Tag Archives: Asses of Parnassus

Short poem: ‘Punster’

The artist said the wit
was “full of it”,
disparaged him.
The punster tore the painter limn from limn.

*****

Apparently some people believe that puns are “the lowest form of humour”, but I would suggest that those people are not good at wordplay, and therefore have no poetic sensibility. Look to Homer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson for puns; enjoy more discussion and examples here.

This short poem was published in The Asses of Parnassus, home of “short, witty, formal poems”. Thanks, Brooke Clark!

Photo: “punster” by danbruell is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Susan McLean, ‘Out-of-Town Conference Texts’

He:      Met with a colleague for cocktails.  Last night is a blur.
            Having a wonderful time.  Wish you were her.

She:     I’ve been tidying up and arranging while you’ve been gone.
            When you want to retrieve your things, they’re out on the lawn.

*****

These two couplets by Susan McLean were recently published in The Asses of Parnassus; she comments: “I got the idea for this poem by misreading a line in a poem by Amit Majmudar.  It is not the first time I have gotten an idea for a line by misreading or mishearing something: aging has its unforeseen benefits.  The line was the standard phrase from postcards, “Wish you were here,” which I misread as “wish you were her.”  I immediately saw the comic potential of that phrase, and at first I thought of the exchange as written on postcards. But then I realized that conferences are often short, making sending a postcard impractical, and that no one tends to send postcards anymore.  So I reconceived the poem as texts–which also have to leave a lot unsaid because of their length.  I left open the question of whether “her” was an accidental typo or a deliberate choice.”

Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
https://www.pw.org/content/susan_mclean

Photo: “Business Affairs” by edwicks_toybox is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Double Dactyl: ‘Emily Dickinson’

Yellow rose, yellow rose,
Emily Dickinson
lived in seclusion, was
never a wife;
wrote of her garden most
anthropocentrically,
talking with God, Satan,
Death, all her life.

*****

There’s an old suggestion that all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry can be sung to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’.

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

(Brave words, but I think that waves would have surprised her with their complexity and power and sensuousness.) There’s a newer suggestion that she lived so reclusively because she suffered from epilepsy, and wanted to hide it as much as possible out of a sense of shame.

Strange woman, strange life, strange little poems… but remarkably insightful, accessible, and word-for-word memorable.

My double dactyl on her was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus – thanks, Brooke Clark!

Emily Dickinson” by Amherst College Archives is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

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.

Epigram: ‘Many Why’s’

Many “Why?”s
Make one wise.

*****

This epigram was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus. Thanks, Brooke Clark, for hosting “lots of poems for people with short attention spans.”

Photo: “WHY?” by annnna_ is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Brooke Clark, ‘At a Child’s Funeral’

Today we give to the earth the body of our little girl,
our little darling; we’ll never watch her twirl
around the house again in her impenetrable games
or listen as she wheedles and whines our names
in that annoying tone we tried to break her of before;
now we’d give anything to hear it once more.
She’ll find whatever waits for all of us when this life ends–
eternal silence or the souls of friends–
while, left behind, we bow our heads to see what prayers can do.
Lie lightly, earth–she stepped so lightly on you.

*****

Brooke Clark writes: “‘At A Child’s Funeral‘ is loosely adapted from one of Martial’s epigrams. This poem interested me because it’s quite a departure from Martial’s usual satirical style. In it, he attempts to convey a genuinely tender emotion, which is well outside his usual register of scorn verging on disgust. That made it a departure for me too, and I struggled to get the tone right — emotional without being mawkish. I hope I succeeded! In terms of form, it’s in rhyme, and uses alternating 7-stress and 5-stress lines in imitation of Martial’s elegiac couplets.”

Brooke Clark is the author of the poetry collection Urbanities, the editor of the epigrams website The Asses of Parnassus and the book reviews editor at Able Muse. Twitter: @thatbrookeclark

Photo: “Filipino child funeral” by Ted Abbott is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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.

Epigram: ‘Bit with Bite’

I think I’ve blinked
At what you write:
Edgy, succinct–
A bit with bite.

This is in the spirit of a homage to The Asses of Parnassus, in which the poem found a home. Editor Brooke Clark has created a tumblr account that for the past few years has been posting “Short, witty, formal poems” on an occasional (i.e. erratic) basis, much in the spirit of Latin and Greek epigrams (and often translations of them, or modern retellings).

This poem itself is not particularly noteworthy – but I enjoyed rhyming ‘blinked’ with ‘succinct’, as well as the ‘think/blink’ and ‘bit/bite’ pairings. Wordplay is at the heart of poetry, from Anglo-Saxon alliteration to modern rap, from nursery rhymes to Shakespearean sonnets. Wordplay is memorable, and sharpens the pain of an epigrammatic jab. Use it, if you want your barbs to be effective.

Epigram: ‘The Gods Compete’

The gods compete; some harvest verse, some tears,
Some deaths in battle, some vague hopes and fears.

This epigram is nondenominational–in the sense that I don’t have any preference for how people view, or are attracted to, some particular god.

More challenging is the punctuation. Good punctuation definitely helps guide the reader through the meanings of the passage, but what is ‘good’ varies by culture. Many Americans loathe the semicolon beloved by writers of convoluted passages. Many people argue for or against comma placements. In this piece, a 17-word sentence, the first line seems clearer than the second. “Some deaths in battle” might in this case be better written as “Some, deaths in battle” but that would suggest following it with “some, vague hopes and fears.” Then it might be preferable to separate those two parts of the line with a semicolon… but then perhaps the previous line should end in a semicolon too… but then what about the semicolon after “The gods compete”? Replace it with a colon.

I can’t help thinking of the remark often attributed to Oscar Wilde, or, as David Galef pointed out in the New York Times, Gustave Flaubert: “I spent the morning putting in a comma. In the afternoon I removed it.”

The poem was originally published in The Asses of Parnassus–thanks, Brooke Clark!

Photo: “Pergamon Museum _DSC17798” by youngrobv is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Short poem: ‘The Inevitable Future’

Now that I’ve got Windows 10,
11 comes; and then, and then…
Next: self-driving flying cars,
Trump in jail and Musk on Mars.

Certain things appear inevitable in the businessman’s crystal ball… Well, we’ll see. This short poem was published in the ever-succinct Asses of Parnassus – thanks, Brooke Clark!