Tag Archives: Snakeskin

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

Short Poem: ‘Cultural Field Trip’

Properly stroppily,
Off to Thermopylae
Busloads of schoolchildren
Grudgingly go;
Hoovered, manoeuvred
Off into the Louvre’d
Be better for profs who are
Trudgingly slow.

No, I agree, that’s not a true Double Dactyl because it doesn’t have a single-word double dactyl line. It’s just one of those poems I’ve written for no other purpose than to play with rhymes. The poem was published in this month’s Snakeskin, editor George Simmers privately commenting: “As an ex-teacher I empathise with the trudging profs.”

“Mona Lisa Madness” by Joe Parks is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Drifting’

Drifting and drifting in an eddying stream
The leaf cannot recall the maple tree;
Pieces fall off; it has nor plan nor scheme;
How could a leaf have sense of destiny?
Its work is done; tree-feeding fades like dream,
Tree-making’s not a possibility.
It drifts and rots, nibbled by perch and bream
Or reaches finally the endless sea.

The sea itself moves, rhythmical and blind:
Is calm, or sprays salt as the waves make foam.
Seas have no will, no parliament of mind,
To make directives like hives make bees roam
To pollinate the world, defend their kind,
And with their mind create their honeycomb.

This sonnet drifts in several ways. The rhythm of iambic pentameter is meditative, rambling. The rhyme scheme is slow, repetitive, changing between the octave and sestet: ABABABABCDCDCD. And the ideas drift: the leaf is left behind when it reaches the sea, and the sea is abandoned for bees. The form seems suitable for the content.

‘Drifting’ has just been published in this month’s Snakeskin, whose editor commented “I like the way it moves from one idea to another that you don’t expect.” Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: “Like a Leaf in a Stream” by Referenceace – Working! is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Body Surfing’

Standing hip deep in the sea
Is nice in itself, but the reason for being there
Is the wait for a big wave.

A wave rising, a sudden tower
Smooth with devouring power
But one you can launch yourself forward in tune with – and
Hurtle ecstatic, unseeing and breathless
For as long as breath can hold
Through the water and up along over and onto the sand,
Sand thick in your hair, jammed in every fold,
Scraped, battered and rolled,
Triumphant, beached, deathless.

For this the saint prays,
For this the artist stares open-eyed,
For this the poet lets wounds bleed unstanched,
For this: this hope of being launched,
Controlled and uncontrolled
By what can’t be withstood or denied.

(Or else you could duck under the wall,
Let it pass over while you count three,
Hear the boom of its crested fall,
Yourself unbroken, inactive, safe, free.)

The sea is always there
Whether or not you are in it
Standing hip deep in it
Waiting for the next big wave.

Another of my “Is it formal?” poems. How much rhyme, rhythm and consistent structure do you need in order to consider it formal? Where is the cut-off between form and free? I don’t know. But I felt the alternation – between quiet waiting sections and the breathless rush of a good wave – was an appropriate expression in itself.

The poem was originally published in Snakeskin. Thanks, George Simmers!

“Superman body position while body surfing” by benaston is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Poem: ‘The Moon’

The birds of dawn
Sing Come out on the lawn.

Flowers
Say Seize the hours.

The day, the sun
Say Don’t stay – look, laugh, run.

Warm rain
Says More! Again!

A tree
Simply says Be.

Beyond the trees, the beach
Rumbles Extend your reach.

A cliff
Asks: If?

The sand
Calls for a handstand.

A wave
Says Misbehave.

Sunset
Asks you, Done yet?

The moon, that overhanging stone…
The moon says You’re alone.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It was an attempt to capture the bittersweetness of living in–or perhaps specifically growing up in–a rural or isolated environment. It’s wonderful to be wild in the wilderness except that, almost by definition, you’re likely to be on your own. And that’s fine, a lot of the time…

Anyway, that freedom is what my childhood and stretches of my 20s were like, and what I came back to after decades away–the difference being that now I’m no longer alone! 🙂 

Photo: “Full Moon Beach Ride July 2012” by gasmith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Review: ‘Old and Bookish’ by George Simmers

George Simmers has chosen a title for his latest collection of poems that describes it very well: “Old and Bookish”; and also–if being merely in our 70s isn’t premature–self-deprecatingly describes himself. But though he writes with understanding about oldness and bookishness, he makes it clear that he is not being autobiographical: The first section is called “from The songs of the Old Man”, the title immediately followed by: “Note: The Old Man is not me, but I know how he feels.”

The Old Man Walks his Dog; The Old Man Visits a Very Old Woman; even The Old Man’s Song About the Crematorium… poems about the kind of thoughts the Old Man has:
Both the slutty and the proper,
Both the crooked and the copper,
Those who decorate interiors,
And the very very serious,
Both the fervent Corbynista
And her fashionista sister
Who’s obsessed by the length of a hem –
They’ll all end up at the crem crem crem
They’ll all end up at the crem.

That gives a sense of Simmers’ work–smooth and amused in rhythm and rhyme, in tone and in message. Or take The Old Man’s Heaven–how would a music lover imagine eternity in the afterlife? Discounting the “hoity-toity… operatic… Bayreuth-y” and the alternative punk “one long mosh pit”, the Old Man with gentle amusement envisages an older blonde in a piano bar:
With a voice of smoky yearning,
A lady who has seen too much,
But she keeps the old torch burning.

She sings that life is made for love,
And time will kill the pain.
She sings that though your love’s gone bad
You still should love again.
She sings that there is always hope
And those who love are wise.
Yes, I could spend eternity
Hearing those lovely lies.

The second section of the book moves away from the internal view of the Old Man to the external view of Some Oldies. It begins with Rachel, the most energised:
Old Rachel’s fierce and heavy-browed
Her views are strong; her voice is loud.
She says the councillors are crooks;
She says the mayor cooks the books.
She says the government’s a mess –
Don’t start her on the NHS –
While London, which survived the Blitz,
Is being bought by foreign shits,
By criminals and sheiks and sharks,
And kleptocrats and oligarchs…

and ends with Christopher, aware of his life winding down, dozing off with a smile
For he is entering a dream –
A joyous dream where he’s pursued
By several plump and laughing women
In the pink bumgorgeous nude.

The third, final, and largest section of the book is where we get to Bookish. Here are poems on poetry, on poets, on words, on English. There is a 26-line Elsinore Alphabet that starts at the beginning of Hamlet:
A is for armour, which kingly ghosts wear.
B is for battlements, where the guards stare.

and works its way through to the very end:
Y, they’re all dead as Yorick, once such a great hoot.
Z’s for zero plot left. Bid the soldier-chaps shoot.

There is two-page book review in limericks of a book of limericks. And there is my favourite poem of the book, ‘Poets in Residence’. Simmers having been a schoolteacher, he takes obvious delight in his tale of a headmaster who invites all the best English poets to the school. Here are eight of the 33 couplets:
Geoffrey Chaucer came first, on an equable horse,
And Spenser, and Marlowe, and Shakespeare, of course…
Keats arrived coughing, Kipling marched vigorously;
Matthew Arnold began to inspect the school rigorously…
Vaughan was ecstatic, though Clough was more sceptical.
Ernest Dowson puked up in a litter receptacle.
Coleridge sneaked off to discover the rates
Of an unshaven person outside the school gates…

Unfortunately for the Headmaster, there is a Romantic Revolt:
Shelley’d gathered the students out in the main quad,
And roused them to rise against school, Head, and God…
The bards of the thirties were equally Red,
And Milton explained how to chop off a head…
Soon the School was destroyed. Eliot paced through the waste,
And reflected with sorrow and learning and taste,
Which he fused in a poem, an excellent thing,
Though rather obscure and a little right-wing…

And the Head is left amidst the rubble, cursing all poets and poetry.

It all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the many aspects of ageing, viewed both internally and externally; and the consolations and disconsolations of poetry itself. It is an easy read, the ease belying the breadth and depth of Simmers’ thought, his lifetime of experience including the 25 years he has spent editing and publishing that excellent monthly online poetry magazine, Snakeskin.

Old and Bookish is an excellent and memorable collection of verse.

Even the cover illustration gets a little write-up at the end of the book, including a last poem by Simmers:

“I am very grateful to Bruce Bentzman for permission to use again his ‘Raven’ drawing, which made an earlier appearance in our Animals Like Reading collaboration. I approve of this bird, both for his obvious appetite for reading, and for his air of scepticism, which once inspired this rhyme:
‘Human nature? Bloody chronic!’ Raven caws in tones sardonic,
And adds: ‘I’ve read some rubbish as I’ve studied human lore,
But I’ve read no book that’s dopier than Sir Thomas More’s Utopia,
Which imagines human harmony and man (that carnivore!)
Being so nice to his neighbour he abjures all thoughts of war.’
Quoth the raven: ‘Never, More.’

And as for that Raven’s comment about warfare: it should be noted finally that George Simmers also authors a blog called Great War Fiction plus which focuses on fiction of the First World War, but also goes off on whatever tangents seem interesting.