Reblogged from George Simmers a decade ago… and still true, back and forth, as it was then. Enjoy!
Probably the oldest continuously published poetry zine on the web – possibly the oldest literary zine of any type – is Snakeskin, published monthly by George Simmers since December 1995.
There are many unique aspects to Snakeskin, including in the archives:
- the pervasive wit and humour, tolerantly secular, expressed in the zine’s name from the first issue with Wayne Carvosso’s poem “Credo” – “we are the kindred of the snake.”
- a long interview of George conducted by Helena Nelson, entirely in iambic pentameter (for George is a skilled and fluent poet, though he rarely publishes in Snakeskin these days)
- projects and experiments, including various hypertexts
- and a standard feature for the past several years, Bruce Bentzman’s blog-like soliloquies, or essays – a very sensitive and deeply emotional journey.
But what is particularly nice for poets is that George has no interest in names, reputations or bios – he just reads the poems, and chooses what takes his fancy. Very few of the issues are themed in advance, but they may reflect his mood or the time of year or whatever, and end up with a mood of their own.
And, despite what the Credo states —
“Nor shall we sit to lunch with those
Who moralise in semi-prose.
A poem should be rich as cake,
Say the kindred of the snake” —
George takes any form or lack of form, so long as the piece works for him. This may reflect the tolerance of someone who had a career as a teacher; or it may reflect the Yorkshireman’s well-known preference for the practical over mere theory. In either case, it presents a wonderful opportunity for a new poet to break into publication in an internationally recognised magazine.
Read an issue or two – there’s something for everyone!
George Simmers has been publishing Snakeskin, a monthly online poetry magazine, for over 20 years – possibly the oldest continuous online literary magazine in the world. I will post a more detailed blog about it soon, but in the meantime: Thank you George, for announcing “Rogues and Roses”, the second of the Potcake Chapbooks, to the world!
Snakeskin poets seem to be spreading their wings everywhere these days, and the latest enterprise to feature several of them is the new series of Potcake Chapbooks, published by Samson Low.
These are neat little pocket-sized pamphlets, sixteen pages packed with poems, mostly witty, all featuring the snap and buzz of rhyme.
The first pamphlet, Tourists and Cannibals, is about travel; the second, Rogues and Roses is full of poems about love and sex. More titles are on the way.
Edited by Robin Helweg-Larsen, whose work will be familiar to Snakeskin readers, these modestly priced (£2.60) pamphlets are just the right size for slipping in with a Christmas card to spread seasonal good cheer.
This poem was written purely for fun–and the use of form was essential.
Two tars talked of sealing and sailing; one said with a sigh
“Remember gulls wheeling and wailing, we wondering why,
“And noting bells pealing, sun paling — it vanished like pie!
“And then the boat heeling, sky hailing, the wind getting high,
“And that drunken Yank reeling to railing and retching his rye,
“John missing his Darjeeling jailing, and calling for chai?
“While we battened, all kneeling and nailing, the hurricane nigh,
“And me longing for Ealing, and ailing?” His mate said “Aye-aye;
“I could stand the odd stealing, food staling, not fit for a sty,
“And forget any feeling of failing, too vast to defy –
“Home-leaving your peeling-paint paling too far to espy –
“All because of the healing friend-hailing, the hello! and hi!
“And, with the gulls squealing, quick-scaling the mast to the sky.”
The poem started as an exploration of rhymes for both sealing and sailing, which seemed like interestingly paired words. Many of the rhymes (and the third one, “sigh”) fell easily into a nautical mood. The metre flowed on from “sealing and sailing”. Add in alliteration wherever possible, and look for a coherent story and resolution… and there is the poem.
It was originally published in George Simmers’ online poetry journal, Snakeskin–a highly eclectic journal–and it made for what one reader called a “good nautical rhythm”, and another comment was “finely composed wordy-whirlwind of images”. Both those strengths of the poem come from the use of form: the nautical rhythm from the choice of metre, the whirlwind of images from the requirement to compress everything into the rhyme scheme.
It isn’t a deep, meaningful poem; but form can be used purely for enjoyment.
You may not be able to decide to write a poem, but there are a variety of things that you can do to increase the chance of being in a poem-writing state of mind.
The first, of course, is to read poetry. We are all influenced by what we are seeing and hearing. Our voices and accents shift towards those we’re talking with, the tunes we hum or whistle are influenced by what we’ve been listening to, and how we write is influenced by what we’ve been reading. Read poetry, especially rhymed and metered, and you’ll be more likely to find your unstructured thoughts expressing themselves in verse.
And that word “unstructured” is also one of the keys. Poetry can come from a chance phrase in your head, from a random rhyme opportunity that you run across that intrigues you for whatever reason, or from an unexpected image or similarity that carries an idea or a metaphor into your thoughts.
So the second thing you can do is, whenever some tiny fragment like this occurs to you, write it down! It is a gift to your conscious poetry-writing mind from your unconscious poetry-dreaming mind.
If it happens in a restaurant, write it down on anything you can take out. If it happens just when you’re going to sleep, sit up, get up, write it down. If it is only a phrase or an idea, write it down. If anything else occurs to you while writing, write it down too. If what you have seems structured, but some other unstructured thoughts are hovering around, write them down too. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always come back to it later. But if you don’t grab it when it appears, you are unlikely ever to find it again, or even to remember that there was ever anything there.
The third is to worship the Muse. Really? No, not really, but there’s no other simple way to describe it. There are forces in your subconscious of which you are unaware. They speak to you in dreams when something is really important. You have probably experienced the difference between what can be called “big dreams” and “little dreams”–messages from the unconscious mind, vs tidy-up-and-defrag dreams.
Somewhere inside your mind a creative engine is at work. You can ignore it, and then not only will you never write poetry, but you are likely to screw up your life. Or you can listen to it, let it sing to you, let it give you little gifts of wordplay or insight, and it will help you stay grounded in what is important. So writing down everything interesting that occurs to you out of the blue is a way of honouring that creative engine, that we can call your Muse. Be grateful to it. Accept that your unconscious may know things about you that you have no clue about, everything from how to keep your heart beating, to how to remember the name of someone from 20 years ago, to how to count time and wake you up at a certain time without an alarm clock. Poetry is the tiniest tip of the iceberg of all the unconscious mind can do. Honour it! And it will reward you.
You can find a guide to “Calling the Poem”–how to identify the poetic mood, how to encourage it, how to deal with it–in a chapbook of mine published by Snakeskin, and downloadable for free at http://www.snakeskinpoetry.co.uk/snake236.html
How to write the poem, when you’re in the right mood… More thoughts on that in the next post.