Category Archives: sonnets

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.

Irregular Sonnet: ‘Where Do They Go?’

Where do they go, those children asleep?
Do they roost, or do angels put them on shelves?
Or do they go home, to some place they keep
locked far away from us and themselves,
Or an alternate universe? In, out, up, down?
Into a not-place, past care and past fear?
Past love and past tired, past smile, yawn and frown
into subtracted space, full of not here?

And where do they go, the dead?
We say we can’t know where they go,
just that they’re gone. But the crow
says, There is more to know that you don’t know –
says, Better ask instead
where do we go, when dead?

*****

This almost-regular sonnet was originally published in Bewildering Stories (thanks Don Webb). I thought it might be nice to emphasise (after some of irreligious poems) that I am not an atheist (except in the eyes of the organisedly religious). I am a Militant Agnostic: “I don’t know, and neither do you.”

Photo: “Good sleeping children in the morning” by michibanban is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Calling the Poem: 10. ‘Inspiration 1’

When the god’s in you, you’re not blessed nor raped;
it’s not Zeus in whatever guise he wears,
nor Yahweh taking Mary unawares,
nor anything which could be fought, escaped;
nor is it there where your complete orgasm–
from curling toes to skull-top tingling hair–
meets voodoo god who rides you as nightmare,
meets “therapy” of ECG’s dead spasm.

But winkled from your shell by muse or god
you’re in unmoving time, in time that seems
to Rip Van Winkle ordinary, not odd,
there where True Thomas by fay queen is smitten…
and when you wake from momentary dreams
two hours have gone by, and the first draft’s written.

*****

Even if, as some artists relate, they have been taken over by a god, muse, or supernatural force of inspiration, the feeling is not one of fear or terror as you might expect from being possessed. The process of inspired creation typically gives a feeling of calm, concentration and controlled excitement. The aftereffects can be completely different: exhaustion, exuberance, depression… The connection has been broken, the mind returns to a different state.

This version of the sonnet has been cleaned up from what was originally published as an e-chapbook by Snakeskin in issue 236 (unfortunately Archives are still down at time of writing). I have removed the four-letter words from the first four lines and generally reduced the probable offensiveness to my Christian and Muslim friends. However I think there are two points to be made that are more important than sacrilegious language:

Why is it acceptable to portray the coarseness of other people’s gods to schoolchildren, while it is forbidden to discuss the immorality of one’s own group’s preferred deity, even among adults?

And more importantly, why is it considered acceptable for a god (Yahweh) to impregnate a young female (Mary) without her consent? Isn’t this a Handmaid’s Tale level of thinking about the rights of the male and the insignificance of the female? Isn’t this a dangerously inappropriate story to be telling our children?

Of course the “Immaculate Conception” is just an unscientific fairytale. It is far more likely that, as contemporary Jewish rumour had it, Mary got pregnant by a Roman soldier called Pantera, and that Joseph (through love or pity) took her away to have the child in his home town of Bethlehem rather than have her stoned to death as would have been likely for having sex before marriage, especially with one of the idolatrous, beard-shaving, pig-eating Western soldiers of the Occupation

Photo: Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by Richard Masloski, copyright 2000; Photograph by Daryl Samuel

Potcake Poet’s Choice: David Whippman, ‘Who Were You?’

I never really found out who you are.
I only saw what I preferred to see.
I realise now it wasn’t meant to be.
I thought you were my one true shining star.
My cordon bleu, champagne and caviar
But really you’re a lukewarm cup of tea.
I thought you cared: you soon enlightened me.
I should have just admired you from afar.

It really was a silly thing to do,
Dropping my guard to let you in my head.
You left such an emotional mess behind.
And now you’re gone, I look around and find
An empty wallet and an empty bed.
And still there is the question: who are you?

*****

David Whippman writes: “As someone who is by aptitude a prose writer (much as I love poetry, both reading and writing it) I gravitate to a structured form of verse because I don’t have that  instinct necessary for writing good free verse. The sonnet form gives a ready-made structure and discipline, but allows some fluidity as well.

David Whippman is British, in his 70s, long retired after a career in healthcare. He writes stories and articles as well as poems. Outside of writing, his hobbies are music, chess and visual art. (And reading, of course.)

Image: “question mark” by WingedWolf is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Calls for Submission: formal verse

Of the various publication opportunities specifically for formal/traditional poets, three are taking submissions until July 15, and four other formal-friendly publications have submission deadlines of July 31. There is no submission fee for any of them. Here they are – the links are to the submission requirements:

Able Muse (magazine) Deadline, July 15.
Submit one to five metrical poems (or one long poem), rhymed or unrhymed. (A poem of more than 40 lines is considered a “long” poem.)
All types of formal poetry are welcome, from traditional to boundary-pushing. We want well-crafted poems that use meter skillfully and imaginatively (with rhyme or not), in a contemporary idiom that reads as naturally as free verse.

Able Muse Press (book-length manuscript) Deadline, July 15.
At least 50 pages of poems – same preferences as for the magazine.
There’s NO reading fee.
“We respond within 9 months or so.”

Helen Schaible International Sonnet Contest Deadline, July 15.
Categories:
1 Traditional Sonnet – Shakespearean or Petrarchan
2 Modern Sonnet
Open to All. Free. Enter only one poem in either Category #1 or #2, or one poem in each.
Prizes for both categories: First Prize: $50. Second Prize: $30. Third Prize: $20.

Formal-friendly magazines, themed and with July 31 cut-offs:

Snakeskin (short poem issue, nothing over 10 lines). At the link, read the tabs on the left side for submission details. Submit earlier than the very end of July, as publication is scheduled for August 1st. Editor: George Simmers.

Allegro (theme: Freedom) Four poems max. Editor: Sally Long.

Amsterdam Quarterly (theme: City and/or Country) Two poems max. Editor: Bryan R. Monte.

Rat’s Ass Review (unthemed – the editor publishes whatever he damn well feels like publishing, as you might have guessed.) Five poems max. Editor: Roderick Bates.

In addition:

Rhizome Press (not to be confused with Rhizome Books) publishes anthologies of formal verse. Editor Beth Houston is taking submissions of up to 10 sonnets for Extreme Sonnets III, and up to 10 “extreme formal poems of at least twelve lines” for Extreme Formal Poems II. The submission deadlines are not given on the website, but will presumably follow on the publication of Extreme Sonnets II which is currently in the works.

UPDATE from Beth Houston, 11 July 2022: “At long last Extreme Sonnets II is published and available on Amazon! Will there be an Extreme Sonnets III? Likely, but not for awhile. In the meantime I’ll be putting together an anthology of love sonnets—extreme sonnets, of course. I’ll post submission details on the Rhizome Press website soon. All sonnets included in Extreme Sonnets, Extreme Sonnets II, and Extreme Formal Poems will automatically be considered. Stay tuned for more details.”

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, ‘Cleveland Krater’

This column krater once held watered wine,
Its figures, red on black, an illustration
Of how it served the daily and divine.
On one side Hera offers a libation
With Artemis, Apollo, and their mother,
While three nude athletes and a bearded man
Are drunk with more than liquor on the other.
I stare through all four panes of glass that ban
All but my eyes from learning every curve,
And I can only dream that luck and nerve
And my own art may earn a chance to feel,
As one of few who cares to understand
That ancient try to make one ideal real,
To feel it push through time with my own hand.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “A poem is language in meter that evokes emotion in the reader. Those who write to express themselves are doing something other than writing poetry. No reader accomplished enough to be engaged in reading poems is in it for the writer’s blurt. It may be that the writer is trying to evoke the same emotion in the reader that the writer felt in the poem’s circumstances, but the goal remains to evoke that emotion in the reader, not merely recount the writer’s emotion.

Poems that fail to evoke emotion in the reader are failed poems and, alas, every poet has several. They wait patiently like the mythic swordsman in fairytales to keep the protagonist from going through the door behind them. Our hero or heroine arrives in the room, the swordsman puts down Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ – in the original German – and smiles, drawing a sword. The writer, however already wounded or tired from the effort of getting there, engages and soon enough, after an elaborate exploration of the waiting swordsman’s skills, is disarmed. The swordsman bows, kicks the writer’s sword back to him, sheathes his own, picks up his book, and sits down again, angles it to the light from the only window, nods goodbye, and resumes his perusal. The writer picks up the disgraced weapon, and trudges back out the way they came in. That poem still does not do what the writer intended to do: evoke emotion in the reader; all it remains as is an account of his or her own emotion.

It is the strength of that felt emotion that keeps the writer coming back to the failed poem, ever hopeful that it is an exception to the unyielding rule that the poem is for the reader, not the poet. Some poets make careers out of performing such things, their agents guaranteeing that the poet will cry during the performance, sure that the promoters are only interested in the performance, not in its effects on the audience. And there are audiences for whom watching the performer fail in their presentation is the point. No one involved in that scenario is there for poetry.

Unfortunately, this poem, ‘Cleveland Krater’ is one of those failed poems. Absent the actual krater, I have finally come to realize, the reader is not going to experience the emotion I did. I have come back and back to this piece, always after having visited the krater again, examining it closely through its Plexiglas box, looking for the clues that moved me and still move me, to try to shove them into words that will bring that impact I felt to the reader. Maybe if I just admit my failure I will get free of the draw of its blade when I arrive at it, again, hoping that this time I’ll do better than the dismissive kick of my sword clattering across the stone floor.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘form in formless times’).

An extensive review of the Cleveland Krater and its creator can be found at https://www.academia.edu/12708103/The_Cleveland_Painter. You don’t need to log in or register, you can simply scroll down to read the entire pdf.

Photo: provided by the Cleveland Museum of Art https://www.clevelandart.org/art/1930.104#

Sonnet: ‘Zombies and Wolves’

Women I’ve failed or wronged or left behind
Approach my thoughts like zombies for the kill;
I’ve literary walled defences – still,
Given the chance, they’ll eat my brains, my mind.
Through forest, orchard, farmyard in decay,
A shadow of a wolf slips greyly in,
My thoughts of death, grim, wasted, ill, rib-thin,
Tracking my weak resolve, hungry to slay.

Mountaintops blown apart, forests clear-cut,
Where’s there to hide? Nature doesn’t exist;
Her landscapes crushed in patriarchal fist.
This former farmland hides my ruined hut.
Impotent, I still write, thus giving birth
To future wolves and zombies of the earth.

*****

What on earth triggered this sonnet 15 years ago? I have no idea. What’s it really about? Well, it seems the volta between the octave and the sestet moves the narrative from purely personal regrets to our current planetary destruction. More than that, I can’t say. Your suggestions are welcome!

Anyway, the poem was published in that now-defunct British beacon of formal verse, Candelabrum.

Photo: “Wolves in Action” by iam_photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.Copy text

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Helena Nelson, ‘On Gloom and Proper Respect’

He doesn’t exactly blame her for it. No,
it’s not her fault. She is the way she is—
incorrigibly optimistic. But
the strain of her unbridled cheerfulness

must tell. His gloom requires due diligence.
It’s there to serve a need, and needs a slow
and proper processing. That’s it—a proper pro-
cessing. To this he must commit, and hence

his necessary isolation. No,
he is not depressed. He’s just process-
ing. Some ‘thing’ is passing through. It will go
eventually, but it must run its course.

The weight of doom would be a minor stress
if she would just dispense with cheerfulness.

Helena Nelson writes: “This poem is part of a book-length sequence telling the story of an ordinary, conventional marriage (albeit a second marriage for each partner). It’s about love that struggles to survive the difficulties of aging, loss and illness. The husband, Mr Philpott, has always suffered from anxiety but he has bouts of depression too, when he withdraws into himself. In fact, he might fairly be described as a ‘difficult’ man, though he can’t help it. Here the sonnet form reflects his need for tight control, repressing his anxiety about depression, which gets squeezed uncomfortably across the line breaks. There’s humour here, too. Because how absurd it is, surely, to wish your wife were less cheerful? And yet he does. He certainly does.” 

Helena Nelson runs HappenStance Press and sometimes writes poems, one of which appears in the soon-to-be-released latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. She has been writing the story of Mr and Mrs Philpott for over twenty years, and it can finally be found in its complete form as Pearls (The Complete Mr and Mrs Philpott Poems)

Sonnet: “What Will You Be When You Grow Up?”

Historically, this never was a thing.
You did what you were born to do, were told,
Fitting yourself into your parent’s mold,
A farmer’s son a farmer, king’s son a king,
A girl to be a mother and a wife.
But then came education, travel, choice,
Awareness of the wishes you could voice,
Countries, careers, sex partners — it’s your life!
And though just who you are you cannot know,
Nor what you want, yet all is your decision.
You’ll make mistakes, find failures and derision,
But life is long: so have another go . . .
Retry, and then try something else; take; give.
Do what you love. You die, regardless. Live!

This sonnet is a mirror of the short poem I posted most recently – and I’m happy to see that my outlook has a certain consistency, even over a 50 year period.

The sonnet has just been published in the formal verse section of the current Better Than Starbucks – thanks, Vera Ignatowitsch!

Photo: “career choices” by Jerome T is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘We Know We Will Be Dead’

We know we will be dead, who are alive.
But should some element of us survive –
fragment of consciousness or memory –
what value could it have? What should it be
that the whole universe might benefit?
The atom matters – what’s not made of it?
And we’re not large – not like a conscious star
(if time will let us all evolve that far).
You’re not much different in real magnitude
from an ant crushed for going for your food,
a gnat rubbed out, its tiny consciousness
a dot… but does it build the universe?
If that gnat can’t, I don’t see how you can:
there’s not much difference between gnat and man.

Does a poem of 14 lines, rhymed in pairs, count as a sonnet? Perhaps, but it doesn’t feel quite right. Petrarchan and Shakespearian sonnet structures, with more complex structures of rhyme, produce a much greater impact with the final line–a sense of revelation, inevitability, an impression of absolute truth–purely by the successful rounding out of the pattern. I like this poem’s ending couplet… but it would be stronger if the previous 12 lines were better structured.

‘We Know We Will Be Dead’ was published in the most recent Allegro, edited by British poet Sally Long.

Hubble’s colourful view of the Universe” by Hubble Space Telescope / ESA is marked with CC BY 2.0.