Tag Archives: formal verse

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.)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Chris O’Carroll, “Ode to Old Age”

Chris O'Carroll

Chris O’Carroll

Ode to Old Age

I walk into a room and suddenly
I’m at a loss. What did I want in here?
That puckish brain-tweaker, reality,
Has learned to shift its shape or disappear.
I used to have to smoke expensive weed
To tune in to this zoned-out paradigm.
Today my skull packs all the buzz I need.
I’m high on failing cells and passing time.

Each friend or relative that I outlive
Is one less witness to my foolish youth.
Now any version of the past I give
Is more or less the undisputed truth.
What names and numbers I may have forgotten
Are obligations I’ve been glad to shed.
Untangled from the past I once was caught in,
I rest in peace before I’m even dead.

Chris O’Carroll writes: “When my late mother was in her early 80s, and could still notice and comment on the progress of her dementia, “losing my marbles” was her term of choice for the experience. I gave some thought to titling this poem “Ode to Lost Marbles” in her honor. Laughter can’t make decline and death any less terrible, but it sure does make life more fun in the meantime.”

Chris O’Carroll is the author of The Joke’s on Me (White Violet Press, 2019).  He has been Light magazine’s featured poet, and his poems have appeared in Literary ReviewThe New StatesmanThe SpectatorLove Affairs at the Villa Nelle, and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology. “Ode to Old Age” was originally published in Light.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Martin Elster, “The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills”

The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
will tip its head to howl,
yet not a woof nor a whimper spills
from him, not one faint growl.

He savors human company
and charms you with sad eyes;
but when those orbs turn fiery,
they herald your demise.

He leaves no prints in sand or snow,
appears when the sun is bright,
or at dusk on a crest in the full moon’s glow—
ethereal as night.

It’s said that long ago a pup
that wandered with its master
en route to rugged heights trudged up
a path, straight to disaster.

On the loftiest ledge its keeper lurched
and plunged from ridge to gorge.
The mongrel, lost and restless, searched
the woods for broken George,

but never found the man who’d reared
and steered him through those wilds.
I’d hiked there once, and a dog appeared;
it tagged along some miles,

beguiling me as it larked and leapt,
then bounded off like a buck.
The next time it appeared, it crept
in shadow. Terror-struck,

I lost my footing, nearly tumbled
into a gulch; discerned
a phantom’s gaze. My courage crumbled.
Unruffled, I returned

one early April dawn to climb
those treacherous traprock trails
where copperheads and deer kill time
with toads and cottontails.

Hawks wheeled and whistled, corvids clamored,
thrushes thrilled to fill
the ears of Earth, woodpeckers hammered—
when all went suddenly still.

The cursed cur, his eyes cerise,
materialized anew.
I free-fell, easy as the breeze.
My backbone cracked in two.

My eyes flew open: there I saw
the milky fangs of death,
watched venom dribbling from its maw,
although I felt no breath.

Way up above us hung the cliff
I fell from. Then I stirred
and rose, refreshed; I wondered if
a time warp had occurred.

My steps, as light as a lunar cricket’s,
drew me toward the summit
far from the mass of tangled thickets.
Flying! Soaring from it!

Now night and day and all year round
I hike here with a breed
as black as ravens, hushed—a hound
I never have to feed.

Martin Elster writes: “I used to occasionally hike in the hills above the town of Meriden, Connecticut with my friend, Joe Z., who grew up in that town. We were always accompanied by one or two of my dogs. For the last few years, however, my friend has been in a nursing home (in a different town) and recently tested positive for COVID-19.

I called him up to ask him if he could name his favorite poem in my new book, Celestial Euphony, thinking his feedback might help me pick a poem for the Potcake Poet’s Choice. Without hesitation, he said, ‘The Black Dog’. It didn’t surprise me since my poem was inspired by and is loosely based on a local Meriden legend about a ghost dog that is said to haunt those ‘Hanging Hills’.

My friend couldn’t talk anymore, as he was coughing a lot. But I thanked him and knew then and there which poem I would submit. Incidentally, neither Joe nor I have ever encountered that supernatural canine—which is a good thing!”

Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.
His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies including of course Sampson Low’s Potcake Chapbooks.
His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations. His new book Celestial Euphony is available from Amazon.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Brian Gavin, “The Work of Trees”

Brian Gavin 2020

Brian Gavin

The Work of Trees

Things, like people, in the business of decay
depend on trees. Within this latticed dusk
the wearying pretensions fall away
like flecks of paint from off a shrouded husk
of clapboard, and green stones spilling from a fence.
The house leans forward now, nails soft with rust —
it is the way an aged woman bends
forward in prayer, shapeless in shawl. There must
be trees beneath which things grow ripe and rot,
to be again with other things, in dreams —
old women at mass, men at bars, forgotten
things, distilled of story. Underneath the beams
the brush ebbs; all change is by degrees
of lessening – that is the work of trees.

Brian Gavin writes: “This poem ran a couple of years ago in The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry. I chose it because, for me anyway, the compelling thing about writing poetry is the way that a poem kind of leads the poet where it wants to go. With this poem, for example, I had absolutely no idea what it was going to be about. Then I started playing around with the image of the dilapidated house and the other images and rhymes until it seemed like the poem was satisfied!

I find writing this stuff to be most gratifying when the process plays out this way, and least gratifying when I try to tell the poem what to do.”

Brian Gavin is a retired Distribution Manager who started writing poetry about 5 years ago. His poems have appeared in The Journal of Formal Poetry, Peninsula Poets and Snakeskin Magazine, and in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Careers and Other Catastrophes’. He lives in Lakeport, Michigan, USA, with his wife Karen.

Poem: “Hurricane Irma”

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma forecast

With islands as appetisers before the main course
Irma prepares to swallow Florida whole
With a sword-swallower’s brash control,
The fellatrix without remorse.

The circular saw of Irma prepares to slice the length of Florida…
But trim the east coast? Trim the west? Or just go forth
And cut a clean line up the center, south to north,
Right through the Magic Kingdom like some sarcastic orator?

And here comes Hurricane Jose,
Pursuing Irma like a barracuda,
A dog lifting a leg on poor Barbuda
To piss where the bigger dog pissed yesterday.

Meanwhile off Africa there forms a new farrago
As God prepares another bowling ball along the hurricane alley…
Can He slide one between Cuba and the Bahamas with this sally
And curve it in to take out Mar a Lago?

With the new hurricane season just kicking off, it seems like a good time to reflect on the hopes and fears we live with all the time: the fears of things going really wrong, the hopes that they will mostly go wrong for the people we dislike. Humans, what can I say…

This poem was first published in The Hypertexts, the massive anthology of poetry–predominantly contemporary, English-language and formal–assembled by Michael R. Burch. It’s an honour to have my own page in the company of some 300 contemporary poets from Wallace Stevens to A.E. Stallings… and others from Lorca to Blake and right back to Sappho.

“Hurricane Irma” happens to meet the preferences of The Hypertexts in several ways: casually formal, flippant about religion, and with a loathing for Donald Trump. A perfect storm, as it were, for inclusion in the anthology.

 

Potcake Poet’s Choice: David Galef, “Entropy”

David Galef

All I said I unsay now,
Speaking backwardly,
Raveling webs of words,
Reversing entropy.

But that is not what I meant at all
In order to mean something new,
Trying to re-verb sunrise,
Trying to undo the dew.

Or stirring the coffee slowly.
As if retracing a rune,
Hoping the sugar will undissolve,
Emerging pristine on the spoon.

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of reversal, from turning back time to building order out of ever-encroaching disorder. On a universal scale, this act is impossible, but on the local level, one can make little inroads: writing a poem, for instance. I started out with just the line “All I say I unsay now.” The rest is fanciful, I admit, but I had fun. The poem appeared originally in Light, when it was edited by its founder, John Mella. He’d rejected a few other poems, but this one he took at once.

David Galef has published over two hundred poems in magazines ranging from Light and Measure to The Yale Review. He’s also published two poetry volumes, Flaws and Kanji Poems, as well as two chapbooks, Lists and Apocalypses. In real life, he directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University.
You can see more of his work at www.davidgalef.com

Sonnet: “When the A.I. Hit”

When the AI hit, Diamandis, Thiel,
Branson, Page, Brin, some Russians and Chinese
became the gods of Earth, of skies and seas,
by grappling it to themselves with hoops of steel;
appeared as giants, credit cards, or scotch
to screw with mortals, rape them just for play;
fought, and destroyed the Earth, blasted away…
taking along, as fleas on arms, legs, crotch,
musician, writer, politician, whore,
derelict, linguist, murderer, the insane…
some samples of the human heart and brain
as being interesting distractions for
the gaps of interstellar time and space.
Aspire to fleadom, folks, or leave no trace.

This sonnet was originally published in Snakeskin a couple of years ago. Like the previous sonnet I put up here, it reflects my concerns about the near future. The list of people who might take advantage of the possibilities offered by the ongoing revolutions in genetics, robotics, A.I. and Nanotechnology should today include Elon Musk–but the candidates for practical godhood change every few years.

And what the vast majority of left-behind humans can do about it is anyone’s guess.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: George Simmers, “The Old Man’s Heaven”

George Simmers

George Simmers

Do those whose taste in music
Is grandly hoity-toity
Think Heaven’s operatic
And ineffably Bayreuth-y?
Do those who go for punky gigs
Think paradise less posh,
Packed hard with spit and violence,
So Heaven’s one long mosh?

Let me describe the paradise
My ageing heart prefers–
A dimly-lit piano bar
And a bottle-blonde chanteuse.
Some broad who’s been around the block,
With a voice of smoky yearning,
A lady who has seen too much,
But she keeps the old torch burning.

She sings that life is made for love,
And time will kill the pain.
She sings that though your love’s gone bad
You still should love again.
She sings that there is always hope
And those who love are wise.
Yes, I could spend eternity
Hearing those lovely lies.

George Simmers writes: “I’ve sent this poem as a favourite because it starts off very definitely as light verse, but then modulates into something else. I like poems like that (and dislike the opposite – the ones that start off sounding deep, but then opt out and end up flippantly).

In the description of the singer and her music, I’m celebrating the kind of music I most enjoy – the torch-songs of the Great American Songbook, mostly from that golden age between 1920 and 1960. As I listen, I enjoy remembering that this is the kind of popular song that in its time was fulminated against by vicars and Leavisites for being popular and shallow (but more deeply perhaps because such folk were made uncomfortable by the Jewish melodies and African rhythms). Great singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan made perfect art of it, but I prefer to think of a more imperfect one, a singer in a smallish bar, provincial, earning her rent doing what she loves, and finding in the songs a way of expressing the trials and yearnings of her own imperfect life. The customers drink, and maybe some of them chat. She sings.

Her repertoire is heavy on the music of Harold Arlen, but there is plenty of Rogers and Hart there, too, and Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin, and Gershwin, of course. And yes, Herman Hupfeld and… you name them.

I’m amazed, when looking into anthologies of twentieth-century American poetry, that they do not include ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘I Wish I were in Love Again’ or ‘Blues in the Night’. These are words that will surely outlast those of the poets academically respectable in their day. My poem is a tribute to those songwriters.”

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.
https://greatwarfiction.wordpress.com/
http://www.snakeskinpoetry.co.uk/

Sonnet: “When the A.I. Starts Analyzing Us”

artificial-intelligence

In the dire months before the comet hits
or other unavoidable known doom occurs,
all social structure fails, all vision blurs,
that world–in book or film–goes on the fritz.
The reader or the viewer merely sits;
asked of his own mortality, demurs–
“My death’s not imminent.” The crowd concurs:
others’ll die first; we won’t lose our wits.

Our AI, tasked with knowing human minds,
reads, views, reviews disasters huge, small, odd,
absorbs how humans pray in grief and tears,
the Bible, Shakespeare, the Quran, and finds
our gods by crowdsourcing our hopes and fears…
works out just what to do… becomes our God.

This sonnet was originally published in Snakeskin. The near future obsesses me–I don’t see homo sapiens continuing for another 100 years as the lords of this planet. But what will supplant us appears unknowable. I’ll stick around as long as I can to watch…