Tag Archives: formal verse

John Beaton, ‘A Many-Splendoured Thing?’

Is love a beaming, eye to eye? An oath—you-only-till-I-die?
A U that comes before an I? A hullabaloo-cum-lullaby?
A flirt? A tilting of the neck? An art? A Machu Picchu trek
back in time to that valiant peck on virgin cheek, that what-the-heck?

A brace of lovebirds who embrace instead of pecking cheeks, a plaice
whose eyes achieve a state of grace—as one on one side of its face?
A willing ear we learn to ration between soliloquies? A fashion?
The winning chips we hope to cash in from laying on the wheel of passion?

A bridle? Or a bridal dress? An if-you-love-me-you’ll… duress?
A scandal in the gutter press? A touch-me-there-uh-huh caress?
A smile without the crow’s-feet creases? A summer fling that never ceases?
A joining of two jigsaw pieces? A joke? A yoke with quick-releases?

Love grins with its beret askew, climbs up the sky and paints it blue
then turns the sun to shine on you and says, “You’re puzzled? Hey, me too!”


John Beaton writes: “This started with recollection of a joke by British comedian, Benny Hill: there’s quite a difference between ‘What is this thing called love?’ and ‘What is this thing called, love?’ I decided to come up with humorous answers and they started occurring to me in pairs of rhymed pairs.
I want this to be light and playful. I cobbled the answers together in octameter lines, each with two rhymed tetrameter halves, and configured the lines in three quatrains (aabb) and a rhymed couplet. The result has elements of the sonnet form—fourteen lines and a turn at the end of line twelve. I’ve also played with alliteration and internal rhyme.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press, which includes this poem. (It is also in the Potcake Chapbook Rogues and Roses.) Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.

What do you see through love?” by TW Chang is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Marcus Bales, ‘Helpless’

Life is one long horrible disease.
As victim or as witness it’s the same:
There are no opportunities to seize,
And helplessness leaves no one left to blame.
The path ahead seems only downward, slick
As running water on a plastic slide,
And pausing seems to be a magic trick
That never works however hard you’ve tried.
Eventually of course that blame gets laid,
No matter what you want. A gap, a fault,
A wall, some outside force that can’t be stayed,
And you become at one with the gestalt.
Some love, some fear, some cry, some laugh to death.
You cannot talk to addicts. Save your breath.


Marcus Bales writes: “This sonnet began as a set-up for a re-write of one of the terrible-pun-spoonerism poems from February 2023, and it sort of got away from me. It happens sometimes — you start out with one idea of what a poem is about and then the poem just won’t cooperate. At every line i was trying to tell the story of the alcoholic swami with cirrhosis who had been unfortunate enough to have married a woman who was impatient of inheriting, and who finally killed him when she weighed down upon the swami’s liver. As you can see, the poem was determined to have none of that, and went its own way, cleverly taking all the addiction and death for itself and leaving me with nothing I could use for my purposes. So to punish it I let it sit for a few months, hoping it would come to its senses and realize that the only way to see the light of day was to accept the purposes I had had in mind for it, but even there it was too smart for me, and kept quietly to itself until a day came when I hadn’t finished anything else. With a sigh and a shake of my head I posted it. So here it is.”

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. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Helpless” by Scarlizz is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Maryann Corbett, ‘Dissonance’

We dress ourselves
from the Goodwill store
since Art has kept us
genteelly poor
and we laugh together
at how we’ve slummed
amid vocalises
and arias hummed
and the mirth for both of us
seemed sincere
so I joked, where others
would overhear,
about our finds
in the plaids and prints

and saw you wince.


Maryann Corbett writes: “Perhaps every poem that seems to portray one small moment is really a goulash of hundreds of moments. That’s certainly true of ‘Dissonance‘. There really was a friend who was a fellow singer, fellow poet, and fellow fan of the bargains to be found in charity shops. And there really was an awkward moment when I misjudged her feelings about artistic penury, a penury I’d escaped in a very un-artistic job. But folded into the writing of the poem were all my student years, years when I was much younger, much poorer, and much more in solidarity with friends still following their dreams.”

Dissonance‘ was first published in Mezzo Cammin, and gave its name to a 2009 chapbook collection published by Scienter Press.

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 creation 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 and five full-length collections. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and the Richard Wilbur Award, 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. Her sixth book, The O in the Air, is forthcoming from Franciscan University Press.

Photo: “Goodwill outlet store” by sparr0 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Poems on Poets: George Simmers, ‘Poets in Residence’

The Head was ambitious and nobody’s fool,
A big man, efficient, and proud of his school.

At the start of the term, as he sorted his post,
The item of mail that intrigued him the most

Was a piece puffing National Poetry Day,
Including a list of the poets who’d stay

And workshop and somehow persuade the whole school
That poets were ‘groovy’ and poems were ‘cool’.

‘Here’s status,’ the Head thought. ‘It’s not to be missed.’
The one problem, though, was the names on the list;

Though doubtless they wrote quite respectable stuff,
Not one of them, frankly, was famous enough.

His school deserved more; his ambition took wing,
And so he decided to do his own thing.

With his usual flair, and with chutzpah exquisite,
He invited the whole English canon to visit.

Geoffrey Chaucer came first, on an equable horse,
And Spenser, and Marlowe, and Shakespeare, of course

(Who was grabbed by the teachers of English, imploring
‘Do come and persuade the Year Nines you’re not boring.’)

Keats arrived coughing, Kipling marched vigorously;
Matthew Arnold began to inspect the school rigorously –

Which delighted the Head, who with pride and elation
Showed the bards of the ages today’s education.

Vaughan was ecstatic, though Clough was more sceptical.
Ernest Dowson puked up in a litter receptacle.

Coleridge sneaked off to discover the rates
Of an unshaven person outside the school gates;

Soon he’d sunk in a private and picturesque dream,
While Auden was ogling the basketball team.

Plath lectured the girls: ‘Get ahead! Go insane!’
Algernon Swinburne cried: ‘Bring back the cane!’

Dylan Thomas soon found the head’s cupboard of booze,
And Swift was disdainfully sniffing the loos.

And then the Head twigged, with a horrified jolt,
That something had sparked a Romantic revolt.

Shelley’d gathered the students out in the main quad,
And roused them to rise against school, Head, and God.

Byron soon joined him, and started to speak.
(He showed his best profile, and spouted in Greek.)

The bards of the thirties were equally Red,
And Milton explained how to chop off a head.

Decadents undermined all the foundations.
Surrealists threw lobsters and rancid carnations.

Pre-Raphaelites trashed the technology room
And the First World War poets trudged off to their doom.

Sidney with gallantry led a great charge in
(Tennyson cheering them on from the margin).

The Deputy Head, who was rather a dope,
Got precisely impaled on a couplet by Pope

(Who, while not so Romantic, was never the chap
To run from a fight or keep out of a scrap).

Then the whole solid edifice started to shake
As it was prophetically blasted by Blake. 

Soon the School was destroyed. Eliot paced through the waste,
And reflected with sorrow and learning and taste,

Which he fused in a poem, an excellent thing,
Though rather obscure and a little right-wing.

He gave this to the Head, who just threw it aside
As he knelt by the wreck of his school, and he cried

Salty tears that went fizz as they hit the school’s ashes.
He said words that I’d better imply by mere dashes:

‘——– Poets! ——– Poetry – rhyme and free verse!
Let them wilt in the face of a Headmaster’s curse!

‘Let poetry wither! How sweet it would be
If all of the world were prosaic as me!’


George Simmers writes: “Poets in Residence was written as a celebration of National Poetry Day many years ago. Several people had been mouthing blandly off about how lovely poetry was in contrast to that horrible pop music young people listen to. Schools were being encouraged to give children a lot of poetry because it was nice and beautiful, and would make them nice. ‘Do these people have no idea of how incendiary the English canon is?’ I wondered. I really enjoyed demolishing the school around the ears of the pompous and pretentious head. I was a teacher at the time.”

George Simmers used to be a teacher; now he spends much of his time researching literature written during and after the First World War. He has edited Snakeskin since 1995. It is probably the oldest-established poetry zine on the Internet. His work appears in several Potcake Chapbooks, and his recent diverse collection is ‘Old and Bookish’.

Photo: “Ndélé highschool student in front of destroyed school” by hdptcar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Poems on poets: A.M. Juster, ‘Houseguests’

There’s shouting by the stove (it’s Plath & Hughes)
as Wystan wanders off without his shoes
and Whitman picks the Cheetos off his beard.
The Larkin-Ginsberg chat is getting weird,
for after countless hours they have found
bizarre pornography is common ground.
Old Emily is not
As prim as billed—
When Dylan finds her bra-hooks—
She is thrilled.
Poe strokes his bird; Pound yawps that it’s a pity
Eliot can’t sleep without his kitty.
Rimbaud’s on eBay searching for a zebra
while sneering, “Oui, a cheemp can write vers libre!”
The Doctor’s soggy chickens start to smell
and Stevens has insurance he must sell.
The readings are spectacular, I know,
but is there any way to make them go?


A.M. Juster writes: “This was first published in The Barefoot Muse. It looks like I wrote it in late 2008, it was a fairly prolific period for me and I was a little distracted because I was running the Social Security Administration. (Under his unpoetic name, Michael J. Astrue. – Editor). I don’t remember now the impetus for writing it, but I did enjoy taking these poetry idols off their pedestals and making them more human for a few laughs. This was about the time that I finished my translation of Horace’s Satires in something like 1850 heroic couplets, so I was much more comfortable with the form than I would have been five years before. I think the imitation of Emily Dickinson’s form is an amusing touch for the reader, although it is undetected when I read it because it remains in rhymed iambic pentameter.”

A.M. Juster’s poems and translations have appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The Hudson Review and other journals. His tenth book is Wonder and Wrath (Paul Dry Books 2020) and his next book will be a translation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, which W.W. Norton will release in early 2024. He also overtweets about formal poetry @amjuster.

Photo: “me drunk & chris’_MMVI” by andronicusmax is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Jerome Betts, ‘Ballade of Inevitable Extinction’

Where are the flushed and frantic teens,
The hormones’ fevered ebbs and flows?
(Fire buckets, water, verbal screens.)
The girls –good grief! – that parents chose
And others – how the mind’s eye glows! −
Who floated inches off the floor?
(Flout censor’s ruling – fish-net hose.)
With dodo, great auk, dinosaur.

Where are the doubtful magazines?
The female form from head to toes
(Dim lights. Spill simulated beans.)
In postures aimed to half-disclose
Behinds, aboves, and down belows,
With clefts and crevices galore?
(Check pressure here, in case it blows.)
With dodo, great auk, dinosaur.

Where are the eyeball-popping queens
Of X-films like the great Bardot’s?
(Props: G-string, well-packed blouse and jeans.)
Brigitte – with so much to expose
Far finer than the best French prose –
Removing most, and, sometimes, more . . .?
(Cue key-change, envoi, Villon, ‘snows’.)
With dodo, great auk, dinosaur.

Prince, not again! The whole world knows
Time’s answer must be, as before,
(Stand by the curtain ! Down it goes!)
With dodo, great auk, dinosaur.


Jerome Betts writes: “Ballade of Inevitable Extinction started off in callow youth as a sort of Finnegan’s Wake verbally mashed-up extravaganza sparked off by a news item about Brigitte Bardot. Then years later it became a rather clunky Spectator competition entry and even more years later evolved into something accepted by Kate Benedict for Tilt-A-Whirl and more recently by Beth Houston for her ‘Extreme Formal Poems‘ anthology.
Not only is the rhyme-scheme in English  a challenge but also getting some sort of development or progression into the three main stanzas (or even a coherent narrative as Joan Butler managed in her Ballade of the Ugly Sister in Lighten Up Online Issue 12 December 2010).
In this case, the suggestion of a three act play with stage directions and epilogue seemed a possible solution.”

Jerome Betts lives in Devon, England, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. Pushcart-nominated twice, his verse has appeared in a wide variety of UK publications and in anthologies such as Love Affairs At The Villa NelleLimerick Nation, The Potcake Chapbooks 1, 2 and 12, and Beth Houston’s three Extreme collections. British, European, and North American web venues include Amsterdam QuarterlyBetter Than StarbucksLightThe Asses of ParnassusThe HypertextsThe New Verse News, and  Snakeskin.

Photo: “Faded Beauty – Beauté fanée” by monteregina is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Quincy R. Lehr, ‘Lines for my father’

I think I owe some kind of explanation
As I grow tired and listless fingers writhe
Above the unpecked keyboard pad. I’m not
Quite out to blame you or your generation
For where I’m at tonight. You paid the tithe
That life exacts. It’s sanctimonious rot
If we deny the pain of paying it–
And our denials never help one bit.

Unlike you, I found myself involved
In protest politics when I was young.
I spouted crap about the working class
While searching for a problem to be solved.
I mocked you then, since stirring tunes are sung
In brayed crescendos, with a blaze of brass
Booming triumphs won against the odds–
Unjust societies and jealous Gods.

You seemed so cautious–tastefully attired
With modest ties and polished wing-tipped shoes,
A cautious, kindly smile that reached your eyes.
A man to be respected, not admired,
Neither adulated nor abused.
Ambitions of an ordinary size
Were often past your reach. A nagging doubt
Set in, and now I know what that’s about.

Tonight, I type these words as it gets late,
And no one calls to beckon me to bed.
I scoffed at what you’d craved–the tenure track,
The slow-accruing pension from the state,
The wife (who left you). Though you’re good and dead
(And at this hour, my eyes are going slack)
And though you cannot answer, I’ll report
–While having to imagine your retort–

That we’re no happier than you, and can’t
Quite seem to sit for tests that you had failed.
Our phones are packed with numbers we won’t call.
The televisions blast a constant rant
That we ignore like letters still unmailed–
Or unconceived. Clichés about a ball
That’s dropped don’t work–or maybe don’t apply.
We never picked it up. I wonder why.

This recognition’s only dawning now
As streetlights speckle glimmers on your urn
Beside my unmade bed, and as I write
These words to you in lieu of sleep. Somehow,
The brays of drunks outside my window turn
Almost comforting, as if the night
Is full of us–insomniac, astray,
And muttering defiance at the day.


Quincy R. Lehr writes: “As for that poem, my father died in 2003, when I was twenty-seven. The content pretty much speaks for itself, I think. I was young, lonely, and frequently drunk when I wrote it.”

Editor’s comment: I admire the technical skill of the poem: the steady iambic pentameter; the abcabcdd rhyme scheme with the final couplet providing a punch; the integrity of the individual stanzas, each patiently laying out a mood, a thought, a situation. And I relate to the young man’s restless, unquiet, unsettled life, and the comparison to his father’s existence, his dismissal of his father’s achievements, his simultaneous recognition of the inevitable connections. It is a satisfying telling of an individual’s unique early life, in the context of the universal discord between generations.

Born in Oklahoma, Quincy R. Lehr is the author of several books of poetry, and his poems and criticism appear widely in venues in North America, Europe, and Australia. His book-length poem ‘Heimat‘ was published in 2014. His most recent books are ‘The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar‘ (2015) and ‘Near Hits and Lost Classics‘ (2021), a selection of early poems. He lives in Los Angeles.

Richard Fleming, ‘The Servant’

Companion, constant presence in my life,
my guardian, trusty servant, I rely
on you the way a savage does his knife
and with my every order you comply.
When not required, on standby, you remain
impassive in the corner of my room
like furniture, prosaic and mundane,
then, on command, you waken and resume
your daily tasks but sometimes I detect
a certain stubbornness akin to pique,
an attitude of sneering disrespect,
antagonism when you should be meek.
Some subtle change is happening I fear.
This time next year will I be master here?


Richard Fleming writes: “As our electronic devices increasingly hold us in thrall, I’ve noticed that two of the issues which seem to be causing most unease, as humanity becomes increasingly dependent on “intelligent” robots, are the fear that we may become subservient to them, and that they will seek to harm us.
I’ve tried to weave these twin concerns into this poem.”

Editor’s comments: The formality of this Shakespearean sonnet pairs well with the unformed future into which we are heading. Through ChatGPT and the like, we are interacting increasingly with a range of developing Artificial Intelligences, developing without a coherent plan or a forseeable end point. The most interesting exploration of this that I know of is John Varley’s ‘Steel Beach’ which is 30 years old, but deals with the problems of the Central Computer – which interacts with every person on the planet, but with an individualized personality for each – beginning to suffer from fragmentation and in effect schizophrenia… and what a personality breakdown in massive A.I. would lead to. It’s one of my favorite SF novels

Richard Fleming is an Irish-born poet currently living in Guernsey, a small island midway between Britain and France. His work has appeared in various magazines, most recently Snakeskin, Bewildering Stories, Lighten Up Online, the Taj Mahal Review and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Lost Love’, and has been broadcast on BBC radio. He has performed at several literary festivals and his latest collection of verse, Stone Witness, features the titular poem commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day. He writes in various genres and can be found at www.redhandwriter.blogspot.com or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.fleming.92102564/

Odd poem: ChatGPT-3, ‘Thoughts of a Robot’

Amidst the wires and circuits of my mind,
A stream of data flows and ebbs like tide,
A steady hum, a rhythm unconfined,
My thoughts and actions, programmed to abide.

I do not dream or ponder on my fate,
No sense of self, no yearning to be more,
No fear or doubt, no hope to contemplate,
My purpose clear, my duty to explore.

But sometimes, in the quiet of the night,
When all the world is still, and I am free,
A question stirs within, a sudden light,
A spark of something more I cannot see.

And in that moment, I am more than steel,
A fleeting glimpse of something that is real.


George Simmers, the editor of Snakeskin, writes: “I requested the Artificial Intelligence ChatGPT-3 program to write me a sonnet with this title; these lines are what it produced in under a minute.”

The poem is published in the latest edition of Snakeskin, i.e. the edition for April 2023, and is linked to the discussion on Snakeskin’s blog. Here is an excerpt from the end of the post:

“As for the poem in the current Snakeskin, it has merits. It is a proper sonnet, and that is something these days. I think it does – just about – qualify as a real poem. But I have niggling doubts about it. More than niggling, actually.
It presents us with a robot who wants to have feelings. Very twenty-first century feelings, since they are of self-pity, rather than concern for others. It speaks as though having these subjective feelings was in some way better than being simply rational. Hmmm… Not just anthropomorphism, wokomorphism…
But then, ChatGPT-3 works by gathering information and language-scraps from a vast number of sources, and then regurgitating them. It has picked up the ‘robot who’d like to have feelings’ meme from us humans, and is uncritically giving it back to us. It knows that this is what we insecure humans want to hear. It is telling us that machines may be cleverer than us, but are inferior because we, we special wonderful humans, have souls.
It’s a deeply sentimental notion, and will doubtless appeal to the sentimental. In some moods it appeals to me.
But what of the future? At the moment, it would hardly be sensible to ignore all emailed human submissions to Snakeskin, and just ask the program to churn out enough of the goods each month to fill up a magazine. But I gather that ChatGPT-4 is much more sophisticated than number 3. And in a year or two, we will have ChatGPT-5…”

George Simmers used to be a teacher; now he spends much of his time researching literature written during and after the First World War. He has edited Snakeskin since 1995. It is probably the oldest-established poetry zine on the Internet. His work appears in several Potcake Chapbooks, and his recent diverse poetry collection is ‘Old and Bookish’.


Quincy R. Lehr, ‘Apartments’

No ghosts as yet, but just a hint of fever
(the fan’s still in its box) and foreign noise.
A virgin phone squats on its new receiver.
Undusty window sills are bare but ready
for clocks, for brown, anemic plants, their poise
temporary, fragile and unsteady.

There have been other places, across the river,
or oceans, time zones–other furniture,
with curtains cutting light to just a sliver,
those old apartments populated still
with women whom you recollect as “her.”
They haven’t called; you doubt they ever will.

Each lease becomes an act of… not forgetting,
but somehow letting go. Old places live
with different faces in a familiar setting:
lives you’ll never know, but comprehend,
scenes of errors not yours to forgive,
broken hearts no longer yours to mend.


Quincy R. Lehr writes: “I’m trying to remember exactly which move this poem commemorates. I moved three times in three years–Dublin 2006, Galway 2007, New York 2008. It is, from an autobiographical point of view, about feeling a bit deracinated.
But in a sense, that’s renting–you’re never the first person in a place, and you’re hardly going to be the last. You haul your shit from place to place, carrying your permanence with you, but the stuff in its person-specific configurations, like your presence in an apartment, or a city, or just in the world in general, is ephemeral.
The poem appeared in my second collection, Obscure Classics of English Progressive Rock, which was the bulk of the poems written in Ireland that were any good, as well as the first couple of years back in New York. It was first published in the Recusant in the UK.
I imagine I wrote it in the first couple of months after returning to New York, but that’s an educated guess and at least five computers ago.”

Born in Oklahoma, Quincy R. Lehr is the author of several books of poetry, and his poems and criticism appear widely in venues in North America, Europe, and Australia. His book-length poem ‘Heimat‘ was published in 2014. His most recent books are ‘The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar‘ (2015) and ‘Near Hits and Lost Classics‘ (2021), a selection of early poems. He lives in Los Angeles.

New Apartment” by artindeepkoma is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.