Tag Archives: Robin Helweg-Larsen

Short poem: ‘Land of the Free’

Homicide, suicide, what’s it to me?
We all carry guns in the Land of the Free.
Free to be Christians and free to be whites –
The rest ain’t included in our Bill of Rights.
The rest want to come here (or blow us sky high),
They get smuggled in, so they cheat, steal and lie.
Servants and slaves since the US begun:
Tell ’em: Sit! and shut up! and don’t carry no gun!

*****

This short poem was published minutes ago in the Allegro Poetry Journal, put out by Sally Long in the UK. The spring edition is always unthemed, the autumn edition themed; and this time the theme is ‘Freedom’ – a word which means many things to many people.

Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ Rally” by Anthony Crider is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Semi-formal poem: ‘Thin Thin Skin’

Life on the earth is thin as dust on an apple.
25,000 miles round the planet, and if we go 2 miles high
we struggle to breathe, claw at the air, fight it, grapple.
25,000 miles round the planet, mostly sea
and if sea levels rise a foot, whole communities are lost
and if a storm gives 10 foot waves, houses and lives are lost.
We live on the thin thin skin of the earth.
Is the soil three inches deep, or a foot, or five?
Can we grow enough to survive?
We live on that thin thin skin of dirt.
And people too are fragile, their bones, organs, held in
by their thin thin skin. A knife,
a bullet, even too much sun,
will break the thin thin skin and drain the life.
And society too is fragile, with too many knives and guns,
too little respect for sun, ocean, climate change;
too many people with a thin thin skin
leading their ignorant people into the razorwire of unpredicted change.

*****

This poem was originally published in Lighten-Up Online (or LUPO) last year – thanks, Jerome Betts! It’s not really a formal poem, though there are some rhymes. As for the subject matter, all I can say is: If you haven’t run across the delightful XKCD graphic of the past 12,000 years of temperature change, please click here!

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages: A middle school science teacher explains a lesson on climate change using a SMART board. Copyright CC BY-NC 4.0

Short Poem: ‘Darkness’

I miss the dark.
Nights pitchblack as pitch in the seams of the planks of boats on a starlit sea
when you walk in a garden
with hands out in front in case you walk into a tree.
Moonless nights
where stars let you grope over rocks at the beach with blind eye –
and then the moon rises
like the sunlit reflecting rock that it is. Then you can see. Can see why.
Why I miss the dark.

*****

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It seems to have a structure, i.e. it isn’t completely formless. Perhaps it needs more work. But it’s very much like the rural moonless nights where I was brought up, and where I have returned. I stumble around happily in many aspects of life.

A Forest / At Night (The Cure photographic cover)” by Max Sat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Irregular Sonnet: ‘Where Do They Go?’

Where do they go, those children asleep?
Do they roost, or do angels put them on shelves?
Or do they go home, to some place they keep
locked far away from us and themselves,
Or an alternate universe? In, out, up, down?
Into a not-place, past care and past fear?
Past love and past tired, past smile, yawn and frown
into subtracted space, full of not here?

And where do they go, the dead?
We say we can’t know where they go,
just that they’re gone. But the crow
says, There is more to know that you don’t know –
says, Better ask instead
where do we go, when dead?

*****

This almost-regular sonnet was originally published in Bewildering Stories (thanks Don Webb). I thought it might be nice to emphasise (after some of irreligious poems) that I am not an atheist (except in the eyes of the organisedly religious). I am a Militant Agnostic: “I don’t know, and neither do you.”

Photo: “Good sleeping children in the morning” by michibanban is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Ghost Tales’

Discounting tales of ghosts kids say appeared,
We teach them to be rational instead.

Jesus was scourged, then crucified, then speared…
You really think he came back from the dead?

*****

This poem was originally accepted for November 2016 publication in Quarterday, a Scottish quarterly that appeared in print and online for a few issues. There were some discrepancies with publication, and I never determined whether this poem made it into either format. The ambiguity is quite in keeping with all reports of ghosts, so I’m not complaining.

(But perhaps I should have blogged this at Easter.)

Photo: Ghosts by goldberg from Openverse

My own favourites: ‘No No Nse Nse’

No
No
Nse
Nse
And things like that
May look like nonsense
But there is
No
No
Nse
Nse

*****

I know, I know… it’s not formal verse, but it’s one of my favourite pieces.

Ecstatic Posture” by Dreaming in the deep south is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Loss’

Which is the worst –
Is it the loss, or memory of loss,
Or loss of memory? Who gives a toss
When the brain’s banks have burst
And all we valued yesterday
Is washed away?

*****

The above is a short poem, semi-formal (i.e. it’s in iambics, it rhymes, but it lacks formal structure) published in this month’s Snakeskin No. 298. I like semi-formal because it allows natural expression in a way that formal structure often prevents. Contrast these examples from Matthew Arnold of the formal (from The Scholar-Gipsy) and semi-formal (from A Summer Night):

Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
Returning home on summer-nights, have met
Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet…

The inversions of adjectives and phrases were used to fit rhyme and metre to line length. Drop the line length requirements and, even retaining the “thee”s and “thou”s, the expression is more naturally conversational:

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail…

Poor Matthew Arnold! With his father a famous Headmaster and himself an Inspector of Schools, there is a sad irony in so much of his poetry being about escaping the tedium of regimented Victorian life.

Photo: “Müllhaufen Villa V R s 1000 s” by rosalux-stiftung is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Epigram: ‘Many Why’s’

Many “Why?”s
Make one wise.

*****

This epigram was recently published in The Asses of Parnassus. Thanks, Brooke Clark, for hosting “lots of poems for people with short attention spans.”

Photo: “WHY?” by annnna_ is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Calling the Poem: 14. ‘What About Failure?’

But what if the poem’s not there?
Is just an idea?
A vague vapor?
What if there were only a few words, heard freshly?
Then write them down even (or rather, especially)
if you must get out of bed, find pen and paper.

By getting up and writing out
the poem letter by blind letter
you are showing by your doing
your devotion to your gods.
Writing verse invokes the Muses,
turns up fresh thoughts, more and better…
not for certain, but just writing
will of course increase the odds.

The hidden gods now bidden,
gods willing, by gods you’ll be ridden.

*****

It’s not possible for everything to succeed every time. So what? As they say, Wisdom comes from learning; learning comes from experience; experience comes from mistakes. Failure is an inherent part of life and learning and achievement – but of course it is essential to learn from failures, not to simply repeat them. So even failures are a gift – be grateful!

Photo: “Failure – Try again” by Tatiana12, CC from OpenPress

Calling the Poem: 13. ‘Crafting the Verse’

We stand on two banks of the river that’s flowing between us.
I’ll bridge my new thoughts out to you with a verse.
First I form key ideas – they need clarity, cleanness –
The bridge forms an outline, takes shape in my head.
Now that bridge must be built,
Built regardless of canyons, or mud flats and silt.

The pillars are images placed first for more of the bridge to traverse,
With my strongest words buttressing them so they’re not washed away.
Their positions are set by the distance and shores,
While the force of the water, the shape of the bed,
And the landscape and soil on my side and yours,
The allowance for possible earthquake or storm,
The demands of the load that the bridge will convey…
These determine the structure, materials, form:
For the best bridge will meet site demands
With both strength and matched style.
So the poet needs meter and rhyme, every trick he commands,
Or the verses won’t carry their burden, will fail to beguile.

Though you see stone or steel in the bridge, for the most part it’s air,
Rhythmic arches of unspoken airy allusion, illusion,
Outlined in hard words and designed to be elegant, spare.
So this poem’s a book, that’s reduced to an essay, reduced more compactly
To two hundred lines, sacrificing precision
To memory’s need for concision, elision.
Two hundred exactly?
No, not exactly. (Exactly!)

From the sweep, pattern, length,
To its delicate strength,
Whether old Roman aqueduct, young Golden Gate,
Whether flowing with water or people and freight,
Its clean shape was constrained by the structural needs and efficiencies,
Driving its strength and position and duty.
All unstructured words in the river are wasted deficiencies.
Poems will last quite as long as an old Roman aqueduct,
Bridging the banks, bearing brightly in rhythms of beauty,
If all ostentation and ornamentation
Support the key functions in what you construct.
Raise your sights to the Space Elevator, that cable,
That modern-day Tower of Babel,
To not just bridge over
A strait or the Severn
But up! to bridge up! at the same time, to heaven.

Cloaked gods were invoked,
And the tiger broke cover,
Your poem connects river banks.
Now give thanks.

*****

When I moved to Denmark in my early 20s I was intrigued to hear that engineering students at a local university began their studies, not with lectures on a variety of key subjects, but by being placed in teams and told to design a bridge that would meet the demands for specific use at a specified site. Materials, geology, weather, load, cost, elegance and everything else that goes into bridge design all had to be researched and included in the project. When students had completed a whole series of projects, they had earned their degree. It was a very different approach from the lecture-based university courses that I had dropped out of in the UK.

How does this relate to writing poetry? Well, it brings to mind Heinlein’s ‘first law of writing’: “You must write.” Also the old story of the would-be concert-goer lost in New York City, asking a man with a violin case how to get to Carnegie Hall and being told “Practice, practice, practice.” There are a lot of factors involved in writing verse – some are common across all cultures and languages while others are language-specific. They all involve ideas (and their mysterious origin), images and their expression in words; but making those words so effective that they evoke an appropriate response in the reader or listener, so effective that they can be remembered and recited, requires the use of a whole range of language-specific factors that are mastered by doing.

By the way, the “two hundred lines” mentioned above refers to the length of the entire ‘Calling the Poem’ e-chapbook that this is part of. This chapbook is a single work, though constructed of various formal and semi-formal pieces.

Photo: “Roman Bridge, Merida” by Jocelyn777 Love Europe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.