were all in a panic and this spring we are, perhaps, inured to loss, at least to some degree. So I feel this poem about spring and death fits my mood perfectly, and perhaps the mood of you, the reader, too.”

Kate Bernadette Benedict may have lost a portion of herself when she took on her pen name; still, she has grown accustomed to its saintly qualities which represent, she well knows, an unattainable goal. She is the author of three full-length collections, the most recent being Earthly Use: New and Selected Poems. Kate has been holed up for a year in her apartment in Riverdale, the Bronx, but is now twice-jabbed and hopes to be re-materializing very soon. Her website suffered a crash but some content is still readable at katebenedict.com, where links to three formal-friendly publications may be found: Umbrella, Bumbershoot, and Tilt-a-Whirl.

Poem: ‘Buffoon’

You resent all my fun,
Complain I’m a buffoon.
Let me play in the sun,
The dark comes all too soon.

Originally published with The Asses of Parnassus – always a good place for pithy poems.

Picture: “end of the buffoon” by Ozan Ozan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Highland Spring’

Bulls lean head to head
In motionless battle;
Notionless cattle
Stroll the strand
And graze;
Sheep
Sleep
Or idly stand
Idly gaze
Down on the rocks
By the sea snore.

This poem was originally published in Candelabrum, one of the rare magazines that lived to support traditional verse through the winter of the mid to late 20th century. Traditional verse survived, and springs forth with new shoots. And, yes, it’s now spring in the northern hemisphere! The beginning of the good times! That’s my mood, anyway… things certainly feel more positive than they did a year ago, whether your spring beaches are populated by highland cattle or northern tourists.

“Highlanders at Torloisk Beach” by Simaron is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Susan McLean, ‘A Woman of a Certain Age’

I read more slowly now, because I read
between the lines.  The heroes of my youth,
who gave their lives for justice, art, or truth
(consumed with purpose, driven to succeed),
now seem like puppets pulled by strings of need,
while those who died unknown (except by those
they fed, taught, nursed through illness, mended clothes
and cared for) doled out grace unmixed with greed.

A quilt, a tablecloth she hand-crocheted,
some tips for making piecrust, kneading dough,
the memory of a gumdrop tree she made—
small things of use, of beauty, of delight
are what they leave when they have left our sight.
Don’t tell me what such gifts are worth.   I know.

Susan McLean writes: “This poem was inspired by reading that people read more slowly as they get older, because everything they read reminds them of something else. As I thought about that, I also thought about the people I would have called the ones I admired the most, and about the people I actually loved most and why I loved them. The former were mainly men, which made me realize that the lives of women (until recently) have often been invisible in the world and have left no written record. What they leave instead is the impact they have had on those around them, and little things they have said and done and made. My maternal grandmother and my mother are both unseen presences in this poem. My life has been very different from theirs, with opportunities they never had. But that does not mean that I value less what they did.”

Susan McLean grew up in Oxon Hill, Maryland, attended Harvard University and Rutgers University, and taught English for thirty years at Southwest Minnesota State University. She has published two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of the Latin poet Martial, Selected Epigrams. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/susan_mclean

Odd poem: William Faulkner, ‘After Fifty Years’

Her house is empty and her heart is old,
And filled with shades and echoes that deceive
No one save her, for still she tries to weave
With blind bent fingers, nets that cannot hold.
Once all men’s arms rose up to her, ‘tis told,
And hovered like white birds for her caress:
A crown she could have had to bind each tress
Of hair, and her sweet arms the Witches’ Gold.

Her mirrors know her witnesses, for there
She rose in dreams from other dreams that lent
Her softness as she stood, crowned with soft hair.
And with his bound heart and his young eyes bent
And blind, he feels her presence like shed scent,
Holding him body and life within its snare.

William Faulkner began writing poetry at an early age; and in his late 20s he published his first book, a collection of poems titled ‘The Marble Faun’. Though much of the fiction for which he won the 1949 Nobel Prize carries a heavy southern accent or is written in stream of consciousness, it is engaging to see that he could be meditative in the iambic pentameter of a regular sonnet if he chose.

Photo: “William Faulkner’s Typewriter 2” by visitmississippi is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘The Moon’

The birds of dawn
Sing Come out on the lawn.

Flowers
Say Seize the hours.

The day, the sun
Say Don’t stay – look, laugh, run.

Warm rain
Says More! Again!

A tree
Simply says Be.

Beyond the trees, the beach
Rumbles Extend your reach.

A cliff
Asks: If?

The sand
Calls for a handstand.

A wave
Says Misbehave.

Sunset
Asks you, Done yet?

The moon, that overhanging stone…
The moon says You’re alone.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It was an attempt to capture the bittersweetness of living in–or perhaps specifically growing up in–a rural or isolated environment. It’s wonderful to be wild in the wilderness except that, almost by definition, you’re likely to be on your own. And that’s fine, a lot of the time…

Anyway, that freedom is what my childhood and stretches of my 20s were like, and what I came back to after decades away–the difference being that now I’m no longer alone! 🙂 

Photo: “Full Moon Beach Ride July 2012” by gasmith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Daniel Galef, ‘Proverbs for Engraving onto Imperial Monuments’

War is the price of freedom. Depths bewilder.
The blow aimed at the beast hits him who shields it.
The sword of Justice best serves him who wields it.
The gibbet’s final victim is its builder.
A round coin rolls to him who most deserves it.
A tree outlives its leaves; an age, its fashions.
A carthorse needs its blinders; man, his passions.
The word of Justice best shields him who serves it.
The ardent spirit breaks the firm retort.
Power bears scrutiny like the sun the gaze.
God speaks His queer commands one thousand ways.
The worm awaits. The butterfly is dreaming.
The price of peace is bondage. Chains support.
Persuasion is a proof. Seeing is seeming.

Daniel Galef writes: “I majored in philosophy in college, and it’s very rare that I get a chance to use my degree in any way! (Even everyday critical thinking I engage in not without a little self-conscious embarrassment to be reliving those madcap cogitating days of my youth.) This sonnet began as an un-metrical list of aphorisms, vaguely inspired by Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but with an eye less to individual ideas and more to “ideology.” I’m very interested in how philosophy is appropriated by the state, in the form of slogans or anthems or little red books—it’s all fine and dandy to debate competing theories of morality until it’s time to order the transplant waiting list, or convene the board of censors.

“I don’t always do a lot of surgical revision on a poem, but it was after about two years of lying in a drawer [a digital drawer] that I took the loose collection of prose sentences and started pruning, finding and inserting rhymes, and arranging them into pentameter. I’m a poor free verse poet, and verses that start off free end up in metrical shackles much more often than the reverse, even though logically it ought to be tougher to turn prose into verse than vice-verse-a.

“I could write a page on every line in this sonnet, which says much more about my own pretentiousness than about the poem, but will limit myself to saying I chucked in snips and snatches from Plato, Maimonides, Zhuangzi, Lucullus, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, Aesop, W. H. Auden, Slavoj Žižek, Wernher von Braun, George Orwell, and Groucho Marx. Just about every maxim in the poem has certain levels, interpretations, or applications that I agree with and others which lead to perverse, abhorrent, or outright dangerous positions—which is of course what makes them so useful.

“The poem was published in Philosophy Now, a glossy magazine with a specialized readership but a glossy magazine nonetheless, and one of the highlights of the first summer after I graduated was driving to the Barnes and Noble in Clifton Commons and finding myself there on the shelf along with the movie tie-in reprints and tote bags with snarky quotations on them. It’s probably normal for most poems published, even in larger or well-respected publications, to go essentially unnoticed. I don’t hear back from strangers about the majority of poems I send out into the world and my meager stream of fanfiction is archived in an email folder I dip into when depths start to bewilder. Yet this is the poem that keeps coming back—and the comments I receive on it indicate that different readers draw very different conclusions from it. The year after it was published it was awarded second place in the “Best Poems of 2020” list at the Society of Classical Poets Journal. Someone sent me a Chinese blog where it had been translated into Mandarin, with (Google Translate revealed) a spirited discussion in the comments section as to whether the “blinders” were the same device whether the line was translated as “horse” or as “donkey” (the verdict: they are distinct: the blindfold put on a donkey driving a wheel totally blocks its vision, whereas the blinders put on a horse drawing a vehicle do so only selectively).”

Daniel Galef is a graduate instructor of English at Florida State University and Associate Poetry Editor of Able Muse. His poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Able Muse, Measure, The Lyric, Light, First Things, The Christian Century, and Philosophy Now. He is listed in Webster’s dictionary under the entry for “interfaculty (adj.),” which means “brilliant and handsome.” Besides poems he also writes short fiction, humor, and plays, with a story published last year in Juked just awarded a spot in the 2020 Best Small Fictions anthology. He is currently searching for a publisher for a debut poetry collection, Imaginary Sonnets.

More of his work is listed at http://goo.gl/mpRUrs

Political poems: Wilmot sniping at King Charles II

Restless he rolls from whore to whore,
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.

When King Charles II was restored to the British thrones in 1660, eleven years after the execution of his father by Cromwell under the Commonwealth, the people were generally happy to have the Puritan government replaced by a king who was affable, witty and a patron of the arts and science. He founded the Royal Observatory and supported the Royal Society whose members included Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton. His Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, had several miscarriages and failed to produce children, but the “Merry Monarch” had over a dozen children that he recognised from seven mistresses including “pretty, witty Nell” Gwyn (and he likely had another half dozen mistresses). This life, together with various foreign wars and the fact that he was not a good administrator, left the king constantly short of cash. Hence the couplet above by John Wilmot, poet and Second Earl of Rochester.

Wilmot / Rochester also wrote:

Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King
Whose word no man relies on;
He never said a foolish thing
Nor ever did a wise one.

For this the king had a relaxed answer: “Perfectly true, for my words are my own, but my actions are my Ministers’.”

Poem : ‘Some Who Would Teach’

Some who would teach
Preach,
But speech cannot reach
As far as silence.

Even the stars perhaps are noisy, but, far as they are,
We hear their silence, not their sound.

Words are not for teaching, adding or changing.
Words can only express
What is already known
To one who already knows.

Words feathered together
Can lift aloft
Any body of men.
Opinions are pinions
With which men fly.
But they come down again
And with their descent
What was meant
Is often lost, or is known
To have never been known.
For a word is a wing
But a body’s a thing
And the body is always the body
But the wing only is when it flies.

Therefore not by talking but being
Does one teach how to be,
And words are for singing–
A song sung
By those knowing their winging as being but having no meaning.
And the best words
Come from birds.

I wrote this, but do I subscribe to the ideas? Did I ever? Not in any absolute sense, but as a rejection of all noisy preachers of faiths, and a rejection of those who put academic lectures ahead of experiential learning. In that sense this (early) poem prefigured my 25-year career teaching business finance through the Income-Outcome interactive games we developed for global clients like Beam Suntory, Michelin and hundreds of other companies and universities.

In another sense this poem is just about the enjoyment of words and songs, regardless of any meaning that the words may have.

It was published by Anima Magazine in the UK, unfortunately quiescent since 2018.

Photo: “Korimako (Bell Bird) singing” by theirishkiwi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0