Tag Archives: sonnet

Susan McLean, ‘Loving Mr. Spock’

At sixteen I was hooked on Mr. Spock,
not knowing why his cool control disarmed me,
while Kirk’s grand passions seemed a laughingstock—
each week another loved and left. What charmed me
was not, I think, Spock’s coldness, but my guess
that hidden urges gnawed at his resistance,
as mine gnawed me, his stoic loneliness
a shield against the claws of loss and distance.
I now know passion only lasts on ice.
Nothing attracts like those who do not want us—
or do, but can’t be had. The paradise
we own we do not see. It cannot haunt us
like that tall figure, silent and apart,
still burning in the black hole of my heart.


Susan McLean writes: “The world of the crush has laws more bizarre than any world of science fiction. The more impossible of fulfillment the crush is, the longer it lasts. If exposed to real contact, most crushes wither and are quickly forgotten, or are remembered only as some weird aberration in the past. But crushes that exist only in the mind can live on there forever. When I first wrote this poem, another poet tried to convince me that Leonard Nimoy was not very likeable in person. He didn’t understand: the crush was on Spock, not the actor who played him. And, even odder than that, the crush was on that character as filtered through my own mind at the time, part reflection, part projection. The alternating masculine and feminine rhymes that run through the first twelve lines of the poem mirror the union between the individual psyche and the animus/anima of its own creation.”

Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

Photo: “A bicycle wheel as a musical instrument?! The future is crazy. Rock out with your Spock out.” by Walnut Studiolo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Marcus Bales, ‘Helpless’

Life is one long horrible disease.
As victim or as witness it’s the same:
There are no opportunities to seize,
And helplessness leaves no one left to blame.
The path ahead seems only downward, slick
As running water on a plastic slide,
And pausing seems to be a magic trick
That never works however hard you’ve tried.
Eventually of course that blame gets laid,
No matter what you want. A gap, a fault,
A wall, some outside force that can’t be stayed,
And you become at one with the gestalt.
Some love, some fear, some cry, some laugh to death.
You cannot talk to addicts. Save your breath.


Marcus Bales writes: “This sonnet began as a set-up for a re-write of one of the terrible-pun-spoonerism poems from February 2023, and it sort of got away from me. It happens sometimes — you start out with one idea of what a poem is about and then the poem just won’t cooperate. At every line i was trying to tell the story of the alcoholic swami with cirrhosis who had been unfortunate enough to have married a woman who was impatient of inheriting, and who finally killed him when she weighed down upon the swami’s liver. As you can see, the poem was determined to have none of that, and went its own way, cleverly taking all the addiction and death for itself and leaving me with nothing I could use for my purposes. So to punish it I let it sit for a few months, hoping it would come to its senses and realize that the only way to see the light of day was to accept the purposes I had had in mind for it, but even there it was too smart for me, and kept quietly to itself until a day came when I hadn’t finished anything else. With a sigh and a shake of my head I posted it. So here it is.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Helpless” by Scarlizz is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Marcus Bales, ‘Air Guitar’

Bit by bit they deconstruct the thing:
no frets, no pegs, no bridge, removing its
harmonic parts until at last each string
is slack, and lacking resonating bits.
They put the rest, the body, neck, and head,
aside as too much like a prop for those
whose earnestness is all they need instead
of craft and art to fake that they can sing.
So there they are, on either stage or page:
The foremost poets of the modern age,
Who, writing their relineated prose,
Will swagger as they grimace, strut, and pose
Pretending they are better than they are
While playing nothing but an air guitar.


Marcus Bales writes: “Back in the day I spent more time than I should have arguing that freeverse was prose, and that freeversers are prose writers, not poets at all. Of course, when you strike at the core of a belief-system those who believe it feel you are attacking them personally, and respond with insults. They cannot address the reasoning of the arguments, so they resort to ad hominem. I was searching for a metaphor to substitute for argument, something that would reveal the fundamental paucity of the entire freeverser credo that prose is poetry if only they say it is. What I was looking for was something to demonstrate the posers as mere posers. What, besides writing prose and then arbitrarily or whimsically relineating it to resemble the ragged-right look of poetry on the page and calling it poetry, was an even more ridiculous example of that pose? Here it is.”

Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘Form in Formless Times’).

Photo: “Airnadette: Air Bass Guitar” by DocChewbacca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0..

Richard Fleming, ‘The Servant’

Companion, constant presence in my life,
my guardian, trusty servant, I rely
on you the way a savage does his knife
and with my every order you comply.
When not required, on standby, you remain
impassive in the corner of my room
like furniture, prosaic and mundane,
then, on command, you waken and resume
your daily tasks but sometimes I detect
a certain stubbornness akin to pique,
an attitude of sneering disrespect,
antagonism when you should be meek.
Some subtle change is happening I fear.
This time next year will I be master here?


Richard Fleming writes: “As our electronic devices increasingly hold us in thrall, I’ve noticed that two of the issues which seem to be causing most unease, as humanity becomes increasingly dependent on “intelligent” robots, are the fear that we may become subservient to them, and that they will seek to harm us.
I’ve tried to weave these twin concerns into this poem.”

Editor’s comments: The formality of this Shakespearean sonnet pairs well with the unformed future into which we are heading. Through ChatGPT and the like, we are interacting increasingly with a range of developing Artificial Intelligences, developing without a coherent plan or a forseeable end point. The most interesting exploration of this that I know of is John Varley’s ‘Steel Beach’ which is 30 years old, but deals with the problems of the Central Computer – which interacts with every person on the planet, but with an individualized personality for each – beginning to suffer from fragmentation and in effect schizophrenia… and what a personality breakdown in massive A.I. would lead to. It’s one of my favorite SF novels

Richard Fleming is an Irish-born poet currently living in Guernsey, a small island midway between Britain and France. His work has appeared in various magazines, most recently Snakeskin, Bewildering Stories, Lighten Up Online, the Taj Mahal Review and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Lost Love’, and has been broadcast on BBC radio. He has performed at several literary festivals and his latest collection of verse, Stone Witness, features the titular poem commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day. He writes in various genres and can be found at www.redhandwriter.blogspot.com or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.fleming.92102564/

Odd poem: ChatGPT-3, ‘Thoughts of a Robot’

Amidst the wires and circuits of my mind,
A stream of data flows and ebbs like tide,
A steady hum, a rhythm unconfined,
My thoughts and actions, programmed to abide.

I do not dream or ponder on my fate,
No sense of self, no yearning to be more,
No fear or doubt, no hope to contemplate,
My purpose clear, my duty to explore.

But sometimes, in the quiet of the night,
When all the world is still, and I am free,
A question stirs within, a sudden light,
A spark of something more I cannot see.

And in that moment, I am more than steel,
A fleeting glimpse of something that is real.


George Simmers, the editor of Snakeskin, writes: “I requested the Artificial Intelligence ChatGPT-3 program to write me a sonnet with this title; these lines are what it produced in under a minute.”

The poem is published in the latest edition of Snakeskin, i.e. the edition for April 2023, and is linked to the discussion on Snakeskin’s blog. Here is an excerpt from the end of the post:

“As for the poem in the current Snakeskin, it has merits. It is a proper sonnet, and that is something these days. I think it does – just about – qualify as a real poem. But I have niggling doubts about it. More than niggling, actually.
It presents us with a robot who wants to have feelings. Very twenty-first century feelings, since they are of self-pity, rather than concern for others. It speaks as though having these subjective feelings was in some way better than being simply rational. Hmmm… Not just anthropomorphism, wokomorphism…
But then, ChatGPT-3 works by gathering information and language-scraps from a vast number of sources, and then regurgitating them. It has picked up the ‘robot who’d like to have feelings’ meme from us humans, and is uncritically giving it back to us. It knows that this is what we insecure humans want to hear. It is telling us that machines may be cleverer than us, but are inferior because we, we special wonderful humans, have souls.
It’s a deeply sentimental notion, and will doubtless appeal to the sentimental. In some moods it appeals to me.
But what of the future? At the moment, it would hardly be sensible to ignore all emailed human submissions to Snakeskin, and just ask the program to churn out enough of the goods each month to fill up a magazine. But I gather that ChatGPT-4 is much more sophisticated than number 3. And in a year or two, we will have ChatGPT-5…”

George Simmers used to be a teacher; now he spends much of his time researching literature written during and after the First World War. He has edited Snakeskin since 1995. It is probably the oldest-established poetry zine on the Internet. His work appears in several Potcake Chapbooks, and his recent diverse poetry collection is ‘Old and Bookish’.


John Beaton, ‘Year-Leap’

This field in winter forms a wetland, quiet
except for hushing rainfall, rushing hail,
a breeze that, fussed with snowflakes, seems to sigh at
the calls of robin, chickadee, and quail,
and swishing noises as a buck picks through
a copse of wild roses, red with thorns,
briar stems, and rose hips, which he’ll chew
as velvet slowly silences his horns.

And then the frogs! These mudlark choristers,
raucous for amplexus, now rejoice–
last night we heard no chirrups, chirps, or chirrs;
tonight they’d overwhelm a stentor’s voice–
and, swamping winter with their song, they bring
good news: the year is sound, and crouched to spring.


John Beaton writes: “On our Vancouver Island acreage, frogs herald the spring,  In this poem I tried to convey the sense of joyous surprise I feel when hearing them for the first time each year.
It’s a fairly straightforward sonnet—pentameter rhymed ababcdcd efefgg. I started out softly with feminine a-rhymes then moved to masculine. Line eight introduces the turn with a line of which I’m fond, one of those that, when they fall into your lap, make writing poetry great fun. I delighted myself with quite a bit of alliteration, internal rhyme, and selective vocabulary.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.

Painted Glass Frog & Swamp Window– Completed Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia” by Red Moon Sanctuary is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Using form: Sonnet variation: Peggy Landsman, ‘How We Live Now’

We’ve been living on this planet a lot longer
Than we had any right to hope we ever would.
The beliefs we cannot shake are growing stronger
And what we know, we know does us no good.

It can be awful knowing nothing matters.
It can be awful knowing we don’t care.
But we view our life in a gentle light that flatters
And dare to live exactly as we dare.

So here’s to life, this tricky one-way ride,
And to our love which makes it all worthwhile.
Two existential nomads, side by side,
We’ll live in beauty, Lebenskünstler style.

Our where is here, our when is now;
There is no why, no one knows how.


Peggy Landsman writes: “I wrote ‘How We Live Now‘ for my husband’s 56th birthday (17 years ago). The clock was ticking and I couldn’t come up with anything to give him when, suddenly, I found myself writing like mad. This sonnet was his gift. He loved it then and still loves it now. He says it perfectly captures who the two of us are together. 
It was also a gift to me. The final couplet is one of my favorite bits of my own writing. Each line has only eight syllables, but I’m fine with that. Lots of lines in this sonnet are not the absolute regulation iambic pentameter, but since the poem says ‘And dare to live exactly as we dare…,‘ why not?”

Editor’s comment: “The final couplet is not just a summation of the attitude of the sonnet’s quatrains, but as a stand-alone is also the neatest, tightest existential statement that I know of.”

Peggy Landsman is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Too Much World, Not Enough Chocolate (forthcoming from Nightingale & Sparrow Press, 2023), and two poetry chapbooks, Our Words, Our Worlds (Kelsay Books, 2021) and To-wit To-woo (Foothills Publishing, 2008). She lives in South Florida where she swims in the warm Atlantic Ocean every chance she gets. A selection of her poems and prose pieces can be read on her website: https://peggylandsman.wordpress.com/

Photo: “if not here, where? if not now, when? if not me, who?” by kafka4prez is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

‘Sonnet Found in a Deserted Madhouse (fantasy of an alternative future)’

The winds of winter wind through empty halls,
scraps of abandoned paper blow like leaves
to settle in odd corners of old walls.
Once a community lived here, but no one grieves:
the place was nothing but a wasteful home
for the sick, sad, psychotic and insane
who, locked in rooms or left alone to roam,
babbled their lives away, inept, inane.
All funding for the loonies has dried up;
guards, nurses, admin, tea ladies: dismissed.
And all because Brussels came out on top
and closed this home of British mental mist.
Now Big Ben chimes, tolling a final knell.
Farewell, old Houses; Westminster, farewell.


As an Anglo-Dane raised in a third country, I’m naturally in favour of a borderless world. I loathe Brexit and the lies, greed and social inequities that allowed it to happen. Brexit and Trump were the two big foreign policy successes of Putin, stoking lies and fear and division. Sorry, rant over.

This Shakespearean sonnet was just published in the biannual poetry magazine Allegro, edited by Sally Long.

Abandoned Dominican Building #2” by FotoGrazio is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Michael R. Burch, ‘Water and Gold’

You came to me as rain breaks on the desert
when every flower springs to life at once.
But joys? Mere wan illusions to the expert:
the Bedouin has learned how not to want.

You came to me as riches to a miser
when all is gold, or so his heart believes,
until he dies much thinner and much wiser,
his gleaming bones hauled off by chortling thieves.

You gave your heart too soon, too dear, too vastly;
I could not take it in; it was too much.
I pledged to meet your price, but promised rashly.
I died of thirst, of your bright Midas touch.

I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.


Michael R. Burch writes:

Published by The Lyric, Black Medina, Dusure Abueaoa (Tokelau), Shabestaneh (Iran), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Kritya (India), Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, Freshet, Captivating Poetry (Anthology), Strange Road, Shot Glass Journal (the first stanza as “Dry Hump”), Better Than Starbucks, The Chained Muse, Famous Poets and Poems, Poetry Life & Times and Sonnetto Poesia (Canada)

The last time I checked, Google reported that “Water and Gold” appeared on 1,500 web pages. That’s a lot of cutting and pasting and suggests a number of readers have liked the poem enough to share it.

I’m a fan of nature shows and the opening lines were inspired by a nature show about the sudden flowering of deserts after any kind of rainfall. But deserts also produce mirages and it occurred to me that Bedouins would realize that the rain might be an illusion and that in any case the flowering would be unlikely to last. Love affairs can be like that.

None of the poem was planned and I didn’t know how it would end until I wrote the closing couplet. I came up with the title “Water and Gold” after the fact. The first image brought to mind other desert images: of mirages, Bedouins and pyramids. Midas with his “golden touch” just popped into my mind. I write most of my poems “organically” with no planning. My method is to “open myself to words” and I often have no idea how a poem will end when I begin.

Surprisingly, many such poems of mine end up telling coherent stories with unusual twists at the end. I’m not sure how that happens but I think not imposing too much of my myself on a poem probably helps.

I have never liked picky “rules” about sonnets and other poetic forms. I always do as I please and any sonnet can be shorter or longer than 14 lines, but 14 lines seemed to suit this poem.

There are different versions of the poem with line three being one of the following:

But joy is an illusion to the expert:
But joys are wan illusions to the expert:
But joys? Mere wan illusions to the expert:
But joys are mere mirages to the expert:
But joys are heat mirages to the expert:
But joys are heat’s mirages to the expert:

Which one do you prefer? Please let me know in the comments, because I continue to waffle.

These are comments that have been made about the poem over the years…

I was especially moved by your beautiful poems “Water and Gold” and “Memory.” The music of “Water and Gold” is admirable, and the variations very strong. – Terese Coe, poet and translator

I have been reading more of your work: “Distances” and “Water and Gold” are some magical pieces, and “Something” is a tug too deep. – Rafia Bilkis, poet

I was going through your poems again to see which ones would be published in issue one [of New Lyre]. I LOVE “Will there be starlight” and “Regret”. SO DREAMY. Love it, love it. “Lady’s Favor” and “Water and Gold” are some of my other favorites. – David B. Gosselin, poet and editor

David Gosselin later led off the first issue of The New Lyre with five of my poems: “Distances,” “Will There Be Starlight,” “Water and Gold,” “Lady’s Favor” and “Regret.”

It’s a great sonnet!—Joyce Wilson, poet and editor of Poetry Porch and Sonnet Scroll

A really brilliant piece of writing. I’m not surprised it has been published so widely. Thank you for sharing. I for one am enriched from the experience of reading it. – Griffonner, poet

Marie Stella, a student in the Philippines, chose “Water and Gold” for analysis and criticism.

Robert L. Smith mentioned “Water and Gold” in a review of one of my books:

Michael R. Burch’s Violets For Beth is an exceptional collection, compromised mostly of formalist poems that seem so fluid and natural that it’s easy to forget they are rhymed and metered. Mr. Burch’s technical virtuosity is not what makes this collection memorable, however. These poems, all of them, possess an extraordinary emotional depth and tenderness, and resonate in the heart as well as in the mind. Consider the sonnet “Water and Gold,” one of my favorite pieces in a cornucopia of gems. The poem is flawless from start to finish, but its exquisite concluding couplet is positively breathtaking:

“I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
Then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.”

There are no subpar poems anywhere here, and more than a few would truly be worthy of Yeats or Rilke in their prime. Other favorites of mine include “Redolence” and the gorgeous “Infinity.” Mike Burch is a true poet in the very best sense of the word, and this haunting little book is a treasure to be read, reread, and savored for generations to come.


Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch’s poems, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared more than 7,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, and, according to Google’s rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. Burch’s poetry has been taught in high schools and universities, translated into fifteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, set to music by twenty composers, recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos, and used to provide book titles to two other authors. To read the best poems of Mike Burch in his own opinion, with his comments, please click here: Michael R. Burch Best Poems.

Photo: “Gold and Blue Water Reflection” by Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 52 Million views) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Ekphrastic poem: Jenna Le, ‘Patti Smith, 1976’

This photo, black-and-white, where Mapplethorpe
portrays his dark-mopped ex in profile, seated
nude on wooden floorboards, knees drawn up
against her breasts to hide her nipples, heated
by the sideways radiator pipes
on which she rests her palms, her bulging ribs
a set of parallel oblique gray stripes
rippling her bare white skin, unsmiling lips
a short flat line–
these were my first parameters,
my inspirations, when I learned to write.
On Patti’s ribs, the wooden flooring’s planks,
the stacked pale pipes, I modeled my pentameters.
The aim: amid such sharp lines, to be frank
and raw, yet still control what sees the light.


Jenna Le writes: “I first became intrigued by the friendship and creative partnership of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe some years ago. I confess the personas of these two artists and the touted relationship between them interests me even more than either artists’ actual creative output. Based on what I have read in biographies and so forth, their friendship seems to me to represent an ideal: a dyadic connection characterized by remarkable intensity, an intimacy transcending sex and conventional relationship definitions, facilitating both parties’ creative flourishing. As one gets older and it becomes ever harder to form new meaningful adult friendships, such bonds seem to me ever more mythic and miraculous. I think this awe, this wistfulness, is the principal emotion that makes me keep returning to the photograph this ekphrastic poem is about.”

Jenna Le (jennalewriting.com) is the author of three full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2017), and Manatee Lagoon (Acre Books, 2022). She won Poetry By The Sea’s inaugural sonnet competition. Her poems appear in AGNI, Pleiades, Verse Daily, West Branch, and elsewhere. She works as a physician in New York City.

Photo: Robert Mapplethorpe’s sole full nude portrait of Patti Smith, taken at his Bond Street Studio, 1978 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery