Category Archives: short poems

Short poem: ‘Bantering’

Bantering needs many, not one voice:
you need ‘response’ as well as ‘call’.
Or else it’s only masturbantering –
with no real intercourse at all.

*****

You make up a word, and then you have to use it… a short poem is one way to do it. This poem was first published in Rat’s Ass Review (as you might have guessed, if you know that no-holds-barred magazine). Thanks, Rick Bates!

Photo: “banter” by Andrew G Thomas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Disappearance’

I’ve always been around, since before I can remember,
so it just would be so strange, if one day I should dismember,
and my body disappear, like a swallow in September…
Will there be no glowing coal? Of my life survive no ember?

*****

This short poem was published on a page of ‘Senior Moments’ in the current Lighten-Up Online. I like the rhythm (there’s a pause in the patter in the middle of each line) but the simile is bogus: unlike with swallow migration, dead people are unlikely to show up again the next spring…

Photo: “Swallows” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Land of the Free’

Homicide, suicide, what’s it to me?
We all carry guns in the Land of the Free.
Free to be Christians and free to be whites –
The rest ain’t included in our Bill of Rights.
The rest want to come here (or blow us sky high),
They get smuggled in, so they cheat, steal and lie.
Servants and slaves since the US begun:
Tell ’em: Sit! and shut up! and don’t carry no gun!

*****

This short poem was published minutes ago in the Allegro Poetry Journal, put out by Sally Long in the UK. The spring edition is always unthemed, the autumn edition themed; and this time the theme is ‘Freedom’ – a word which means many things to many people.

Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ Rally” by Anthony Crider is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Clerihew: ‘Robert Bridges’

Robert Bridges
was way too religious.
He rhymed like mad for his God,
but his knowledge of Science was flawed.

*****

This clerihew was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus. Regarding the form, Wikipedia says it best: “A clerihew is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem of a type invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem’s subject, usually a famous person, and the remainder puts the subject in an absurd light or reveals something unknown or spurious about the subject. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced. The line length and metre are irregular. Bentley invented the clerihew in school and then popularized it in books.”

As for the subject, Bridges had a lifelong drive for nature, religion and poetry; he produced hymns like “When morning fills the skies”, launched Gerard Manley Hopkins by bringing out a posthumous collection of his poems, and became Poet Laureate. But his poetic style was, like the phonetic alphabet he developed, idiosyncratic and anachronistic; definitely interesting, but not that successful.

It’s not surprising that he is little known. He’s an acquired taste, and even then you have to be in the right mood.

Short Poem: ‘Darkness’

I miss the dark.
Nights pitchblack as pitch in the seams of the planks of boats on a starlit sea
when you walk in a garden
with hands out in front in case you walk into a tree.
Moonless nights
where stars let you grope over rocks at the beach with blind eye –
and then the moon rises
like the sunlit reflecting rock that it is. Then you can see. Can see why.
Why I miss the dark.

*****

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It seems to have a structure, i.e. it isn’t completely formless. Perhaps it needs more work. But it’s very much like the rural moonless nights where I was brought up, and where I have returned. I stumble around happily in many aspects of life.

A Forest / At Night (The Cure photographic cover)” by Max Sat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Ghost Tales’

Discounting tales of ghosts kids say appeared,
We teach them to be rational instead.

Jesus was scourged, then crucified, then speared…
You really think he came back from the dead?

*****

This poem was originally accepted for November 2016 publication in Quarterday, a Scottish quarterly that appeared in print and online for a few issues. There were some discrepancies with publication, and I never determined whether this poem made it into either format. The ambiguity is quite in keeping with all reports of ghosts, so I’m not complaining.

(But perhaps I should have blogged this at Easter.)

Photo: Ghosts by goldberg from Openverse

Short poem: ‘Loss’

Which is the worst –
Is it the loss, or memory of loss,
Or loss of memory? Who gives a toss
When the brain’s banks have burst
And all we valued yesterday
Is washed away?

*****

The above is a short poem, semi-formal (i.e. it’s in iambics, it rhymes, but it lacks formal structure) published in this month’s Snakeskin No. 298. I like semi-formal because it allows natural expression in a way that formal structure often prevents. Contrast these examples from Matthew Arnold of the formal (from The Scholar-Gipsy) and semi-formal (from A Summer Night):

Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
Returning home on summer-nights, have met
Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet…

The inversions of adjectives and phrases were used to fit rhyme and metre to line length. Drop the line length requirements and, even retaining the “thee”s and “thou”s, the expression is more naturally conversational:

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail…

Poor Matthew Arnold! With his father a famous Headmaster and himself an Inspector of Schools, there is a sad irony in so much of his poetry being about escaping the tedium of regimented Victorian life.

Photo: “Müllhaufen Villa V R s 1000 s” by rosalux-stiftung is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘First Contact’

And when we leave this planet, even leave
corporeal necessity behind,
launch in new realms of space, new states of matter,
encapsuled and encoded, searching blind,
who will we find, as we have always found,
those others there before us, unconfined?
How will we meet them, how will we relate,
them settled formlessly, we coming late?

*****

Perhaps I owe an explanation to non-readers of science fiction. The premise of the poem is that we humans will continue to tinker with not just our bodies but our DNA, as we have always experimented with everything. We will produce ever more bizarre manifestations as posthumans, especially useful in off-planet environments (I recommend the short stories of John Varley), ultimately finding ways to exist with intelligence and control without being tied to physical bodies. (Try Vernor Vinge.) But as always, wherever and however we voyage in exploration, we will always find someone (some thing) is there before us. And then there will be all the usual situations that occur with first contact… confusion, lack of communication, miscommunication, trust and distrust, treachery, violence, accommodation, mutual benefit, all the things that social species engage in.

Appropriately this short poem was first published in Bewildering Stories (thanks, Don Webb!), an excellent weekly magazine of speculative stories both short and serialized, and speculative poetry and art. This eight-line poem is structurally pretty basic: it’s in iambic pentameter with the second, fourth and sixth lines rhyming and with a final couplet.

Jupiter – PJ16-13” by Kevin M. Gill is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Into the Cryonics Dewar’

We had no destination ever, from birth,
save into the ultimate ocean, or ultimate fire, or ultimate earth.
Now we have not quite so ultimate ice.
For now, it will have to suffice.

The chance of reanimation from cryonic suspension may be small, but still greater than the chance of reanimation after cremation or burial in land or at sea. And I guess we now have a fifth option – ending up off-planet, adrift in space. But in effect that will be a variant on “not-quite-so-ultimate ice”. In space you’d end up near Absolute Zero, as with cryonics – but whereas with cryonics there is the miniscule hope of eventual reanimation, in space your ultimate fate would be that of all space debris: drifting for millions of years until burning up into a star or planet, or getting sucked into a black hole.

Life, death, quite fascinating. Not many options for changing the outcome, though various billionaires are throwing some of their money at the search for immortality, as people have done since at least the time of the pharaohs and early Chinese emperors. And why not? think it’s “just science fiction”? For thousands of years we used to dream we could fly to the moon, and that happened eventually…

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin #274, July 2020. Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: cryonics.org

Short poem: ‘Remember’

Remember the whole world’s in your range,
When all your strength is gone.
If you can’t accept, then rearrange;
Can’t rearrange, move on.

I wrote this little poem when I was a very unsettled and directionless 20-year-old, and I lived by its tenets for several years, constantly changing jobs, countries and relationships. Eventually I slowed down, only changing jobs, countries and relationships once every few decades. But I still hold to the principle that you have no obligation to stay in an unsatisfactory situation, that you should actively try to identify what makes you happiest at the deepest level and then change your life in that direction. And sometimes random change is an appropriate if temporary solution.

This poem was finally published, decades later, in The Asses of Parnassus.

Photo: “File:Banksy Hitchhiker to Anywhere Archway 2005.jpg” by User:Justinc is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.