Category Archives: short poems

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

Short poem: ‘Nothing’s Yours Always’

Nothing’s yours always, anyhow,
And Time shall lift from off your brow
Your troubles, wrinkles, hat and wig,
Leave you the basis for “long pig”.

So many unusual foods are described as “tastes like chicken”; it’s worth remembering that there is one that apparently tastes like pork. And really, when you’re dead, does it matter who benefits from the recycling of your atoms? The picture is of a figure from Ethiopian legend, Belai the Cannibal.

This poem was published in Metverse Muse, a long-established Indian journal that champions traditional verse, edited by Dr. Tulsi Hanamanthu.

Photo: “Belai the Cannibal” by A.Davey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Short Poem: ‘The Hitchhiker’

Sometimes you’d sell your soul just to get warm! –
Your clothes are rags in the wind, your skin goes blue,
You doubt your mouth can ever smile again;
The lonely world grows dark before the storm
Whose icy rain’s a mile away… and then,
The sun breaks through!

I used to do a lot of hitchhiking – 25,000 miles is my best estimate, on five continents. It can be miserable, it can be ecstatic, but as a way of exploring the world without plans and preconceptions, it’s hard to beat. It used to be safe, then it became unsafe, but now it’s probably safe again – if you send a picture of the vehicle from your cell phone before you get in. Or if you live on an island with no public transportation, where everyone seems to know everyone and it’s just common courtesy to give people a ride.

The poem was published in the now-defunct Candelabrum, a twice-yearly British publication that championed traditional verse through the darkest days of “free verse” from 1970 to 2010. The magazine has ceased publication, but thank goodness the sun has broken through again!

“Winter Road” by ryanmcgilchrist is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Spring Sprang’

Spring sprang full force with sudden storms then stopped.
Of which vertu engendred were the floods. We mopped.
Summer so wet dried into humid dank.
Sweat dripped, dried, dripped, and as we worked we stank.

This little poem was published in The Asses of Parnassus, where poems range from the short to the very short. Epigrams translated from the Greek or Latin alternate with modern insults and with odd little observations such as this post’s verse. It is a site for people who enjoy the occasional small random thought.

Why I wrote the poem, I don’t know. It probably started with the evocative sounds of “spring sprang”. Spring rains always bring Chaucer’s Prologue to my mind, whence the “of which vertu engendred” phrase. The whole thing is inconsequential, except that in one very important sense no creative act, not even the most trivial, is inconsequential: your creativity speaks to you, and your decision of whether or not to act on it determines many aspects of your life: not just your creative output, but your sense of satsfaction, your happiness, your mental balance, even your physical health. When the muse speaks, listen and act – the output doesn’t have to be significant, but keeping the lines of communication open to the inner and unconscious (but in several ways wiser and more knowledgeable) parts of yourself is supremely important. Call it the soul, if you want. Call it God, for all I care. There is something essential there: honour it. Your happiness, maybe even your life, depends on it.

OK, rant over. Back to other inconsequentialities.

Photo: “025457:Floods Central Library New Bridge Street Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown 1966” by Newcastle Libraries is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Short poem: ‘Subduction’

All human nature, conflicts, nations, and all races
will be washed as by tides on beaches, all loves and lusts
will with Time disappear, all human traces
washed under as all plates are washed
by the subduction of Earth’s crusts.

This poem was published this month in Lighten Up Online – an excellent place to read light verse on subjects both light and heavy. Every issue has a mixture of longer and shorter poems, and a competition. This March 2021 edition concludes with the results of the eco-crisis competition, headed ‘The Airing of the Green’; ‘Subduction’ was one of the winners. Other sections of the magazine were also focused on the environment. Pollution and climate change are twin disasters, and you can express outrage, despair, or (more usefully) proposals for action. The million-year view of my poem isn’t useful but it’s low-hanging fruit, there to be taken.

I’m delighted to be in a magazine along with poems by fellow Potcake Poets Martin Elster, Michael R. Burch, D.A. Prince, George Simmers, Nina Parmenter, Gail White, Chris O’Carroll, Tom Vaughan, Jane Blanchard, Jerome Betts, Martin Parker and Melissa Balmain, as well as two poets who will be appearing in the next Potcake Chapbook, Bruce McGuffin and Julia Griffin, and the ever-anomalous Max Gutmann. Several of us have more than one poem in this issue.

“File:Tectonic-plates-subduction-zone-17280738.jpg” by Benjilrm is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Review: ‘Short and Sweet – 101 very short poems’

One of a series of short poetry collections that Faber produced in the 1990s, this one features a good introduction by the anthologist (and poet well-known in the UK) Simon Armitage, discussing and justifying the short poem:
“The short poem, at its best, brings about an almost instantaneous surge of both understanding and sensation unavailable elsewhere; its effect should not be underestimated and its design not confused with convenience.”

Of course I love them, they are my children.
This is my daughter and this my son.
And this is my life I give them to please them.
It has never been used. Keep it safe. Pass it on.

– The Mother, by Anne Stevenson

Armitage defines the short poem as no more than 13 lines, thereby ruling out the sonnet as something more than short. Other people define it in other ways: the Shot Glass Journal publishes anything up to 16 lines under its “Brevity is the soul of wit” motto, while another of my favourite collections of verse defines the short poem as ‘Eight Lines or Less’. There is no agreed definition of “short poem”. And as Armitage shows, in 13 lines you can still cover a lot of ground.

She lay a long time as he found her,
Half on her side, askew, her cheek pressed to the floor.
He sat at the table there and watched,
His mind sometimes all over the place,
And then asking over and over
If she were dead: ‘Are you dead, Poll, are you dead?’

For these hours, each one dressed in its figure
On the mantelpiece, love sits with him.
Habit, mutuality, sweetheartedness,
Drop through his body,
And he is not able now to touch her–
A bar of daylight, no more than
Across a table, flows between them.

– As He Found Her, by Jeffrey Wainwright

Some of the poems in the collection were new to me, including both the above. Some of the poems are extremely well-known but always a joy to read: Yeats’ ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, William Carlos Williams’ ‘This is Just to Say’. And others hover half-known:

Where is the grave of Sir Arthur O’Kellyn?
Where may the grave of that good man be?
By the side of a spring, on the breast of Helvellyn,
Under the twigs of a young birch tree!
The oak that in summer was sweet to hear,
And rustled its leaves in the fall of the year,
And whistled and roared in the winter alone,
Is gone, — and the birch in its stead is grown. —
The Knight’s bones are dust,
And his good sword is rust; —
His soul is with the saints, I trust.

– The Knight’s Tomb, by Coleridge

Starting off with the 13-liners, the poems get shorter and shorter as you read on, but without losing their punch–perhaps, as the introduction suggests, condensing their power.
Shakespearean fish swam the sea, far away from land;
Romantic fish swam in nets, coming to the hand;
What are all those fish that lie gasping on the strand?

– Three Movements, by Yeats

… all the way down to the final poem with no text at all, but only its title:
– On Going to Meet a Zen Master in the Kyushu Mountains and Not Finding Him, by Don Paterson.

Most but not all of the 101 poems are formal; most are originally in English, though there are a few translations: Paz, Sappho, Apollinaire, Salamun and – most surprising in its elegant translation from the Polish – this one, ‘Bodybuilders’ Contest’:
From scalp to sole, all muscles in slow motion,
The ocean of his torso drips with lotion.
The king of all is he who preens and wrestles
with sinews twisted into monstrous pretzels.

Onstage, he grapples with a grizzly bear
the deadlier for not really being there.
Three unseen panthers are in turn laid low,
each with one smoothly choreographed blow.

He grunts while showing his poses and paces.
His back alone has twenty different faces.
The mammoth fist he raises as he wins
is tribute to the force of vitamins.

– Bodybuilders’ Contest, by Wislawa Szymborska.

Altogether an excellent and well-rounded collection.

Poem: ‘Hail Deth’

Hail Deth, that from alle Natur’s birth
Hast kept each living thing thy thrall!
Teech me to love thy quiet call,
To rest
Among the blest,
To be at peace with every thing on earth.

Come soft, without impediment;
Let mee slide sleeping to thy armes,
Discover alle thy soothing charmes;
And kill
My every ill,
Leave mee uninterrupted sediment.

This is one of my very earliest poems, with the form, theme and erratic spelling all obviously influenced by studying the Metaphysical Poets in school. I’ve always been fascinated by death–at least since the time I gave up Christianity, thanks to my excellent Church of England schooling. The poem was written tongue-in-cheek, of course: I’m in no hurry to die.

‘Hail Deth’ has just been published in the Shot Glass Journal which, in accordance with Shakespeare’s “brevity is the soul of wit”, publishes both formal and free verse so long as a poem doesn’t exceed 16 lines. It also divides contributions into American and International groups and lists them separately, which is interesting if not necessarily useful in any functional sense.

Photo: “NS-01023 – Death Head” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0