Tag Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

Short poem: ‘Life Extension’

Religion leers
“Join me, or you face death”
And History jeers
“Inevitable death”,
But Science still adheres
To schemes to postpone death…
The path of a 1000 years
Starts with a single breath.

It’s interesting to speculate how long it will take before humans can start regenerating enough key pieces of our ageing and failing bodies that we can uncap our lifespan. A matter of decades rather than centuries, I think–but not soon enough for me, I fear.

The last sentence of the poem riffs on the Chinese saying attributed to Lao Tzu (also rendered as Laozi and Lao-Tze) that “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

The poem was originally published in Bewildering Stories, a weekly of speculative writing of all types, edited by a multinational team but headquartered in Guelph, Ontario.

Photo: “Death” by Andrea Kirkby is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short poem: ‘Beach’

Here on the vast beach, you, my hundred friends,
Can see how sea stretched tight round curved earth bends,
How empty sun-filled sky fills timeless Time.
My arms stretch out, but you can’t see how I’m
Trapped, caged, confined, boxed in, in love, alone.
Come, sun, burn beach and skin, bleach hair and bone,
Flay life to its essentials: love alone.

This poem was originally published in The Rotary Dial, a wonderfully rich monthly published as a pdf in Toronto, much missed after suddenly stopping publication. It was edited by Alexandra Oliver and Pino Coluccio, both prize-winning Canadian formal poets, Oliver being the more serious and Coluccio less so, as his collection titled ‘Class Clown‘ suggests.

Coluccio was very kind in comments about my poem, calling it “Borderline Hopkinsesque in a way, ecstatic quality” which made me reevaluate and revalue it. This is one of the interesting things about having your work published, or even merely read by others – things that you take for granted may be found exciting by others, just as things that excite you may just elicit yawns elsewhere. One human may have some diversity of moods, but that is nothing compared to the enormous diversity of humans as a whole. It is fascinating to hear the reactions of others, in all things.

‘Beach’ was subsequently republished in The HyperTexts and in Better Than Starbucks.

WARNING: The Rotary Dial domain name now appears to have been taken over by an unrelated and anonymous group. I would avoid it.

Photo: “beach” by barnyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘The Buddha Died at 80’

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.

“Best Jesus Ever” by C+H is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Barefoot’

After your city feet in socks and shoes,
After your crowded evening with its booze,
Your air is tainted with your body’s sweat,
Unclean and laden with a vague regret.
But we are free
Who live beside the sea,
Can choose what our life spurns or craves.
Surely we reach
Purity on a beach,
Daily dallying barefoot in the waves.

I grew up barefoot. The only downside came when I was sent away to school, and shoes were always too tight even if they were EEE width. That in turn meant that in England I suffered from chilblains all winter. As an adult I still go barefoot, wear sandals in town, have shoes for rare stuations. But let’s face it – shoes make your feet sweat, and also make it hard to climb trees and to swim.

The form of the poem reflects the argument: the first four lines about shoe-wearing are regimented: iambic pentameters, rhyming AABB. The barefoot lines are less constrained, more playful, rhyming CCDEED – the short lines could be written together as iambic pentameters, but the rhymes work against seeing and hearing them that way. And the seventh line is the most unorthodox, having only four feet, while the last line is the most whimsical with its ‘daily dallying’.

The poem was originally published in The Orchards Poetry Journal.

Photo: “25/02/2009 (Day 3.56) – Definitions” by Kaptain Kobold is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Short poem: ‘Golden Childhood’

Golden girl on a sunset beach
With a dog and a horse,
Golden boy spears a silver shark
Under the sea;

Is such a dream forever in reach
Or forever false?
We stumble, emotional, through the warm dark
Back to the sea.

I wrote this in my 20s when I was saying goodbye to the Bahamas – my father had died, my mother had sold the house and moved back to Europe. For the next few decades I lived in Denmark, Canada, the US… but eventually came back to the sea.

The poem was originally published in Candelabrum. I always had difficulty with that seventh line. Originally it had “emotionally”, and I sort of justified it with the line itself being a stumble… but it’s a bad line, too many syllables, too many consonants. Sometimes when I submit a poem to a magazine, the editor points out a flaw, and more rarely, offers a useful alternative. Poems can always be tinkered with.

Photo cropped from “Girl riding a horse at sunset on Bali” by Jimmy McIntyre – Editor HDR One Magazine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Here Come the Old Gods’

Here come the old gods,
laughing in their sleeves
At all the foolishness
humankind believes.
Vishnu and Odin say
Prayers are in vain.
Loki and Shiva say
All goes down the drain.
Jesus and Buddha say
All will rise again.
Dig into the molecule,
the atom you disclose–
Search into the atom and
its particles expose–
Then to string and quantum,
to things that no one knows,
But downward still and downward
the endless staircase goes.
What yet smaller pieces
make up the smallest part?
What is outside everything?
What’s before the start?
The answer’s in the searching
through human gods and sin,
The answer’s in the clicking
of the wheel’s endless spin,
The answer’s in the angels
dancing on a pin,
The answer is the journey
you begin, begin, begin.

This poem was published this month in Snakeskin. It is rhythmic without being precise in its metre: this, together with the rhymes, means it is easy to chant (if you like chanting poetry). Philosophically it is a good expression of my personal beliefs (or lack thereof). I’m a Militant Agnostic: “I don’t know, and neither do you.” Which creates a lot of space for us all to enjoy life.

Photo: “universe” by tolworthy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Poem: ‘Nymph’

A mayfly nymph, in water for a year,
transforms into a beauty of the air
for just one day – one day to mate, breed, die.
The essence then’s the nymph, and not the fly
which we see only thronging in death throes,
death throes of riotous sex. Everyone knows,
though, that the fly’s the cycle’s pinnacle
to artists, if not to the clinical.
Though humans for long eons lived on land,
at Science’s Nietzschean precipice we stand,
transform to things that freely live in space,
or formless Cloud-based online lives embrace…
and may survive but briefly in that state,
but, dying, will seed new worlds as we mate.

Nature poem? Piece of science fiction? The observation of how nature works and a hypothetical extrapolation of human nature into the future are not really two different things – it’s all part of life, the universe and everything… though that future will be is anyone’s guess. The only thing for sure is that tomorrow is not going to be like today.

Is a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter a sonnet, if it just rhymes as couplets? I think not. This poem has a volta after the eighth line, but it still doesn’t feel like a sonnet to me. The feel comes from a couplet closing the poem out after a series of three quatrains, or from the shift from ABBAABBA to CDCDCD. That finalising shift, that sense of completion, is integral to the feel of the sonnet. This poem fails to meet that criterion.

‘Nymph’ was first published in the Orchards Poetry Journal, whose latest issue has just come out – free online, or available in print.

Photo: “mayfly” by ian boyd is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Poem: ‘Ex-Rover’

I was a rover, footloose treasure-trover,
Bahamian, Brit, Dane, Aussie, Canadian,
Easily settling, never for very long,
Followed the sun and the moon with a song.

Now roving is over, Death’s raving and raging,
The threatening madman, waving a knife.
Even my babies have babies, are ageing –
Aren’t there any more decades left in my life?

I was a rover – no grass
Grew under my feet as I’d pass.
Now grass grows and I cut it.
And it grows, and I cut it.
I was wired, now I’m tired;
Fired up, now I’m mired.
And the grass grows again… I give up.

Let me sleep in the sun, and sleep slow.
Let me sleep deep.
When was that rover me?
Let the grass grow.
Let the moon be the stone over me.

This poem has just been published in The Orchards Poetry Journal, where it immediately follows the poem I posted here a couple of days ago, ‘Roughing It In Europe‘. It makes a nice, somewhat sardonic, pairing. Appropriately, this one was written several years after the more enthusiastic earlier one. (From the Orchards link above you can download the Journal as a pdf for free, or buy the very lovely finished product.)

‘Ex-Rover’ is one of those poems that stretches the meaning of the word “formal”. But it has enough rhythm and rhyme to make it relatively easy to learn word for word, and that is a lot of the point of poetry in any language. I feel barely any shame in putting it into the world in this ragged form. The ragged form suits the mood of the piece, after all.

“wanderer” by Cornelia Kopp is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Nonce Poem: “Roughing It In Europe”

One two three four
Is OK, but you need more:

Un deux trois quat’
If you want a welcome mat

En to tre fire
With the krone getting dearer,

Bir iki uç dirt
Selling off your jeans or shirt

Wahid zoozh teleta arba
In a cafe by the harbour

Üks kaks kolm neli
For some food to fill your belly;

Jeden dwa trzy cztery
Language may be shaky, very,

Uno dos tres cuatro
But they’ll love you if you’re up to

Eins zwei drei vier
Trying freely, laughing freer.

This poem, more fully titled “(On the value of learning languages, when) Roughing It In Europe”, was originally published in Unsplendid, actually a splendid magazine that unfortunately has been quiet for the past couple of years. Now the poem is just being reprinted in The Orchards Poetry Journal whose Summer edition is due out today. The poem dates back to my early hitchhiking days, when I was based in Copenhagen but wandering around Europe, North Africa and North America. My experience was that you could wander into any country without any plans, prior contacts or knowledge of the language, and survive so long as you quickly learned to say Yes, No, Please, Thank you, Hello, Goodbye and to count from one to ten – and so long as you smiled, and were comfortable being laughed at for all kinds of mistakes. Case in point: the word “zoozh” that I learned for “two” in Morocco won’t get you very far in most Arabic-speaking countries… So it goes.

Technically, this poem was written in a simple form, nine rhymed couplets, four feet to a line. The second line of each couplet has mostly trochaic feet (i.e. with two syllables, a stressed or accented one followed by an unstressed one). But the first line of each couplet is simply counting out 1-2-3-4 in different languages, and therefore the feet vary with the words of the language. But as we are used to counting to four in a steady rhythm, everything sounds rhythmic regardless of the number of syllables.

So this shows another type of “form”: each couplet is structured the same with the first line counting 1-2-3-4, always in a new language, and the second line having four feet and rhyming with its first line’s “four”. And therefore the poem has a “nonce” form – I created this form for this specific poem; it was created “for the nonce”. You’d be unlikely to find another poem structured quite like this.

Photo: “Hitchhiking in Amsterdam” by Teppo is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘For Eliot’

I guess
Success
Not elation
Or creation
Alone may men not mock;

God bless
T.S.,
Spared the temptation
Of our generation —
Writing rhymes for rock.

First published in Metverse Muse in India. As you might guess, I wrote this before Andrew Lloyd Webber set that “Old Possum” T.S. Eliot‘s rhymes to music for the West End and Broadway hit Cats, disturbing everyone (except the Poetry Foundation)’s understanding of both Eliot and musicals.

Photo: “T.S. Eliot” by duncan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0