Category Archives: Potcake Poet’s Choice

Potcake Poet’s Choice: David Galef, ‘Justification’

And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
—A. E. Housman

When I am beaten down by work and love,
And others head for local dives to drink,
I clench my soul and strive to rise above,
For stimulating words to make me think.
O show me Milton’s paradisial route,
Far airier than the foamiest of stout.
Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit
Are all I need and all I care about.
A bottled brew’s sufficient for the poor
In spirits, not for spirituality.
How can a tankard filled with beer quench more
Than slaking drafts of a theodicy?
I’d bring it to the bar, but I get looks
When I enact the fall from all twelve books.

David Galef writes: “Justification is both an appreciation and dig at Milton, an attitude older than Samuel Johnson’s comment about Paradise Lost, ‘None ever wished it longer than it is.’ It came out in Light.”

David Galef has published over two hundred poems in magazines ranging from Light and Measure to The Yale Review. He’s also published two poetry volumes, Flaws and Kanji Poems, as well as two chapbooks, Lists and Apocalypses. In real life, he directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University.
www.davidgalef.com

“DORÉ, Gustave Illustration for John Milton’s Paradise Lost 1866” by carulmare is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Epitaph for a Palestinian Child’

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

Michael R. Burch writes: “This original epigram once returned over 90,000 results for its second line and still returned over 4,200 results the last time I checked. The epigram began as “Epitaph for a Child of the Holocaust” and was set to music by Sloane Simon after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

It has been published by Romantics Quarterly, Poetry Super Highway, Mindful of Poetry, Poets for Humanity, The New Formalist, Angle, Daily Kos, Katutura English (Namibia), Genocide Awareness, Darfur Awareness Shabbat, Viewing Genocide in Sudan, Setu (India), Brief Poems, Better Than Starbucks and ArtVilla; also translated into Romanian by Petru Dimofte, into Turkish by Nurgül Yayman, into Czech by Z J Pinkava, into Indonesian by A. J. Anwar.”

Michael R. Burch has over 6,000 publications, including poems that have gone viral. His poems have been translated into fourteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers. He also edits TheHyperTexts.

“ICU child Shifa hospital, Gaza” by Kashklick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: D.A. Prince, ‘Horatio’

Always in shadow, on the edge, the light
falling on someone else. I’m used to it—
fidus Achates, and half-acolyte.
Besides, the sidelines are a safer bet
so I survive—at least, upon the page,
though never in imagination.
The curtain falls: I vanish with the stage.
Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern live on
in other times but I—the dutiful
and sober pal, the philosophic friend—
dissolve. I fade. Meanwhile, the beautiful
capture your soul beyond the play’s neat end
where I’m to set, with due fidelity,
the record straight. You won’t remember me.

From: Common Ground, HappenStance Press, 2014.

D.A. Prince writes: “In the middle of a lively debate about which actor had played the definitive Hamlet, I realised I had no memory at all of any actor playing Horatio. There would have been an equal number, obviously. Horatio is on Elsinore’s battlements in the opening scene, questioning the existence of ghosts, and he’s there in the final scene, surrounded by corpses, giving the penultimate speech. In between he hovers in Hamlet’s shadow, necessary but—if I’m a typical theatre-goer—unmemorable. He doesn’t even get to cross the stage in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The world is full of people like Horatio so I thought I would give him a brief
acknowledgement: for turning up, for hanging on, for being there.”

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 and will bring out a further collection in 2022. There’s just the little matter of a title to resolve first.

Illustration: Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jane Blanchard, ‘The Kahler Grand Hotel (near the Mayo Clinic)’

I see the waitress cock her head to try
to figure out what I just said. Across
the booth my husband will not meet my eye
until she leaves to place our order. Sauce
for goose and gander holds that I will get
a turn to laugh (or not) at him. Neither
of us can hide where we are from. I let
him think his accent less than mine—either
of us can drawl a syllable into
a sentence. Fine. Most locals here speak plain
Midwestern as they welcome others who
seek remedies for matters inhumane.
How I may talk does not mean one iota
when visiting Rochester, Minnesota.

Jane Blanchard writes: “The Kahler Grand Hotel appeared in Third Wednesday (Winter 2020) right before COVID-19 changed all of our lives. This sonnet discloses how Jimmy and I tried to cope with a different medical crisis several years earlier. A little humor can go a long way when dealing with a scary situation. To this day we appreciate the many kindnesses shown to us when we were very vulnerable and very far from home.”

A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia. Her latest collection with Kelsay Books is Never Enough Already (2021).

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, ‘Her Mother’s Face’

Amidst a sere Midwestern winter night 
December 1917, she’s born,
A staunch Germanic woman’s child. Bedight
In dearth and loss, she learns too young to mourn
A mother’s death. She knows a woman must
Prepare the meals, evoke good cheer, and thrust
Her bitter tears inside where no one sees.
She weds a Coast Guard vet and oversees 
His household — bears three girls, subsists on grace.
And steadfast ‘til succumbing to disease,
Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.

Unwanted infant hurtles toward the light
In 1944, her mam too worn
And poor to greet her daughter with delight.
The wealthy gent who claims the babe has sworn
To sate her whims, exchange her doubts for trust.
But Virgin-named, she’s Snake incarnate, trussed
In greed. She flaunts her swindling expertise, 
Yet knows that costly baubles won’t unfreeze
Her heart, or fill an absent mother’s space.
And void, despite full coffers overseas, 
Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.

She’s born in 1945, clasped tight
Within her mother’s arms. And ne’er forlorn,
This nurtured daughter dreams she’ll wed a knight
Who’ll grant her nuptial bliss, and — fast foresworn 
To loyalty — a doe-eyed child who’ll just
Love her. When falseness renders faith to dust
And pregnant prayers produce no guarantees,
She nonetheless adheres to memories
Of Mother’s happy tales. She weighs her case,
Then smiling, phones adoption agencies.
Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.  

From birth, a target of her small town’s spite,  
She sprints through cornfields, fleeing bullies’ scorn,
Hurled stones, and taunts of “freak”! Wisconsinite
In ragtag 1980s garb, she’s borne 
Her share of tyranny. Her heart’s robust
Enough to weather gibes, but grief’s the gust
She can’t withstand. At forty-one, she frees
Herself and downs the sleeping pills that squeeze
Her breath away. Her mother deems her base
Look odd, but with some rouge — an eyebrow tweeze — 
Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.

Abandoned infant left upon a white
Korean orphanage’s stoop, she’s shorn
Of roots upon her trans-Pacific flight
To Heartland serendipity. She’s torn
Between identities, but must adjust: 
Refute all claims of foreignness. Nonplussed,
Her heart aligns to these: Wisconsin cheese
And apple pie. She’d always deemed “Chinese”
A slight, but now she sees each buried trace
Of her within her children’s eyes. And pleased,
Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.

A steadfast matron, serpent quick to tease,
She’s part Korean, one-eighth Japanese,
Idealist, rebel geek without a place — 
My post-millennial, she’s all of these.
Upon her own, she wears her mother’s face.

Mindy Watson writes: “I’m probably most proud of this chant royal titled ‘Her Mother’s Face’ that narratively links the most influential women in my life, ultimately culminating in my daughter’s overall connection to her (mostly unknown) maternal lineage. It was an unconventional topic for me (as my go-to inspirations are normally bugs, science, mythology, etc. and I’ve a hard-wired aversion to delving into my lost cultural roots—Midwestern U.S. white Protestant upbringing and all that), but it just intuitively sprang from the 11-line stanza/repeated refrain/converging envoi-type structure. Humorously, the poem’s impetus was a poet e-friend of mine mentioning that this form (I’d never heard of) was the most difficult he’d ever tried and hadn’t ever conquered—so of course I took that as a dare/challenge, lol… but I ended up unexpectedly enjoying the composition process (and reminiscing about a few souls lost too soon. Also I disagree with my friend—I personally think pantoums are among the most vexing forms…”

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 (where ‘Her Mother’s Face’ was first published, April 2018), 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.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: David Galef, ‘The State of the Art’

Literature, that romantic old bastard,
Is sick again, aslant on his chair
Like a spread-eagled book, already plastered
By noon and mumbling life’s unfair.

He speaks these days, ventriloquizing
In a voice long ruined by social disease,
His brilliant spasms slowed to writhing
And minute gestures that nobody sees.

What can we do for the drunken degenerate?
Tear up his license, make sure he’s not read,
Submit him to lectures, make him aware that
We don’t want him living, we don’t want him dead.

David Galef writes: “The State of the Art reflects our era’s attitude toward literature. It was published in Pivot way back when.”

David Galef has published over two hundred poems in magazines ranging from Light and Measure to The Yale Review. He’s also published two poetry volumes, Flaws and Kanji Poems, as well as two chapbooks, Lists and Apocalypses. In real life, he directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University.
www.davidgalef.com

Photo: “Old Drunk Man” by mocheeks is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, ‘The Vanished’

 In the autumn of 2015, the production of paper cards for library catalogs ceased.

No matter how long ago they completed their disappearance,
I still expect them,
perhaps in a sort of narthex just past a pillared entry,
or off to the side
as if in a private chapel, or straight ahead like an altar.
Shrined in the silence,
modest and single, or ranged in ranks and banks and rows,
the gods of Order
lived in their tabernacles of honey and amber maple
or oak like chocolate,
darkened at times from the touch of a hundred thousand fingers.
On every drawer-front
the face of a tiny gargoyle waggled its brazen tongue out.
And so we pulled them.
And the drawers slid waxen-smooth, and the fingers flicked like a weaver’s
through card upon card,
and above the drawers were our faces, our heads all bobbing and davening.
A kind of worship
it was, with an order of service. A physical act of obeisance.
Its cloudy replacement
(perfect in plastic efficiency, answering almost to thought,
near-disembodied)
hurries us past the notion of order itself as a Being
worthy of honor.
So here I am, misplaced as a balky fourth-century pagan
mulling conversion,
but nursing doubts that the powers should be called from the general air,
seeking the numinous
still in its tent of presence, and longing to keep on clutching
the household gods.

Maryann Corbett writes: “This was one of those poems that spent several years stewing at the back of my brain as soon as I read the factoid that actually library catalog cards were no longer being produced. It’s a disappearance not likely to be noticed much by younger people, and I wanted to give it attention. What eventually let my brain’s stew boil over in images of all the card catalogs I’ve known, I can’t say. But it did so in a rush, a rush and roll that took the form of very long lines. I’ve written several other poems in hexameters–lines with six stresses–and I wanted to do something a bit different–and to leave space to breathe!–so I decided to alternate the hexameter lines with much shorter ones: dimeters, or two-stress lines.

 ‘The Vanished‘ appeared first in Alabama Literary Review, was anthologized in The Orison Anthology, Vol. II, and was included in my most recent book, In Code.

Maryann Corbett lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she worked 35 years for the Legislature. Poetry: Breath Control (2012), Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter (2013), Mid Evil (2014 Richard Wilbur Award), Street View (2017), and In Code (2020). Past winner, Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. Work included in The Best American Poetry 2018, as well as in the Potcake Chapbooks Families and Other Fiascoes and Robots and Rockets.

Photo: “Catalog Cards” by Travelin’ Librarian is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

If God
is good,
half the Bible
is libel.

Michael R. Burch writes: “This may be the first poem I wrote. I read the Bible from cover to cover at age 11, and it was a traumatic experience. But I can’t remember if I wrote the epigram then, or came up with it later. In any case, it was probably written between age 11 and 13, or thereabouts. It would be kinda cool to be remembered by a poem I wrote at such an early age. Plus, it’s short, so readers would probably finish it!

I have been using Google results to determine which of my poems are the most popular on the Internet. Some of my poems have gone viral, appearing on hundreds or thousands of web pages. That’s a lot of cutting and pasting, and I like to think people must like a poem in order to take the time to replicate it. This epigram, which I wrote around age 11 to 13, at one time returned over 405,000 results for the last two lines, and over 51,000 results for the entire poem. The last time I checked, it still returned over 292,000 results. I was especially pleased to see one of the first poems I wrote, and possibly the first, go viral. If I wrote anything earlier, I don’t remember it.

Michael R. Burch has over 6,000 publications, including poems that have gone viral. His poems have been translated into fourteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers. He also edits TheHyperTexts.

Photo: “Bible, Reading Glasses, Notes and Pen” by paul.orear is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Gail White, ‘Orthodox Christmas Eve’

What am I doing here with all these Greeks?
Hoping, perhaps, at midnight Christmas Eve,
the unintelligible tongue God speaks
will summon even those who don’t believe
to Mary’s manger. Now the Virgin bears
the Master in the cave. As light through glass
he passes from her body. Joseph dares
believe the story; I can let it pass.
The incense rises like the church’s breath
into a frosty world. This night of birth
swells to a tide that tosses me past death.
But tides recede: I know this moment’s worth.
If love of beauty were the same as faith,
I’d walk in heaven with my feet on earth.

Gail White writes: “I love this poem and always secretly hoped it would become a classic, so I welcome the chance to bring it out again. The to-and-fro of faith and doubt is typical for me, as is the creeping into faith by way of aesthetics. But at this time of year faith wins, and I never let the day pass without listening to the King’s College choir singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City‘.”

Gail White is the resident poet and cat lady of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Her books ASPERITY STREET and CATECHISM are available on Amazon. She is a contributing editor to Light Poetry Magazine (lightpoetrymagazine.com). “Tourist in India” won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award for 2013. Her poems have appeared in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Tourists and Cannibals’, ‘Rogues and Roses’, ‘Families and Other Fiascoes’ and ‘Strip Down’.
https://www.amazon.com/Asperity-Street-Gail-White/dp/1927409543

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Tom Vaughan, ‘Afterwards’

Afterwards, I’ll shake the hand
of total strangers in the street
as though they were my oldest friend
and as and when that friend I’ll meet

we’ll stroll across Green Park towards
Crown Passage’s Il Vicolo
to dip our bread in olive oil
and drink wine till our faces glow

and talk of this and maybe that
as if we had all day to kill
then we’ll argue who should pay, aware
we’ll agree at last to split the bill

and when we say goodbye, we’ll know
how rare and wonderful it was
to be together, even though
neither will say so. Why? Because

why even hint the day might come
when public or private fresh disaster
prevents we two from sitting there
to share a salad and a pasta?

First published in Snakeskin 276, September 2020.

Tom Vaughan writes: “I have a soft spot for Afterwards because I hope it strikes the balance I often try to achieve between light-heartedness and seriousness. Plus it’s pinned in the real world: a London restaurant I very much like. I had submitted it originally The Spectator, which originally rejected it. George Simmers then accepted it for the September 2020 Snakeskin. Shortly thereafter I noticed a very positive restaurant review of Il Vicolo in The Spectator and, apparently quite independently, their poetry editor came back to me saying that on reflection he wanted to publish it, which he then did in October that year (with a suitable acknowledgement to Snakeskin as its first home). Then I learnt that the much-loved owner of Il Vicolo had died a few months previously – although not of Covid – but that his admirable daughters had decided to continue to run the restaurant. So, somewhere underneath the poem, the note of all-too-actual human mortality.”

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, including several of the Potcake Chapbooks:
Careers and Other Catastrophes
Familes and Other Fiascoes
Strip Down
Houses and Homes Forever
Travels and Travails.
He currently lives and works in London.
https://tomvaughan.website