Category Archives: short poems

Short Poem: ‘Chronosynclastic’

In the chronosynclastic infundibulum
That is God’s fantastic waiting room,
You’re always barely on the score,
One show away from being shown the door.

“God’s waiting room” normally applies to places considered to have a large population of retirees, like Eastbourne in the UK, or Victoria, BC, or the state of Florida. But we are all mortal, and all facing an end at an unknown time. So Kurt Vonnegut’s dark existential humour seems universally applicable. He created the term ‘chrono-synclastic infundibulum’ in ‘The Sirens of Titan’ as a label for a place, or a moment, where all the different kinds of truths fit together, and where there are many different ways to be absolutely right about everything.

Take the concept of ‘God’. Though we can all agree on the meaning and validity of “God’s waiting room”, we may disagree vehemently on the meaning and validity of the word “God”. Can there be a place in which all the understandings of that word are simultaneously correct? Perhaps. We are only tiny-brained creatures in an obscure solar system in an unimportant galaxy, and can hardly presume to know all the answers, any more than any of our stone age ancestors did when they thought they knew everything.

Anyway, my poem (first published in Lighten-Up Online) pays homage to the author of ‘The Sirens of Titan’, ‘Cat’s Cradle’, ‘Slaughterhouse Five’… I put Kurt Vonnegut right up there with Tolstoy in the ranking of People Who Should Have Won A Nobel Prize But Didn’t.

So it goes.

Photo: “The Chronosynclastic Infundibulum – Front Elevation” by Fulla T is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘The Logophile Picks a Fight’

By the spots of shame with which your life is spattered,
Your position, sir, is grossly overmattered –
Overmattered, sir, or greatly undermined;
And I cannot help but find
That the lot of humankind
Would be bettered, not embittered, were you battered!

After having kicked around for years, this short piece–which has no purpose other than wordplay–finally got an explanatory title (instead of just the first few words) and was published in this month’s Lighten-Up Online in the section ‘Words, Words, Words’. Thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Picking a fight for net neutrality #ind12” by Kalexanderson is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo has been cropped.

Short poem: ‘Yogis’

Though mystified why yogis walk
Across the burning coals,
We know they stand upon their heads
To elevate their soles.

This was first published in Metverse Muse, an Indian magazine put out by Dr. Tulsi Hanumanthu that champions structured verse in English. The poem’s pun seems so obvious to me that I’m still surprised I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Be that as it may, I’m a proponent of the health benefits of five-minute headstands, which I have been doing irregularly since I wrote the poem nearly 50 years ago, after spending a month in the Sivananda Vedanta Yogashram in Val Morin, Quebec.

As for timing five minutes while in a headstand, I do it by mentally reciting the first 18 verses of Matthew Arnold’s ‘The Scholar Gypsy’. After years of those 180 lines, I keep thinking I could replace it with 45 quatrains of ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’… but somehow I always get stuck pondering which edition of the Rubaiyat I prefer…

Photo: taken by Eliza.

Poem: ‘What Lasts?’

Munch’s Scream fades, and the Taliban
blow up the grandest statues that they can.
Safer are spoken treasures of the mind:
poems and songs outlast objects that rust,
or bust, or slowly crumble into dust.
Until from cave or dig comes some strange find…
but when Lascaux and Willendorf were young,
what was recited, or what songs were sung?

As regards “immortal” works of art… anything that is still respected in a hundred years is pretty good, anything still talked about after a couple of thousand years is doing very well… Songs and poems can manage that length of time, especially if connected a religion or other social ritual; but there is very little oral survival beyond that, and the survival of physical artifacts from tens of thousands of years ago is of the luckiest, perhaps of the lost or the most overlooked, not necessarily the best.

How wonderful if in the future we can recapture sounds from the Stone Age! At present there is no way to see how it could ever be done. But at least we have a few cave paintings and small carvings…

This poem was just published a short while ago in The Asses of Parnassus. Thanks, Brooke Clark!

“Austria. Wien Naturhistorisches museum Venus von Willendorf. Die Venus von Willendorf ist eine Venusfigurine aus der jüngeren Altsteinzeit (Jungpaläolithikum), dem Gravettien, und ist als Österreichs bekanntestes Fundstück heute im Naturhistorischen Museum” by Morton1905 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Odd poem: Margaret Mead(?), ‘Hogamus Higamus’

Hogamus, higamus,
Man is polygamous;
Higamus, hogamus,
Woman’s monogamous.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is American anthropologist Margaret Mead‘s creation. I have a clear memory of reading the story many years ago, probably in ‘Male and Female’, of her waking up in the middle of the night with an understanding of the secret of the universe. She grabbed the pencil and paper she kept by her bedside and wrote it down, then went back to the sleep. And in the morning she found she had written the above verse.

I was so certain it was Margaret Mead that I began this blog post about her before trying to check which book the verse came from and if I had the wording correct. (I last read Mead decades ago, and I leave beyond the reach of bookstores and real libraries.) To my frustration, all I can find in Google is attribution to William James, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, Bertrand Russell, Alice Duer Miller… and Mrs. Amos Pinchot, who allegedly denied authorship. According to Quote Investigator, “The first known evidence of this unusual anecdote appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in November 1939. The article ‘Thanksgiving Nightmare’ by Claire MacMurray (…) presented a supposed episode in the mental life of a person named Mrs. Amos Pinchot”, and tells the tale as I remember it. Mead’s ‘Male and Female’ came out in 1949, so (if the poem was in that book) it may have been referring to the Pinchot story, or it may have been something that had happened more than ten years previously to Mead, and she had shared the story and it had spread by itself.

The poem itself is brief, witty, amusing. It is rhythmic, repetitive, well rhymed, very catchy. Those are all excellent qualities. As for the content, it seems very 20th century: it gives the impression of having broken out of the conventions of society and church, and to be saying that the two sexes have differing needs for propagating themselves successfully. It is also 20th century in being simplistic. Where does the concept of serial monogamy fall? How does the rhyme relate to the LGBTQ+ members of society? The verse is definitely not comprehensive enough for the 21st century. But Margaret Mead was a controversial opener of cans of worms in the early 20th century, and that is where this little poem came from. Her obsession with gender roles and her self-deprecating humour make her a good candidate for its author.

And where the poem came from, apparently, was a communication from the unconscious, a gift to the dreamer. Always respect and preserve what the Muse offers you – who knows, a couple of lines of verse may be treasured and quoted for a hundred years!

“Sex and Temperament in three primitive societies” by your neighborhood librarian is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘He Wanted a Writer’

He wanted a writer – she had to have money.
He wanted a writer – she had to be funny.
He wanted a writer to laugh with and drink.
He wanted a writer… but not one who’d THINK!!!

The suits of this world, whether moguls or morticians, pastors or politicians, tend to think of creative types as frivolous playthings. That’s their loss.

This little poem (whose genders switched back and forth in fluid fashion before settling down) was originally and suitably published in The Asses of Parnassus. Thanks, Brooke Clark. (Yes, That Brooke Clark!)

“Woman drinking wine while working on her laptop.” by shixart1985 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

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’.”

Short poem: ‘White Recluse’

Her thoughts were all inside her –
Free from reality –
Poor little cramped-up spider
Who never saw the sea.

Much though I love her insightful and often wicked little poems, and deeply though I sympathise with her for (as I have heard) the traumatic and embarrassing seizures that restricted her life, I still have difficulty with this specific Emily Dickinson poem:

I never saw a Moor —
I never saw the Sea —
Yet know I how the Heather looks
And what a Billow be.

I never spoke with God
Nor visited in Heaven —
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the Checks were given —

(There are two versions of this poem in circulation; but her poems were only edited and published after her death, and subsequently researched, de-edited and republished.) With all due respect, Miss Emily, if you had actually experienced the sea you would have realised that there is no way that a description and a couple of paintings can hope to capture the totality of waves: their warmth or chill, their taste, their sound, their movement against the body, the enjoyment, the danger, their feel in the water, their feel on a boat, their impact on a sandy beach or on a reef or against a cliff…

This also suggests to me that her understanding of God and Heaven is way too simplistic. She is making a good unwitting case for agnosticism. ‘White Recluse’ was published in The Asses of Parnassus, a suitable place for snippy little poems.

“Six Eyed Danger (Brown Recluse Spider)” by Lisa Zins is licensed under CC BY 2.0