Category Archives: Poems

Poem: “Agenda for a Political Career”

Help the peaceniks
With their cut-backs
To the Army,
It’s fulfilling;

Once elected,
Buy cheap arms stocks,
Start a war and
Make a killing.

This poem was originally published in Lighten Up Online, edited by Jerome Betts. I dislike war, but even more I loathe “chicken hawks“, those who personally avoided combat when their country called them up but who later in their careers advocated war and made a fortune from it. That includes a lot of American politicians.

Good guys: Eisenhower and his military-industrial complex warning. Kennedy, assassinated when he was trying to pull US troops out of Vietnam. Carter. All military men who understood war.

Total jerks: Johnson, ramping up the Vietnam war while everyone was distracted by the Kennedy funeral. Kissinger even more than Nixon. Cheney even more than George W. Bush. Trump. Chicken hawks.

The US doesn’t have a monopoly on avaricious politicians. The UK’s Tony Blair has been rewarded by the world of oil and wars to the extent of acquiring an estimated $90 million and a property portfolio worth $37.5 million in the first eight years since leaving office (i.e. 2007-2015).

 

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Poem: “Optimism”

Do you have a clear detection
Of an unexpired affection?
Are you reckoned to come second in her life?
Was there someone there before you?
Let it be, don’t let it bore you;
It’ll maintain her somewhat saner as your wife.

This little throwaway poem was recently published in Lighten Up Online. In my mind its value is not so much as a commentary on modern marriage, as an enjoyable way to string some rhymes together. I no longer have any idea what was on my mind when I wrote it.

Many poets would analyse this as written in trochees with lines of either four or six feet, the third line being

ARE you RECKoned TO come SECond IN her LIFE?

but to my mind the lines have only either two or three strongly accented syllables, with the third line being

Are you RECKoned to come SECond in her LIFE?

It is a short piece of patter, which is emphasised by the internally stressed rhymes of reckoned/second and maintain-her/saner. But that leads to a problem: there is a difficulty with the beginning of the last line, and it is hard to find a smooth flow.

Originally it read

‘Twill maintain her —

Archaic, said LUPO editor Jerome Betts, and requested a change for publication as

It’ll keep her —

I accepted this, not noticing that I was losing the rhyme with saner. So why not

It’ll maintain her —

Now the problem is that there is one syllable too many, and we don’t have a smooth flow from the previous line.

You’ll maintain her —, perhaps?

That gives a brand new problem, a subtle shift of meaning from the abstract “it” to the personal “you”, with a much more active sense of “maintain her” and even a suggestion of financial concern.

If it was just an oral presentation, you could probably slide by with

‘t’ll maintain her —

but is that acceptable, comprehensible, in print?

My operating principle with poetry is that there is always a solution. But in this case I haven’t yet found it. 

Poem: “The Fig Tree”

 

The fig leaf symbol’s one of History’s greats
As, inter alia,
It hides, discloses and exaggerates
Male genitalia.
The fruit itself suggests the female form —
Dripping with honey
The little hole breaks open, pink and warm . . .
The Bible’s funny.

First published in The Asses of Parnassus, this poem has just been republished in Better Than Starbucks, which earned a “Kudos on your brilliant ‘The Fig Tree'” from Melissa Balmain, editor of Light. That’s a trifecta of editorial acceptance – it makes me proud, and I have to erase my lingering suspicion that the poem would be thought too rude for publication. Now I rate the poem more highly, as being not just a personal favourite but also acceptable to a wider audience.

It sometimes feels that all I write is iambic pentameter. It is always reassuring when a poem presents itself with half the lines being something else, and the result is a lighter, less sonorous verse. The rhymes are good; the poem’s succinct and easy to memorise. I’m happy with it.

Poem: “Move Along Folks, Nothing to See”

JFK.jpg

“Kennedy(s)” by Garrett Leo Augustyn

There was a sharp psychic who lived in DC,
They told her their troubles, she told them “I see”.
She told Mr. Kennedy “Don’t go to Texas”
He went and was killed, it’ll always perplex us.
Amazing, amazing and true
Move along folks, nothing to see.

There was a small bullet was fired from a gun,
You wouldn’t believe the damage it done:
Through Kennedy’s neck, Connally’s chest, wrist and thigh,
Fifteen layers of clothing… and ended up fine.
Amazing, amazing and true
Move along folks, nothing to see.

There was a young drifter, a Commie, Marine,
Who shot and then lunched in the schoolbook canteen
As though he weren’t flustered – two minutes before
He’d been killing, then must have rushed down six floors.
Amazing, amazing and true
Move along folks, nothing to see.

There was a club owner who carried a gun
A friend of the cops, of HQ he’d the run.
“I did it for Jackie” – prevented a trial,
No chance now for Oswald to prove his denial.
Amazing, amazing and true
Move along folks, nothing to see.

There was a Vice President, swallowed his pride
At the President’s insults – when JFK died
He ramped up the war while the nation was grieving –
His weapons and copter stocks passed all believing.
Amazing, amazing and true
Move along folks, nothing to see.

There was a commission that looked for the truth.
Conclusion: a loner, no plot, not like Booth.
The psychic? Ignored. The bullet? Just lucky.
The VP? Heart-broken. The club owner? Plucky.
Amazing, amazing and true
Move along folks, nothing to see.

This was first published in Snakeskin #246, December 2017. It mentions some – but by no means all – of the anomalies surrounding the first Kennedy assassination, reported on but not resolved by the Warren Commission. JFK’s assassination is a rabbit-hole that you can disappear down and never see daylight again, full of intriguing Lewis Carroll-like logic puzzles such as the magic bullet theory.

Unnamed characters here are psychic Jeane Dixon, assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, nightclub owner Jack Ruby and of course Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Technically the poem is closer to a song than to a formal poem. It has a regular structure of verse and refrain. The rhymes and metre are a little loose, which you can get away with when a song is sung. It just needs the music added.

Poem: “My Outside”

My outside stroking your inside
Your inside gloving my outside
My outside stroking your
Inside gloving my
Stroking your
Gloving my
Stroking
Gloving
Stroking
Gloving
My your my your my your
Our

This poem was originally published in “The Fifth International Anthology on Paradoxism“, edited by Florentin Smarandache – who appears to live as a mathematician in a universe of paradox. It was republished in the Experimental section of Better Than Starbucks.

This blog advocates for the use of form, to the extent of questioning whether a piece that doesn’t rhyme and scan can even be considered poetry. Is this poetry, then? I think it hovers paradoxically on the edge. It may not rhyme or scan, but it has certain qualities of form:

It is word-for-word memorable through its expression. After all, it only uses seven different words, and they are clearly structured.

The lines are paired all the way, the second of each pair mirroring (or even fusing) the first.

There is a rhythm – a very human rhythm – to the piece, even if it doesn’t fall within poetic norms.

There is even, if you care to consider it, an aspect of concrete poetry about it.

And, if read in my English accent, the last word is a pun, being pronounced “Ahh!”

The simplicity of words, the structure of the lines, the rhythm of the piece, the aspect of concreteness and the pun all contribute to what the poem is trying to communicate.

If it is a poem.

Poem: “Diatribe Against Unversed Poets”

Heartbeat

Heartbeat – “June 1, 2014” by osseous

Ignoring clockwork towns and fertile farms
Tied to the sun-swing as the seas to moon,
They searched for verse in deserts without rhyme,
Lifted erratic rocks nonrhythmically
In search of poetry, then through the slough
Of their emotions hunted for a trail:

“The scent is cold. Its Spirit must have fled;
The body of its work, though dead,
Has been translated to some higher plane.
Look how the world’s translated verse
Comes to us plain—why can’t we emulate?
Then if the words themselves are unimportant,
If poetry in essence is idea,
And song is wrong,
Rhyme a superfluous flamboyance
(Like colour in Van Gogh),
Rhythm a distraction to the memoring mind,
Then we determine poetry’s true form is mime!”

While in the air the deafening blare
Confounds their silence everywhere:
Before our hearts began to beat
We were conceived in rhythmic heat;
So, billions strong, we sing along
For all the time, in time, our time, the song
Goes rocking on in rhythmic rhyme. Rock on!

This was originally published in Snakeskin, the monthly online poetry magazine that George Simmers has been putting out since the 1990s. He is receptive to a range of poetry, but as his original credo states: “Nor shall we sit to lunch with those / Who moralise in semi-prose. / A poem should be rich as cake.”

This poem is a rant against the vast amounts of blather that have been published as “poetry”, while anything showing formal verse skills was automatically rejected by most magazines over the past several decades. The rant is against poets who are “unversed”: “not experienced, skilled, or knowledgeable.” Why should they be given automatic acceptance, when the skilled were automatically rejected? It has been a bizarre half-century. It has a zeitgeist worth considering.

To focus on the United States as the cultural driver of the 20th century: it has always had an anarchic aspect, from the founding tenet of the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – though this mostly applied to adult white males who had a certain level of property. (By contrast, Canada’s constitutional requirement for the federal parliament to provide “peace, order and good government” has a social rather than individual orientation.) The US high water mark for good government came domestically with the FDR-and-Eleanor Roosevelt presidency, and internationally with the founding of the United Nations. But “big government” acquired such nasty connotations thanks to Stalin, Hitler and Mao that those who wanted the freedom to exploit others without legal restriction were able to make a case for “small government” and chip away at government structures.

In poetry, what started with Walt Whitman in the 19th century burst open a century later with Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and classrooms where every child was “encouraged in self-expression” without penalties for illiteracy. What was expressed became everything; the how became irrelevant. As in government, freedom from others’ rules became desirable in the literary and artistic community, and in the hippie movement, and the innovative business start-ups of Silicon Valley. There were undoubted benefits… but in literature, the suppression of poetic form was one of the less fortunate results.

Poetry takes different forms in different languages, but the forms all have the same desirable outcome: to make it easier to memorise and recite word-for-word. Alliteration, assonance, rhyme, metre – these are all useful tools for achieving this, along with less tangible tools such as fresh or startling imagery. Metre is viscerally important to us, because the mother’s heartbeat is the background to sensory development in the womb, and our own heartbeat and breathing rhythms continue throughout life. As humans we drum, we dance, we sing, just as we walk and run rhythmically, tap our fingers rhythmically when we are bored, teach small children to clap and sing, teach older children clapping and skipping games. Rhythm is built into us from before birth.

But rhythmic poetry didn’t die when it stopped being publishable. It just went into folk songs, blues, rock, country-and-western, musicals, rap, hip hop… Popular music let teenagers and adults continue to thrive with what they were not given by schools: rhythm and rhyme. This drive to make words memorable and recitable is part of who we humans are. So schools do best when they leaven “creative self-expression” with getting kids to learn things by heart, and to pay attention to the qualities that make it easy to memorise and recite.

Poem: “The Moral Aesthetics of Politics”

The sense of poetry pervades all life:
Intense sensation, far-abstracted math,
Calm observation, passion-fired strife,
The glorious rise, the decadent aftermath.

Forgive me, pitying gods, for loving all
When “all” includes the tortured, starving, mad.
Symphonic raptures round pride’s bugle call
Drown out the truths where glory would be sad.

The very movement of the people lives,
Starring a missionary, or clown, or thief;
The moral climate either steals or gives –
It faith-filled strives, or slumps in disbelief.

So, in these patchwork years of peace and war,
Detached to calm the passionate lies that lurk,
We love life’s good and ill, but, more and more,
Our sympathetic vision makes us work.

“The Moral Aesthetics of Politics” was first published in The Penwood Review, which apparently possesses a faith-driven sense of superiority, something I was unaware of when I submitted the poem. Without warning, let alone a request for permission, they changed the word “gods” to “God”. Then, either as an apology or because the change glorified their self-righteousness, the poem was awarded the Editor’s Choice certificate.

I have always felt irritated by this, partly at them, partly at myself for not having checked them out more carefully. I used the word “gods” to signal a lack of belief. That’s how I’ve always understood the word, anyway: “The gods must be smiling on us” means “We’ve been lucky”. It is a deliberately tongue-in-cheek word used by the non-religious. But the editors made my poem religious, damn them. My only consolation is that I don’t think it is a very good poem.

Technically, the poem is okay: quatrains of iambic pentameter rhyming ABAB. Nothing special. And the overall gist is clear enough: you should help people. But the title? “The Moral Aesthetics of Politics”? What does that even mean? Why “aesthetics”? (Maybe the British spelling held a charm for them. Maybe “Dimension” would have been a better word, but it’s not as flamboyant.) From the first line on, the meaning is often vague, or arguable.

But then again, politics “starring a missionary, or clown, or thief”… I admit that resonates. Maybe the poem does have a couple of redeeming lines, after all.