Category Archives: Resources

Poetry Resources: The Economist’s ‘Johnson’ blog

You may be surprised to hear of The Economist magazine as a poetry resource, but it is a much wider-ranging weekly than most people realise. Start from the back with its chosen Obituary (eccentric and eclectic, it has included Alex the African Grey parrot, writers such as Ray Bradbury written up in their own style, and dictators, deposed kings, and UFO abductees). Move forwards into the Books and Arts section, further into Science and Technology… there’s a lot there, before you get to the finance, business and politics that is the purpose of it all.

Apart from the half dozen book reviews (eccentric and eclectic, of course), the weekly ‘Johnson’ column or blog post covers all things word and language related. The current edition’s Johnson is headed ‘Degrees of Separation’ in the print edition, while online it calls itself ‘Words, like people, have tangled and extensive family trees – surprising connections emerge if you look back far enough’.

 

The article is focused on Proto-Indo-European’s development into the whole range of modern languages from Gaelic to Bengali; how different the origins may be of words that have identical spelling and pronunciation and have apparently related meaning (a pawn and to pawn); and the surprising common ancestry of apparently unrelated words (such as ‘divine’ and both halves of the word ‘Tuesday’).

Inasmuch as writing relies for much of its power on the richness of words and their ripples of meaning, association and derivation, The Economist’s Johnson column is a worthwhile and engaging weekly read for all writers, and especially poets.

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Poetry Resources: A.Word.A.Day

One of the greatest resources for any lover of words is the (free) email subscription to A.Word.A.Day from wordsmith.org, founded by Anu Garg in 1994. Of course, you may well be getting this already as one of the 400,000 subscribers in 170 countries, enjoying the definition, pronunciation, etymology, usage and visual illustration of a not-quite-random word five days a week. Added bonuses include a quotation from a writer on their birthday, and limericks, anagrams and puns in the readers’ comments on the weekend.

This week’s theme is words used by singer-songwriter Roy Zimmerman, and is the trigger for my posting about A.Word.A.Day. Roy Zimmerman, as guest editor for A.Word.A.Day, writes:

“When my wife Melanie and I write a song, the Idea is out in front. People often ask which comes first, the melody or the lyrics. We say the Idea, with a capital I. The Idea takes shape as a hook — a little snatch of lyrics and melody — and the hook gives birth to a tune, a meter scheme, and a rhyme scheme.

We both love words. We’re both aware that words do real work in the world, especially words that rhyme and meter well. That’s what we’re trying to do with these songs — provide context, history, laughter, and encouragement for the work of social justice.

The description of the sequence for songwriting is virtually identical to that for writing poetry – and although poetry doesn’t necessarily have a tune, poetry definitely has a tone, a mood, that forms in the same place. Songs and poetry are very close siblings. Sometimes songs are forgiven weak lyrics because of a strong melody; sometimes poems are forgiven their lack of rhythm and rhyme because of their strongly expressed ideas and images. But at their most memorable they fuse as catchy songs that can also be fully enjoyed as poems without the music.

In either case, they are completely dependent on words. And to prod your word awareness, there is nothing simpler than the daily email from Anu Garg.

New Poem: “Buried in the Garden”

I have a poem published in May’s Snakeskin which (shock, horror!) is not formal.

Snakeskin logo

Buried in the Garden

Now I lie dead, buried in the garden,
And the plants take over.
Two hibiscus bushes grow from my eyes,
Oleander from my nose,
A sapodilla will fruit from my mouth,
Casuarinas grow to sigh from my ears.
From my chest a love vine straggles out
And black crabs live in the cavities of my lungs.
A chicken boa curls around and hunts up and down
And from my private parts grows
That least private of plants, a coconut palm.
From my feet termites are building tunnels out around the world.
So is my body divided, reused, and the birds take hair for their nests
And the calcium of bones and teeth for their eggs
And the body, the body is gone.
And what am I, but a body? What would remain in your sieve if you sift my remains?
Only some thoughts, others’ memories of some thoughts,
Blown away on the wind when the rememberers themselves are gone.

At a stretch, you could claim it has elements of formality. It has a structured sequence of appropriate tropical plants and other creatures growing from body parts – the most visually arresting from the eyes, the most highly scented from the nose, and so on. It has a volta, a turn in the argument from the description of transformation as positive, to the dismissal of that process as being mere erasure.

But are those things enough to make the whole piece word-for-word memorable? Because that is my test of poetry. And I think the answer is no. So no, it is not real poetry. There may be one or two memorable phrases, but that’s not enough. The underlying concept may be memorable, the images may be memorable; still not enough. Only if the entire piece is easy to recite because of the actual expression of the words, I argue, can it be called poetry.

Should you then put your time into transforming the images into formal verse, creating perhaps a Shakespearean sonnet, iambic pentameter and all?

Buried in the Garden (Take 2)

In garden buried, I sprout from my eyes
Hibiscus; oleander from my nose;
From mouth, a sapodilla; a pine sighs
From out my ear; from chest a love vine grows;
Black crabs in lungs, small boa in my guts;
From feet, ants tunnel out around the world;
My privates sprout a palm with coconuts.
Birds peck my bones, my teeth, hair that once curled,
For calcium for eggs and for a nest…
Sift my remains: what remains in your sieve?
Of my whole body I’ve been dispossessed,
Only the memory of some thoughts still live
Within the thoughts of others’ memories;
When those rememberers go, all traces cease.

So we come back to the old questions of poetry: is the expression itself richer or poorer for having been put into verse? And is the formal verse expression (whether richer or poorer) more memorable than the non-formal expression? What do you think?

I wonder if Snakeskin editor George Simmers has an opinion.

Poetry Resources: Rat’s Ass Review

Rat’s Ass Review, as you can guess from its name, is one of those in-your-face Rat's Ass Reviewpublications where a poet can place material that some of the more delicate magazines would blush to read. Edited by Roderick (“Rick”) Bates since 2014, and by founder David M. Harris before that, it is defined by the editor as “an online poetry journal whose editorial fancies are no more arbitrary than any other; they are simply more overtly so. I publish what I like.”

Rick, and David before him, are refreshingly open about their prejudices and preferences in the very long, useful and thought-provoking Submission Guidelines page. “There’s only one editor here, one person whose taste determines what gets into the RAR, and if you don’t like my taste, I don’t give a rat’s ass. Go someplace else for your poetry dose. (I don’t really think that makes me different from all the millions of others with online poetry zines, but I’m willing to admit it.) Send me your best poetry. I don’t particularly care whether it’s formal or informal, metrical or free verse, rhyming or not. I’ve written all those possibilities myself. A good poem isn’t one that gets the grades for following particular rules. And I’m sure I’ll reject plenty of good poems anyway. I’m not even sure I’m looking for good poems. I’m looking for my kind of poems.

So RAR is clearly formal-friendly… but formal isn’t good enough in itself, no matter how technically accomplished. The poem has both to be immediately accessible, and to provide deeper thoughts on rereading. It has to appeal the editor, whose idiosyncrasies you can only guess at. The best thing to do, of course, is to read through a couple of issues of the magazine. Apart from the two regular issues a year, there have been other unique ones: “Love and Ensuing Madness” and, given the current state of society and politics in the US, “Such an Ugly Time“. So there’s a clue to what the editor is looking for! The magazine boasts of its brash good humour and world-weary cynicism. And the word “fuck” appears as casually here as it does in British material like The Economist or John Oliver’s rants.

Detailed technical submission requests include “type your poems using Times or Times New Roman, font size 12, left justified, and don’t capitalize the first word of every line as though you were writing with a quill pen.

And the most helpful piece of advice for anyone unsure whether their material will be appreciated or accepted is simply this: “Go ahead and Submit.”

 

Poetry Resources: Lighten Up Online

Lighten Up Online appears four times a year, in the third month of each quarter. Lighten Up balloonFounded over ten years ago by Martin Parker, it is now edited by Jerome Betts – both of them being accomplished formal poets, of course. They and the magazine are very English (reflected, to the bemusement of Americans, in some of the spelling, rhymes, slang and references) but contributors come from around the globe. Their front page states:

“We believe that light verse is very far from being the poor relation of ‘proper’ poetry. On this site you will find work by light verse specialists as well as by some of the many ‘proper’ poets who enjoy it and write it and agree that light verse deserves a wider audience than it is normally given.” 

The technical standards are very high, and wordplay including puns is always welcome. Here is just such a piece by the editor himself in the current issue:

Stiff Upper Lip

When uncle slipped, near roadside tippings,
As light snow hid the ice beneath,
And fell face down in sharp-edged chippings,
Did foul words further blast the heath?
Ah no, despite the pain’s cruel nippings
He just said ‘Ouch!’, through gritted teeth.

Lighten Up Online is always open to submissions, but of course anyone sending work to it should read a couple of issues first to get a sense of what the magazine is all about. A lot of very short pieces are published, and every issue ends with the results of the previous issue’s competition and the announcement of the new one.

An extremely enjoyable read, and a good way to find new poets you might like.

Poetry Resources: “Best Remembered Poems”

578776Perfectly competent, and with interesting trivia and useful background notes by Martin Gardner, this selection of “Best Remembered Poems” is pedestrian almost by definition: these are the ones that are best remembered by Americans, so there will be very little that is new and exciting–and honestly, a lot of the poems best remembered from high school English lessons on the 19th and early 20th century… are downright boring.

But if you’re looking for a book that contains most poems that most non-poets vaguely remember… that contains both ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘Casey at the Bat’… then this is the one for you!

Poetry Resources: Light Verse Magazine

Light, the “journal of light verse since 1992”, has just published its Winter/Spring 2019 edition (online), with poems from over 40 light formal verse poets, and insightful book reviews of new books of formal verse (not all of it light verse). It is worth getting on Light’s email list, not only for the semiannual issues, but also for the half dozen poems on current topics that they publish every week – get a quick chuckle from a rhyme-rich twist on the week’s headlines.

This specific issue is of interest because of the book reviews: of the five reviews, two are of books by authors already published in our Potcake Chapbooks (Ed Conti and Alicia Stallings), and a third is a review of the chapbook series itself:

Potcake Chapbooks, edited by Robin Helweg-Larsen. Sampson Low Ltd.

A new source for pocket-sized light-verse collections just rode into town as well. The Potcake Chapbook series is a collection (three, so far) of pocket-sized anthologies smaller than many cell phones. These books appear to be made specifically for Light readers in that the series “subscribe[s] to the use of form, no matter how formless the times in which we live,” the poems are selected to achieve that lovely balance between wit and sweetness—and sometimes outright belly laughing—that is the hallmark of so much good light verse, and the poets in the first two volumes are nearly all road tested and approved by Light‘s editors. Rogues and Roses covers love and sex in a surprising number of variations for thirteen short pages, and Tourists and Cannibals ranges from local holiday spots (Terese Coe) to escaping the heat others come specifically to find (A. E. Stallings) to learning languages (Robin Helweg-Larsen) to a hat-tip to one’s homebound god when in a temple on the other side of the world (Gail White). Careers and Other Catastrophes just came out. I haven’t seen it yet, but if it matches its sisters, it’s worth getting the whole trio.

The Potcake books include lovely little three-color illustrations, and for less than the cost of a latte (plus postage from England) you can amuse yourself or give a truly unexpected gift. Either way, the mix of poems and the quality of the work will delight and surprise. This series should continue and thrive.”

Light is a non-profit organization, and signing up is free. Personally, I think it should be a mandatory part of English lessons in middle and high schools – we need more people reaching adulthood with the ability to enjoy the strengths of verse in the English language, and its integral part of our culture.