Tag Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

Poem: ‘Leadership Transition’

Julius Caesar, Antony, King Lear,
Hamlet, Macbeth – corrupted, vain, impure,
Irrational, bombastic, insecure –
He’s no more clarity or veritas
Than the deceptions of a covert war,
All morals blurred.

That tyrant rant, Tyrannosaurus roar,
Forecasts he’ll suffer a dictator’s fate:
His proud obsessed confusion first seems great,
Then grates, unravels at the seams, slips gear,
Loses its moral metaphors, grows crass;
He dies absurd.

Octavius, Malcolm, Edgar, Fortinbras,
Comes from the wings and strides to centre stage –
Competent, measured, reasonable, sane –
To rule the wreckage of the tragic reign;
Restores some structure, closes out the age,
Speaks the last word.

This archetypal character’s strong thump
Will get his nation out of the morass;
The raucous self-styled hero being dead,
A truer leader takes the throne instead.
(How Shakespeare’d end the Tragedy of Trump
Can be inferred.)

The common fate of Shakespeare’s flawed protagonists–death, and replacement by a more worthy ruler–is a story that humans enjoy and wish applied in their own times and countries… although they may naturally disagree on which ruler is disgraceful and which would be more worthy. Speaking for myself, I don’t need to see a death–I’d be happy for Putin and Trump to avoid assassination or jail by going into comfortable exile at a golf hotel in southern Russia. (You read it first here.) But Shakespeare would deal with them more definitively.

This poem is the third of the five poems published this month in The Brazen Head. Its four stanzas are in iambic pentameter with a short 6th line. The rhymes largely carry over between stanzas–the 6th lines only rhyme with each other. The rhymes and the stanza structure are designed to create a sense of satisfactory achievement–exactly what I feel with Biden taking over from Trump. (Similarly I would love to see Navalny take over from Putin, and almost anyone replace Boris Johnson.)

York Minster – June 2013 – Emperor Constantine – One Cool Dude” by Gareth1953 All Right Now is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Experimental Poem: ‘Pointillist’

(Note: this poem is so named because if you look at it closely you may not find as much meaning as if you step back, let it flow past you, and see an outline of a story.)

Awake
Anew
Awhile
Askew;
Afoot
Among
Amass
Along;
Abet
Aback
Ado
Alack;
Alas!

Abroad
Again
Astride
Amain;
Atop
Alight
Aglow
Afright;
Afar
Ahead
Aloft
Abed;
Alone!

Aware
Amused
Affair
Accused;
Away
Aboard
Affray
Abhorred;
Aground
Alive
Abound
Arrive;
Ahoy!

Array
Await
Assay
Abate;
Appraise
Accord
Amaze
Adored;
Apprise
Appoint
Arise
Anoint;
Adieu!

This poem started (if I remember correctly) as four or five of the early words coming into my head with a sense of rhyme and rhythm when I was on the point of falling asleep. I roused myself enough to write the words down, doing what I consider an essential part of the communication I long for with my unconscious, my Muse–acknowledge the Muse by writing whatever is offered to you, whether or not it is complete or makes sense.

The next day I wrote more, keeping to iambic monometer and words of Anglo-Saxon derivation beginning with A. As a hint of a story took shape, I kept writing. After the first two stanzas I moved over into words of Latin derivation and went for more intense rhyme. Long lists of words were involved. After four days I had the whole poem.

As for the story itself… I see a hero setting out, failing, trying again, under threat, escaping by boat, shipwrecked, and finally rewarded. Are they male or female, and of what age? Did they have a love affair? Did they end up at home or in foreign lands? If you look at the poem sideways you may find an answer that suits you. Or (of course) not.

‘Pointillist’ was the second of five poems recently published in the Poetry section of The Brazen Head.

Pointillistically abstracted” by readerwalker is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Poem: ‘His Mad Skull’s Like’

His mad skull’s like
a motorcycle cage of death,
the engines roaring over and beneath:
conflicting paths, crashless machinery –
the crowd roars, hoping for catastrophe.

an alchemist’s laboratory,
he strives through Universal symmetry
alone to conquer nature, friendlessly,
transmuting hopeless to hope endlessly.

a planet with its atmosphere,
blossoming gaudy after starting drear;
from grand extinctions and tectonic faults
life reaches out to loot galactic vaults.

a plant with taproot down the spine
side-nerve extractors reaching out to mine
the Universe’s minerals of sense,
make sense, and raise to Mind the mind’s pretense.

This poem along with four others of mine has just been published in The Brazen Head in the UK. I came across the magazine through Marcus Bales who published three sonnets in it in October 2021. The magazine is an idiosyncratic quarterly blog with a diversified structure and a wealth of unexpected ideas in poetry and prose. My poem felt quite at home. I will post the other poems in the next little while–a couple of them have even more unusual forms; the five make a nice set.

Sonnet: ‘We Know We Will Be Dead’

We know we will be dead, who are alive.
But should some element of us survive –
fragment of consciousness or memory –
what value could it have? What should it be
that the whole universe might benefit?
The atom matters – what’s not made of it?
And we’re not large – not like a conscious star
(if time will let us all evolve that far).
You’re not much different in real magnitude
from an ant crushed for going for your food,
a gnat rubbed out, its tiny consciousness
a dot… but does it build the universe?
If that gnat can’t, I don’t see how you can:
there’s not much difference between gnat and man.

Does a poem of 14 lines, rhymed in pairs, count as a sonnet? Perhaps, but it doesn’t feel quite right. Petrarchan and Shakespearian sonnet structures, with more complex structures of rhyme, produce a much greater impact with the final line–a sense of revelation, inevitability, an impression of absolute truth–purely by the successful rounding out of the pattern. I like this poem’s ending couplet… but it would be stronger if the previous 12 lines were better structured.

‘We Know We Will Be Dead’ was published in the most recent Allegro, edited by British poet Sally Long.

Hubble’s colourful view of the Universe” by Hubble Space Telescope / ESA is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Voyage’

Some watch the widening, receding wake
On life’s long voyage. Others at the bow
Scan ahead, wondering what route we take.
(But Past and Future point to one end, Now.)
When disembarked, what will your story be?
“I looked back, couldn’t tell where we’d begun…”
“I tried to look ahead, but couldn’t see…”
“I read lots.” “Slept.” “I made friends.” “I made none.”
“Sunsets were nice.” “The food was just so-so.”
“I helped someone.” “I tried, but got in fights.”
What’s next?
Aboard Earth round the sun all go,
Each spinning whirl hundreds of days and nights,
Through scores of rounds. How’d we get here? Don’t know.
Then each, some unknown -day and -where, alights.

This poem was originally accepted for Contemporary Sonnet but, as far as I understand, when Charlie Southerland took over from the previous editor all the online passwords had been lost, and the magazine folded. So the poem went to Verse-Virtual instead. Given that its subject matter is the unpredictability of life, such changes for the poem’s own voyage are quite in keeping.

Ship’s wake” by Dany_Sternfeld is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Thunderclouds’

Lightning connecting heavens to the Earth
When heat, humidity grow thunderclouds–
Blackening, building to torrential floods–
Is how the Singularity will birth.
Then our new thunderous AI gods appear,
Growing and killing, Shiva-like, their wards.
(I, for one, welcome our new Overlords…)
Their lightning flashes blind, freighted with fear.
From rising mists and steams of consciousness
Poetry stormclouds, too, flash and connect.
When humans by our own AI are wrecked–
Our own connected selves and selflessness–
The Jovian bolts of electricity
Will be posthuman–and pure poetry.

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with Vlad the Bad‘s invasion of Ukraine. It is just part of my decades-long fascination with the way that technology is laying the foundations for AI that will be more powerful than humans, and for brain-to-brain communication that will move us to a Borg-like condition. And then what? It’s unknowable, but it will be the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine. Nature is in a permanent state of change and replacement and development, and humans are not exempt from being obsoleted. Not this year or next. But in 100 years, who knows what transitions will be happening?

This sonnet was first published in the Shot Glass Journal.

“Thunderhead” by Nicholas_T is licensed under WordPress Creative Commons

Poem: ‘Advances in Personal Care’

1700 BCE
A length of fibre to extract a tooth –
a flint to decorate yourself with scars –
a large, strong thorn to make holes for tattoos –
an oyster shell to scrape off excess hair…
so health’s improved and beauty is accented.

1700 CE
High heels and wig show stature, vigour, youth;
a monocle improves both look and looking.
How we’ve advanced, compared to ancient times!
Some say there’ll be advances still to come,
but how, when all’s already been invented?

This poem is a riff on a 19th century joke. Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of US Patent Office in the late 1890s, is widely quoted as having stated that the patent office would soon shrink in size, and eventually close, because “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” (In fact Duell said in 1902: “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.”) But the joke appears to have had earlier incarnations in the 19th century in Punch magazine and elsewhere, presumably as the world was adapting to the reality of life changing more and more rapidly.

The poem is in iambic pentameter, but the only rhymes are between the two verses: the first lines of each and the last lines of each. But I feel that produces enough echo to make it sound adequate. My thanks to Bill Thompson for including it in the Alabama Literary Review – ALR 2021.

Photo: “France-001560 – Louis XIV” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short poem: ‘The Inevitable Future’

Now that I’ve got Windows 10,
11 comes; and then, and then…
Next: self-driving flying cars,
Trump in jail and Musk on Mars.

Certain things appear inevitable in the businessman’s crystal ball… Well, we’ll see. This short poem was published in the ever-succinct Asses of Parnassus – thanks, Brooke Clark!

Poem on poetry: ‘Diatribe Against Unversed Poets’

Ignoring clockwork towns and fertile farms
Tied to the sun-swing as the seas to moon,
They searched for verse in deserts without rhyme,
Lifted erratic rocks nonrhythmically
In search of poetry, then through the slough
Of their emotions hunted for a trail:

“The scent is cold. Its Spirit must have fled;
The body of its work, though dead,
Has been translated to some higher plane.
Look how the world’s translated verse
Comes to us plain—why can’t we emulate?
Then if the words themselves are unimportant,
If poetry in essence is idea,
And song is wrong,
Rhyme a superfluous flamboyance
(Like colour in Van Gogh),
Rhythm a distraction to the memoring mind,
Then we determine poetry’s true form is mime!”

While in the air the deafening blare
Confounds their silence everywhere:
Before our hearts began to beat
We were conceived in rhythmic heat;
So, billions strong, we sing along
For all the time, in time, our time, the song
Goes rocking on in rhythmic rhyme. Rock on!

“Unversed” means “not experienced, skilled, or knowledgeable”. Poetry takes different forms in different languages, but the forms all have the same desirable outcome: to make it easier to memorise and recite word-for-word. Alliteration, assonance, rhyme, metre – these are all useful tools for achieving this, along with less tangible tools such as fresh or startling imagery. Metre/beat/rhythm is viscerally important to us, because the mother’s heartbeat is the background to sensory development in the womb, and our own heartbeat and breathing rhythms continue throughout life. As humans we drum, we dance, we sing, just as we walk and run rhythmically, tap our fingers rhythmically when we are bored, teach small children to clap and sing, teach older children clapping and skipping games. Rhythm is built into us from before birth.

Rhythmic poetry didn’t die when it almost stopped being publishable. It just went into folk songs, blues, rock, country-and-western, musicals, rap, hip hop… Popular music let teenagers and adults continue to thrive with what they were not given by schools: rhythm and rhyme. This drive to make words memorable and recitable is part of who we humans are. So schools do best when they leaven “creative self-expression” with getting kids to learn things by heart, and getting them to pay attention to the qualities that make it easy to memorise and recite.

Photo: “Lost in desert” by Rojs Rozentāls is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Portraits’

Easy enough, the people in the park,
A subway addict, or some screaming child:
Knock off five lines from some chance-heard remark,
A tic observed, or mood or clothes gone wild.

A longer piece for loves, coworkers, friends,
People you’ve bonded with, played some life game;
Can’t be so flip – unless the portrait bends,
Fictionalizing thoughts in formal frame.

And closer to you than your own bed mate
Is, tougher yet, perspective and full view
Of parents, more than threaded through your fate,
They’re warp and weft, the loom, the weavers too.

So, last of all, the golden trophy shelf:
That great and grand grotesquery, yourself.

… which is merely to say that writing about people has difficulties that increase as the subjects are closer to you. Technically, a Shakespearean sonnet (iambic pentameter, rhyming ABAB CDCD EFEF GG), though without a volta, that delightful twist that reverses the mood or imagery or argument. Oh well.

Originally published in The Poetry Porch, edited by Joyce Wilson.

Photo: “National Portrait Gallery” by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0