Tag Archives: light verse

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

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Melissa Balmain, ‘Fluffy Weighs in on the Baby’

It’s hairless as an egg—
why bother petting that?
It doesn’t purr or groom your leg,
and yet you feed the brat.

Instead of catching mice,
it grapples with its socks.
It’s never taken my advice
to use the litter box.

It can’t climb up a tree,
it can’t chase balls of string,
it leaves you zero time for me—
just eat the wretched thing.

‘Fluffy Weighs in on the Baby’ is reprinted from Walking in on People (Able Muse Press)

Melissa Balmain writes: “The great light poet Bob McKenty calls himself ‘an editorial cartoonist who can’t draw.’ Given my fondness for writing persona poems, I think I qualify as a method actor who can’t act. As you might guess, adopting a persona lets me try on fresh points of view and say things I might not think to say (or dare to say) as myself. Plus, it can be a fun vehicle for mockery—as in ‘Fluffy,’ which aims its claws at new parents who ignore their pets. (Yes, I was one of those new parents…) Over the years I’ve attempted to channel not just animals and fellow humans in my poems, but also cartoon characters, plants, water, Satan, a dictionary, and, in my latest book, fairy tale characters. It’s the closest I’ll get to a SAG card.”

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 verse collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award; and the shorter collection The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults, new from Humorist Books. She is a recovering mime.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Bruce McGuffin, ‘Why It’s Important To Take Your Saxophone Hiking’

Whenever I go for a walk in the wood
I carry a saxophone, everyone should.
You need it in case you get caught unawares
By a band of unruly and ravenous bears.

When the bears leap from bushes intending to eat you,
You won’t have the time that it takes to retreat, you
Had better be ready to pull out your sax
If you don’t want to finish your day as bear snacks.

Play a song they can dance to, try Latin or swing.
Dancing bears like to rhumba, they might highland fling.
But beware, every bear is a dance epicure.
If you play Macarena they’ll eat you for sure.

Bruce McGuffin writes: “A respected poet1 once described Light Verse as “a betrayal of the purpose of poetry”. All I can say is whatever gave him the idea that poetry only has one purpose? With almost 8 billion people in the world there must be 8 billion plus purposes for poetry. Everybody wants to feel a little light and laughter now and then, and for me that’s one of the purposes of poetry. This silly poem (which originally appeared in Light Poetry Magazine, February 2020) about dancing bears, with its driving, almost chant-like, rhythm makes me happy whenever I read it. I hope it will make other people happy too.”

[1] Robin Robertson in Guardian Interview, September 28, 2018. 

Bruce McGuffin writes all kinds of poetry, but meter has a way of sneaking in even when it’s not invited, sometimes bringing rhyme along for the ride. His subjects range from the profound to the utterly frivolous with a decided tilt toward frivolous, which he justifies by claiming he writes for his own amusement. He divides his time between Lexington Massachusetts, where he has a day job as an engineer at a radio research lab, and Antrim New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife and pretends to be practical (when he’s not writing poetry). At work the practical engineers think he’s a theorist, and the theorists think he’s a practical engineer. His poetry has appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, The Asses of Parnassus, Better Than Starbucks, and other journals.

Short poem: ‘Subduction’

All human nature, conflicts, nations, and all races
will be washed as by tides on beaches, all loves and lusts
will with Time disappear, all human traces
washed under as all plates are washed
by the subduction of Earth’s crusts.

This poem was published this month in Lighten Up Online – an excellent place to read light verse on subjects both light and heavy. Every issue has a mixture of longer and shorter poems, and a competition. This March 2021 edition concludes with the results of the eco-crisis competition, headed ‘The Airing of the Green’; ‘Subduction’ was one of the winners. Other sections of the magazine were also focused on the environment. Pollution and climate change are twin disasters, and you can express outrage, despair, or (more usefully) proposals for action. The million-year view of my poem isn’t useful but it’s low-hanging fruit, there to be taken.

I’m delighted to be in a magazine along with poems by fellow Potcake Poets Martin Elster, Michael R. Burch, D.A. Prince, George Simmers, Nina Parmenter, Gail White, Chris O’Carroll, Tom Vaughan, Jane Blanchard, Jerome Betts, Martin Parker and Melissa Balmain, as well as two poets who will be appearing in the next Potcake Chapbook, Bruce McGuffin and Julia Griffin, and the ever-anomalous Max Gutmann. Several of us have more than one poem in this issue.

“File:Tectonic-plates-subduction-zone-17280738.jpg” by Benjilrm is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Review: ‘Old and Bookish’ by George Simmers

George Simmers has chosen a title for his latest collection of poems that describes it very well: “Old and Bookish”; and also–if being merely in our 70s isn’t premature–self-deprecatingly describes himself. But though he writes with understanding about oldness and bookishness, he makes it clear that he is not being autobiographical: The first section is called “from The songs of the Old Man”, the title immediately followed by: “Note: The Old Man is not me, but I know how he feels.”

The Old Man Walks his Dog; The Old Man Visits a Very Old Woman; even The Old Man’s Song About the Crematorium… poems about the kind of thoughts the Old Man has:
Both the slutty and the proper,
Both the crooked and the copper,
Those who decorate interiors,
And the very very serious,
Both the fervent Corbynista
And her fashionista sister
Who’s obsessed by the length of a hem –
They’ll all end up at the crem crem crem
They’ll all end up at the crem.

That gives a sense of Simmers’ work–smooth and amused in rhythm and rhyme, in tone and in message. Or take The Old Man’s Heaven–how would a music lover imagine eternity in the afterlife? Discounting the “hoity-toity… operatic… Bayreuth-y” and the alternative punk “one long mosh pit”, the Old Man with gentle amusement envisages an older blonde in a piano bar:
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.

The second section of the book moves away from the internal view of the Old Man to the external view of Some Oldies. It begins with Rachel, the most energised:
Old Rachel’s fierce and heavy-browed
Her views are strong; her voice is loud.
She says the councillors are crooks;
She says the mayor cooks the books.
She says the government’s a mess –
Don’t start her on the NHS –
While London, which survived the Blitz,
Is being bought by foreign shits,
By criminals and sheiks and sharks,
And kleptocrats and oligarchs…

and ends with Christopher, aware of his life winding down, dozing off with a smile
For he is entering a dream –
A joyous dream where he’s pursued
By several plump and laughing women
In the pink bumgorgeous nude.

The third, final, and largest section of the book is where we get to Bookish. Here are poems on poetry, on poets, on words, on English. There is a 26-line Elsinore Alphabet that starts at the beginning of Hamlet:
A is for armour, which kingly ghosts wear.
B is for battlements, where the guards stare.

and works its way through to the very end:
Y, they’re all dead as Yorick, once such a great hoot.
Z’s for zero plot left. Bid the soldier-chaps shoot.

There is two-page book review in limericks of a book of limericks. And there is my favourite poem of the book, ‘Poets in Residence’. Simmers having been a schoolteacher, he takes obvious delight in his tale of a headmaster who invites all the best English poets to the school. Here are eight of the 33 couplets:
Geoffrey Chaucer came first, on an equable horse,
And Spenser, and Marlowe, and Shakespeare, of course…
Keats arrived coughing, Kipling marched vigorously;
Matthew Arnold began to inspect the school rigorously…
Vaughan was ecstatic, though Clough was more sceptical.
Ernest Dowson puked up in a litter receptacle.
Coleridge sneaked off to discover the rates
Of an unshaven person outside the school gates…

Unfortunately for the Headmaster, there is a Romantic Revolt:
Shelley’d gathered the students out in the main quad,
And roused them to rise against school, Head, and God…
The bards of the thirties were equally Red,
And Milton explained how to chop off a head…
Soon the School was destroyed. Eliot paced through the waste,
And reflected with sorrow and learning and taste,
Which he fused in a poem, an excellent thing,
Though rather obscure and a little right-wing…

And the Head is left amidst the rubble, cursing all poets and poetry.

It all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the many aspects of ageing, viewed both internally and externally; and the consolations and disconsolations of poetry itself. It is an easy read, the ease belying the breadth and depth of Simmers’ thought, his lifetime of experience including the 25 years he has spent editing and publishing that excellent monthly online poetry magazine, Snakeskin.

Old and Bookish is an excellent and memorable collection of verse.

Even the cover illustration gets a little write-up at the end of the book, including a last poem by Simmers:

“I am very grateful to Bruce Bentzman for permission to use again his ‘Raven’ drawing, which made an earlier appearance in our Animals Like Reading collaboration. I approve of this bird, both for his obvious appetite for reading, and for his air of scepticism, which once inspired this rhyme:
‘Human nature? Bloody chronic!’ Raven caws in tones sardonic,
And adds: ‘I’ve read some rubbish as I’ve studied human lore,
But I’ve read no book that’s dopier than Sir Thomas More’s Utopia,
Which imagines human harmony and man (that carnivore!)
Being so nice to his neighbour he abjures all thoughts of war.’
Quoth the raven: ‘Never, More.’

And as for that Raven’s comment about warfare: it should be noted finally that George Simmers also authors a blog called Great War Fiction plus which focuses on fiction of the First World War, but also goes off on whatever tangents seem interesting.