Tag Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

Sonnet: ‘Maya’

When God took Time to spin a length of Matter,
And, nothing at each end, tied the ends together,
He held between his fingers and surveyed
The first cat’s-cradle, and since then has played.

Flames flicker, flare, re-form as a friend’s face;
Dogs mime all features of the human race;
The willow weaves a walker from the air;
All Nature helps us see things that aren’t there.

To read Life’s Meanings, we must write the text:
What’s Right one day is often Wrong the next –
I’m rich or poor only as I profess,
Must ask your love or hate, for you can’t guess.

If love’s illusion, so are hate and fear…
Why not choose love?, when it’s so great, and near?!

Reareading this poem after a number of years, I have my doubts about it. It seems to start strong, and ends weak. What to do about a poem like that? The stuff about Maya, the illusory nature of the universe, is OK; but maybe cut it off after eight lines, before it starts preaching. But then maybe it would be lacking an ending, and I’d have to come up with something better than what’s there now.

As it is, it was first published in the defunct ‘Rubies in the Darkness’, and republished in India’s ‘Metverse Muse’. But I’m not happy with the poem…

“Cat’s Cradle by N.O. Bonzo” by wiredforlego is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘Young Men Go Off To War’

Young men go off to war
And score
Deaths, rapes, across an alien nation
Which they chimp-like can revel in –
Which they in later years regret,
Never discuss, never forget.

The one thing that Donald Trump and Joe Biden could agree on: get out of the trillion-dollar waste of Afghanistan. Trump had Pompeo negotiate with the Taliban–the US would leave in 2021 so long as the Taliban didn’t kill any more US personnel; he presumably wanted to wait until the 2020 election was over, because the withdrawal might be chaotic and would look bad anyway. Biden stuck with the Trump agreement, and his calculation must be that, messy or not, hopefully it will be ancient history by the 2024 election.

You can’t fault the US for wanting to go after Osama Bin Laden after 9/11… but that’s separate from trying to stay and nation-build a supremely difficult and corrupt country. And it was probably not criminal under international law, whereas the subsequent Iraq invasion *was* illegal and breached the UN Charter, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz (and Tony Blair)… many people see them all as war criminals, unpunished, and leaving their front-line pawns (if they survived) to live with guilt and PTSD.

The American defeat in Vietnam turned out to be very good for the Vietnamese. Let’s just hope things turn out well for the Afghans. And congratulations to Joe Biden for getting the US out – you can’t impose human rights on a corrupt tribal society by invasion. It doesn’t work like that. There are far more constructive ways to approach international human rights issues… like cleaning your own house first.

This poem was published by Visions International, a poetry journal with perhaps a brighter past than present.

“New recruits at physical jerks – Flinders” by State Library Victoria Collections is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Poem: ‘God Modernises’

We sealed Joe’s body in its envelope
for dropping in the mail slot in the ground,
addressed to God. But the Recording Angel
coughed, said, “God has an online work-around,
so doesn’t take them like that any more.”
How email Joe to God, to bless or damn?
Cremation goes to Heaven… but, knowing Him,
souls just end up in limbo, marked as spam.

Another strange little poem; who knows where they come from, or why? Where they go is more knowable: to whoever is most likely to accept them! In this case, The Road Not Taken–a journal of formal poetry. Thank you for tolerating my morbid flippancy, Dr. Kathryn Jacobs!

I think we have all lost friends and family during the pandemic. The good news now is that vaccines are so widely available. We still have a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, and the sooner those people come to their senses, the sooner everyone can focus on the other major issues: climate catastrophe and corrupt demagoguery. (But it’s still a beautiful world!)

“capper or beginning? (crematorium Zuerich/Schweiz)” by SphotoE is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Marion Campbell of Kilberry, 1919-2000’

In winter’s broken skies, in spring’s thin drizzle,
The gardens wall in sun to warm the ground,
Can still be worked: vegetables grow year-round.
Fingers are cold – but hearths will crackle, sizzle.
It’s drear – but through a week’s rain, and two fair
Days’ sun, daffodils flood the world with light.
Otters slide down rocks, lambs jump in delight,
Rooks tumble, jump and slide, in empty air…
You love their flight; but, grounded, here you stand.
The summer dry and hot, sea almost warm,
Unpeopled heather hills, long days, no storm.
And you, embodying castle and land:
Stone walls and floors, trophies and weaponed walls,
Books read, books written, haunting ancestral halls.

Marion Campbell was a truly remarkable archaeologist, author and cultural activist. Her enormous store of memory of history and lore blended with personal experience, together with her desire to share her knowledge through writing books and creating local museums, is summed up in a charming anecdote at the start of her obituary in The Herald:

Two days before her death, as she lay apparently unconscious in the hospital at Oban, I was telling someone in the same ward about a lost standing-stone at Ballymeanach and remarking that nobody knew when it had fallen. Suddenly a muffled voice from behind the oxygen mask said: ”Well, I know! It was in 1943, when a Shetland pony was sheltering against it from the storm. The poor beast was nearly scared to death.”

She was a cousin of my mother’s, and I was fortunate enough to spend weeks and months with her at Kilberry in my teens and 20s. This sonnet, written in fond tribute, was published in The Orchards Poetry Journal a couple of years ago.

Poem: ‘Poets’

We are the natterers,
We are the masters of arts polyglot;
We are the patterners,
We are the marks on the paths that you plot;
We are the batterers,
We are the iron-headed rams that you fear;
We are the chatterers,
We are the sons of the sins that you bear;
We are the flatterers,
Down on our knees to those who stand tall;
We are the smatterers,
Giving out dangerous knowledge and small;
We are the shatterers,
We are the haters of forces above;
But, most, we are the clatterers,
We are the hooves of the horses we love.

This was first published (I think) in Rubies in the Darkness (UK) and then in Metverse Muse (India). As for the word “clatter”, when I wrote the poem it only referred to sound, the verb “making a continuous rattling sound as of hard objects falling or striking each other.” The word is evolving though, as words do, with the meaning in football of a hard physical tackle that knocks your opponent over. I only meant the noise, of course…

Photo: “horse hoof” by Leo Reynolds is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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