Category Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

Short poem: ‘North American Fall’

The red leaves in the sunshine are
So red! So red! So red!
There are no buried Caesars here – instead,
The dispossessed of all the Earth,
With native wisdoms, human worth,
Bleed through the trees like a reopened scar.

*****

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving; in the US, Columbus Day; in the Bahamas, National Heroes Day; in all of them “aka Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. Yes, we’re all here, across the Atlantic or the Pacific from where we or our ancestors came. Yes, there are things to be thankful for, and things to regret. But that’s the story of modern humans, walking out of Africa for the past 200,000 years, and of earlier versions walking out of Africa for the previous couple of million years.

Reparations for everything done to each other is impossible… will the Italians pay reparations to the British for 300 years of occupation and slavery? (Not that the reparations would be paid to the English, who didn’t show up until after the Romans left; payment would be to the people the English pushed out: the Welsh, Cornish, some Irish and maybe some Scots…) People have been invading and massacring, invading and enslaving, invading and intermarrying, in all parts of the world since forever.

What would be reasonable would be for all governments to grant all citizens good quality universal education and good quality universal health care at least for the first 20 years of life. Reparations to the dead may be impossible, but giving everyone a decent chance going forward would seem appropriate. And it would be in the interests of everyone who would like a healthy, well-educated society in which to live.

Fall Colors at Lake Sabrina in the Eatsern Sierra” by RS2Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Double Dactyl: ‘Emily Dickinson’

Yellow rose, yellow rose,
Emily Dickinson
lived in seclusion, was
never a wife;
wrote of her garden most
anthropocentrically,
talking with God, Satan,
Death, all her life.

*****

There’s an old suggestion that all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry can be sung to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’.

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

(Brave words, but I think that waves would have surprised her with their complexity and power and sensuousness.) There’s a newer suggestion that she lived so reclusively because she suffered from epilepsy, and wanted to hide it as much as possible out of a sense of shame.

Strange woman, strange life, strange little poems… but remarkably insightful, accessible, and word-for-word memorable.

My double dactyl on her was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus – thanks, Brooke Clark!

Emily Dickinson” by Amherst College Archives is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Sonnet: ‘The Arrogance of Youth’

How fortunate the arrogance of youth—
the optimism and innumeracy,
lack of experience, perspective, truth—
giving hopes, visions that they’d never see
if they but knew the small chance of success
in major league politics, business, sports.
Most fail, adopt some wage-slave form of dress
that not dreams, but a family, supports.

Without those early dreams, with a clear view
of stats on making it in the Big Time,
they’d all give up, seeing how very few
truly succeed. Then we’d miss those sublime
insane few dreamers who can win their race,
make the discoveries, blast into space.

*****

This Shakespearean sonnet has just been published in Shot Glass Journal – thanks, Mary-Jane Grandinetti!

Photo: “Arrogance” by De kleine rode kater is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘When Your Flesh Freshly’

When your flesh freshly and your face flushly
Face the imperatives of flesh,
I find your mind now unleashed lusty-lushly…
Must we not then enmesh?

*****

This little poem was triggered by pondering the nearness to each other of the words fresh, flesh and flush, and jamming them all together. The result was coherent enough for publication in (naturally) ‘Rat’s Ass Review‘ – thanks, Rick Bates!

Photo: “The Redhead Piano Bar” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Poem: ‘Some Fling Away’

Some fling away
Some stay and cling—
Each their own Way
To do their own thing.

Sacrifice meaning
For love of the rhyme;
Know that in dreaming
You make up the time.

Sacrifice meaning—
When thought becomes sight
Your soul from its mole-hole
Blinks into life-light.

*****

An early poem, from when I was searching for meaning and questioning the various Meanings that were presented. Decades later, I feel the answer to the meaning of everything is best expressed by Leonard Cohen at the end of Tower of Song. That, and by John Cleese in the photo’s poster, and Douglas Adams’ “42”. Do your own thing, indeed; and keep dreaming and rhyming.

‘Some Fling Away’ was first published in ‘Metverse Muse‘ in India.

Do Your Own Thing” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Poem: ‘Homage From British Expats’

Thou noble, purest British race!
Thy children we,
Inheriting thy every trace;
From thy straight back, unmoving face,
We learn the truest social grace,
Pomposity.

To thee the new is never good,
’Tis duty shirked.
Thou’dst never think, and much less brood;
Thou duty-bound eatst wooden food;
Thou ever ramrod-straight hast stood,
And never worked.

Britain! Served on a silver tray
Thine Empire’s tea –
Respectfully we beg to say
We praise thee, but we cannot stay,
We have our duty far away,
Escaping thee.

*****

This is the third of the poems recently published by Pulsebeat Poetry Journal, and I’m pleased at how different the three of them are. ‘Ultimate Control’ is a Science Fiction sonnet, ‘Ticking Away’ is a meditation on time, life and death, and this one was written almost 50 years ago in reaction against (some aspects of) being sent to boarding school in England.

A little personal context: I was raised as an expat in the Bahamas by my Danish father and English mother. After five years of Church of England primary boarding school in Jamaica (when at least I came home three times a year) I went to England for five more years of boarding school, and came home rarely. The countryside setting of Stowe was delightful, and I got a good education with a lot of poetry, and I learned sarcasm. It all uprooted me from being fully Bahamian, but failed to make me fully English. In the 1970s the Bahamas didn’t want me and I didn’t want England. So… Denmark, then Canada, then the US, and finally the Bahamas again as a foreign resident. I have been an expat all my life – and frequently sarcastic about it.

The poem is a nonce form – I used to produce them easily in my 20s, I wish I still did. It’s in iambics rhyming ABAAAB, with four feet to the A lines and only two to the B lines – the last line of each verse being a punch line and the shortness of the line helping strengthen that effect.

Image” by spock-ola is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Poem: ‘Ticking Away’

You have hopes. You don’t expect
that they’ll ever come to pass
but you drink, think and reflect
as you look into the glass…
And you wonder what will happen
while your life just ticks away:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of play.

Science’s prognostications,
things you’d pick up in a flash:
soon they’ll start rejuvenations
if you only had the cash…
Cash cuts those who’d live forever
from the rest as with a knife:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of life.

But you don’t like thoughts of dying
so you hope you’ve got a soul;
and though preachers are caught lying
Heaven seems attainable…
But there’s got to be a Heaven
or prayer’s just a waste of breath:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… towards death.

Though you think that you’re so clever,
you’ve got goals but not the How.
Play the lottery for ever
it must pay off – why not now?
But you never do the homework
so at question time you’re stuck:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… out of luck.

That affair you never had
with the person down the street
for you’re really not that bad
and besides, you rarely meet…
But it sits there like a present
that’s unopened on a shelf:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of self.

So there’s all the other options
for the things you’d like to do:
travel, study, home, adoptions,
building family anew,
but you’re aging while you’re thinking
and the chances go on by:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… till you die.

*****

On this funereal day I take happy morbid pleasure in remembering that we are all mortal. Let’s keep on ticking as long as we can! ‘Ticking Away’ was published in the most recent edition of David Stephenson’s ‘Pulsebeat Poetry Journal‘, a recent and welcome addition to the growing cadre of formal-friendly magazines. It’s a nonce form, shaped in the writing of it; the lines rhyming ABABCDD, and the metre being a rapid patter broken by the ticking in the last line of the stanza.

You could say it’s mostly written in incomplete trochaic tetrameter, the form of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,

But I prefer to read it with the rapid beat of W.S. Gilbert’s

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

which, technically, you could read as iambic octosyllable

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

but not all of those stressed syllables have equal weight. Gilbert’s lyrics are patter, built on highly stressed, semi-stressed and unstressed syllables. English poetry is flexible and chaotic, and its analysis can be contradictory, because the poetry is a fusion of casual Anglo-Saxon verse which counts stresses but not syllables, and formal French verse which counts syllables but not stresses. This mirrors the creation of English itself which is a fusion of various Germanic and Romance languages… with a dash of Celtic grammar thrown in. (Where do you think the pointless auxiliary verb “do” comes from in the phrase “Where do you think”, rather than a more straightforward “Whence think you”? Answer: Celtic.) But the educated literati of the past few hundred years learned all their analysis of grammar and poetry from the French who in turn were drawing on the Greeks and Romans. And some of that thinking is irrelevant to Germanic and Celtic structures.

TLDR: Write what feels natural, enjoyable and memorable. Personally, I’m always glad to remember I don’t have to write everything in iambic pentameter…

Photo: “Self portrait – Ticking away” by MattysFlicks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Ultimate Control’ (from the series ‘Voices from the Future’)

If you’ve the aptitude and love the role,
the Army’s always been the place to be.
Rise in the ranks, absorbing strategy:
coordinate, consolidate, control.
And what a blessing when those new implants
gave mind-to-mind awareness… and command.
Like the unthinking fingers on your hand
you can maneuver thousands with a glance.
The battle then’s to see what you can wrest
from other leaders, fighting mind-to-mind;
you have to grow, or you get left behind:
can you control ten million, like the best?
Of would-be kings there’s never been a dearth…
will it be only one who rules all Earth?

*****

This sonnet has just been published in Pulsebeat Poetry Journal’s 3rd issue (thanks, David Stephenson!) It is one of a series written in response to a comment from Maryann Corbett (a brilliant formalist poet) about the bleakness of my vision of the future. Well, she’s a Christian, so she has a totally different take on humanity’s future from my irreligious SF-infused speculations. Another sonnet in the series, ‘Exiled Leader‘, was published by Star*Line.

I don’t find it bleak to think that there will be unprecedented individual and planetary disruptions. I’m not distressed at the thought of humans being supplanted some posthuman higher intelligence. Should the earliest rat-like mammals of 145 million years ago be upset to learn that their human descendants build cities and kill any rats they find in them? Should they identify only with the familiar rats and wish that evolution had stopped there, or instead be proud that they have also developed into humans (and dogs, and whales, etc)?

For myself, life is a wild ride, and I long to see where it will take humans in a hundred or in a thousand years. Because of the current revolutions in genomics, robotics, AI and nanotechnology, I doubt we can reasonably forecast even a hundred years into the future. We can speculate all we like but once we merge a human with AI, create a cyborg, all bets are off.

20120401 – Hand – IMG_2898” by Nicola since 1972 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Poem: ‘Village Fetes’

Come learn your fates at the village fêtes,
hosted by kindly vicars;
there’s lots to eat, don’t be discreet –
but your attention flickers…

the boys want toys with lots of noise,
the girls want glittery stickers,
while a gypsy tent, being devil-sent,
offers both lust and snickers.

The fêtes are fine for beer and wine,
less so for fancy liquors;
if you want to cruise for a bit of booze,
they’re not for city slickers;

but the real thrust builds on the trust
of godly, sinful vicars –
it’s being caressed by a gypsy breast
that puts a twist in their knickers.

*****

The latest edition of Rat’s Ass Review (for Fall/Winter 2022) has just been published, and I’m delighted to have this irreverent (pun intended) piece included. (As the journal’s title suggests, the editor doesn’t care if you don’t agree with his selections and opinions.) Thanks, Rick Bates!

Romany Rose” by timnutt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Semi-formal poem: ‘The Viking in Winter’

O it is a wide winter, windy with gales,
Hard, harsh and horizonless, cold,
And I can do nothing more this year
But sharpen the swords, mend the gear,
Mend cloth, patch sails,
Listen to tales told by the old,
Listen to horses stamp in stalls.
Feel the blood in my veins going nowhere,
Feel the river halt, the bay iced in,
The sun brief and thin
The food dried, smoked, salt
And no fresh fruit, fresh meat,
No fresh lands, fresh goods,
No fresh deeds, fresh girls,
No seas running and blood running
And people running and tales running…
For what is the good of inaction
Save to prepare for fresh action;
And what is the good of fresh action
Save for fresh tales;
And what is the good of fresh tales
Save for the glory and the name
And the fame that lives past the death rattle
For the sword singer,
Word winger,
The Bard of Battle?

*****

I feel the same fascinated connection to my Viking ancestors that I feel to my even earlier chimp-like forbears and modern chimp and bonobo cousins. All have social networks, hierarchies, politics, violence and ways of overcoming violence, cherished families, a sense of fairness and ways of cheating. I suspect the Viking gods would be far easier for chimps and bonobos to accept than modern scientific understanding could ever be. I greatly enjoy Vikings, chimps and bonobos, recognise that a lot in me comes from them, and am thankful to have outgrown much of their limitations. (And to neo-Nazis who think they are Vikings, I say this: “You’re not; don’t be so stupid.”)

This rambling semi-formal poem was first published in Snakeskin; thanks, George Simmers!

Icy sea” by piropiro3 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.