Tag Archives: formal verse

Short poem: ‘Golden Childhood’

Golden girl on a sunset beach
With a dog and a horse,
Golden boy spears a silver shark
Under the sea;

Is such a dream forever in reach
Or forever false?
We stumble, emotional, through the warm dark
Back to the sea.

I wrote this in my 20s when I was saying goodbye to the Bahamas – my father had died, my mother had sold the house and moved back to Europe. For the next few decades I lived in Denmark, Canada, the US… but eventually came back to the sea.

The poem was originally published in Candelabrum. I always had difficulty with that seventh line. Originally it had “emotionally”, and I sort of justified it with the line itself being a stumble… but it’s a bad line, too many syllables, too many consonants. Sometimes when I submit a poem to a magazine, the editor points out a flaw, and more rarely, offers a useful alternative. Poems can always be tinkered with.

Photo cropped from “Girl riding a horse at sunset on Bali” by Jimmy McIntyre – Editor HDR One Magazine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Nymph’

A mayfly nymph, in water for a year,
transforms into a beauty of the air
for just one day – one day to mate, breed, die.
The essence then’s the nymph, and not the fly
which we see only thronging in death throes,
death throes of riotous sex. Everyone knows,
though, that the fly’s the cycle’s pinnacle
to artists, if not to the clinical.
Though humans for long eons lived on land,
at Science’s Nietzschean precipice we stand,
transform to things that freely live in space,
or formless Cloud-based online lives embrace…
and may survive but briefly in that state,
but, dying, will seed new worlds as we mate.

Nature poem? Piece of science fiction? The observation of how nature works and a hypothetical extrapolation of human nature into the future are not really two different things – it’s all part of life, the universe and everything… though that future will be is anyone’s guess. The only thing for sure is that tomorrow is not going to be like today.

Is a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter a sonnet, if it just rhymes as couplets? I think not. This poem has a volta after the eighth line, but it still doesn’t feel like a sonnet to me. The feel comes from a couplet closing the poem out after a series of three quatrains, or from the shift from ABBAABBA to CDCDCD. That finalising shift, that sense of completion, is integral to the feel of the sonnet. This poem fails to meet that criterion.

‘Nymph’ was first published in the Orchards Poetry Journal, whose latest issue has just come out – free online, or available in print.

Photo: “mayfly” by ian boyd is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘For Eliot’

I guess
Success
Not elation
Or creation
Alone may men not mock;

God bless
T.S.,
Spared the temptation
Of our generation —
Writing rhymes for rock.

First published in Metverse Muse in India. As you might guess, I wrote this before Andrew Lloyd Webber set that “Old Possum” T.S. Eliot‘s rhymes to music for the West End and Broadway hit Cats, disturbing everyone (except the Poetry Foundation)’s understanding of both Eliot and musicals.

Photo: “T.S. Eliot” by duncan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Kathryn Jacobs, ‘The Innocent’

They trust us, and they shouldn’t: butterflies
and earnestly pursuing preschoolers
careen among us, prone to accidents,
disasters in the making. Both of them

incapable of short-cuts, see-sawing
oblivious among the negligent,
convinced that we know best, who disregard
how short their legs and lives are.

Some of them
(the lucky and unswatted) mobilize
their stubby forces to stay out of reach,

But most of them launch headlong, more afraid
of being left behind or swallowed, than

of damaged wings and feelings, wedged against
rude curb-stops or cupped hands –

Kathryn Jacobs writes: “I am choosing The Innocent because it reminds me of what I’ve lost: of my son Raymond in particular (though he is not in the poem overtly). Ray died at 18. I am sending a photo of Ray with his twin: it’s a photo that reminds me of more Innocent days.”

Kathryn Jacobs is a professor at Texas A&M-C and editor of The Road Not Taken. Her fifth book of poetry (Wedged Elephant) appeared in Kelsay Books. Her poems have appeared in Measure, The New Formalist, Southern Poetry Anthology, Mezzo Cammin, etc. Currently she is working on a book of Dan.
http://journalformalpoetry.com/

Poem: ‘Oxford’

Purple voices, rich and rare,
Glowing in the jeweled air,
Handling esoteric themes,
Mysteries like running streams
Dammed with unexpected care
Into almost-answered prayer
Where you’d think no calmness could
In the wildest of the wood.
Thoughts and unknown meanings dance,
Wordwise weave you in a trance,
Darkly glowing, rich and rare,
Purple voices, glowing air.

This was first published in Candelabrum, the now-defunct journal dedicated to keeping formal/traditional poetry alive in the UK through the darkest days of free verse, i.e. from 1970 to 2010. I only discovered the magazine in 2004, better late than never–I had almost given up writing poetry, having been unable to publish anything at all up to that point. I remain grateful to its editor Leonard McCarthy, the Anglo-Irish formalist poet.

Photo: “Deep in conversation” by NatBat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: John Beaton, ‘Bedtime Story’

The sun has smouldered low. Its flaxen light
drizzles through the birches to the snow
where sheep stand still as hay-bales, beige on white.
A shepherd with a shoulderful of straw,
brindled by the shadows, softly walks.
The sheep flock round; he swings his load to strew
the strands on pillowed drifts like yellow locks,
then hastens homewards bearing sustenance
against the ghostly dark. He holds small hands
and spins his children tales of happenstance
and golden fleeces in enchanted lands.
Their minds woolgather. Snuggled down in bed,
they drift on snowy pillows; yellow strands
of hair glow like the hay their father spread.

John Beaton writes: “My wife and I have five children and one of my great delights was reading to them in bed when they were little. We covered a lot of ground, from Shel Silverstein’s poems and Roald Dahl’s stories to whole books like “Watership Down” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” This poem came to me when I was looking at the painting “Shortening Winter’s Day” by Joseph Farquarson (shown above). It was reminiscent of the place where I grew up in Scotland. The image of the shepherd feeding sheep in the gloaming light evoked the feeling of security and contentment that imbued those evenings of reading. I recite my poetry and tend to write for sound almost as much as for sense. I like the sounds of this one. Also, when picking subjects for poems, I’m more drawn to happiness and beauty than to sadness and misery. All in all, this poem fits my preferences quite nicely.”

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. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.

https://www.john-beaton.com/

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Julia Griffin, ‘The Buck Stops’

A buck stopped here last Saturday early,
Just as the streets were turning blue.
A fine six-pointer, bronzed and burly:
What had it come for? Nobody knew.

It took its stand at the central bus stop,
Silent, proud-footed, thorny-topped.
There perhaps it had once seen us stop;
All that morning, nobody stopped.

It hardly seemed the thing to confront it.
We’ve little practice with bucks or deer;
Anyway, nobody tried to hunt it;
Anyway, nobody asked it here,

Maimed it, lamed it, blamed or shamed it!
This, in fact, is the most one can say:
A buck stopped here and nobody claimed it.
It waited a while, then it wandered away.

Julia Griffin writes: “I like the central image of a buck stopping. And it seems so widely applicable… I turn everything into an animal poem if I can.”

Julia Griffin lives in south-east Georgia/ south-east England. She has published in Light, LUPO, Mezzo Cammin, and some other places, though Poetry and The New Yorker indicate that they would rather publish Marcus Bales than her.

More of her poetry can be found in Light, at https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/?s=julia+g&submit=Search

Poem: ‘Friendly Advice’

“Listen, old feller-me-lad,” he said
With a rugger-player’s laugh
(Not that he was big and brawny,
Only about scrum-half)
“You can muck about till you’re blinking dead
Without a career or a wife,
But (I know that it sounds damn corny)
You’re wasting your bloody life!

“Look, Slater Walker would snap you up!
Anyone can see you’re no fool.
Or why not go round to the Honkers and Shankers?
You’ve been to a decent school.
But before you do, go and have a haircut
You can’t go through life as a clown.
Get a good job! You’ll only thank us
For helping you settle down.

“Work with a Bank, and go overseas,
That’s where you’ll get the best pay.
Look at us: Jill and I are content,
With our two kids, and one on the way.
We’ve enough for a car, and boarding-school fees,
And her clothes, and my drinking and smoking;
And the Bank pays us our large flat’s rent,
And we’ve got our own place in Woking.

“So we’ve got our means, and we’ve got our ends,
And we’re happy through and through;
But you, you do nothing, although you’re clever,
And we worry a bit about you.
Now look, we like you, we’re speaking as friends:
Settle down! Get a job and a wife!
You can’t go on mucking about for ever –
You’re wasting your bloody life!”

In my gap year between school and university I worked in the local Barclays Bank in my home town of Governor’s Harbour. My subsequent university career only lasted a matter of months and I began wandering between countries, but my former boss at Barclays had friendly advice for getting me back on track. His Englishness is there in the poem, which dates itself with references to the once-mighty Slater Walker investment house and with the nickname of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank before it became HSBC. It was a while ago… if Tim Clark is back in Woking with his wife Jill, they must be in their 90s by now.

The scansion of the poem is a little casual, but there are alternating 4 and 3 feet to a line. The rhyme scheme is tighter, ABCBADCD in each verse. I think it works well as a piece of casual one-sided discussion. First published in Lighten-Up Online – thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Bored at Work” by D Street is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Warfare’

The mother’s nightmare
The child’s terror
The rapist’s freedom
The girl’s death.
The killer’s ecstasy
The band’s brotherhood
The youth’s excitement
The dying breath.

The glory of the lucky
The scream of the unlucky
The lost limbs, blindness, madness
The lifelong PTSD, homeless in the streets.
The poet’s puzzle
The politician’s porn
The aphrodisiac
The power-soaked sheets.

The demagogue’s cause
The demagogue’s solution
The warmonger’s profits
The fearmonger’s skill.
The blacksmith’s trade
The scientist’s incentive
The human fascination
The tribe’s need to kill.

The acceptance by the boys
The eagerness of teens
The avoidance by the men
The manipulation by the old.
The girl’s adoration
The woman’s greed
The widow’s grief
The body cold.

The king’s invocation
The priest’s sanctification
The scared population
The desolation.

The peasant’s loss
The trader’s loss
The teacher’s loss
The city’s loss.

The mortician’s gain
The tombstone maker’s gain
The coffin maker’s gain
The graveyard’s gain.

The medal maker’s gain.

And over it all God sits in His rocking chair
On His front porch in the sky
Saying, A crop, a very fine crop, an excellent crop this year.

Sits in His deck chair to look at the warfare waves
In the shade of a cloud in the sky
Watching the sandcastles washing away.

Sits in the night coming down on the battlefield
Watching crows, ravens, hyenas, stray dogs
Men and women pulling gold teeth from the dead.

Sits in His laboratory, looking at His guinea pigs
Sits in His concert hall, listening to the music
Thinking, All this is so interesting
All this is so tragic
All so inspiring
How far will they get till they blow themselves up?
Will these ones escape? Will they figure it out?
Can they conquer themselves and discover the universe?

Maybe it’s out of line to put this poem into a ‘formal verse’ blog… But there are two points to consider. First, there is a lot of form in the outraged chant of the beginning half–rhyme, rhythm, balance, some alliteration. Second, transitioning from that form to a less structured meditation in itself a use of form; it transitions the entire poem from one viewpoint to another by making the two halves so different. That’s my argument, anyway. Is it reasonable?

The poem originally appeared in Bewildering Stories. Thanks Don Webb and John Stocks!

Photo: “Battlefield Dead After the Battle of Gettysburg” by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated Call for Submissions: Potcake Chapbooks

I am always keen to read and consider rhymed and metered verse that has already been published. There are several chapbooks that are jostling in the queue for completion and publication:

Travels and Travails (travel)
City! O city! (urban life)
Just a Little Naughty
Portraits Unpleasant
Various Heresies (religion)
Lost Loves
The Horror of Spring! (seasons)

and there are more; but the last one, Rockets and Robots, wasn’t part of my original plans: I just ran across a bunch of Science Fiction poems that I liked, and they filled a chapbook nicely. So I’m an unashamed opportunist. I’ll modify my plans if I think something better is available. All the chapbooks listed above are nearly full already but, as with all of them, if I run across another poem I really like, I’ll include it. And if I receive enough good poems on an unplanned theme, that theme will get slotted in.

When there is enough good material on a single theme to fill 13 pages of a chapbook (still leaving room for Alban’s artwork, of course), then it may become the next project. But until a chapbook actually goes to print everything is subject to change. An even better poem may show up and displace one tentatively placed. A slew (or slough) of poems on a new theme may cause a reprioritisation of planned chapbooks.

This is one of the reasons that I prefer to consider only poems that have already been published–so that I don’t feel guilty about having a bunch of poems that will sit with me for months, years, and may or may not be included in the Potcake series. I have flagged a thousand poems that interest me; but I can only publish a dozen in a chapbook, and only a few chapbooks will get produced in a year.

Poems in the chapbooks run from two or three lines to some 40 lines in length–obviously, with space at a premium, poems over 20 lines and running over one page are less likely to be included… but it does happen. Other criteria: I’m looking for wit, elegance, a variety of traditional and nonce forms, a variety of voices and moods: happy, sad, angry, sardonic, meditative… anything interesting I can scrounge. If you have something you think I might like, on any topic, please send it along to robinhelweglarsen@gmail.com

I can’t promise to use it, but I will read it and reply!