Category Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

Sonnet: ‘The Fall of Rome’

Jesus, a preacher with fake miracles,
his “Sea” of Galilee just eight miles wide–
rebelling against Rome and crucified–
his failure clear (though words were lyrical)…
you’d think “Messiah” was satirical!
But epileptic Paul a chance descried
to shut out other gods and thoughts worldwide,
thus sealing up Rome’s vital spiracles.
So, building on apocalyptic fears,
the Jewish Jesus ends where Paul begins.
Scientists, artists, poets, engineers,
are suffocated as the new faith wins.
All progress is set back a thousand years.
The Roman Empire died for Jesus’ sins.

Belief is strange. Take Covid vaccination: two thirds of us believe it’s an effective way to save lives, one third of us believe it’s a dangerous and unscrupulous way to make money and control people. Virtually no one has actually done any research and analysis of the issue, we just listen to our preferred sources of information and the community we’re a part of.

Or take religion: for the most part, children raised in Christian families remain Christian believers all their lives, Muslims remain Muslim, Buddhists remain Buddhist, and so on. Which makes it all the more impressive when someone can radically change the belief structure that surrounds them. Kudos then to the epileptic Paul of Tarsus, who created a Jewish-Mithraist-polytheist mishmash that has lasted almost 2,000 years. Pity about the Roman Empire, though.

This happily Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDCDCD) was originally published in Rat’s Ass Review, where respectfulness and respectability are not required. Thanks, Roderick Bates!

“Darkness Falls in Rome” by Storm Crypt is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Short Poem: ‘Days’

Where do they go, the days, twirling around?
Leaves in a dust-devil, swirled on the ground –
Water makes whirlpools just touching a drain –
Then the basin is empty. And no days remain.

September, heading towards the equinox and (in the northern hemisphere) winter. The end of the summer, back to school, back to work, loss of freedom, into the cold and the dark. Another year gone–having a September birthday doesn’t help!–the trees giving up, dry leaves falling and whirling in outside corners of asphalt and concrete… Head south, where it is still summer!

This short poem was published on a page of short pieces in the September issue of Lighten-Up Online – thanks, Jerome Betts!

“Water down the drain” by David Blackwell. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sonnet: ‘The Thief’

More than the actual loss, it’s helplessness
That we most loathe when suffering a theft:
The arbitrary way one daring, deft,
Brass act leaves careful order in a mess;
The knowledge the thief’s wilder and cares less;
The easy way he tears the warp and weft
Of dull security; the insight left
The cosmos can as quickly curse as bless.

Therefore the fears are mostly overblown-–
The thief himself causes no loss or strife
More than insurance or day’s work redeems.
But there’s a greater thief, and more unknown,
Who comes each night and steals one third your life,
Leaving no more than fingerprints, your dreams.

Sleep and dreams are so large a part of our existence that they seem to merit more attention than most people pay them. Sure, we need some rest, but we can get physical rest while awake during the day. So do we really need seven or eight hours every night to defrag our minds and delete unnecessary memories?

I like to think (this is close to “I believe”, but it isn’t belief) that there is something crucial going on that we are missing. The occasional “big dream” that resonates life-changingly. The dream of a distant loved one saying goodbye, before you get the news the next day of their death. The awareness that your unconscious is actually running your show, and that you better pay attention and assist where you can. All these reduce the apparent dominance of the waking mind, and open cans of existential worms. There are no certain answers. We are nowhere near understanding how our bodies, our minds or the universe works.

It’s all wonderful; but I still resent the amount of time I have to sleep. (And to those who say “It’s possible to sleep a lot less” I say “Yes, but at what cost? We have no idea.”)

I’m proud of this sonnet on a technical level. It is a true Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDECDE); the flow of words finds natural tiny pauses at the line breaks; only the volta, the twist to the exposition, is arguably in the wrong place, being strongest after the 11th line rather than after the eighth. But I feel it is all redeemed by a strong last line.

‘The Thief’ was originally published in ‘Candelabrum‘ – a magazine stolen by time.

Photo: “Thief Of Dreams” by Monica Blatton is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Short poem: ‘Every Little Mammal’

Every little mammal
Likes a little cuddle.
Man or mouse or camel,
Life becomes a muddle
If there is no cuddle
For the simple mammal.

There’s nothing much to this little poem. Sometimes an awareness of a rhyme or near-rhyme sparks a thought, sometimes a random thought contains words that rhyme, or nearly… and if it’s not a large thought, it’s not a large poem. But it’s there all the same. And if you’re really lucky, you can find an appropriate illustration…

This short poem was originally published, like a hundred others of mine, in Snakeskin. Thanks for all of them, editor George Simmers!

“Illuminated Manuscript, Collection of poems (masnavi), A mouse, clutching the reins of a camel, at a stream of water, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.626, fol. 94b” by Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts is marked with CC0 1.0

Poem: ‘The Divine Moon’

Do you remember when we used the Moon
To measure menses, measure time by month?
We’d found the Moon determined tides and blood,
So planted crops and children by its tides.

From tribal gods of weather, waves and war
We groped, pre-Science, through theology,
Trying to grasp the world and life and death,
Leaving the worship of the moon behind.

The atheist Gagarin, first to heaven,
Noted he didn’t see a God up there.
American believers, first to the Moon,
Quietly said nothing, and moved on.

Now city kids may never have seen stars…
Soon satellites will blanket the night sky…
With skyless nights, why should we still use months?
And when in space, why months? Or days? Why years?

Not knowing where we’re headed, all we know:
That god or goddess Moon’s left far behind.

This poem was published in the latest issue of Sally Long’s biannual Allegro Poetry Magazine. The issue has a theme of ‘Geography’, so the subjects range from the gardens at Stowe to the aftermath of Hiroshima. Perhaps the moon is in itself a little outside the Earth-bound definition of geography, but as it has always been such a big part of our lives on this planet I think it’s fair to include it. And people have been there, and will go again. And our attitudes to the Moon and Heaven and Earth will keep on evolving as humans themselves will change, moving forward in unknowable time and space.

The poem is in iambic pentameter, but lacks the rhyme and wordplay that I advocate for poetry. I thought of trying to shrink it down from 18 lines to a sonnet’s 14, which is a trick I’ve used before to make myself find rhymes and generally tighten up a poem; but in this case I couldn’t see which blocks of four lines I could combine, eliminate or otherwise reduce – they all seemed necessary, and hard to shrink. I hadn’t thought of going for four blocks of three lines each, with a concluding couplet… but that might provide a solution, if I feel up to attempting it for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, if you’ve never seen Georges Melies’ 12-minute 1902 movie ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’, here it is with an electronic soundtrack by Andreas Brink. Yes, our ideas about the moon keep changing…

Short Poem: ‘Cultural Field Trip’

Properly stroppily,
Off to Thermopylae
Busloads of schoolchildren
Grudgingly go;
Hoovered, manoeuvred
Off into the Louvre’d
Be better for profs who are
Trudgingly slow.

No, I agree, that’s not a true Double Dactyl because it doesn’t have a single-word double dactyl line. It’s just one of those poems I’ve written for no other purpose than to play with rhymes. The poem was published in this month’s Snakeskin, editor George Simmers privately commenting: “As an ex-teacher I empathise with the trudging profs.”

“Mona Lisa Madness” by Joe Parks is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘Old Soldiers’

Sitting blowing bubbles
Each one a tiny world
Of monumental troubles
And how they all unfurled.

“The desert, Cairo, jaunty,
A blue room and whore –
And so I said to Monty –
And so we won the War!”

Bernard Law Montgomery, afterwards Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, was Britain’s star commander of the Second World War. “Unbeatable and unbearable” from North Africa to northwest Europe where he had control of all Allied land forces under Eisenhower, he was the figure that British veterans tended to suggest that they had had some useful contact with.

Always arrogant, opinionated and outspoken, he later opposed American tactics in the Vietnam War, as in the New York Times in 1968: “The United States has broken the second rule of war. That is: don’t go fighting with your land army on the mainland in Asia. Rule one is, don’t march on Moscow. I developed those two rules myself.” Familiar enough to fans of Risk and Civilization and The Princess Bride…

“Two Old Soldiers” by jf01350 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sonnet: ‘One True Religions’

No vision brings the whole world to its knees.
Jains, Hindus, Buddhists, Mithraists, Parsees,
Moses, Muhammad, Jesus or St. Paul,
One True Religions never conquer all.
Humans are simply too cantankerous
for any one belief to anchor us.

Success at once leads into sects and schisms:
the One Pure Ray of Light hits human prisms,
and egos, power grabs, love of dispute,
traditions, curiosity, all loot
the intellectual wealth of strong belief.
This year’s great guru’s merely last year’s thief.

Control’s maintained by sword and flame, not thought.
In failure, drink the Kool Aid or get shot.

Well, maybe 14 lines rhymed in pairs isn’t really a sonnet, even if it’s in iambic pentameter. But when you’ve got a structure that works for a poem, I don’t think it’s worth trying to hammer it into a different shape just to try to reach a “higher” standard. Anyway, sonnet or not this poem was published in Rat’s Ass Review – as you could guess from the journal’s name, editor Roderick Bates publishes whatever appeals to him, with no apologies for treading on other people’s sensibilities, religious, poetic or anything else. It’s a good place to submit a poem that other journals might be squeamish about, and a good place to read a wide range of outspoken poetry.

“Jonestown massacre” by johndavison883 is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Poem: ‘The Future as CDG Terminal 1’

The future is a long low passage,
Whitewashed, undulating,
A moving forward-flowing track,
No chance of going back.

The future has no message,
Its ads are guides only to the past,
Misleaders, redesignposts,
Echoes, undefined ghosts.

The future is travelled without presage,
Always onward, none comes back.
Predestination without destination.
Stationary or walking, you’ve no final station.

The future goes on until you get off.
I won’t. I will not to get off.

This poem (set in Charles de Gaulle airport’s people-mover) is halfway to being a sonnet: it has three sets of four lines and a final couplet, and its lines are not far from being tetrameters or pentameters. But the rhyme scheme is idiosyncratic: abcc adee afgg hh. But even that is being kind: the last couplet doesn’t rhyme, it just repeats its end words.

And yet, mishmash though it is, it was published in The Rotary Dial, Canada’s leading formal poetry publication for the few years of its incandescent life. So perhaps it is at least semi-formal poetry.

“sba-cdg85” by dsearls is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Maya’

When God took Time to spin a length of Matter,
And, nothing at each end, tied the ends together,
He held between his fingers and surveyed
The first cat’s-cradle, and since then has played.

Flames flicker, flare, re-form as a friend’s face;
Dogs mime all features of the human race;
The willow weaves a walker from the air;
All Nature helps us see things that aren’t there.

To read Life’s Meanings, we must write the text:
What’s Right one day is often Wrong the next –
I’m rich or poor only as I profess,
Must ask your love or hate, for you can’t guess.

If love’s illusion, so are hate and fear…
Why not choose love?, when it’s so great, and near?!

Reareading this poem after a number of years, I have my doubts about it. It seems to start strong, and ends weak. What to do about a poem like that? The stuff about Maya, the illusory nature of the universe, is OK; but maybe cut it off after eight lines, before it starts preaching. But then maybe it would be lacking an ending, and I’d have to come up with something better than what’s there now.

As it is, it was first published in the defunct ‘Rubies in the Darkness’, and republished in India’s ‘Metverse Muse’. But I’m not happy with the poem…

“Cat’s Cradle by N.O. Bonzo” by wiredforlego is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0