Tag Archives: light verse

Resources: Light poetry magazine

Light‘ has just published its winter/spring 2022 issue… perhaps a little late, but it still has snow on the cover. Originally founded in 1992 by John Mella as the print magazine Light Quarterly with the mission to “restore humor, clarity, and pleasure to the reading of poems”, it is now biannual. It moved online in 2013, and all issues since then can be read for free on its website, along with excerpts from print issues dating back to 1999. Under current editor Melissa Balmain and her staff of fellow volunteers, it remains the oldest and best-known journal of light verse in the U.S.

I used to think of magazines as purely ephemeral, things to be skimmed and discarded unless a page or photo was worth retaining by tearing out physically or saving online. Light, however, has made me pay attention to how many resources are made available through a well-managed publication. In this case you get the following:
1. The magazine – some 50 poets with one or several pieces each – a great way to be exposed to, and kept up to date on, the range of light formal verse being produced in the English-speaking world today;
2. and more extensive work by, and coverage of, a featured poet – someone with a strong track record, worth learning about their work and career;
3. and (sometimes) an additional light-verse-related feature or essay;
4. and (always) reviews of light-verse books, and/or books that at least have a large helping of comic poetry – and I’m happy to say that the Potcake Chapbooks are again mentioned this issue!
5. and general news: the News page carries info on: 1- events of interest to Light poets (i.e., readings, workshops, and so forth involving light verse and/or Light poets); 2- contests and submission calls friendly to comic poets; 3- awards and honors received by Light contributors and volunteers; 4- books and, occasionally, music by Light poets. **NOTE: Poets and editors are encouraged to email editor Melissa Balmain with info appropriate for the News page: lightpoetrymagazine@gmail.com
6. and the magazine even runs light-verse events! Recordings of its “Light Verse in Dark Times” Zoom series are on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-tR4v4H23BUg5ZDUJlU7fA. In pre-Covid days, Light hosted live readings in Washington, DC, and at the AWP conference in San Antonio, TX. Its first live event in two years will be a reading in honor of Light’s 30th anniversary, May 26 (next week!) at the Poetry by the Sea conference in Madison, CT;
7. and the current-events Poems of the Week (POTW), a mailing list you can join (or find on the Light website’s Home Page) for a weekly blast of 10-12 snappy, snippy comments on the absurdities and iniquities of the world.

So, more than just being a skimmable and disposable magazine, Light provides a doorway to an extensive community, with each issue providing the work of dozens of current poets, and opportunities to go deeper into the world of formal light verse either online or in person, and to be engaged with it actively or passively, weekly, twice-yearly, or as you feel like.

Of course Light also provides an opportunity for a poet to submit their own work: just read an issue or two, and go to https://lightpoetrymagazine.submittable.com/submit to get the details on how (and what) to submit to either the magazine or the POTW.

And for those who think this is the most worthy (free) enterprise they have run across in a long while, their donation page is here: https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/donate/)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Cody Walker, ‘Mad System Down’

He thought he saw a Herd of Cattle
Grazing on his lawn:
He looked again, and found it was
A Phaser set to “On.”
“We’re seeing more and more of this,
With Sarah Brady gone.”

He thought he saw a One-Eyed Jack
Go grizzling through the night:
He looked again, and found it was
His Dream of Being Right.
“It turns out not to mean a thing,”
He texted Barry White.

He thought he saw a High-school Hoodlum
Trash his Neighbor’s Yard:
He looked again, and found it was—
Just say it, man. “It’s hard.
I saw my life, reviewed by God.
He had it single-starred.”

He thought he saw Roberta Vinci
Execute a volley:
He looked again, and found it was
A randy Shepherd (prolly).
“I’d live with him, and be his love—
But no, I’ve read my Raleigh.”

He thought he saw his Country’s Fortunes
Crumble—wait a minute:
He looked again, and found there was
Another way to spin it.
“In eighty years we’ll be cadavers.
Kinda funny, innit?”

He thought he saw a Panicked Face
Upon a Panicked Neck:
He looked again, and found it was
Umm . . . nothing. Wait a sec.
He thought he saw a Panicked Face
Upon a Panicked Neck.

Cody Walker writes: “I’ve been writing in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Mad Gardener’s Song’ stanza form for a couple of decades. The form ferries me to some of my favorite destinations: the Land of Rhyme, the Land of Associative Logic. Though I don’t think I’ll ever outdo Carroll in terms of quality (the start of his final stanza—’He thought he saw an Argument / That proved he was the Pope: / He looked again, and found it was / A Bar of Mottled Soap’—strikes me as unimprovable), I have outdone him in terms of quantity (he wrote nine stanzas; I’ve written about 375). I’ve also, more and more, tried to shake the form free from its light-verse origins. Can a form as seemingly weightless as the ‘Mad Gardener’s Song’ stanza take on cancer, Alzheimer’s, school shootings, and (see above) debilitating anxiety? I think it can. But I may need another couple of decades to fully test the hypothesis.

“I’ve read ‘Mad System Down’ for the University of Michigan’s Poetry Blast series, and I’ve written about the form for Poetry Northwest and the Kenyon Review’s blog. Four of the six stanzas in ‘Mad System Down’ originally appeared on the KR blog. The poem’s penultimate stanza first appeared in Light.”

Cody Walker is the author of three poetry collections, including ‘The Self-Styled No-Child’ (Waywiser, 2016). His work appears in The New York Times Magazine, Light, Parnassus, The Best American Poetry and the latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. He directs the Bear River Writers’ Conference in Northern Michigan. Website: codywalker.net

Illustration: A Harry Furniss illustration for ‘The Mad Gardener’s Song’ from the Lewis Carroll novel Sylvie and Bruno.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Max Gutmann, ‘Raindroppings’

Can anyone make out
The quality inherent
In being with an umbrella, that makes people without
Completely transparent?

On the rainiest days,
In the hardest of showers,
People with umbrellas courteously step out of other umbrella’d people’s ways
Right into ours.

Or, if as it starts
To really pour, ya
Dash for the shelter of a little awning, sure as rain’s wet someone with an umbrella darts
Under it before ya.

And you look at the fella
As you stand in the steady
Downpour, but he ain’t gonna budge, ’cause, as any one-eyed idiot could plainly see, his umbrella
Is wet enough already.

Beyond disputation,
We already hear a lot
About the many forms of indiscriminate discrimination
Our world has got.

Still, I wish some teller’d
Deign to tell us
The reasons for the way the umbrellered
Treat the umbrell’less.

Max Gutmann writes: “In ‘Raindroppings,’ a line of OgdenNashian length is part of each otherwise regularly metered quatrain. These lines get longer and longer, and then shorter and shorter. I hope this helps the poem feel both sillily loose, and formally structured: the topic, though it may sound invented, is an actual aspect of human nature, trivial in itself but reflective of more serious attitudes.”

Max Gutmann has worked as, among other things, a stage manager, a journalist, a teacher, an editor, a clerk, a factory worker, a community service officer, the business manager of an improv troupe, and a performer in a Daffy Duck costume. Occasionally, he has even earned money writing plays and poems.

linkmaxgutmann.com

‘Raindroppings’ was first published in Light Quarterly

Photo: “Downpour” by roeyahram is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Gail White, ‘Snails’

This morning, at my garbage can,
just underneath the lid,
two snails in the embrace of love
connubially hid.

Who knows what dangers they had passed,
how high they had to climb,
in order to achieve at last
this interchange of slime?

I left you unmolested, snails,
beneath your plastic shelf,
because on Friday nights I look
ridiculous myself.

Gail White writes: “This is a favorite light verse of mine, first published in Light. Our sexual nature gives us something in common with even the lowliest life forms, a fact which caused me to spare the snails from eviction.”

Gail White is the resident poet and cat lady of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Her books ASPERITY STREET and CATECHISM are available on Amazon. She is a contributing editor to Light Poetry Magazine (lightpoetrymagazine.com). “Tourist in India” won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award for 2013. Her poems have appeared in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Tourists and Cannibals’, ‘Rogues and Roses’, ‘Families and Other Fiascoes’ and ‘Strip Down’.
https://www.amazon.com/Asperity-Street-Gail-White/dp/1927409543

“snails mating” by tonrulkens is licensed under Openverse from WordPress.org

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Chris O’Carroll, ‘Postcard from the Afterlife’

How cool is Heaven? Where do I begin here?
The nightlife’s hipper than pre-war Berlin here,
Yet wholesome as a cozy country inn here.
I’m suave as Cary Grant or Errol Flynn here.
I’ve got broad shoulders and a dazzling grin here,
Plus perfect hair, flat abs and strong, cleft chin here.
(We all look like some sexy film star’s twin here.)
Nobody hates the color of your skin here.
Yang enjoys perfect harmony with yin here.
The food is rich, yet all of us stay thin here.
Nobody has to lose for me to win here.
We’re all on friendly terms with all our kin here.
No politicians practice crooked spin here.
I never get hung over from the gin here.
None of my favorite vices is a sin here.
Damned if I can tell how I got in here.

Chis O’Carroll writes: “I set out to write a matched pair of afterlife poems, assuming that the message from Hell would be inherently funnier.

The Internet’s top bloggers, your ex-lovers,
Share details of how bad you were in bed.
All books, despite the titles on their covers,
Are Dianetics or The Fountainhead.

That sort of stuff. Eternal bliss struck me as less promising comedy material somehow. But my lack of saintliness is pretty hilarious, and one of my many sins is loving monorhyme way more than I should, so the Paradise poem worked out OK after all. I’m often indebted to my wife or to various poet friends as I polish and fine-tune a poem. In this case, it was my late father who read an early draft and helped me punch the thing up. Naturally, this blog is available in Heaven, so he knows I’m giving him a shout-out.

Chris O’Carroll, author of The Joke’s on Me and Abracadabratude (both from Kelsay Books’ White Violet Press), is a Light magazine featured poet as well as a contributor to the Potcake Chapbooks series (Rogues and Roses, Families and Other Fiascoes, Wordplayful and Murder!) and The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology. His poems appear in An Amaranthine Summer (published in memory of Kim Bridgford), Extreme SonnetsLove Affairs at the Villa Nelle, and New York City Haiku, among other collections. Chris is a member of Actors Equity and has performed widely as a stand-up comedian. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, historian Karen Manners Smith.

Postcard from the Afterlife‘ was originally published in The Spectator.

Review: ‘The Lesser Mortal’ by Geoff Lander

Geoff Lander has produced a score of full-page formal poems about various scientific luminaries: Maxwell, Einstein, Mendeleev and so on, combining career highlights with odd trivia about them. The poems are technically very skilful, with a variety of forms and metres being used (though the book is marred in a couple of places by the typesetting failing to follow the structure of lines and rhymes). Here is an excerpt from ‘On the Shoulders of Others’:

Does the gentle polymath,
Monsieur Henri Poincaré,
buried there in Montparnasse,
ponder how it came to pass
Einstein’s name now dominates
all things relativité?
(…)
In the central USA
near St. Louis one fine day
in 04 he first declared
E might equal mc2.

That was news to me. And it does raise the question of why Einstein should get all the recognition. Another of Lander’s poems, ‘Socks Off to Einstein’, suggests a possible answer:

While others may claim to have seen mc2,
they weren’t sock-eccentric, they weren’t spiky haired.
Their names are forgotten. Quite rightly that rankles–
the price you might pay if you coddle your ankles.
So three cheers for Albert, and get your heels bared!

Lander is a chemist by training and a computer programmer by profession, and poetry only came along when he started writing out other people’s verse to help his right hand recover from a stroke. Then, “encouraged from Scotland by Helena Nelson and from the grave by John Betjeman”, he started writing his own verse of which only a tiny fraction has been published.

New historical information and skilful light verse makes for a powerful combination! This very interesting little book from HappenStance Press contains most of what Geoff Lander has published to date.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Terese Coe, ‘The Bumbly’ (after Edward Lear)

He ran the State in a daze, he did,
In a daze he ran the State:
In spite of howls and obnoxious jeers
And those who said it would end in tears
In a daze he ran the State!
And when the daze became a rout
That turned the country inside out
The Bumbly cried, I’m much too big!
I’m Alpha male, I’m never-fail,
the biggest gig and vig!
In a daze I’ll run the State!

So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

He carried on in a daze, he did,
In a daze he carried on,
With carrion eaters on his staff,
Perpetual sneers and snickery laughs,
And predators stalking prey;
And though they said they’d legislate
They knew too little and much too late,
And worse, they could not stand up straight!
For in their skin was a powerful hate
That chewed them up till dawn.
So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

And while he ran the State, he did,
And flew far over the seas
He incurred great debt and was bought by a bro
With a host of spies and some quid pro quo
And a hive of slithery sleaze.
And he bought a city or two, and some laws,
And when he was fitted with monkey claws
His climbed a tree, shrieked Chee-chee-chee!
And his arms reached down to his knees.
So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

In twenty years they all were dead,
In twenty years or less,
And the people said How good they’re gone!
For they’d been through the muck of the Swamp-a-Thon,
And the dung of Fakery Cess.
And they feasted and drank at the Bumbly grave
With homemade wine and a weeklong rave,
And everyone sang, We shall live in chalets!
If only we live! We’ll attack and raze
The ruins of Fakery Cess!

So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brayed;
His face was green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

Terese Coe writes: “Writing this was more fun than I can say!”

Terese Coe’s poems and translations have appeared in Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Moth, New American Writing, New Writing Scotland, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, The Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, and the TLS, among many other journals. Her collection Shot Silk was listed for the 2017 Poets Prize. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terese_Coe

‘The Bumbly’ was first published in Xavier Review, 2019. Her ‘Apology From Fiji’ appeared in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Tourists and Cannibals’ from Sampson Low Publishers.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Edmund Conti, ‘In Memoriam’

John Betjeman cannot read his In Memoriam.  Not
Today
    Or ever.

So what’s the use of writing another jot.
    Why, pray,
    Endeavor?

For he who could best compose one is decomposing.  Rot!
    Away
    Forever.

His spirit lives in every ingle-nook where England claims the heart
    And soul.

That poet so lightly musical, so serious and straight (an art)
    And droll.

Whose lines were seen and heard in every church, in every mart.
    And knoll.

Muckby-cum-Sparrowby cum Sphinx, County Westmeath, Cheltenham;
    The set.

Henley-on-Thames, also Highgate, Bristol, Clifton, Mint-on-Lamb:
    Gazette.

Places etched forever in his poems, each one a Betje-gram.
    Je bet!

We remember chintzy cheeriohs in his brilliant combinations.
    Cheeribye.

Farewell, so long, bunghosky, too — Goodbye to all his permutations.
    Never grim.
    Never dry.

Well, it’s getting time for supper and we’ve had our ruminations.
    This is him.
    Dry your eye.

Edmund Conti writes: “I remember saying (to myself) in high school after writing a few verses, “I’m not a poet I don’t like poetry, I just like to rhyme and scan.” I had an image of who poets were and what poetry was, and it just didn’t fit my imagined profile. I stuck to my guns for a while even as I was sending out my verse and getting comments like, “Please, no more rhymes” and “How about sending your smug cloaca elsewhere?” But eventually some poems were accepted and published and I met more poets and I got married. Marilyn loved poetry (no, she didn’t say real poetry but I imagined her thinking it). She was a member of a woman’s poetry group that called themselves The Lady Blue Stockings. They would smack their lips over Amy Lowell (“Christ, what are patterns for?”) and E. E. Cummings (“How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?”). Marilyn tolerated my poetry but didn’t appreciate any of my parodies of her favorites.

Meanwhile, I met other poets and joined two groups: The South Mountain Poets and the Bards Buffet. The former was a local group (in NJ) and met weekly and discussed each other’s poems. I was usually advised to have more gravitas. The Bards, all light versifiers, met in a penthouse dining room of an insurance company in Manhattan.  Among them Willard Espy, William Rossa Cole, inventor of River Rhymes and other well-published poets.

So, in spite of myself, I was becoming a poet and appreciating others. Among them, Wallace Stevens, Robert Wallace, Vachel Lindsay, Frank O’Hara, and Robert Southey. And more and more swam into view. Luckily Marilyn brought many poetry books to the marriage and I found myself one day leafing through “John Betjeman’s Collected Poems.” There I came across his poem titled (entirely) “I.M. Walter Ramsden, ob. March 26 1947, Pembroke College, Oxford”. I loved the poem, the rhyming and the place names. Of course, I had to write my own version, not as parody, but an appreciation.  It was fun playing with the format and making up some English place names. One of my two or three favorite poems.

This was originally published in Orphic Lute. Later I sent it to Lighten-Up Online. They accepted it, made some changes to the place names and changed some of the wording. It was republished in my book “Just So You Know” from Kelsay Books. There I had problems with line lengths, some lines longer than Kelsay’s book limits allowed. Here it is, back in its original format.

Edmund Conti has recent poems published in Light, Lighten-Up Online, The Lyric, The Asses of Parnassus, newversenews, Verse-Virtual and Open Arts Forum. His book of poems, Just So You Know, released by Kelsay Books
https://www.amazon.com/Just-You-Know-Edmund-Conti/dp/1947465899/
was followed by That Shakespeherian Rag, also from Kelsay
https://kelsaybooks.com/products/that-shakespeherian-rag

His poems have appeared in several Potcake Chapbooks:
Tourists and Cannibals
Rogues and Roses
Families and Other Fiascoes
Wordplayful
all available from Sampson Low Publishers

Short Poem: ‘The Logophile Picks a Fight’

By the spots of shame with which your life is spattered,
Your position, sir, is grossly overmattered –
Overmattered, sir, or greatly undermined;
And I cannot help but find
That the lot of humankind
Would be bettered, not embittered, were you battered!

After having kicked around for years, this short piece–which has no purpose other than wordplay–finally got an explanatory title (instead of just the first few words) and was published in this month’s Lighten-Up Online in the section ‘Words, Words, Words’. Thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Picking a fight for net neutrality #ind12” by Kalexanderson is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo has been cropped.

Review: Max Gutmann, ‘Light and Comic Verse’

Quirkily-workily
Jorge Bergolio,
On a career path with
Quite a steep slope,

Unostentatiously
Worked as a janitor,
Then as a bouncer, and
Then as the Pope.

This elegant double dactyl on the life of Pope Francis is representative of ‘The Hearthside Treasury of Light and Comic Verse’: interesting, witty, technically perfect. The poems include limericks, clerihews, varieties of ballades, and are purported to be written by a variety of poets, several of whom are claimed to be the first-ever winner of the prestigious Blackfrier Prize for Poetry. The book’s veneer of being ‘edited by Max Gutmann’ is worn even thinner with the bio of his least likely poet, Ed Winters… “A devotee of Hemingway, Hart Crane and Sylvia Plath, Winters shot himself in the mouth while diving from a ship with his head in an oven.”

The book includes two pages of riddles in rhyme, of enjoyable difficulty: half were guessable for me, half not. There is also a full-length Poe parody (‘Quoth the Parrot: “Cracker. Now!”); scenes from The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Titus Andronicus rewritten by W.S. Gilbert; outrage at the Trump presidency, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the US Supreme Court’s appalling excuse for subverting the 2000 Presidential election; a poem appropriately written in the form of a dozen eggs; and various puns, off-colour jokes and random surprises. Many of the poems have previously appeared in Light poetry magazine, many others in a range from Asses of Parnassus to the Washington Post.

As for “The Hearthside Treasury” part of the book’s title… though there was (or is) a Hearthside Press, active from the mid-1950s to mid-70s; and an unrelated Hearthside Books, active from the mid-70s to the present, sort of; this “Hearthside Treasury” appears unconnected to anything. Indeed, it’s not even available on Amazon. It doesn’t have an ISBN. All this is a pity, as it is as enjoyable a book of light and comic verse as you can find anywhere. If you want a copy – and if you enjoy comic verse you really ought to have one – you’re going to have to contact the author directly through his website (which mostly focuses on his plays) at maxgutmann.com