Michael R. Burch writes: “This may be the first poem I wrote. I read the Bible from cover to cover at age 11, and it was a traumatic experience. But I can’t remember if I wrote the epigram then, or came up with it later. In any case, it was probably written between age 11 and 13, or thereabouts. It would be kinda cool to be remembered by a poem I wrote at such an early age. Plus, it’s short, so readers would probably finish it!
I have been using Google results to determine which of my poems are the most popular on the Internet. Some of my poems have gone viral, appearing on hundreds or thousands of web pages. That’s a lot of cutting and pasting, and I like to think people must like a poem in order to take the time to replicate it. This epigram, which I wrote around age 11 to 13, at one time returned over 405,000 results for the last two lines, and over 51,000 results for the entire poem. The last time I checked, it still returned over 292,000 results. I was especially pleased to see one of the first poems I wrote, and possibly the first, go viral. If I wrote anything earlier, I don’t remember it.“
Michael R. Burch has over 6,000 publications, including poems that have gone viral. His poems have been translated into fourteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers. He also edits TheHyperTexts.
When God took Time to spin a length of Matter, And, nothing at each end, tied the ends together, He held between his fingers and surveyed The first cat’s-cradle, and since then has played.
Flames flicker, flare, re-form as a friend’s face; Dogs mime all features of the human race; The willow weaves a walker from the air; All Nature helps us see things that aren’t there.
To read Life’s Meanings, we must write the text: What’s Right one day is often Wrong the next – I’m rich or poor only as I profess, Must ask your love or hate, for you can’t guess.
If love’s illusion, so are hate and fear… Why not choose love?, when it’s so great, and near?!
Reareading this poem after a number of years, I have my doubts about it. It seems to start strong, and ends weak. What to do about a poem like that? The stuff about Maya, the illusory nature of the universe, is OK; but maybe cut it off after eight lines, before it starts preaching. But then maybe it would be lacking an ending, and I’d have to come up with something better than what’s there now.
As it is, it was first published in the defunct ‘Rubies in the Darkness’, and republished in India’s ‘Metverse Muse’. But I’m not happy with the poem…
We sealed Joe’s body in its envelope for dropping in the mail slot in the ground, addressed to God. But the Recording Angel coughed, said, “God has an online work-around, so doesn’t take them like that any more.” How email Joe to God, to bless or damn? Cremation goes to Heaven… but, knowing Him, souls just end up in limbo, marked as spam.
Another strange little poem; who knows where they come from, or why? Where they go is more knowable: to whoever is most likely to accept them! In this case, The Road Not Taken–a journal of formal poetry. Thank you for tolerating my morbid flippancy, Dr. Kathryn Jacobs!
I think we have all lost friends and family during the pandemic. The good news now is that vaccines are so widely available. We still have a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, and the sooner those people come to their senses, the sooner everyone can focus on the other major issues: climate catastrophe and corrupt demagoguery. (But it’s still a beautiful world!)
The Buddha died at 80, and they say That Lao Tzu reached 200, by the Way; But Jesus, only 33, was stood Arms out against the circus side-show wood: His hands first, then his feet and side and heart Pierced by the drunken dagger-thrower’s darts; The crowd had lost a man, but, quite unbothered, Named him a God, and went and killed each other. And you and I and sanity lost out With Christ’s name from Humanity crossed out.
Well, that’s an earlier take I had on Jesus. More recently I have seen him as a fundamentalist Jew, violently opposed to the pollution of the Promised Land by the idolatrous, beard-shaving, pig-eating military occupation by Westerners. No wonder he tried to take over the Temple and cleanse it; no wonder the Romans crucified him (the punishment reserved for rebels and insurrectionists).
Anyway, this poem (from a gentler, more naive era) was originally published by Rubies in the Darkness, a periodical now defunct.
In the chronosynclastic infundibulum That is God’s fantastic waiting room, You’re always barely on the score, One show away from being shown the door.
“God’s waiting room” normally applies to places considered to have a large population of retirees, like Eastbourne in the UK, or Victoria, BC, or the state of Florida. But we are all mortal, and all facing an end at an unknown time. So Kurt Vonnegut’s dark existential humour seems universally applicable. He created the term ‘chrono-synclastic infundibulum’ in ‘The Sirens of Titan’ as a label for a place, or a moment, where all the different kinds of truths fit together, and where there are many different ways to be absolutely right about everything.
Take the concept of ‘God’. Though we can all agree on the meaning and validity of “God’s waiting room”, we may disagree vehemently on the meaning and validity of the word “God”. Can there be a place in which all the understandings of that word are simultaneously correct? Perhaps. We are only tiny-brained creatures in an obscure solar system in an unimportant galaxy, and can hardly presume to know all the answers, any more than any of our stone age ancestors did when they thought they knew everything.
Anyway, my poem (first published in Lighten-Up Online) pays homage to the author of ‘The Sirens of Titan’, ‘Cat’s Cradle’, ‘Slaughterhouse Five’… I put Kurt Vonnegut right up there with Tolstoy in the ranking of People Who Should Have Won A Nobel Prize But Didn’t.
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 hyperspace viewer shows a flowing plane of treebark, roots; a distorted approximation of what we aren’t permitted to see. Clearing again with each rugose transformation, limited by the speed of post-quantum rendering, the map of our passage grows: an icebound dimensional lake thaws, remembering the hot pulse of its creation, shows palpable vestiges of times, energies and matters through which our wake will trace. The reflection of our ship shimmers, spatters light back to streaming stars. We race onward, out to where no atmospheres and skies of planets can frustrate our vision; the provocation of empty black where no suns rise unbearable without acquisition. Particular silence surrounds us like a felt of absence, itself the sinuous, tentacular touch of a void-god whose cult is abstinence, who meditates on dark too much— those distances between the stars and galaxies— and has a singular affection for black holes and cosmic fallacies.… Sometimes we overreach. Each direction (up? down? sideways?) seems different now; our ship’s brain’s blocked—no ability to calculate location. We tell it to go back: how— why these results? We’ve lost mobility, it says; the only options are charm and strange. We clear its cache, then re-install the route. On the viewscreen, no known space in range; nothing but the false stars of snow. About fifty-six hours in, the background gigahertz hiss of relic radiation is finally broken: our A.I. transmits a mad-dog growl. Something’s amiss. What does it mean? Unspoken fears flicker on our faces like shadows cast by entities we feel but cannot see, leaving invisible tracks across the vast cosmic chasm, preceding one more tangibly manifesting. A small silver embryo afloat in amnion of atrament, our ship is dwarfed by tentacles of terror. We’re but a mote in the eye of a demonic god, a blip cascading down through superimposed dimensions to our doom, where something pines beyond a threshold, longs to enter our attention— and hungers for the taste of human minds. Our Earth’s a pale blue memory, a ripe prize to harvest; our civilization will revert to a predawn whence no human can ever rise. The God Void sits in judgment—but won’t convert one soul. Its vastness grows, membranous and bloody, slithers back into the open portal of a queer dwelling where it withdraws to sleep and let the muddy waters of vacuum clear.
F. J. Bergmann writes: ” ‘Further’ first appeared in the Lovecraft eZine. I selected ‘Further’ because I’m fond of cosmic horror, and I was pleased with being able to maintain the form and narrative at this length. The process I used for this poem is what I call ‘transmogrification’: starting with a text source, which can be anything, from another poem to spam, I write a different poem or story using most or all of the words from the source, generally in reverse order. The source for this poem was ‘Let Muddy Water Sit and It Grows Clear,’ a considerably shorter nature poem by Ted Mathys, whose title is reflected in the last two lines of my poem.”
F. J. Bergmann is the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com), past editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (sfpoetry.com), managing editor of MadHat Press (madhat-press.com), poetry editor for Weird House Press (weirdhousepress.com), and freelances as a copy editor and book designer. She lives in Wisconsin with a husband, intermittent daughters and a horse or two, and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. Her writing awards include SFPA Rhysling Awards for both long and short poems and SFPA Elgin Awards for two recent chapbooks: Out of the Black Forest (Centennial Press, 2012), a collection of conflated fairy tales, and A Catalogue of the Further Suns, first-contact reports from interstellar expeditions, winner of the 2017 Gold Line Press manuscript competition. She was a 2019 quarter-winner for Writers of the Future. Venues where her poems have appeared include Asimov’s SF, Missouri Review, Polu Texni, Spectral Realms and Vastarien; her speculative fiction has been published in Abyss & Apex, Little Blue Marble (CA), Pulp Literature (CA), Soft Cartel, WriteAhead/The Future Looms (UK), and elsewhere. She has competed at National Poetry Slam with the Madison Urban Spoken Word slam team. While she has no academic literary qualifications,. she is kind to those so encumbered. In a past life, she worked with horses. She thinks imagination can compensate for anything.
Her thoughts were all inside her – Free from reality – Poor little cramped-up spider Who never saw the sea.
Much though I love her insightful and often wicked little poems, and deeply though I sympathise with her for (as I have heard) the traumatic and embarrassing seizures that restricted her life, I still have difficulty with this specific Emily Dickinson poem:
I never saw a Moor — I never saw the Sea — Yet know I how the Heather looks And what a Billow be.
I never spoke with God Nor visited in Heaven — Yet certain am I of the spot As if the Checks were given —
(There are two versions of this poem in circulation; but her poems were only edited and published after her death, and subsequently researched, de-edited and republished.) With all due respect, Miss Emily, if you had actually experienced the sea you would have realised that there is no way that a description and a couple of paintings can hope to capture the totality of waves: their warmth or chill, their taste, their sound, their movement against the body, the enjoyment, the danger, their feel in the water, their feel on a boat, their impact on a sandy beach or on a reef or against a cliff…
This also suggests to me that her understanding of God and Heaven is way too simplistic. She is making a good unwitting case for agnosticism. ‘White Recluse’ was published in The Asses of Parnassus, a suitable place for snippy little poems.
Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.
Pope’s “Epigram on Sir Isaac Newton” stood as a definitive statement until the 20th century, when J.C. Squire produced his “Answer to Pope’s Epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton”
It did not last: the Devil howling “Ho! Let Einstein be!” restored the status quo.
There is something very charming about an epigrammatic poem being answered by a poet with an opposite view. Some weeks ago I posted such a pair about 17th century Oxbridge rivalry, with Joseph Trapp referencing events of 1714 in six lines of verse to demonstrate Oxford’s superiority, answered by William Browne taking four lines to use the same events to argue for Cambridge. There are other such pairs… this obviously needs more research…
A man-like god creates the universe? Two hundred billion galaxies? Each holding a hundred billion stars? And each star moulding its planets into life, teeming, diverse! All this from some bearded old angry face who says “Build me a temple, pray, and pay the priests who’ll guide you onto Heaven’s way, erase your sins . . . or you’ll go in disgrace to torment underground — eternally.” No way your life gains from such small belief, passed on by some royal or holy thief who says “God wants your money, send it me — my palace honours Him . . .” The human lurches fearful, confused, through wastes of wasteful churches.
As social animals, we find our place by walling others out, putting them down: these walls, my family; those walls, my town. Even more walls: tribe, country, faith or race. This atavism’s bad for mental health, supports no sense of personal strengths or meaning, allows no purpose, individual leaning, denies achievement to your inner self. Identity’s reduced to football fan, or something uniformed, or some group prayer; without those — alcohol, drugs or despair, not knowing how to move past Nowhere Man. Know yourself, human, to confront the Void: your proper study’s all that’s anthropoid.
You can think of these two sonnets as the result of ten years of Church of England boarding school–five years in Jamaica, five in England–where Scripture lessons and daily church services were complemented by solid science and rigourous literature. And of course the Church of England recognises no Pope except the man who wrote “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of Mankind is Man.” So here you see the fruits of a well-rounded education.
This poem has just been published in Better Than Starbucks, a remarkably extensive poetry journal (and with some fiction too). The bulk of my BTS-published poems are in the Formal Poetry section, but there are many other sections–it’s a 100-page magazine. The online version is free, and well worth exploring.