Category Archives: sonnets

Ekphrastic poem: Jenna Le, ‘Patti Smith, 1976’

This photo, black-and-white, where Mapplethorpe
portrays his dark-mopped ex in profile, seated
nude on wooden floorboards, knees drawn up
against her breasts to hide her nipples, heated
by the sideways radiator pipes
on which she rests her palms, her bulging ribs
a set of parallel oblique gray stripes
rippling her bare white skin, unsmiling lips
a short flat line–
these were my first parameters,
my inspirations, when I learned to write.
On Patti’s ribs, the wooden flooring’s planks,
the stacked pale pipes, I modeled my pentameters.
The aim: amid such sharp lines, to be frank
and raw, yet still control what sees the light.

*****

Jenna Le writes: “I first became intrigued by the friendship and creative partnership of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe some years ago. I confess the personas of these two artists and the touted relationship between them interests me even more than either artists’ actual creative output. Based on what I have read in biographies and so forth, their friendship seems to me to represent an ideal: a dyadic connection characterized by remarkable intensity, an intimacy transcending sex and conventional relationship definitions, facilitating both parties’ creative flourishing. As one gets older and it becomes ever harder to form new meaningful adult friendships, such bonds seem to me ever more mythic and miraculous. I think this awe, this wistfulness, is the principal emotion that makes me keep returning to the photograph this ekphrastic poem is about.”

Jenna Le (jennalewriting.com) is the author of three full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2017), and Manatee Lagoon (Acre Books, 2022). She won Poetry By The Sea’s inaugural sonnet competition. Her poems appear in AGNI, Pleiades, Verse Daily, West Branch, and elsewhere. She works as a physician in New York City.

Photo: Robert Mapplethorpe’s sole full nude portrait of Patti Smith, taken at his Bond Street Studio, 1978 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery

Sonnet: ‘Visiting Earth’ (from the series ‘Voices From The Future’)

I like to visit Earth sometimes; I find
the too-brief lives and simple cares a change
from the infinities in which we range,
we who now live unbodied in vast Mind.

I love to watch the children at a zoo,
careering up and down, shrieking to see
the strange lives in the weird captivity
they also share…and as their parents do.

Visiting in – of course – a human guise,
I can be young or old, female or male;
sex, power, seduction never seem to stale,
to give gifts seems fair pay for all my lies.

Sailors and tourists visit and then leave;
it’s best their hosts have something to believe.

*****

This sonnet was published in the current Alchemy Spoon, which had ‘Gift’ as its theme. It is one of a series of ‘Voices From The Future’ sonnets which I wrote in an attempt to present more diversity than the bleakness that Maryann Corbett had identified in my writing of what I see coming. Others are ‘Ultimate Control’ (Pulsebeat), ‘Exiled Leader’ (Star*Line) and ‘Dreaming of Flying’ (unpublished). Well, some people may find them all bleak, in the same way that Victorians would have found a description of today to be bleak; but what with travel, the Internet, dentistry… I’d rather be alive now than in the past. Similarly, I look forward to the future, no matter how much change is involved.

London Zoo, Human Exhibit” by fhwrdh is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Gail White, ‘The Solitary Woman’

In a tiny cottage called the Laurel Tree,
my neighbor lived alone. Nobody came
to see her and she had no family,
so week by week her life was much the same:
she went to church and said the rosary,
took in the mail for neighbors out of town,
adopted cats, watched MSNBC,
and at a roll-topdesk she wrote things down–
things no one ever saw, although we guessed
a novel, memours, poetry, and more–
but we saw nothing, though we did our best.
And when she died alone, at eighty-four,
with no companion but a big gray cat,
we pitied her. We were such fools as that.

*****

Gail White writes: “People often pity someone who lives alone for being lonely. But the Solitary Woman isn’t lonely; she’s complete. I’m always pleased when readers like this one, because I know they got the point.”

Gail White is the resident poet and cat lady of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Her books ASPERITY STREET and CATECHISM are available on Amazon. She is a contributing editor to Light Poetry Magazine. “Tourist in India” won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award for 2013. Her poems have appeared in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Tourists and Cannibals’, ‘Rogues and Roses’, ‘Families and Other Fiascoes’, ‘Strip Down’ and ‘Lost Love’.
https://www.amazon.com/Asperity-Street-Gail-White/dp/1927409543

Woman on Empty Solitary Red Chair in Desolate Landscape” by Amaury Laporte is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

J.D. Smith, ‘Consultative’

The noted scholars of the institute
Are tasked with framing issues and debate.
Through data and the values they impute
By proxy–or assume—they correlate

The wealth of nations and their policies,
Distinguishing phenomenon and cause
Until equations cut through fallacies,
Assuming over time the air of laws.

Accordingly, with every factor weighed,
The State will be apprised of how to spend.
In high demand, proportionately paid,
Those who’ve advanced their field approach day’s end

With puzzles yet to solve, but satisfied,
And step around the beggars stretched outside.

*****

J.D. Smith writes: “The poem arises from the daily–and uneasy–contrast between ‘Washington’, the arena of politics and policy that draws players from around the world, and ‘DC’, the place that most residents know, with all the attendant problems of urban life in the United States. (I work in the former, though in a minor capacity, and live in the latter.) A complex society needs experts, so I won’t get on the bandwagon of anti-intellectualism, but I remain deeply troubled by the disconnect between many of those experts’ abstract work, accompanied by ambition, and how they address or refuse to address the actual human beings they encounter.”

J.D. Smith has published six books of poetry, most recently the light verse collection Catalogs for Food Loversand he has received a Fellowship in Poetry from the United States National Endowment for the Arts. Smith’s first fiction collection, Transit, will be published in December 2022. His other books include the essay collection Dowsing and Science. Smith works in Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife Paula Van Lare and their rescue animals. Twitter: @Smitroverse

Separated at Berth” by Chicago Man is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Marcus Bales: ‘Villains, Too’

Villains, too, believe they’re righting wrongs,
Their traumas just as blunt as yours or mine.
They write their manifestoes, sing their songs,
And hope their cancer screens turn out benign;
It’s where they differ that the trouble lies.
Their personal concerns are all they see.
For them there are no others’ laughs or cries —
We’re furniture to them, not you, not me.
They see us not as people, but as means
For them to harm a world that helped their foes,
Or if we give them pleasure, as machines
To give whatever pleasure that they chose.
They see themselves as victims who must seize
Their rights to do whatever they may please.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “Villains, Too is one more in a series of attempts to write this poem. If I knew exactly what I was trying to say I hope I’d have actually said it by now. The forlorn fragments of phrases strung through my notes for poems show that this business recurs and wants something from me. I hope to get this done, eventually. In the meantime, without spending too much time trolling through my own failings, here’s the last time I tried:

Grinning Henchmen

They do not wake up sharing bwahahas
With grinning henchmen as they shave, and think
“Today I shall be evil!” No, the laws
Are on their side. They never even blink
At all the tears and suffering they cause.
They’ve got their lives to live, and they don’t shrink
From living them, like you and me, with flaws
And virtues, growing families, food and drink,
And love and death. They look at life and view it
Just like us. And in our common murk
They did each evil deed and never knew it
To be evil. No one, king to clerk,
Has thought they’re doing evil as they do it;
They always think they’re doing some god’s work.”

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.

Photo: “Villain with fire” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

A.M. Juster: ‘Cancer Prayer’

Dear Lord,
Please flood her nerves with sedatives
and keep her strong enough to crack a smile
so disbelieving friends and relatives
can temporarily sustain denial.

Please smite that intern in oncology
who craves approval from department heads.

Please ease her urge to vomit; let there be
kind but flirtatious men in nearby beds.

Given her hair, consider amnesty
for sins of vanity; make mirrors vanish.

Surround her with forgiving family
and nurses not too numb to cry. Please banish
trite consolations; take her in one swift
and gentle motion as your final gift.

*****

A.M. Juster writes: “One of my favorites.”

A.M. Juster is the Plough Quarterly poetry editor. His work has appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, Hudson Review and other journals. His tenth book is Wonder and Wrath (Paul Dry Books 2020) and his translation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere is due from W.W. Norton in early 2024.
www.amjuster.net

Photo: “A Silent Calling” by Alyssa L. Miller is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Julia Griffin: ‘A Remembered Swan’

Former Ballerina with Alzheimer’s is able to remember her old dance routine when she hears “Swan Lake” – Yahoo! News 16th November 2020

A sudden glow: the hollowed arms upswept
Above the wandering head, the starry burst
Streaking the dark. The cobwebbed feet have kept
Their knowledge, not their power: she has been cursed,

Long since, this maimed princess. A crueller stroke
Than Rothbart’s holds her caged, blots out her sky;
How can frail forelimbs beat away his smoke?
How can a grounded spirit hope to fly

Back to its Lake? – except that something strange
Still beats in her, beneath her parchy skin:
A memory.
Among art’s kindlier things,
This timelessness, created out of change:
A ballerina, spotlit from within,
Trailing her lovely, half-extended wings.

*****

Julia Griffin writes: “I feel the form works with the subject-matter. This was inspired, of course, by the news story – and the way it seemed to reverse Yeats’ great poem by making the swan a deliverer from helplessness.”

Julia Griffin lives in south-east Georgia/ south-east England. She has published in Light, LUPO, Mezzo Cammin, and some other places, though Poetry and The New Yorker indicate that they would rather publish Marcus Bales than her.
Her poem ‘Wasp Waste’ was reprinted in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Robots and Rockets‘, and much more of her poetry can be found in Light, at https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/?s=julia+g&submit=Search

Photo: “swanlake c Lotte Reiniger” by janwillemsen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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.

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.