Tag Archives: Snakeskin

Semi-formal poem: ‘Gulf Airport’

The men in suits, the men in African robes,
The men in jeans and sports shirts,
The local men in headdresses and thobes,
None look out of place.
The women in abayas, saris, or long skirts,
The women in slacks and blouses
(Some with, some without headscarves, depends on race)
None look out of place.
But the anonymous silent women faceless in veils,
And the noisy drunk in-your-face blatant females
In shorts that barely cover their barelys,
They look alien even in a Gulf airport.
The extremes have to be more extreme here to stand out–
Either private as houses,
Or provocative past any “careless”–
But it can be done, with thought.

*****

I wish I had been able to find a photo showing the wonderful range of clothing styles that you encounter in the truly global airports of the Middle East, where travellers on the long-haul carriers change planes en route to Sydney, Tokyo, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Paris, Houston… Your clothing and behaviour has to be extremely extreme if it is to stand out.

This poem was written in Bahrain’s Manama Airport in 2015, published in Snakeskin a year later. It’s not really “formal” verse, is it? 😦

3am, Dubai Airport” by joiseyshowaa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Into the Cryonics Dewar’

We had no destination ever, from birth,
save into the ultimate ocean, or ultimate fire, or ultimate earth.
Now we have not quite so ultimate ice.
For now, it will have to suffice.

The chance of reanimation from cryonic suspension may be small, but still greater than the chance of reanimation after cremation or burial in land or at sea. And I guess we now have a fifth option – ending up off-planet, adrift in space. But in effect that will be a variant on “not-quite-so-ultimate ice”. In space you’d end up near Absolute Zero, as with cryonics – but whereas with cryonics there is the miniscule hope of eventual reanimation, in space your ultimate fate would be that of all space debris: drifting for millions of years until burning up into a star or planet, or getting sucked into a black hole.

Life, death, quite fascinating. Not many options for changing the outcome, though various billionaires are throwing some of their money at the search for immortality, as people have done since at least the time of the pharaohs and early Chinese emperors. And why not? think it’s “just science fiction”? For thousands of years we used to dream we could fly to the moon, and that happened eventually…

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin #274, July 2020. Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: cryonics.org

Kyrielle: ‘Desire is the Last Domino to Fall’

Religion starts as trying to explain,
Progresses to high priests’ financial gain.
I’ve tried religions, and seen through them all;
Desire is the last domino to fall.

Explore the world – well, fifty lands’ enough;
Novelty fades; folks are just folks; stuff’s stuff.
I’ve seen both rich and poor round this blue ball;
Desire is the last domino to fall.

And I’ve gone barefoot, and I’ve gone first class:
The trinkets pall beside bare feet on grass.
Markets go up and down and they too pall;
Desire is the last domino to fall.

The fearful right, the overtrusting left:
Politics, history, both of sense bereft.
Reagan’s road leads to Trump and hits a wall;
Desire is the last domino to fall.

My arts expression’s been in writing verse–
The arse end, clearly, of the universe.
There’s rarely silver in the nets I haul;
Desire is the last domino to fall.

I’ve had my fill of sex – but when I see
A vibrant youth, my thoughts are freshly free.
I want, though why I want I mayn’t recall…
Desire is the last domino to fall.

This poem, published by George Simmers in April’s Snakeskin, flowed straight out of a comment by Jackson Browne in a Guardian article on his latest album, ‘Downhill From Everywhere’. My thanks go to Mindy Watson, creator of poems in every form she hears of, for identifying this one as a kyrielle. I hadn’t set out to write within a specific form, I merely wrote a poem that used a repeating last line of the stanza. And this highlights one of the things about form: form follows function, in poetry as in architecture. Metre, rhyme scheme, line length, all these are chosen for their appropriateness for the mood and content of the poem. Ballads, sonnets, couplets, villanelles, each type finds its best use in a different situation, each evolved to provide a good expression of a different mood, each became popular as its expressive strength was demonstrated.

A kyrielle seems to me a natural poetic construct for an expression of prayer or despair or wherever all avenues of thought lead back obsessively to the same essential fact or wish. It was formalised in the time of the troubadours, and its name derives from the Late Latin phrase “kyrie eleison“, “Lord, have mercy”. Very appropriate.

Photo: “Where It All Began” by mckinney75402 is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, ‘(Under)worlds Collide – (an ovillejo chain)’

Makaría, my girl, though you’ve heard 
Every word 
Of this myth I’ve recounted before, 
I implore 
You—indulge me again. For at last 
You’ve surpassed
Fragile childhood’s constraints. Now hold fast 
And let fantasy shift into creed. 
You’re Persephone’s daughter; please heed
Every word, I implore. You’ve surpassed 

Expectations I set at your birth.
From my dearth 
You drew bountiful joy; from disgrace 
You forged grace.
And it’s clear that your eyes could induce 
Mighty Zeus
To devise an elaborate ruse 
That would send you careening unseen
Down to Hades, where I was once queen. 
From my dearth, you forged grace mighty Zeus—

Who, three decades ago sent me bound 
Underground
As a chthonian bride—would aspire 
To acquire. 
Once, Demeter’s stray heart, all aglow
For the beau
She’d just met, allowed Zeus to sow woe.
He pared back the earth’s crust, laying waste 
To her harvest and left me displaced 
Underground to acquire. For the beau

Who then claimed me, I burned seven years. 
Through her tears, 
Fair Demeter cursed Earth and repealed
Springtime’s yield,
Vowing Winter would linger ‘til I
Bid goodbye 
To the underworld. Hades complied, 
For the innocent girl he’d once craved 
Was no more. As I rose, Mother waved 
Through her tears. Springtime’s yield bid goodbye

To its seven-year drought. But although
Status quo 
Seemed to flourish again, when detained
I’d retained 
Hades’ seed. It entrenched its black song
For so long 
In my belly, no matter how wrong,
The abyss still enthralled me. When eight 
More years passed, I spit out the innate 
Status quo I’d retained for so long,

And descended at twenty to reign
Hell’s domain.
Disavowing my schooling to seek 
Dark’s mystique,
In the city, I stripped on a stage
To assuage 
What convention had trapped in a cage.
And I deemed each male patron a thrall
On whose worship I’d draw to recall
Hell’s domain—dark’s mystique. To assuage 

The lacuna lost innocence spread 
In its stead,
I sought lust, ‘til a man who’d paid much 
Dared to touch 
Me as Zeus had once touched. But his ploy
To destroy
My esteem served instead to deploy 
Comprehension. Mercurial youth
Had to forfeit illusion that truth,
In its stead, dared to touch—to destroy.

While these decades I’ve learned to delight
In the light,
I acknowledge I’ll always endure
Dark’s allure. 
For the Hades against which I strain 
Lives to reign.
Makaría, I’ll need not explain
When, from underworld’s embers you rise
And return to me, blinking your eyes 
In the light—dark’s allure lives to reign.

Originally appeared in Star*Line, Fall 2018

Mindy Watson writes: “‘(Under)worlds Collide,’ which originally appeared in Star*Line’s Fall 2018 issue, constitutes my most ambitious attempt at restructuring a prior creative nonfiction/memoir essay (the initial ‘Underworlds Apart: A Story for Ailie’ piece appeared in Adelaide Magazine’s online March 2017 edition) into poetic form—in this case, an 8-stanza string of linked ovillejos. While the poem follows the original memoir’s metaphorical trajectory and overarching narrative—that is, a mother leverages a well-known Greek myth’s parallels to her own coming of age story to relay a “moral” (of sorts) to her burgeoning young daughter—I wanted the compressed, verse form to read less like a dark bedtime story and more like a literary song… but without losing the original’s intensity. While in hindsight I concede that my chosen form’s line/length constraints hampered my ability to clearly align my real-world characters to their mythological counterparts (a far easier feat via prose), I believe the form’s stipulation that each terminal ovillejo line contain a convergence of previously distinct phrases conferred a sense of interconnectedness between one elapsed past and another possible future that no mere prose ever could. I applaud George Simmers for penning ‘Strip,’ which made me remember my prior manifesto, and Robin for posting it.”

Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Snakeskin, Think Journal, the Poetry Porch, Orchards Poetry Journal, Better Than Starbucks, Eastern Structures, the Quarterday Review, and Star*Line. She’s also appeared in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets: Form in Formless Times chapbook series and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology. You may read her work at: 
https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite.

Photo: “Persephone’s Rape at Uffizi -II” by Egisto Sani is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Tom Vaughan, ‘To Whom It May Concern’

Remember waking, starting, stupidly young
the promises, the lies, the world’s forked tongue

Remember how you longed for love, and how
you long for love the same way, even now

you know that there’s no cure for loneliness
not even love, let alone happiness

Remember marriage, children, summer holidays
Remember work, remember all the ways

you chose to be defined which were not you –
if there’s a self definable as ‘true’

Then remember prayer, answered or unanswered
(either way, how to tell?). Remember whispered

doubts. Remember the words and images
which led/misled you on your pilgrimage

Remember how you crossed the desert, cursing
Remember how you crossed the desert, hoping

Remember age and illness, letting go
of everything you’d told yourself you know

Remember forgetting the Lord your God decreed
you must remember him, and teach your seed

the stories storing their identity.
And if you read this, please remember me.

Tom Vaughan writes: “I like it because it came in a rush, like something hammering in my head, and because it reflects not just what seems to me the crucial nature of the link between memory (however selective and indeed creative) and identity, a link I saw brutally put to the test during my mother’s long decline with Alzheimer’s, but what has always fascinated me about Judaism and the wonderful emphasis in the Jewish scriptures and festivals on the need to remember, in order to retain/create a sense not just of individual but also of collective identify.

The rush also meant that substantial trimming was called for: it was originally about twice the length. But I hope the final compressed result pins down more precisely the push and tumble of the writing process.”

Tom Vaughan is not the real name of a poet whose previous publications include a novel and two poetry pamphlets (A Sampler, 2010, and Envoy, 2013, both published by HappenStance). His poems have been published in a range of poetry magazines, including several of the Potcake Chapbooks:
Careers and Other Catastrophes
Familes and Other Fiascoes
Strip Down
Houses and Homes Forever
Travels and Travails.
He currently lives and works in London.
https://tomvaughan.website

‘To Whom It May Concern’ was first published in Snakeskin 277, October 2020

Photo: “Jewish house with Mezuzah” by La Laetti is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Rob Stuart, ‘Hitchcock Acrostic’

My looming silhouette, obese and bald,
As well as my distinctive semi-slur
Still resonate, and even now I’m called
The cinema’s preeminent auteur,
Epitomising what François Truffaut
Revered: a moviemaker in control
Of everything on screen. I ran the show:
Finessing scripts and casting every role,
Selecting music and the mise-en-scène.
Unwilling as I was to look beyond
Simplistic plots that featured guiltless men
Plus pretty women (preferably blonde)
Entangled in intrigues, they all had doubt,
Not payoffs, situated at their heart:
Set bombs a-ticking, tension builds throughout,
Explode them and you blow it all apart.

Rob Stuart writes: “This poem was previously published in ‘Snakeskin’ although I have revised it since.

“Is this my best poem? Probably not, but it’s certainly the fiddliest I’ve ever written and consequently the most satisfying to have (perhaps) finished. A rhymed acrostic gives one very limited room for manoeuvre as it imposes constraints at both the beginning and end of each line, and this led to all manner of contrived rhymes and clunky word choices in my early drafts, including the version that was originally published a few years ago, and I have literally spent hours poring over lists of verbs beginning with a ‘u’ and synonyms for ‘suspense’ in the search for suitable replacements. I may yet go on to revise the poem further (I’m still not sure that the second to last line quite works), but I think it reads pretty damned well now. It’s a dinky little lesson in film history, too.”

Rob Stuart’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and webzines including Ink Sweat and Tears, Light, Lighten Up Online, M58, Magma, New Statesman, The Oldie, Otoliths, Popshot, The Projectionist’s Playground, Snakeskin, The Spectator and The Washington Post. His work appears in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Careers and Other Catastrophes‘ and ‘Wordplayful‘. He lives in Surrey, England with his family.

http://www.robstuart.co.uk/

Sonnet (?): ‘Sleep is Like’

Sleep is like heading to the locker room at halftime
Sleep is like stepping into the wings between acts
Sleep is like going outside for a cigarette.

And then you go back to work
Back to the performance
Back to the game.

The game that may go thirty thousand rounds;
But who you really are is when you’re on break;
The rest is just your job, performance, game, not you.

And when at last it ends, and you go home,
Back to where you came from,
Who are you? and where do you go?

Perhaps you know this while you’re deep
Asleep…

This poem–if it is a poem–on (one of) the mysteries of the universe was just published in Snakeskin. I suppose you could call it a sonnet if you want… it has 14 lines. With four thoughts in four sets of three lines and a concluding sort of rhymed couplet, it has an organised form. Sonnetish. But it’s not elegant, it’s coarse–like life and death, consciousness and sleep.

It has no regular beat, let alone formal metre. And it’s not reasonable to claim that ABC DEF GHI JKL MM is a rhyme scheme. The piece simply doesn’t have the carefully balanced exposition of a sonnet, the flow of rhythm, the inevitability of rhyme.

If I put together a collection of my sonnets, I wouldn’t include it.

Probably.

“Smoking outside London Bar” by macabrephotographer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

R.I.P. Susan de Sola

Wonderfully warm and witty poet Susan de Sola passed away last week after a short battle with cancer–she was only 59, very active, and had recently published ‘Frozen Charlotte‘ with Able Muse Press. Tributes in Snakeskin’s blog and Light Poetry Magazine have shown some of her charming, amusing work.

Her work appeared in a couple of the Potcake Chapbooks–‘Family and Other Fiascoes’ and ‘Strip Down’–but I think the most fitting poem for showing her spirit is the last poem in ‘Frozen Charlotte’. She likens the lives of humans to the brief lives of fruit flies and ends, acceptingly, with
“The fruit is fine, the day is long.
Let us feed, buzz, rejoice
.”

Indeed. But many of us miss you, all the same.

Poem: ‘Wild Oats’

He sowed wild oats
From John O’Groats
As far as Walvis Bay;
West to Cancun,
Up to the Moon,
And back to old Cathay.

Who will forgive
The way he lived?
Where are the children, though?
Daughters and sons
Under what suns?
Who’ll ever even know?

Now settled down,
Mayor of his town,
Friend to both poor and rich,
He’s no regrets
For he forgets…
That selfish son of a bitch.

This poem started with those first two lines, triggered by a photographer’s fundraising paramotor trip from John O’Groats to Land’s End this past summer. BBC story and photos here. No wild oats are involved in the story, but ‘John O’Groats’ is such an evocative name, you have to rhyme it with something… and then you just end up following the rhymes wherever they go. That’s how it often is for me, anyway. No editorial opinion is implied, no persons living or dead, no animals were harmed, etc.

The poem was published in Snakeskin 289, i.e. this October. Editor George Simmers was good enough to point out a particularly weak rhyme and a suggested improvement for it, which I happily took.

“wild oats” by john curley is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Short poem: ‘Every Little Mammal’

Every little mammal
Likes a little cuddle.
Man or mouse or camel,
Life becomes a muddle
If there is no cuddle
For the simple mammal.

There’s nothing much to this little poem. Sometimes an awareness of a rhyme or near-rhyme sparks a thought, sometimes a random thought contains words that rhyme, or nearly… and if it’s not a large thought, it’s not a large poem. But it’s there all the same. And if you’re really lucky, you can find an appropriate illustration…

This short poem was originally published, like a hundred others of mine, in Snakeskin. Thanks for all of them, editor George Simmers!

“Illuminated Manuscript, Collection of poems (masnavi), A mouse, clutching the reins of a camel, at a stream of water, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.626, fol. 94b” by Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts is marked with CC0 1.0