Tag Archives: Marcus Bales

Using form: Ballade: Marcus Bales, ‘Scary Home-Life’ (for GTZ)

Get up, get out, and get away–I went
as early as I could to leave one vile
exposure for another. School. It meant
escape from home at least a little while,
not long enough, and trading family guile
for reading sullen peers and teacher spin,
except for you, beside me on the aisle–
I was the girl with the scary home-life and bad skin.

I was first to homeroom every day.
And how did Mr Romo ever know
that half a sausage sandwich was the way
a skinny girl survived. He’d always go
“Good morning,” handing me a half as though
that half were mine and we were somehow kin;
I’d nod my thanks and sit in the back row–
I was the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

And you, who sat beside me, always kind
to me, and always kind of sassy tough
to other kids who other years combined
to make me almost miserable enough
to stay at home, from you I learned to bluff
my inner fear, to fake a cocky grin,
and start to walk as if it wasn’t rough
to be the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

L’envoi
Yeah, it was you and Mr Romo, in the end,
who gave me things that I could not begin
to pay you back for, so even I’d befriend
the girl with the scary home-life, and bad skin.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “I have a modest file of poems that have got me unfriended, blocked, or banned by people or publications, for one reason or another. Sometimes, as in this case, the reason is unknown to me. 

“Back in the old days when I was a working salesman at the sort of retail store where it takes an hour or two to walk around the store with your salesperson and discuss wants and needs and preferences, it is often the case that the customer gets comfortable enough to tell things about themselves or their lives that they might hesitate to repeat without canny encouragement. Here, a vivacious and attractive young couple were moving in together and needed furniture and a bed. They were excited, and money was not an issue. It turned out the young woman had been an officer in the Marines or the Army — I forget which at this distance — in one of the rougher, tougher units, and I admired her for having the stuff to lead in that mise en scene. She recounted that she had felt driven to it by a harrowing early family life, complete with the sort of acne that is every teen’s nightmare. A scary home-life and bad skin was her description of it. After the sale was completed I wrote most of this poem in the break room in the back, after climbing on the table to turn off the Muzak speaker so I could think. 

“I discovered she had friended me on Facebook and had written some nice things about me at the store, which was very nice of her. Of course even back then I was posting my poems on Facebook, and posted this one, without her name, but with her initials. All the details are entirely fictional. I made them all up, except for that one line. She blocked me right away.”

Editor’s note: a ballade is a very suitable form for this poem, with iambics for thoughtful mood, claustrophobically restricted rhyme scheme, steady refrain, and final summation addressed to a superior person. From the Wikipedia entry ‘Ballade (forme fixe)‘: “The ballade as a verse form typically consists of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent metre and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain. The stanzas are often followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi) usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is therefore usually ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC, where the capital C is a refrain.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Photo: “skinny girl” by Villegación is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Marcus Bales, ‘Me and the Moon’

Her presence was the organizing spice
that made the dish; the multivalent pun;
the compliment whose humor takes you twice
as far aback in unexpected fun,
her laughter tinkling like a scoop of ice
cubes thrown on glass bottles in the sun
that heats a summer vacation afternoon.
This morning though it’s only me and the moon.

Me and the distant moon, who’s not as far
away as she and I have now become.
She laughs that laugh while I sit in this bar
and wonder how I could have been so dumb
to leave where all the things I value are
and vanish in this alcoholic slum,
regretting what I’ve kept and what I’ve strewn
this morning when it’s only me and the moon.

And now the moon is pretty far advanced
along its ambit’s arc above this place
where one is propositioned, not romanced,
and conversation lacks both wit and grace.
I shuffle now where once I might have danced
and face the fact that this is what I face,
however jaded or inopportune,
this morning while it’s only me and the moon.

L’envoi
Barman! Bring another tinkling glass
or two, and we will claim that we’re immune
to all this pitiful alas alas
this morning, you, and me, and the goddamned moon.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: ” ‘Me and the Moon’ was prompted by Cleveland singer-songwriter Alex Bevan’s post on Facebook back in the oughties, I think. He posted early in the morning that he was looking out the window at the dark and reflecting on his life, thinking that it was just ‘me and the moon’. He’s happily married, and so am I, but the poignance of the phrase somehow seemed significant, and I instantly absconded with his idea. As I recall, the poem was pretty quickly written because however happy we may now be, we all have regrets or unhappinesses to remember. I’ve never been much into the bar life but at the time my wife and I had discovered a wine bar we liked to hang out at where we knew the bartender, and I was eased into just going to the bar to chill and observe and listen. Of course Western culture is soaked in alcohol, but I had not been. It was interesting to see how the whole thing worked — and didn’t work.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA 100” by Mikes Camera is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Opposing Poems: Marcus Bales, ‘All the Blues’, ‘When the Sun Shines’

Since you left the sky’s expanse of grey
Is what the sun and clouds may briefly cruise
As light comes after dark for each dull day;
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

And since she left me I’ve been color-blind;
Now half the world’s in greys I cannot use
Since vivid red and yellow’s all I find:
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

My friends assure me better times will come,
But tinkly happy songs do not amuse
My soul still wants the searing wail and thrum
Of pain and sadness spreading like a bruise,
But now instead of tunes there’s just a hum —
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

Oh, since she left I don’t miss her at all
Though autumn leaves spread half a rainbow’s hues
Across a landscape ripening to fall:
My lover leaving used up all the blues.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “Barbara Ehrenreich happened to read my poem ‘All the Blues’ on Facebook when I posted it some years back, and left the terse comment “It’s even worse when the sun shines.” I was at the moment so into the notion of the fall and the coming dark that I was startled by her insight, which prompted another poem, ‘When the Sun Shines’. I was gratified by her notice.

When The Sun Shines
for Barbara Ehrenreich

They sing their songs of their pure pain;
They lose their taste for the real wines
Of love and life when they weep rain.
It’s even worse when the sun shines.

When the sun shines
And the birds sing
And the green twines
On everything
And your love’s gone
And life’s a curse
In the dim dawn
Each poem’s lines
Are even worse
When the sun shines.

They write like they’ve known every hell
And mined despairing’s deepest mines;
But no one knew how far I fell.
It’s even worse when the sun shines.

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Photo: “Shut out the world.” by Neil. Moralee is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Marcus Bales: ‘Villains, Too’

Villains, too, believe they’re righting wrongs,
Their traumas just as blunt as yours or mine.
They write their manifestoes, sing their songs,
And hope their cancer screens turn out benign;
It’s where they differ that the trouble lies.
Their personal concerns are all they see.
For them there are no others’ laughs or cries —
We’re furniture to them, not you, not me.
They see us not as people, but as means
For them to harm a world that helped their foes,
Or if we give them pleasure, as machines
To give whatever pleasure that they chose.
They see themselves as victims who must seize
Their rights to do whatever they may please.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “Villains, Too is one more in a series of attempts to write this poem. If I knew exactly what I was trying to say I hope I’d have actually said it by now. The forlorn fragments of phrases strung through my notes for poems show that this business recurs and wants something from me. I hope to get this done, eventually. In the meantime, without spending too much time trolling through my own failings, here’s the last time I tried:

Grinning Henchmen

They do not wake up sharing bwahahas
With grinning henchmen as they shave, and think
“Today I shall be evil!” No, the laws
Are on their side. They never even blink
At all the tears and suffering they cause.
They’ve got their lives to live, and they don’t shrink
From living them, like you and me, with flaws
And virtues, growing families, food and drink,
And love and death. They look at life and view it
Just like us. And in our common murk
They did each evil deed and never knew it
To be evil. No one, king to clerk,
Has thought they’re doing evil as they do it;
They always think they’re doing some god’s work.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon.

Photo: “Villain with fire” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Parody poem: Marcus Bales, ‘Slash Wednesday’

I
Because I do not do the limerick line
Because I do not do
Because I do not do the limerick
Desiring this man’s schtick or that man’s joke
I will stick to knocking out free verse
(If here and there a rhyme so much the worse)
In mournful moans
Presented ragged-right upon the page.

II
There once was a Lady with three
White leopards, a juniper tree,
And a bag full of bones
That sang their sad moans
Of what they had once hoped to be.

III
At every turning of the turning stair,
Your breathing hard, your eyesight edged with dark,
You see the face of hope and of despair.

You breathe the vapor of the fetid air
And toil as if some atmospheric shark
At every turning of the turning stair

Was hunting through the gathering darkness there,
While back and forth across the narrative arc
You see the face of hope and of despair.

At every turning there’s a window where
You contemplate a drop that’s still more stark
At every turning of the turning stair.

Instead you circle upward as you swear
Like you are looking for a place to park.
You see the face of hope and of despair.

You can’t endure the future’s dismal dare
Nor drag yourself to put out your own spark
At every turning of the turning stair.

You’re learning how to care and not to care
And whether you will make or be a mark.
You see the face of hope and of despair
At every turning of the turning stair.

IV
Higgledy piggledy
Here we are all of us
Trudging along where some
Billions have trod

Smelling the flowers and
Trusting religionists’
Tergiversational
Rodomontade.

V
If the word that is lost isn’t lost,
And the word that is spent isn’t spent
Then silence is actually speaking,
And meaning is something unmeant.

If the meaning is what is unheard
And the word is the thing that’s unspoken
Then how do you hear if a word
Has a meaning that hasn’t been broken.

If the unspoken word must be still
And the unheard is what it’s about
To have heard the unhearable meaning
The inside has got to be out.

If the unheard were out of this world
And the light shone in darkness were dark
Then the unlit unheard would be meaning
If the snuffer provided the spark.

If the yadda can yadda its yadda
And the pocus was what hocus took
Then gobble must surely be gobble
Though dee separates it from gook.

VI
Awake! Your hope to turn or not to turn
Is wasting time – but go ahead and yearn
To see the light or hear the word to know
A heaven human beings can’t discern.

There’s nothing there for such as you and me;
We make our meaning up from what we see
And hear and touch and taste and smell and think —
But all there is is fragments and debris.

The steps are just the steps, the stairs the stairs,
The rest is merely human hopes and prayers
That do no more than hopes and prayers can do,
And nothing’s chasing you except your heirs.

No unmoved mover writes upon some slate
That mortals may abate or not abate;
No hope and no despairing of that hope
Reveals what nothing states, or doesn’t state.

Whatever happens happens because of us
We get a muss when we don’t make a fuss
Demanding right from wrong not mere convenience:
We’re all complicit underneath this bus.

Awake! Don’t hope to turn or not to turn,
Don’t pray that this is none of your concern.
Awake! What will it take for you to learn
That if it all burns down you, too, will burn?

*****

Marcus Bales has produced this wonderful set of parodies of the long T.S. Eliot poem ‘Ash Wednesday‘, beginning with a piece in the poem’s style for Part I,
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope

but then moving into a limerick for Part II’s
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree

and a 22-line villanelle for Part III’s
At the first turning of the second stair

and a double dactyl for Part IV’s
Who walked between the violet and the violet

and quatrains for Part V’s
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;

and finally rubaiyat with a strong flavour of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyam for Part VI’s
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Ash Wednesday‘ has proved one of Eliot’s best-known and most quoted poems, with its signature mixture of Christian mysticism, personal emotion, loose form and scattered rhyme, rich imagery and memorable wordplay. Bales’ ‘Slash Wednesday‘ is an appropriate tour de force of a back-handed homage, mocking Eliot’s ragged rambling with a sampling of forms that could have been used (inappropriately) instead.

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘form in formless times’).

This is being posted two days late for T.S. Eliot’s birthday, but as it’s for the already late T.S. Eliot that shouldn’t matter too much…

Photo: “File:T S Eliot Simon Fieldhouse.jpg” by Simon Fieldhouse is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 12, ‘City! Oh City!’

City! Oh City! – poems on the light and dark of urban life. Thirteen of the best contemporary English-language poets present their wildly differing takes on the glamour and squalor, the joy and heartbreak, the varied people and the hidden wildlife of our modern cities.

Five of the poets are new to the Potcake Chapbook series, and I’m delighted to be adding Kate Bingham of England, Francis O’Hare of Northern Ireland, Pino Coluccio of Canada, and Quincy R. Lehr and J.D. Smith of the US. They join eight returning poets. Amit Majmudar and Maryann Corbett deserve special mention for their brilliant use of form to capture contradictory situations: Majmudar’s static street scene which suddenly changes pace to a hectic chase, Corbett’s interwoven Baroque chamber ensemble and homeless encampment with their separate realities in a shared evening in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In addition: Michael R. Burch, Jerome Betts, Terese Coe, Marcus Bales, Martin Elster and myself; everyone contributes to this memorable capture of the complexity of the modern city.

Bios, photos and links to read more of their work can all be found on the Sampson Low site’s Potcake Poets page, while all the chapbooks in the series, showing which poets are in which, are here. Each of the 12 chapbooks is profusely illustrated (of course) by Alban Low, and can be yours (or sent as an intriguing gift) for the price of a coffee.

Value the city – citification is civilisation!

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, ‘Cleveland Krater’

This column krater once held watered wine,
Its figures, red on black, an illustration
Of how it served the daily and divine.
On one side Hera offers a libation
With Artemis, Apollo, and their mother,
While three nude athletes and a bearded man
Are drunk with more than liquor on the other.
I stare through all four panes of glass that ban
All but my eyes from learning every curve,
And I can only dream that luck and nerve
And my own art may earn a chance to feel,
As one of few who cares to understand
That ancient try to make one ideal real,
To feel it push through time with my own hand.

*****

Marcus Bales writes: “A poem is language in meter that evokes emotion in the reader. Those who write to express themselves are doing something other than writing poetry. No reader accomplished enough to be engaged in reading poems is in it for the writer’s blurt. It may be that the writer is trying to evoke the same emotion in the reader that the writer felt in the poem’s circumstances, but the goal remains to evoke that emotion in the reader, not merely recount the writer’s emotion.

Poems that fail to evoke emotion in the reader are failed poems and, alas, every poet has several. They wait patiently like the mythic swordsman in fairytales to keep the protagonist from going through the door behind them. Our hero or heroine arrives in the room, the swordsman puts down Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ – in the original German – and smiles, drawing a sword. The writer, however already wounded or tired from the effort of getting there, engages and soon enough, after an elaborate exploration of the waiting swordsman’s skills, is disarmed. The swordsman bows, kicks the writer’s sword back to him, sheathes his own, picks up his book, and sits down again, angles it to the light from the only window, nods goodbye, and resumes his perusal. The writer picks up the disgraced weapon, and trudges back out the way they came in. That poem still does not do what the writer intended to do: evoke emotion in the reader; all it remains as is an account of his or her own emotion.

It is the strength of that felt emotion that keeps the writer coming back to the failed poem, ever hopeful that it is an exception to the unyielding rule that the poem is for the reader, not the poet. Some poets make careers out of performing such things, their agents guaranteeing that the poet will cry during the performance, sure that the promoters are only interested in the performance, not in its effects on the audience. And there are audiences for whom watching the performer fail in their presentation is the point. No one involved in that scenario is there for poetry.

Unfortunately, this poem, ‘Cleveland Krater’ is one of those failed poems. Absent the actual krater, I have finally come to realize, the reader is not going to experience the emotion I did. I have come back and back to this piece, always after having visited the krater again, examining it closely through its Plexiglas box, looking for the clues that moved me and still move me, to try to shove them into words that will bring that impact I felt to the reader. Maybe if I just admit my failure I will get free of the draw of its blade when I arrive at it, again, hoping that this time I’ll do better than the dismissive kick of my sword clattering across the stone floor.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘form in formless times’).

An extensive review of the Cleveland Krater and its creator can be found at https://www.academia.edu/12708103/The_Cleveland_Painter. You don’t need to log in or register, you can simply scroll down to read the entire pdf.

Photo: provided by the Cleveland Museum of Art https://www.clevelandart.org/art/1930.104#

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 11, ‘Lost Love’

‘Lost Love – poems of what never happened, and of the end of things that did’… how bittersweet; but what a collection of poets, and what a diversity of stories and observations!

Seventeen poets are packed into this chapbook. Seven have appeared before: Marcus Bales, Melissa Balmain, Michael R. Burch, Vera Ignatowitsch, Martin Parker, Gail White and myself. Ten are new to the series, with wicked little pieces from Brooke Clark, Cody Walker and three from Wendy Cope, and with longer poems from N.S. Thompson, James B. Nicola, Mary Meriam, Helena Nelson, David Whippman, Richard Fleming and Vadim Kagan. Bios, photos and links to read more of their work can all be found on the Sampson Low site’s Potcake Poets page, while all the chapbooks in the series, showing which poets are in which, are here. Each of the 11 chapbooks is profusely illustrated (of course) by Alban Low, and can be yours (or sent to an ex) for the price of a coffee.

Heartbreak has never had a happier manifestation!

Review: ’51 Poems’ by Marcus Bales

This is poetry as it is meant to be: evocative and word-for-word memorable. Fair disclosure: I am an online friend of Marcus Bales – and I am so because his poetry is evocative, memorable, witty… and it all rhymes and scans in the most natural and elegant way.

His collection of ‘51 Poems‘ contains sections with very different moods. The first ones recapture childhood and wartime experiences and then give way to my personal favourites, a series of poems of love, love that in one way or another is unattained, incomplete: Pre-Flight, “I called goodbye. By then she couldn’t hear.//I pulled the chocks away, and she was gone.” Broken Sunlight “streaming down his face.” Have You Forgotten “it all, and all so soon?” Me and the Moon. Dancing with Abandon. And Precipice: “and knowing everybody knows//I’m dancing on a cliff edge, unaware//of where the precipice gives way to air.”

Others of his poems are portraits of very diverse people, political or social commentary, and (most memorably) flawless parodies of Keats, Poe, W.S. Gilbert, Auden, Shakespeare, Kipling among others. It is in the parodies that he shows the greatest diversity of rhyme and metre, because his ear catches the rhythms of other poets as easily as it understands iambic pentameters.

Online you will find him knocking out sarcastic little quatrains almost daily in Facebook. He was a standard contributor in The Rotary Dial (now sadly defunct), and frequently appears in the Potcake Chapbooks. Read 51 Poems for the wit and the human insights, and you will be rewarded with memorable earworms of wordplay and verbal dexterity.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marcus Bales, ‘Miniver Cheever III’

Miniver Cheevy Junior’s kid
Despised his own contemporaries,
Like his poetic forebears did,
As functionaries.

Miniver missed old apartheids,
South Africa and Mississippi,
And longed to go on freedom rides
And lay a hippie.

Miniver yearned for days gone by,
For free love’s newly bra-less boobies,
For Woodstock, rock and roll, tie-dye,
And smoking doobies.

Miniver mourned for Owsley Blue,
The name, he understood, for acid.
At Kool-Aid Tests and love-ins, too,
He’d be less flaccid.

Miniver loved the Beatles, Stones,
Frank Zappa, Zep, and, yes, the Monkees;
He didn’t care, he had a jones
For tuneful junkies.

He cursed the mosh-pit debutantes,
And viewed hip-hop with open loathing;
He missed the sight of Mary Quant’s
Bell-bottomed clothing.

He metaphored and analogued
And similed to try to flout it;
Miniver blogged, and blogged, and blogged,
And blogged about it.

And so there’s Miniver number three,
Who’s no more dour but no less bitter.
He shakes his head and sighs. Then he
Logs in to Twitter.

Marcus Bales writes: “Here’s one that has its own built-in reason for writing it: DF Parry had done such a good job, who could resist? But Miniver Cheevy III was written so long ago, now, that possibly it’s time to explore IV.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his “51 Poems” is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (“form in formless times”), and would like you to be familiar with the forerunners to his ‘Miniver Cheevy III’:

‘Miniver Cheevy, Jr.’ by D.F. Parry

Miniver Cheevy, Jr., child
Of Robinson’s renowned creation
Also lamented and reviled
His generation.

Miniver similarly spurned
The present that so irked his pater,
But that langsyne for which he yearned
Came somewhat later.

Miniver wished he were alive
When dividends came due each quarter,
When Goldman Sachs was 205
And skirts were shorter.

Miniver gave no hoot in hell
For Camelot or proud Troy’s pillage;
He would have much preferred to dwell
In Greenwich Village.

Miniver cherished fond regrets
For days when benefits were boundless;
When radios were crystal sets
And movies soundless.

Miniver missed the iron grills,
The whispered word, the swift admission,
The bath-tub gin, and other thrills
Of Prohibition.

Miniver longed, as all men long,
To turn back time (his eyes would moisten),
To dance the Charleston, play mah jong
And smuggle Joyce in.

Miniver Cheevy, Jr., swore
And drank until the drink imperiled
Health, then sighed, and read some more
F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The original, of course, is Miniver Cheevy‘ by Edwin Arlington Robinson:

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.