Tag Archives: formal verse

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: Mindy Watson, “The Seraph and the Six of Swords”

Mindy Watson

My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch. We’ll kneel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade,
Unearthing all your heart desires. Let’s deal.

I’ve drawn your future card. Does this reveal
Some truth to you: this Six of Swords I’ve played
That paints a boatman on a blade-pierced keel?
My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade

Me burnish to a shine. You’ve always stayed
Our cosmic course, but now you wish to steal
Away by sea upon this ship you’ve made
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch? We’ll kneel

Beseechingly before His judgment’s steel
For this infraction. Think before you trade
Celestial wings for shawl. Return to heel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade.

What’s that? This passenger, the mortal maid
Our card depicts, denotes your soul’s ideal?
And tedium’s degraded our crusade,
Unearthing all your heart desires? Let’s deal

Then with the Throne when need decrees. Conceal
Your downcast head; pin back your wings arrayed
In fear. I’ll steer this vessel’s rigid wheel
And whisper, when we reach the port portrayed,
“My seraph, enter.”

Mindy Watson writes: “The Seraph and the Six of Swords” originally appeared as a February 2018 Star*Line Editor’s Choice poem. This rondeau redoublé—which at face-value chronicles one disaffected and divination-inclined angel convincing another (via a contraband tarot card deck) to thwart angelkind’s “cosmic course” and set sail for unknown shores—began unassumingly enough in 2017, with one Dark Tranquility song phrase—”Enter, suicidal angels”—that I couldn’t scrub from my subconscious. Because, at the time, I was also some three weeks away from starting what I (correctly) suspected would be an operationally thrilling, yet all-consuming new job, this poem served not only as a mentally grounding reiteration of my sincerest loves—mythology, individualism, rejection of unsubstantiated strictures—but also a vehicle by which my then two warring selves—the timid self clinging to comfortable complacency versus the brave self hellbent upon exploration despite the costs—could enact a healthy, internal dialogue. While the poem obviously features a “winner” of sorts, I intentionally framed the poem’s overall trajectory and final concluding stanza to favor, instead of the rebellious self’s unliteral triumph, a perspective blending by which—as the titular Six of Swords tarot card depicts—two entities/selves willingly embark upon a forward-looking journey where, while one serves as instigator/primary traveler and one serves as grounding facilitator—both ultimately undertake the voyage. While I rather compulsively followed “Seraph and the Six of Swords” with two rondeau redoublé sequels (respectively titled “The Fallen Angel’s Ace of Wands” and “The Guardian at the Gated Tower,” which appear in Star*Line’s Spring and Summer 2018 issues) that extend the featured angels’ saga, this original remains my favorite. And while a seemingly mundane job shift originally inspired “Seraph,” I can’t help but re-visit it mid-2020, as we stand stricken by a global pandemic’s impacts, upon the precipice of another pivotal U.S. presidential election decision. For better or worse, the journey continues, spurred forward—I hope—by our “better angels.”

Bio:
Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Eastern Structures, the Poetry Porch, the Quarterday Review, Snakeskin, Star*Line, and Think Journal. She’s recently also appeared in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets: Form in Formless Times chapbook series and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology. You may read her work at: https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite.

 

Poem: “Prose and Poetry”

I long for Prose – but darkly, distantly,
She looks at far-off lands.
It’s Poetry who brings persistently
Small gifts in small white hands.

I confess that I have always wanted to be a novelist rather than a poet… but when, over the years, several novels remain as unpublished manuscripts but the poetry contributes to bubble up and find a home, what can you do? Smile ruefully and accept the gifts you are offered, and be grateful.

This poem was originally published in Lighten Up Online. And my only published novel is The Gospel According to the Romans… self-published, of course. The publishing score so far: Poetry, 300 – Prose, 1. “You can’t always get what you want… but…

How You Can't Always Get What You Want became Donald Trump's ...

you get what you need.”

 

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

Poem: “Preparing for Post-Humanity”

Here’s a series of tough queries for your superstitious theories,
For I find your ancient mindset very strange:

Will it still be incest if you don’t recognize each other,
Haven’t seen each other for a thousand years?
Ten thousand years?
If you’re blended into other people
Without an individual body?

Will it still be bestiality if the animal is smarter than you?
Talks to and seduces you?

Will it still be necrophilia if the death’s intentional,
By someone who will be revived, wants to enjoy
The random insults and dissolution of
The body after death?

I’ve no quarrels with your morals or your self-awarded laurels,
But review your preconceptions. Life will change!

The subject of transhumanism and post-humanism is endlessly fascinating to me. We are very early in the discovery stage of how the body works, how genes work, what causes aging, how we can successfully tinker with our physical structure in order to increase our capabilities and, more importantly, live healthily for as long as we want. But then what happens in the rest of society?

My personal opinion is that anything that anyone has ever thought of, someone has tried to make reality, even if they failed miserably at the time. Even in ancient times people tried to find ways to live forever, to fly to the moon, and to see what others were doing in distant lands. And any grotesque personal activity that you can imagine has already been tried. So as our capabilities expand, things are going to get very, very weird.

This poem was too bizarre in both form and content for most of the places I get my work published. Therefore a natural, perhaps, for Bewildering Stories: Don Webb published it in early 2019.

Technically, of course, this stretches the definition of formal poetry… which matters to me, but not to Bewildering Stories. In effect, the first two and last two lines are a formal poem, but the meat of the speculative discussion is in the central passage which is, honestly, prose. But I still like the poem. If it is a poem.

 

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.)