Tag Archives: Edmund Conti

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Edmund Conti, ‘In Memoriam’

John Betjeman cannot read his In Memoriam.  Not
    Or ever.

So what’s the use of writing another jot.
    Why, pray,

For he who could best compose one is decomposing.  Rot!

His spirit lives in every ingle-nook where England claims the heart
    And soul.

That poet so lightly musical, so serious and straight (an art)
    And droll.

Whose lines were seen and heard in every church, in every mart.
    And knoll.

Muckby-cum-Sparrowby cum Sphinx, County Westmeath, Cheltenham;
    The set.

Henley-on-Thames, also Highgate, Bristol, Clifton, Mint-on-Lamb:

Places etched forever in his poems, each one a Betje-gram.
    Je bet!

We remember chintzy cheeriohs in his brilliant combinations.

Farewell, so long, bunghosky, too — Goodbye to all his permutations.
    Never grim.
    Never dry.

Well, it’s getting time for supper and we’ve had our ruminations.
    This is him.
    Dry your eye.

Edmund Conti writes: “I remember saying (to myself) in high school after writing a few verses, “I’m not a poet I don’t like poetry, I just like to rhyme and scan.” I had an image of who poets were and what poetry was, and it just didn’t fit my imagined profile. I stuck to my guns for a while even as I was sending out my verse and getting comments like, “Please, no more rhymes” and “How about sending your smug cloaca elsewhere?” But eventually some poems were accepted and published and I met more poets and I got married. Marilyn loved poetry (no, she didn’t say real poetry but I imagined her thinking it). She was a member of a woman’s poetry group that called themselves The Lady Blue Stockings. They would smack their lips over Amy Lowell (“Christ, what are patterns for?”) and E. E. Cummings (“How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?”). Marilyn tolerated my poetry but didn’t appreciate any of my parodies of her favorites.

Meanwhile, I met other poets and joined two groups: The South Mountain Poets and the Bards Buffet. The former was a local group (in NJ) and met weekly and discussed each other’s poems. I was usually advised to have more gravitas. The Bards, all light versifiers, met in a penthouse dining room of an insurance company in Manhattan.  Among them Willard Espy, William Rossa Cole, inventor of River Rhymes and other well-published poets.

So, in spite of myself, I was becoming a poet and appreciating others. Among them, Wallace Stevens, Robert Wallace, Vachel Lindsay, Frank O’Hara, and Robert Southey. And more and more swam into view. Luckily Marilyn brought many poetry books to the marriage and I found myself one day leafing through “John Betjeman’s Collected Poems.” There I came across his poem titled (entirely) “I.M. Walter Ramsden, ob. March 26 1947, Pembroke College, Oxford”. I loved the poem, the rhyming and the place names. Of course, I had to write my own version, not as parody, but an appreciation.  It was fun playing with the format and making up some English place names. One of my two or three favorite poems.

This was originally published in Orphic Lute. Later I sent it to Lighten-Up Online. They accepted it, made some changes to the place names and changed some of the wording. It was republished in my book “Just So You Know” from Kelsay Books. There I had problems with line lengths, some lines longer than Kelsay’s book limits allowed. Here it is, back in its original format.

Edmund Conti has recent poems published in Light, Lighten-Up Online, The Lyric, The Asses of Parnassus, newversenews, Verse-Virtual and Open Arts Forum. His book of poems, Just So You Know, released by Kelsay Books
was followed by That Shakespeherian Rag, also from Kelsay

His poems have appeared in several Potcake Chapbooks:
Tourists and Cannibals
Rogues and Roses
Families and Other Fiascoes
all available from Sampson Low Publishers

Review: ‘That Shakespeherian Rag’ by Edmund Conti

The problem of being
a 17-year
is trying to stay
for 16 years

That poem is ‘Short Attention Span’ from Edmund Conti’s latest collection of verse. Originally the title was to be ‘O O O O’ in reference to T.S. Eliot’s lines from The Waste Land where the poet is being criticised by his wife:

“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”
O O O O that Shakespeherian rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent

It seems that the publishers sensibly preferred a title that would be more comprehensible, without the confusions of O and 0. So the next part of the quote was chosen–still idiosyncratic, but more useful. And, yes, Conti seems to have poetry singing rhythms in his head all the time, and he produces beautiful jazz-like drawings as in the book’s cover.

Both titles for the collection are pure Conti–he has a playful, Zen-like approach to life, highly literate, constantly referencing other writers (and other writers referencing other writers), expecting a level of knowledge and engagement from the reader, and often reducing his expositions to the shortest possible. So this latest volume is full of memories and meditations, jokes and puns, and threaded through with the words of others. Conti divides the book into 11 Shakespearean sections, starting with memories of childhood and youth, and then weaving through reading and writing, books and poetry, his neighbors and family (and their views of his verse), into a closer and closer look at mortality: the last four pieces having respectively four lines, two lines, one line, and nothing.

Conti writes both formal and free verse, depending what kind of playfulness he’s up to. When he parodies Emily Dickinson, of course it’s in her standard ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ meter and rhymes ABAB. But he’s a lot more free when he just wants some snide commens and a punchline. Here’s ‘Losing Battle’:

In a final desperate attempt
at survival, the sun sets
fire to the western sky.
Overblown, say my poet friends.
Cute, say my non-poet friends.
What does it mean? asks my neighbor.
How much will you get paid for it?
That’s from my wife.

My father’s an astronaut,
my son lies.

Engaging, amusing, thought-provoking, with many short passages that stay in the memory. A fun book for all poets. Just published this month by Kelsay Books.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Edmund Conti, “My Son the Critic”

Edmund Conti

Edmund Conti

Read me a bedtime poem, said my son.
So I read him this:

We say hippopotami
But not rhinoceri
A strange dichotomy
In nature’s glossary.

But we do say rhinoceri, he said.  Look it up.
So I read him this:

Life is unfair
For most of us, therefore
Let’s have a fanfare
For those that it’s fair for.

I smell a slant rhyme, he said, sniffing.
So I read him this:

While trying to grapple
With gravity, Newton
Was helped by an apple
He didn’t compute on.

My teacher says that’s not poetry, he said.
So I read him this:

René Descartes, he thought
And therefore knew he was.
And since he was, he sought
To make us think.  He does.

That made me think, he said.  But not feel.
So I read him this:

My hair has a wonderful sheen.
My toenails, clipped, have regality.
It’s just all those things in between
That give me a sense of mortality.

Did the earth move?  I asked.  Anything?
Nothing moved.  He was asleep.

Ed Conti writes: “I sent the following quatrain to John Mella at Light and he accepted it (those were the good old days).

We say hippopotami
But not rhinoceri
A strange dichotomy
In nature’s glossary.

I don’t remember what the title was but I’m sure it didn’t hurt the poem.  A few weeks later dis-accepted the poem.  He had consulted with a fellow editor (I didn’t know they did that!) and found out you do say ‘rhinoceri.’  Now what?  I didn’t want to trash the quatrain, not with ‘t those felicitous rhymes.  So how to keep the verse and note the error. That was it, link a whole bunch of poems with their shortcomings (and I have a lot of those) and do a learned dissertation on what their problems were.  And who better to do that than one of my two sons.  Which one? It wouldn’t matter, I wouldn’t name him.  That way if one of them said he didn’t remember that happening, I would say it was the other son. Besides they were too young to worry about personas (personae?) And I wasn’t sure if I actually knew what they were.

So what does the reader get out of this poem?  Probably nothing. I write for myself because it’s fun.  If the reader chooses to enjoy this poem, that’s his problem.”

Edmund Conti has recent poems published in Light, Lighten-Up Online, The Lyric, The Asses of Parnassus, newversenews, Verse-Virtual and Open Arts Forum. His book of poems, Just So You Know has been recently released by Kelsay Books.