Tag Archives: sonnet

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Noam D. Plum, ‘Making a Clean Breast of It’

(Three of four men, according to a survey,) would rather take a shower with a beautiful celebrity than with their partner. “I’m not surprised,” said lifestyles counselor Carol Wise. – Reuters

Wise Wise
Replies,
“It’s no surprise.
It’s thighs–
Not ties–
That tantalize.

“True love’s the prize?
It’s otherwise.

“If four comprise
The sampling size,
Three guys
Revise
Their picks. Love dies.

“The fourth one lies.”

—–

Noam D. Plum writes: “The counselor’s name exerted a strong pull toward writing this. I like that the title is as funny as the poem. I was surprised and delighted that Mary Meriam considered this enough of a sonnet to include it in Irresistible Sonnets.”

Another poet’s pseudonym, Noam D. Plum has published in The Spectator, The Country Mouse, Light Poetry Magazine (where this poem was first published) and elsewhere. Having won several prizes, he is a more successful breadwinner than the poet for whom he fronts.

His poems have appeared in the Potcake Chapbooks ‘Wordplayful’ and ‘Murder!’

Review: ‘101 Sonnets’ edited by Don Paterson

This has to rank as one of the all-time great poetry anthologies. Yes, it contains only sonnets. Yes, several of them are dense in structure or in language (several are in Scots, with words and phrases translated in footnotes). Yes, there is only one sonnet per poet. It is very rich material, and took me a couple of weeks for a first read because there is a lot of absorb. And it has a fabulous Introduction by the British editor Don Paterson – a well-respected poet who avoided including any sonnet of his own.

The sonnets are not put into any formal grouping, but rather flow conversationally from one to the next, the themes often shifting through unexpected juxtaposition. So the first nine run through an amazing sequence of idealised love, woman as muse, kissing, sensual religiosity, obscenity, and charm. It starts with Robert Frost’s
She is as in a field a silken tent
and progresses to Robert Graves’ woman/muse
This they know well: the Goddess yet abides.
Though each new lovely woman whom She rides

to Jo Shapcott’s ‘Muse’
When I kiss you in all the folding places
to Alexander Montgomerie’s
So swete a kis yistrene fra thee I reft
to Wilfred Owen’s
Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed

John Donne’s
Batter my heart, three-personed God
William Alabaster’s ‘Upon the Crucifix’
Feed greedy eyes and from hence never rove,
Suck hungry soul of this eternal store,
Issue my heart from thy two-leaved door,
And let my lips from kissing not remove.

Craig Raine’s ‘Arsehole’
I dreamed your body was an instrument
and this was the worn mouthpiece
to which my breathing lips were bent.

to Robert Herrick
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness

The 101 Sonnets provide a wild ride. The next in the book are Poe’s ‘An Enigma’, Wordsworth’s
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers

(incidentally the first sonnet I learnt by heart, one that helped shape my life) and J.K. Stephens’ parody critique of Wordsworth
Two voices are there: one is of the deep (…)
And one is of the old half-witted sheep (…)
And, Wordsworth, both are thine
.

And so on through all aspects of life and death, English landscapes, Irish history, real parents, imaginary children, mythology, poetry, the seasons, the close observation of small everyday items… Wendy Cope paired with Edmund Spenser, Gwendolyn Brooks with John Milton… A very rich and rewarding collection.

And the 17-page Introduction is the single best essay on poetry that I’ve ever read. Naturally it is focused on the sonnet, covering its definition, its history, its structure; but in so doing it talks about wider issues such as the nature of iambic pentameter, and in a couple of places it goes into the nature of poetry itself: it mentions one of the advantages of the sonnet being that it is small enough
to be easily memorised, which is the whole point of the poem–that it should lodge itself permanently in our brains. We should never forget that of all the art forms, only the poem can be carried around in the brain perfectly intact. The poem is no more or less than a little machine for remembering itself: every device or trope, whether rhyme or metre, metaphor or anaphora, or any one of the thousand others, can be said to have a mnemonic function in addtion to its structural or musical one. Poetry is therefore primarily a commemorative act–one of committing worthwhile events and thoughts and stories to memory.

Later Paterson states
Poetic arguments appear to cohere simply because they rhyme. Rhyme always unifies sense, and can make sense out of nonsense; it can trick a logic from the shadows where one would not have otherwise existed. This is one of the great poetic mysteries.

All in all a brilliant book, and highly rereadable.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Ann Drysdale, ‘Sleeping in Tongues’

Three of us breathing; me and dog and cat.
Awoken by a faint and plaintive mew,
I hold my own breath, ascertaining that
the sound comes from one of the other two.
I act upon an educated guess
and lay a hand on cat, who quickly twists
into a different pose of idleness
and settles, silent. But the sound persists.
So dog it is, who wheezes in a dream
that has bestowed on him the gift of tongues
and things both are, and are not, what they seem.
I let the captive air out of my lungs.
Three of us breathing, dog and cat and me;
companionable synchronicity.

Ann Drysdale writes: “This poem emerged from a situation that took a minute to happen and evolved into a sonnet that takes a minute to read. I can almost believe that it sprang fully-formed from my fingertips, now that the pile of sawdust, chippings and paintflakes generated by the making of one into the other has been swept under the carpet and forgotten.”

Ann Drysdale now lives in South Wales and has been a hill farmer, water-gypsy, newspaper columnist and single parent – not necessarily in that order. Her most recent volume of poetry, Vanitas, joined a mixed list of published writing, including memoir, essays and a gonzo guidebook to the City of Newport. Another collection is accreting nicely and is due to be published next year.

Her poems have been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks:
Tourists and Cannibals
Rogues and Roses
Careers and Other Catastrophes
Families and Other Fiascoes
Houses and Homes Forever
… all available from Sampson Low for the price of a coffee.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jean L. Kreiling, ‘The Waves’

Sprawled on a pew of sand, you meditate
on miracles of tide and time. Without
a prayer but apparently devout,
and humbled by the water’s shifting weight,
you watch with wonder, even venerate
this higher power rolling in and out:
omnipotence too obvious to doubt,
authority too awful to debate.
Like salty spray, some blue-green grace may cling
and seep unsanctified into your soul,
without a psalm or sermon—for the sea
makes its own joyful noise: the breakers ring
uncounted changes, and no church bells toll
more faithfully or irresistibly.

Previously published in 14 by 14. 

Jean L. Kreiling writes: “Growing up on the beach, and living on another coast in adulthood, I have never lost the sense of awe and humility that the sea inspires.  And of course I have never succeeded in capturing its magic in words, but I hope I’ve made a start in this poem.  Its form, my favorite, imposes the sonnet’s graceful structure onto what might otherwise have been an amorphous rhapsody; in addition, its meter and rhyme might suggest a bit of the ocean’s own rhythms and harmonies.”

Jean L. Kreiling is the author of two collections of poetry: Arts & Letters & Love (2018) and The Truth in Dissonance (2014). Her work appears widely in print and online journals, and has been awarded the Able Muse Write Prize, three New England Poetry Club prizes, the Plymouth Poetry Contest prize, and several other honors.  She is Professor Emeritus of Music at Bridgewater State University, and an Associate Poetry Editor for Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art.   

Her poem ‘The Salisbury Crags’ which first appeared in the Orchards Poetry Journal, is included in the ‘Travels and Travails’ Potcake Chapbook.

Sonnet: ‘Fat-shaming’

Gorging on food, an atavistic trait
useful, essential, in the paleolithic–
like a man’s lust for teenage girl as mate–
is one not needed now, shamed as horrific.
It’s healthy, though, to recognise such drives,
note where they came from, why they once were good:
these traits in which the primitive survives,
inbuilt components of our personhood.

It’s acting on them, though, that we deplore:
those who fuck teens and those who overfeed,
like those who steal, or lie, or start a war,
aren’t shamed for primitive desire, but deed–
like those who pray to gods, follow religions,
or skry the future from entrails of pigeons.

It’s not PC these days to even mention various issues, and I seem to have covered a lot of them in this sonnet. But it’s a decent enough Shakespearean sonnet (iambic pentameter, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, volta between the octave and sestet) and also a good enough expression of an opinion, so what is there to complain about? Originally published in that not-always-comfortable but always formal ‘The Road Not Taken – A Journal of Formal Poetry’. Thanks, Dr. Kathryn Jacobs!

“Young and Fat” by Tobyotter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sonnet: ‘The Fall of Rome’

Jesus, a preacher with fake miracles,
his “Sea” of Galilee just eight miles wide–
rebelling against Rome and crucified–
his failure clear (though words were lyrical)…
you’d think “Messiah” was satirical!
But epileptic Paul a chance descried
to shut out other gods and thoughts worldwide,
thus sealing up Rome’s vital spiracles.
So, building on apocalyptic fears,
the Jewish Jesus ends where Paul begins.
Scientists, artists, poets, engineers,
are suffocated as the new faith wins.
All progress is set back a thousand years.
The Roman Empire died for Jesus’ sins.

Belief is strange. Take Covid vaccination: two thirds of us believe it’s an effective way to save lives, one third of us believe it’s a dangerous and unscrupulous way to make money and control people. Virtually no one has actually done any research and analysis of the issue, we just listen to our preferred sources of information and the community we’re a part of.

Or take religion: for the most part, children raised in Christian families remain Christian believers all their lives, Muslims remain Muslim, Buddhists remain Buddhist, and so on. Which makes it all the more impressive when someone can radically change the belief structure that surrounds them. Kudos then to the epileptic Paul of Tarsus, who created a Jewish-Mithraist-polytheist mishmash that has lasted almost 2,000 years. Pity about the Roman Empire, though.

This happily Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDCDCD) was originally published in Rat’s Ass Review, where respectfulness and respectability are not required. Thanks, Roderick Bates!

“Darkness Falls in Rome” by Storm Crypt is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sonnet: ‘The Thief’

More than the actual loss, it’s helplessness
That we most loathe when suffering a theft:
The arbitrary way one daring, deft,
Brass act leaves careful order in a mess;
The knowledge the thief’s wilder and cares less;
The easy way he tears the warp and weft
Of dull security; the insight left
The cosmos can as quickly curse as bless.

Therefore the fears are mostly overblown-–
The thief himself causes no loss or strife
More than insurance or day’s work redeems.
But there’s a greater thief, and more unknown,
Who comes each night and steals one third your life,
Leaving no more than fingerprints, your dreams.

Sleep and dreams are so large a part of our existence that they seem to merit more attention than most people pay them. Sure, we need some rest, but we can get physical rest while awake during the day. So do we really need seven or eight hours every night to defrag our minds and delete unnecessary memories?

I like to think (this is close to “I believe”, but it isn’t belief) that there is something crucial going on that we are missing. The occasional “big dream” that resonates life-changingly. The dream of a distant loved one saying goodbye, before you get the news the next day of their death. The awareness that your unconscious is actually running your show, and that you better pay attention and assist where you can. All these reduce the apparent dominance of the waking mind, and open cans of existential worms. There are no certain answers. We are nowhere near understanding how our bodies, our minds or the universe works.

It’s all wonderful; but I still resent the amount of time I have to sleep. (And to those who say “It’s possible to sleep a lot less” I say “Yes, but at what cost? We have no idea.”)

I’m proud of this sonnet on a technical level. It is a true Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDECDE); the flow of words finds natural tiny pauses at the line breaks; only the volta, the twist to the exposition, is arguably in the wrong place, being strongest after the 11th line rather than after the eighth. But I feel it is all redeemed by a strong last line.

‘The Thief’ was originally published in ‘Candelabrum‘ – a magazine stolen by time.

Photo: “Thief Of Dreams” by Monica Blatton is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

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: ‘Nymph’

A mayfly nymph, in water for a year,
transforms into a beauty of the air
for just one day – one day to mate, breed, die.
The essence then’s the nymph, and not the fly
which we see only thronging in death throes,
death throes of riotous sex. Everyone knows,
though, that the fly’s the cycle’s pinnacle
to artists, if not to the clinical.
Though humans for long eons lived on land,
at Science’s Nietzschean precipice we stand,
transform to things that freely live in space,
or formless Cloud-based online lives embrace…
and may survive but briefly in that state,
but, dying, will seed new worlds as we mate.

Nature poem? Piece of science fiction? The observation of how nature works and a hypothetical extrapolation of human nature into the future are not really two different things – it’s all part of life, the universe and everything… though that future will be is anyone’s guess. The only thing for sure is that tomorrow is not going to be like today.

Is a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter a sonnet, if it just rhymes as couplets? I think not. This poem has a volta after the eighth line, but it still doesn’t feel like a sonnet to me. The feel comes from a couplet closing the poem out after a series of three quatrains, or from the shift from ABBAABBA to CDCDCD. That finalising shift, that sense of completion, is integral to the feel of the sonnet. This poem fails to meet that criterion.

‘Nymph’ was first published in the Orchards Poetry Journal, whose latest issue has just come out – free online, or available in print.

Photo: “mayfly” by ian boyd is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0