Category Archives: poets

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, “Dutch Elm”

Maryann Corbett

That trees would die
yearly, we knew. The columns of the nave
of Summit Avenue, the architrave
of openwork where canopies unfold,
green or briefly gold,
the arched, leaf-dripping limbs
backlit with sky—

in every year, some go.
Some ends arrive with force: the papers warn
with pictures, after every storm,
of fallen branches, hollow at the heart,
or great trunks snapped apart,
battering cars and houses with the blows.
(We knew, but now we know.)

Some ends are quiet: the red
stripes appearing, like a garotting wound,
on trunks where the inspectors found
beetles in bark, bare limbs lurking in shade.
The tree crew and the chainsaw blade
will come—we know now—soon—
The stripe says, This is dead.

They make short work of things
with sweat and cherry pickers, saws and zeal
rope and rappelling acrobatic skill
and limb-shredding machines.
Only the stump remains
and is soon sawdust: nothing left to chance
but next year’s fairy rings.

No help for it, then.
This cut to sky, this coring of the heart.
These trees too far apart.
This just delivered balled-and-burlapped stick,
its trunk two inches thick,
decades from beauty. What we always knew:
We start again.

Maryann Corbett writes: “All day today I’ve been hearing, and sometimes watching, the process of the removal of my neighbor’s enormous elm, which peeled apart suddenly in a recent storm, exposing a hollow core. I was reminded that I’ve seen this process so many times in my city that it prompted a poem over a decade ago, and it’s a poem I’m happy to remember. It first appeared in The Lyric and is included in my second book, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter.”

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write in plain English and coordinating the creating of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry after thirty years away from the craft in 2005 and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length collections already published, and a forthcoming book. Her fifth book, In Code, contains the poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and is included in anthologies like Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Her web page: maryanncorbett.com

Poem: “Time”

Time takes the young child by the hand
and leads it through a golden land
so timeless it will never note
Time’s other hand is at its throat.

This little poem was just published in Snakeskin, in one of its richest issues ever. I’m glad to have been included, along with several others–Claudia Gary, Tom Vaughan, George Simmers, Marcus Bales–of the formalist poets who appear in the Potcake Chapbooks. And a shout-out to Nikolai Usack, who made me clear up clumsy pronouns in the original draft.

August 3: Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day

Wallace_Stevens,_1948

Wallac Stevens

“Engaged at the office all day on a sonnet – Surreptitiously.” This charming journal entry by Wallace Stevens for August 3, 1906, triggered a fine sonnet by Frank Osen some years ago:

Cover Memo

To Distribution:
Stevens was aware
That many poets must go leopard-like
Among the striped, yet not be spotted there.
This isn’t easy, when desire may strike
At work, although it called in sick last night,
And, stricken, one must chase in search of tea
Or oils or oranges, to some distant height—
Or only to the nearest OED.
Yet, when protective coloration’s risked,
A job transcends that mental game preserve
Where fauna don’t go frolic, but get frisked.
For all who bear an office to observe,
We ought to mark each August third this way:
As Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day.

This in turn caused a rueful villanelle by Marcus Bales:

August Third

On August Third I have to write a sonnet
As Wallace Stevens did in Nineteen Six —
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

And ever since Frank Osen got right on it
By writing his he’s put us in a fix:
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I hope you’ll Vladimir-and-Estragon it,
While I arrange my sonnet’s final mix
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

It may be that allusion’s over-drawn – it
May not be your cliques that I transfix
When August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I haven’t got a shocking denouement – it
Isn’t how a villanelle does tricks,
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it,

So as you don your writing hat, or bonnet,
Don’t mix your forms as I did, dicks and chicks —
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle. Doggone it,
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

Well! What will today bring, I wonder?

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Frank Hubeny, “True”

Frank Hubeny

Frank Hubeny

The cloudy image on the lake
Comes from the gracious morning light
We left the darkness of the night,
Became aware of what’s at stake.
We now renew, rejoice, remake,
Reflect on what we know as true.
Our part seems small, like morning dew,
But later when the victory’s won
We may find out it was well done
And fully know and be known too.

Frank Hubeny writes: “I often write to prompts. I know other people who are also participating in the prompt will at least give the poem a glance. Ronovan is one of the many people out there posting writing prompts. He has a weekly Décima Poetry Challenge. This form has ten 8-syllable lines with a particular rhyme scheme: abbaaccddc. I do like the sound of four beats per line. I often post my own photos and so write about them if the theme of the prompt permits. For this poem I posted two photos of clouds on a pond in Techny Prairie in Northbrook, Illinois. The last line of the poem is intended to suggest 1 Corinthians 13:12 about seeing reflections, knowing in part and then knowing fully and being fully known. The being “fully known” is what was foremost in my mind. That thought along with the reflections on the pond in the photographs and Ronovan’s challenge to use the word “true” as a rhyme word in a décima motivated me to write this poem.”

Frank Hubeny lives between Miami Beach, Florida, and Northbrook, Illinois.  He has been published in The Lyric Magazine, Snakeskin Poetry Webzine, Ancient Paths Literary Magazine, Visual Verse and Vita Brevis.  He regularly posts photographs, short prose and poetry to his blog, https://frankhubeny.blog

Potcake Poet’s Choice: LindaAnn LoSchiavo, “A Visit to Cemetery Hill”

LindaAnn LoSchiavo

When was it? How did I become the kind
Who failed to cherish life, discarded laughs?

I’d done no Christmas shopping since Dan died.

Strange forces urged me out as more snow fell,
Filling the windows, decorating trees,
Avoiding certain branches — — just like folks
Who know how to keep apart. The weatherman
Advised pedestrians to stay indoors.

Barely protected, wearing an old coat,
Worn out boots, steered by impulses alone,
I trudged along until I realized
The yuletide hypnotized my weary eyes.

Against my will, those luminarias
Attracted. Coffined lights, like sentinels,
Marked gates of Cemetery Hill, where we
Had bid adieu. Temptation made me stoop
To steal a souvenir — — when he appeared.

I tried to run. My heavy rubbers clung,
Wet mud imprisoning me like quicksand.
My footprints left a useless trail behind,
Uncertain as redemption once denied.

The faceless creature merged with me. Mid-gait,
My right leg was suspended, awkwardly,
When I heard singing — — yes! — — “Die Fledermaus,”
Our favorite, the last performance Dan
And I enjoyed together — —happy times
Resurrected at Prince Orlofsky’s ball,
As Strauss’s music peeled away sorrow,
A ghostly partner lifting me, leading
Us effortlessly in a waltz. I felt
Like Rosalinde, my shearling a silk gown,
Fond debutante who danced, dipped, all aglow.

As quick as this possession overtook
Me, it departed. My boots made contact
With earth. I watched as the transparent male
Took two steps, disappeared. The sun came up.

I headed home, discovering the snow
Completely cleared away, and whistling
That overture. Attempting to make sense
Of this experience, all I knew was
Words do not live entirely inside
Language and neither does such new found joy.

LindaAnn Schiavo writes: “This ghost poem (pasted in below) is based on an actual New York City yuletide encounter with a spirit.

Back-story:
Right before Xmas, in the mid-1990s, I had just left The Strand Bookshop in NYC.
The sidewalk is unusually wide on Broadway by Grace Church.
But when I saw the ghost, I deliberately altered my path to collide with it.
Poor soul, roaming around, was probably visiting a neighborhood he once knew.
He was wearing a dark hooded tracksuit.
His nylon work-out pants had light stripes down the side of each leg.
He had a slim, athletic build — — a man cut down in his prime.

I just had to “make contact.”
Why? To offer my warmth, my joy, my essence as temporary comfort to this restless spirit.

Process notes:
Twenty years later, I fictionalized it.
My protagonist became a lonely, joyless widow who meets a ghost [i.e., her dead husband].
I imagined an emotional yet mysterious “reunion” on Xmas Eve that would somehow offer comfort to a woman, enabling her to regain her joy even though she can’t quite explain what happened.

After my 1,500-word short story was published and also translated into Russian, I revised it as a poem.”

 

LindaAnn LoSchiavo, recently Poetry SuperHighway’s Poet of the Week, is a member of SFPA and The Dramatists Guild. Her poetry collections “Conflicted Excitement” [Red Wolf Editions, 2018], “Concupiscent Consumption” [Red Ferret Press, 2020], and Elgin Award nominee “A Route Obscure and Lonely”‘ [Wapshott Press, 2020] along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles.

“A Route Obscure and Lonely” speculative poetry by LindaAnn LoSchiavo is available on Amazon.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Rob Stuart, “Bliss”

Rob Stuart

 

Rob Stuart

 

The Bible offers this advice;
Repent of all your sins. The Lord
Will grant the worthy Paradise
As their reward.

But what kind of incentive’s this?
Who wants to spend eternity
With upright folk? Who’d deem that bliss?
Not bloody me.

When dying, I’ll abjure the priest
And trust St. Peter recommends
Damnation, for in Hell at least
I’ll be with friends.

Rob Stuart writes: “Whatever this poem’s shortcomings may be, it has the rare distinction of having turned out exactly as I had intended, making the journey from concept to page without incurring any significant damage along the way. You can deduce quite a lot about my world view from these twelve short lines, I think, and it’s very much representative of the kind of poem I am always trying to write – short, snappy, and simultaneously humourous and barbed. I showed it to a colleague once and she immediately declared ‘I want that read at my funeral.’ I thought that the best possible endorsement.”

Rob Stuart’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and webzines including Ink Sweat and Tears, Light, Lighten Up Online, M58, Magma, New Statesman, The Oldie, Otoliths, Popshot, The Projectionist’s Playground, Snakeskin, The Spectator and The Washington Post. He lives in Surrey, England with his family.
http://www.robstuart.co.uk/

Review: Lord Macaulay, “Lays of Ancient Rome”

horatius

Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ are remarkable in several ways. The well-known ‘Horatius’ (aka ‘Horatius at the Bridge’) is glorious, memorable, stirring, heroic, in lovely rolling ballad-type stanzas:

Then up spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”

Great stuff! It seems in keeping that Winston Churchill (love him or loathe him) would have learnt all 70 stanzas as a schoolboy, inspiring himself to develop courage (and oratory).

But the second remarkable thing is how bad the rest of the material in the volume is. The poetry is uninteresting, and the pure heroism of ‘Horatius’ is replaced either by gods winning the human battle, or by a girl being ‘saved’ from being despoiled by a tyrant by her father killing her when the three are together in the Forum (and not attempting to kill the tyrant), or by the poems deteriorating into blathery fragments.

Macaulay was wordy from an early age. The story is told of him that, uninterested in toys, he was reading avidly by the age of three and he already talked like a book. When hot coffee was accidentally spilled on his legs and a kindly woman asked “Is Diddums all right?” he replied, “Thank you, madam, the agony is abated.”

The third way in which this volume is remarkable is in the main Preface and in the shorter prefaces to each of the poems, especially ‘Horatius’. Here Macaulay lectures in detail on a perceived universal process of ballad creation in preliterate societies (and on the value of verse for memorisation), ballads’ subsequent devaluation when higher standards of literacy come in, and finally their total loss or partial recovery. He recounts the differences between two ballads of the Battle of Otterburn which have quite different outcomes for the protagonists, even though both ballads were probably written by people who were alive at the time of the battle.

And in a throw-away paragraph he inadvertently highlights the changes in education and culture that have taken place in the past 150 years: “The early history of Rome is indeed far more poetical than anything else in Latin literature. The loves of the Vestal and the God of War, the cradle laid among the reeds of Tiber, the fig-tree, the she-wolf, the shepherd’s cabin” (to these five he adds a further 23 examples, ending with) “the combat between Valerius Corvus and the gigantic Gaul, are among the many instances which will at once suggest themselves to every reader.”

As if! Well, that was then, this is now. But ‘Horatius’ itself has a timeless quality to it. Although if you are trying to invoke heroism by reading it to a 10-year-old which I strongly recommend, you should pre-read it and comfortably skip some of the unnecessary early verses.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jane Blanchard, “Transactions”

Erice, Jane Blanchard

Erice, Sicily

Transactions (in Sicilia)

The merchant was polite as I came in
on Monday afternoon to browse for wine,
but conversation happened only when
we spoke the common language of the vine.

A dozen bottles were selected, then
examined, labels studied, line by line,
at last set back into the proper bin,
except for one most likely to taste fine.

It did, so I returned to that same store
throughout the week and found the bill to be
a little less each time. I said no more
than grazie, smiling ever pleasantly.

By Saturday, I had a patron’s status,
awarding me a bar of chocolate gratis.

Jane Blanchard writes: “Transactions, first published in The Tau (2017), appears in my latest collection, In or Out of Season (2020). I am inordinately fond of reading and writing sonnets, perhaps because I studied so many of them while in graduate school. This particular sonnet is anecdotal; its speaker is my husband Jimmy, who accompanied me to Bread Loaf in Sicily in 2013 and wandered around Erice while I was in a workshop led by Stanley Plumly. Currently, it is hard not to feel nostalgic about such experiences.”

A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia, USA. She has earned degrees from Wake Forest and Rutgers Universities. Her collections to date have been published by Kelsay Books.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, “Single Malt Drinker”

Marcus Bales

Marcus Bales

Single Malt Drinker

He’s a single malt drinker, and he’s told us a story or two,
And everyone’s heard one they swear has just got to be true.
He always has money whenever it’s his turn to buy,
And carries himself so that bigger men nod and don’t try;
And all sorts of women have paused there to give him the eye,
And some of us do and some of us don’t wonder why.

He’s a single malt drinker and he’s got a nice touch with a cue.
I won’t say that he’s never lost but the times have been few.
He doesn’t get drunk though he sips through a fourth of a fifth;
His memory’s remarkable, poems, sport, science, or myth.
But he never has hinted which outfit that he was once with,
And there’s hardly a pause when you ask and he says his name’s Smith.

He’s a single malt drinker, no piercing, no ring, no tattoo,
And unlike the most of us he doesn’t snort, smoke, or chew;
He knows the back alleys that we know, Berlin to Lahore,
And speaks all the languages we do and a couple of more.
We’re waiting ‘til spouses have called us to stop at the store
On the way home to comfort — and wonder what he’s waiting for.

He’s a single malt drinker, and he’s told us a story or two,
And maybe we’ve missed out on hearing the one that is true:
Those wound up too tight for too long will all wind up unwound,
And everyone knows that each of us ends in the ground,
So find you a place where you choose your own unwinding sound —
We’re laughing and drinking and swapping our stories around.
We’re laughing and drinking and swapping our stories around.

Marcus Bales writes: “No comment from me. I think it’s narrative enough to not need one. Mike Whitney sings it here, if you want to call his interpretation of it an author’s comment.”

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.

Review: “The Chatto Book of Modern Poetry, 1915-1955”

Chatto Modern Poetry

1915 to 1955 provides quite a range of poetry! From Hardy, Housman, Kipling, Yeats, through two world wars, to Dylan Thomas and twenty poets younger than him. Editors C. Day Lewis and John Lehmann confined themselves to (loosely defined) British poets, and to those aged at least 30 by their final selection. Among the 260 poems are many standards–Hardy’s ‘Afterwards’, Yeats’ ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, Eliot’s ‘East Coker’, Auden’s ‘Lay Your Sleeping Head’, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Fern Hill’–but the real joy is in discovering good work by less well known poets. I give a few excerpts as examples: pastoral, autobiographical, of mortality, a war poem, wistfulness:

Andrew Young, ‘Wiltshire Downs’

The cuckoo’s double note
Loosened like bubbles from a drowning throat
Floats through the air
In mockery of pipit, land and stare.

And one tree-crowned long barrow
Stretched like a sow that has brought forth her farrow
Hides a king’s bones
Lying like broken sticks among the stones.

Laurie Lee, ‘First Love’

Then it was she put up her hair,
inscribed her eyes with a look of grief,
while her limbs grew as curious as coral branches,
her breast full of secrets.

But the boy, confused in his day’s desire,
was searching for herons, his fingers bathed
in the green of walnuts, or watching at night
the Great Bear spin from the maypole star.

Alun Lewis, ‘Water Music’

Cold is the lake water
And dark as history.
Hurry not and fear not
This oldest mystery.

This strange voice singing,
This slow deep drag of the lake,
The yearning, yearning, this ending
Of the heart and its ache.

Keith Douglas, ‘How to Kill’

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the waves of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

Sidney Keyes, ‘The Gardener’

Do you resemble the silent pale-eyed angels
That follow children? Is your face a flower?
The lovers and the beggars leave the park–
And still you will not come. The gates are closing.
O it is terrible to dream of angels.

As a collection the poetry is overwhelmingly formal, rural and male. It is titled ‘The Chatto Book of Modern Poetry’, but it predates the formless chaos of what we now call “modern poetry”, the unstructured confessional outpourings of the past half century. The anthology isn’t perfect, but very rewarding for lovers of traditional poetry. (Not hard to find. Used hardcovers are available from $0.99 on Amazon.)