Tag Archives: light verse

Using form: villanelle: Melissa Balmain, ‘Villain Elle’

Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I like to read a women’s magazine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle,

Cosmo or Glamour, Self or Mademoiselle,
instead of pills, elixirs or caffeine,
whenever I wake up and don’t feel well.

Page Eight has bathing suits that look just swell
if you’re six foot and live on Lean Cuisine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

Page Nine’s a list of “wardrobe musts” that sell
at reasonable prices—for a queen.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,

Page Ten says how to age, yet stay a belle.
The photo? It’s a model of eighteen.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle

to make my time in bed such living hell,
I’m out of there in sixty seconds clean.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

*****

Editor: The villanelle is a highly structured poem, its two key lines rhyming and repeating several times. One of its challenges is to make each repetition fresh and interesting, either by developing and deepening the context, or by varying the repeated lines slightly or, as with this one, by having the same words resonate differently. Here “I know that I can count on” gives an initial impression of a favourable attitude to women’s magazines, but at the end the words show total disgust. This ‘Villain Elle‘ is typical of Balmain’s twists and puns and absolute control of form.

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

‘Villain Elle‘ is from Walking in on People © Melissa Balmain, 2014. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.

Photo: “304/365 – 8/8/2011” by GabrielaP93 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Punster’

The artist said the wit
was “full of it”,
disparaged him.
The punster tore the painter limn from limn.

*****

Apparently some people believe that puns are “the lowest form of humour”, but I would suggest that those people are not good at wordplay, and therefore have no poetic sensibility. Look to Homer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson for puns; enjoy more discussion and examples here.

This short poem was published in The Asses of Parnassus, home of “short, witty, formal poems”. Thanks, Brooke Clark!

Photo: “punster” by danbruell is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Melissa Balmain, ‘Not So Snow White’

Things started so well: found a chick in a box,
got her out, and days later, we wed–
such a snap because, speaking of life’s pleasant shocks,
my stepmom-in-law turned up dead.

Home that night, after finally fooling around
(happy ending for both!), I sighed, “Heaven.”
But my wife simply stared at the ceiling and frowned:
“Is that it? I’m accustomed to seven.”

*****

Melissa Balmain writes: “This poem comes from my latest collection, The Witch Demands a Retraction. To anyone who has mistakenly bought a copy of it for little kids: I am sorry. Maybe the book’s subtitle (fairy tale reboots for adults) should have been printed bigger. Or maybe the illustrator, Ron Barrett, should have made his drawings less adorable. Either way, to prevent further disasters in gift-giving, here’s a partial list of topics in the book: Interspecies adultery. Corrupt puppets. Kinky princes. Elderly cannibals. Impotent baked goods. Porcine insurance fraud. And, yes, eightsomes that include Sneezy, Happy and Dopey.”

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

Photo: “Snow White Mural” by ATIS547 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Melissa Balmain, ‘Fallen’

As a kid growing up in New York,
I considered our fall second rate:
how I longed for the grand, mythological land
we exotically labeled Upstate.

In that Eden, I’d heard, leaves turned bright,
endless acres of yellows and reds,
while my single tree browned, dropping one tiny mound
that I kicked to the curb with my Keds.

Now I live several hours to the north,
and the maples and oaks truly blaze—
hues so loud they look fake—till the time comes to rake
without stopping, for numberless days.

And I daydream of trips farther south,
of the places I’ll shop, stroll and dine
in that part of the map where the leaves may be crap
but you don’t need a rod in your spine.

*****

Melissa Balmain writes: “Like so many poems I write, this is a case of making lemonade out of lemons—or, more accurately, salad out of way too many leaves. My husband would like it known that in our family, he does most of the raking. But I do most of the talking about raking.”

‘Fallen’ was first published in Lighten Up Online.

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

Photo: “A walk in the woods” by Let Ideas Compete is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Jerome Betts, ‘Grim Harvester’

Two walkers once, who left the path
With fleeting union in mind,
Were reaped – oh, tragic aftermath! –
And permanently here combined.

*****

Jerome Betts is the Featured Poet in the current issue of Light. I was glad to provide an introduction to the man and his poetry in that magazine’s Spotlight – the short poem I’ve quoted above is a personal favourite: it is a tight, well-structured play on the ‘grim reaper’ and the ‘combine harvester’.

He lives in Devon, England, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. Pushcart-nominated twice, his verse has appeared in a wide variety of UK publications and in anthologies such as Love Affairs At The Villa NelleLimerick Nation, The Potcake Chapbooks 1, 2 and 12, and Beth Houston’s three Extreme collections. British, European, and North American web venues include Amsterdam QuarterlyBetter Than StarbucksLightThe Asses of ParnassusThe HypertextsThe New Verse News, and  Snakeskin.

Photo: “Combine Harvester (Deutz-Faher TopLiner 4090 HTS) – at work at Moyvalley, Co. Kildare, Ireland. September 1st 2011” by Peter Mooney is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Odd poem: ‘The Naughty Preposition’ by Morris Bishop

I lately lost a preposition:
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried: “Perdition!
Up from out of in under there!”

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor;
And yet I wondered: “What should he come
Up from out of in under for?”

*****

Morris Bishop had a high regard for light verse: “The aim of poetry, or Heavy Verse, is to seek understanding in forms of beauty. The aim of light verse is to promote misunderstanding in beauty’s cast-off clothes. But even misunderstanding is a kind of understanding; it is an analysis, an observation of truth, which sneaks around truth from the rear, which uncovers the lath and plaster of beauty’s hinder parts.”

Bishop was an acknowledged master of rhyme and meter, but that doesn’t imply that he would be limited by the grammatical restrictions of the apparently well-educated. He employed and enjoyed common speech.

Now this may sound strange coming from me, someone who writes a blog dedicated to the expansion of formal verse, but many “rules of grammar” are garbage. To me, correct speech is whatever unambiguously communicates what the speaker intended. This is naturally aided by the use of predictable patterns of word usage, because we are a pattern-recognition species, and this in turn leads to “rules”; but these rules are really only “commonly used patterns”.

Similarly the forms of traditional verse are there because they are useful: rhythm guides and builds emotion; rhyme, rhythm and wordplay all create engagement and help memorisation. The forms are neither arbitrary nor sacrosanct. The formality is purely useful (and part of its use is creating fun). Grammatical rules and formal verse have that in common.

Winston Churchill is often cited as the author of a scribbled comment on someone “correcting” his grammar: “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.” But that joke appears to predate his involvement with the issue: there is a lengthy discussion of it here in the Quote Investigator.

English has particularly confusing and contradictory rules because of the blending of several waves of Germanic speakers (Anglo-Saxons, followed by Danish invaders and later Dutch merchants) overrunning the British (i.e. Celtic speakers with their complicated auxiliary verbs: “How did you do that?”), in turn being overrun by French-speaking conquerors supported by Latin-speaking priests. (I recommend John McWhorter’s ‘Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue‘.) It was this latest ruling class that was averse to (among other things) ending a sentence with a preposition. But that’s a natural and correct part of speech for a Dane to end with.

And I’m an Anglo-Dane.

T-shirt Slogan: ‘Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.’” by Ken Whytock is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Nina Parmenter: ‘The Quantum Fox’

Have you seen the quantum fox,
the fox in flux, the paradox?
His whereabouts is rare, because
he’s in his den, and in this box.

This hokum locus tends to vex
the best of us; the mind rejects
the concept of his flightiness
as fiction or as foxy hex.

But fiction’s just refocused facts –
a lens that bends, a parallax.
The fact remains that Foxy lacks
a fix, til someone interacts.

See, should you pry inside the box,
you’ll find a fox, or not a fox,
and then this quantum nonsense stops
and everything is orthodox.

*****

Nina Parmenter writes: “I love reading ‘Quantum Fox’ out loud because it’s one of the few poems of mine I reliably know by heart and if performing it, I read it with props (er, a fox and a box funnily enough). Sometimes I  also recite it to myself to distract my brain if it’s overheating! It’s one of the older poems in my book ‘Split, Twist, Apocalypse‘ (relatively – written around 2019 I think) and I can’t remember where the inspiration came from – I think it was just the nice feel of the words ‘Quantum Fox’!”

Nina Parmenter has no time to write poetry, but does it anyway. Her work has appeared in Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, The New Verse News, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Houses and Homes Forever’. Her home, work and family are in Wiltshire.
https://ninaparmenter.com/

Fennec fox in box” by Joel Abroad is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Short poem: ‘When Your Flesh Freshly’

When your flesh freshly and your face flushly
Face the imperatives of flesh,
I find your mind now unleashed lusty-lushly…
Must we not then enmesh?

*****

This little poem was triggered by pondering the nearness to each other of the words fresh, flesh and flush, and jamming them all together. The result was coherent enough for publication in (naturally) ‘Rat’s Ass Review‘ – thanks, Rick Bates!

Photo: “The Redhead Piano Bar” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Poem: ‘Some Fling Away’

Some fling away
Some stay and cling—
Each their own Way
To do their own thing.

Sacrifice meaning
For love of the rhyme;
Know that in dreaming
You make up the time.

Sacrifice meaning—
When thought becomes sight
Your soul from its mole-hole
Blinks into life-light.

*****

An early poem, from when I was searching for meaning and questioning the various Meanings that were presented. Decades later, I feel the answer to the meaning of everything is best expressed by Leonard Cohen at the end of Tower of Song. That, and by John Cleese in the photo’s poster, and Douglas Adams’ “42”. Do your own thing, indeed; and keep dreaming and rhyming.

‘Some Fling Away’ was first published in ‘Metverse Muse‘ in India.

Do Your Own Thing” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Poem: ‘Village Fetes’

Come learn your fates at the village fêtes,
hosted by kindly vicars;
there’s lots to eat, don’t be discreet –
but your attention flickers…

the boys want toys with lots of noise,
the girls want glittery stickers,
while a gypsy tent, being devil-sent,
offers both lust and snickers.

The fêtes are fine for beer and wine,
less so for fancy liquors;
if you want to cruise for a bit of booze,
they’re not for city slickers;

but the real thrust builds on the trust
of godly, sinful vicars –
it’s being caressed by a gypsy breast
that puts a twist in their knickers.

*****

The latest edition of Rat’s Ass Review (for Fall/Winter 2022) has just been published, and I’m delighted to have this irreverent (pun intended) piece included. (As the journal’s title suggests, the editor doesn’t care if you don’t agree with his selections and opinions.) Thanks, Rick Bates!

Romany Rose” by timnutt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.