Tag Archives: sonnet

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Helena Nelson, ‘On Gloom and Proper Respect’

He doesn’t exactly blame her for it. No,
it’s not her fault. She is the way she is—
incorrigibly optimistic. But
the strain of her unbridled cheerfulness

must tell. His gloom requires due diligence.
It’s there to serve a need, and needs a slow
and proper processing. That’s it—a proper pro-
cessing. To this he must commit, and hence

his necessary isolation. No,
he is not depressed. He’s just process-
ing. Some ‘thing’ is passing through. It will go
eventually, but it must run its course.

The weight of doom would be a minor stress
if she would just dispense with cheerfulness.

Helena Nelson writes: “This poem is part of a book-length sequence telling the story of an ordinary, conventional marriage (albeit a second marriage for each partner). It’s about love that struggles to survive the difficulties of aging, loss and illness. The husband, Mr Philpott, has always suffered from anxiety but he has bouts of depression too, when he withdraws into himself. In fact, he might fairly be described as a ‘difficult’ man, though he can’t help it. Here the sonnet form reflects his need for tight control, repressing his anxiety about depression, which gets squeezed uncomfortably across the line breaks. There’s humour here, too. Because how absurd it is, surely, to wish your wife were less cheerful? And yet he does. He certainly does.” 

Helena Nelson runs HappenStance Press and sometimes writes poems, one of which appears in the soon-to-be-released latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. She has been writing the story of Mr and Mrs Philpott for over twenty years, and it can finally be found in its complete form as Pearls (The Complete Mr and Mrs Philpott Poems)

Sonnet: ‘We Know We Will Be Dead’

We know we will be dead, who are alive.
But should some element of us survive –
fragment of consciousness or memory –
what value could it have? What should it be
that the whole universe might benefit?
The atom matters – what’s not made of it?
And we’re not large – not like a conscious star
(if time will let us all evolve that far).
You’re not much different in real magnitude
from an ant crushed for going for your food,
a gnat rubbed out, its tiny consciousness
a dot… but does it build the universe?
If that gnat can’t, I don’t see how you can:
there’s not much difference between gnat and man.

Does a poem of 14 lines, rhymed in pairs, count as a sonnet? Perhaps, but it doesn’t feel quite right. Petrarchan and Shakespearian sonnet structures, with more complex structures of rhyme, produce a much greater impact with the final line–a sense of revelation, inevitability, an impression of absolute truth–purely by the successful rounding out of the pattern. I like this poem’s ending couplet… but it would be stronger if the previous 12 lines were better structured.

‘We Know We Will Be Dead’ was published in the most recent Allegro, edited by British poet Sally Long.

Hubble’s colourful view of the Universe” by Hubble Space Telescope / ESA is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Voyage’

Some watch the widening, receding wake
On life’s long voyage. Others at the bow
Scan ahead, wondering what route we take.
(But Past and Future point to one end, Now.)
When disembarked, what will your story be?
“I looked back, couldn’t tell where we’d begun…”
“I tried to look ahead, but couldn’t see…”
“I read lots.” “Slept.” “I made friends.” “I made none.”
“Sunsets were nice.” “The food was just so-so.”
“I helped someone.” “I tried, but got in fights.”
What’s next?
Aboard Earth round the sun all go,
Each spinning whirl hundreds of days and nights,
Through scores of rounds. How’d we get here? Don’t know.
Then each, some unknown -day and -where, alights.

This poem was originally accepted for Contemporary Sonnet but, as far as I understand, when Charlie Southerland took over from the previous editor all the online passwords had been lost, and the magazine folded. So the poem went to Verse-Virtual instead. Given that its subject matter is the unpredictability of life, such changes for the poem’s own voyage are quite in keeping.

Ship’s wake” by Dany_Sternfeld is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Thunderclouds’

Lightning connecting heavens to the Earth
When heat, humidity grow thunderclouds–
Blackening, building to torrential floods–
Is how the Singularity will birth.
Then our new thunderous AI gods appear,
Growing and killing, Shiva-like, their wards.
(I, for one, welcome our new Overlords…)
Their lightning flashes blind, freighted with fear.
From rising mists and steams of consciousness
Poetry stormclouds, too, flash and connect.
When humans by our own AI are wrecked–
Our own connected selves and selflessness–
The Jovian bolts of electricity
Will be posthuman–and pure poetry.

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with Vlad the Bad‘s invasion of Ukraine. It is just part of my decades-long fascination with the way that technology is laying the foundations for AI that will be more powerful than humans, and for brain-to-brain communication that will move us to a Borg-like condition. And then what? It’s unknowable, but it will be the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine. Nature is in a permanent state of change and replacement and development, and humans are not exempt from being obsoleted. Not this year or next. But in 100 years, who knows what transitions will be happening?

This sonnet was first published in the Shot Glass Journal.

“Thunderhead” by Nicholas_T is licensed under WordPress Creative Commons

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Claudia Gary, ‘Phonograph’

Remember, dear, when this was the one way
to make a disk sing? Full-size, not compact—
and both the disk and player would obey
only if you possessed your share of tact:
You’d lift the tone arm, puff a bit of air
across its fragile needle to remove
new dust, or use a brush of sable hair
to coax it out. After each vinyl groove
was polished with the softest chamois cloth,
you’d spin a record on its table, place
the needle over it, light as a moth—
you must remember! For the way you trace
the path of every melody I store
shows gentleness I’ve never known before.

Claudia Gary writes: “In case anyone still thinks art and science belong in different categories, it may help to remember that long before there were computer nerds, there were music nerds (audiophiles). Back then, enjoying high fidelity sound at home required paying close attention to detail and taking good care of fussy, sensitive machines. They may not have been as cavalier as today’s machines that demand upgrades at their own convenience; but yesterday’s machines did need a lot of TLC in exchange for beautiful music. And so does love.”

Claudia Gary lives near Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia, and teaches workshops on Villanelle, Sonnet, Natural Meter, Poetry vs. Trauma, Poetry for Musicians, etc., at The Writer’s Center (writer.org) and elsewhere, currently via Zoom teleconference. Author of Humor Me (David Robert Books, 2006, in which Phonograph was published), and of chapbooks including Genetic Revisionism (2019) and Bikini Buyer’s Remorse (2015), she is also a health science writer, visual artist, and composer of tonal chamber music and art songs. See pw.org/content/claudia_gary; follow her on Twitter at @claudiagary.

Photo credits:
“1968 … all in one portable stereo phonograph!” by x-ray delta one is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Claudia Gary photo by John Flannery

Potcake Poet’s Choice: David Galef, ‘Justification’

And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
—A. E. Housman

When I am beaten down by work and love,
And others head for local dives to drink,
I clench my soul and strive to rise above,
For stimulating words to make me think.
O show me Milton’s paradisial route,
Far airier than the foamiest of stout.
Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit
Are all I need and all I care about.
A bottled brew’s sufficient for the poor
In spirits, not for spirituality.
How can a tankard filled with beer quench more
Than slaking drafts of a theodicy?
I’d bring it to the bar, but I get looks
When I enact the fall from all twelve books.

David Galef writes: “Justification is both an appreciation and dig at Milton, an attitude older than Samuel Johnson’s comment about Paradise Lost, ‘None ever wished it longer than it is.’ It came out in Light.”

David Galef has published over two hundred poems in magazines ranging from Light and Measure to The Yale Review. He’s also published two poetry volumes, Flaws and Kanji Poems, as well as two chapbooks, Lists and Apocalypses. In real life, he directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University.
www.davidgalef.com

“DORÉ, Gustave Illustration for John Milton’s Paradise Lost 1866” by carulmare is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: D.A. Prince, ‘Horatio’

Always in shadow, on the edge, the light
falling on someone else. I’m used to it—
fidus Achates, and half-acolyte.
Besides, the sidelines are a safer bet
so I survive—at least, upon the page,
though never in imagination.
The curtain falls: I vanish with the stage.
Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern live on
in other times but I—the dutiful
and sober pal, the philosophic friend—
dissolve. I fade. Meanwhile, the beautiful
capture your soul beyond the play’s neat end
where I’m to set, with due fidelity,
the record straight. You won’t remember me.

From: Common Ground, HappenStance Press, 2014.

D.A. Prince writes: “In the middle of a lively debate about which actor had played the definitive Hamlet, I realised I had no memory at all of any actor playing Horatio. There would have been an equal number, obviously. Horatio is on Elsinore’s battlements in the opening scene, questioning the existence of ghosts, and he’s there in the final scene, surrounded by corpses, giving the penultimate speech. In between he hovers in Hamlet’s shadow, necessary but—if I’m a typical theatre-goer—unmemorable. He doesn’t even get to cross the stage in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The world is full of people like Horatio so I thought I would give him a brief
acknowledgement: for turning up, for hanging on, for being there.”

D A Prince lives in Leicestershire and London. Her first appearances in print were in the weekly competitions in The Spectator and New Statesman (which ceased its competitions in 2016) along with other outlets that hosted light verse. Something closer to ‘proper’ poetry followed, with three pamphlets, followed by a full-length collection, Nearly the Happy Hour, from HappenStance Press in 2008. A second collection, Common Ground, (from the same publisher) followed in 2014 and this won the East Midlands Book Award in 2015. HappenStance published her pamphlet Bookmarks in 2018 and will bring out a further collection in 2022. There’s just the little matter of a title to resolve first.

Illustration: Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jane Blanchard, ‘The Kahler Grand Hotel (near the Mayo Clinic)’

I see the waitress cock her head to try
to figure out what I just said. Across
the booth my husband will not meet my eye
until she leaves to place our order. Sauce
for goose and gander holds that I will get
a turn to laugh (or not) at him. Neither
of us can hide where we are from. I let
him think his accent less than mine—either
of us can drawl a syllable into
a sentence. Fine. Most locals here speak plain
Midwestern as they welcome others who
seek remedies for matters inhumane.
How I may talk does not mean one iota
when visiting Rochester, Minnesota.

Jane Blanchard writes: “The Kahler Grand Hotel appeared in Third Wednesday (Winter 2020) right before COVID-19 changed all of our lives. This sonnet discloses how Jimmy and I tried to cope with a different medical crisis several years earlier. A little humor can go a long way when dealing with a scary situation. To this day we appreciate the many kindnesses shown to us when we were very vulnerable and very far from home.”

A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia. Her latest collection with Kelsay Books is Never Enough Already (2021).

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Tom Vaughan, ‘Happiness’

It’s easy to forget they’d fought a war:
his father drowned, half-brother bayoneted;
her kilted sibling captured at Dunkirk,
locked up for five long years. But yes they met

in uniform, lost half their friends, before
the normal world re-started when they wed:
mortgage; children; grinding office work –
all I suppose they wanted when they set

out as a couple. We must have been a shock:
busting their rulebook; scornful of sacrifice;
mocking their past and their belief in ‘progress’;

too young, too smashed, too angry to unlock
their silence, or to understand the price
they’d paid for what they’d still call happiness.

Tom Vaughan writes: “I chose Happiness it because I hope it gets right not just my own retrospective feelings about my parents, but also something more general about the generational shift between those who went through WW2 in their youth, and their less-tested offspring.

Secondly, because it’s a sonnet (a favourite form of mine), but in what I call a ‘roller’ rhyming (not always full rhymes) pattern, which tries to pull the reader down to the final line with a lurch which I hope is also of the emotions.

It was published in Dream Catcher in 2016, but has been picked up a couple of times elsewhere since then, including in your Families and Other Fiascoes chapbook.”

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

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