Tag Archives: sonnet

Sonnet: ‘The Four Duties’

First, to your family, the spouse you chose,
children you gained who themselves had no choice;
to give a space wherein to find their voice
with safety, happiness, as each one grows.

To self: to keep yourself happy and whole,
free of both physical and mental pain
through yoga, exercise, good stress, good strain,
a moderate diet, peaceful self-control.

To all humanity: using some gift,
some insight, skill set, asset, useful tool
to better people’s lives through work or school,
some mast and sail or oar for those adrift.

And to the Muse that underlies the world:
express yourself—banners are useless furled.

This sonnet feels a little uncomfortably preachy, pretentious, self-righteous, and generally out of touch with the flippant persona I prefer. But it’s what I actually believe deep down. To me, it’s self-evident in terms not just of personal morality, but also as regards what makes a person feel fulfilled and happy. And the last bit is important: everyone has a creative aspect, and everyone has a Muse. The Muse is just part of how the world works, perhaps how your creative subconscious communicates with your conscious mind, perhaps how God or gods or angels communicate with you… it’s a little mysterious, but it’s part of your reality. And the correct thing to do is to express yourself creatively when you have an idea for it: that turns on the tap for further creativity. Not doing anything with the creative idea you get turns the tap off, and reduces future creativity. You need to honour the Muse when he/she/it appears.

‘The Four Duties’ has just been published in the Winter 2020 edition of The Orchards magazine of formal poetry. A few days late for that year, perhaps, but I just saw a weather forecast for “six more weeks of 2020”. Indeed, a sense of calm and responsibility is what the world needs, now and always.

Photo: “Her duty” by Go-tea 郭天 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Political poem: Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,–
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring,–
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,–
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,–
An army which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,–
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless, a book sealed,–
A Senate—Time’s worst statute unrepealed,–
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst to illumine our tempestuous day.

Shelley wrote this sonnet in 1819 in response to the Peterloo Massacre: a peaceful crowd of 60,000 had gathered in Manchester to call electoral reform, but were charged into by a local Yeomanry regiment, and then by a cavalry regiment of the King’s Hussars with sabres drawn. Official numbers show 18 people killed, including several women, and 400 to 700 injured: bayoneted, sabred, knocked down, trampled.

Shelley blames the mad King George III and his sons (including of course the Regent, the future George IV), and the ruling class in a time of unemployment and economic recession, and further blames the illiberal army, and harsh laws, and morality-free religion, and a Parliament that was refusing all civil rights to Catholics. They might all be graves of corruption, but Shelley hopes that from their decay will come a glorious new spirit to brighten the world.

Not all of the poem resonates with any particular political situation in the world today; but “an old, mad, blind, despised and dying king”… well, that’s certainly the impression given by the White House in early 2021.

Technically: the sonnet is in iambic pentameter as you would expect, but the rhyme scheme is unconventional: ababab cdcdccdd. The illustration is an engraving of George III in later life, by Henry Meyer.

Sonnet: ‘Mythic Memories’

From all the mythic memories we make
Of childhood’s forests, gardens, beaches, seas,
Disturbed by adults’ eccentricities,
Come all the world’s religions – Tree and Snake,
Hero and Mother, Martyr, Saint and Fake.
Then let us make our mythic memories
(Implying endless possibilities)
From all that follows in the island’s wake:

Climbing up banyans, palms and tamarinds –
Firelight and starlight – total black of caves –
Spearing a lionfish – running on pink sand –
And unknown flowers scented on sea winds –
And jagged cliff heights where the ocean raves –
And views of huge horizons past all land.

I think it is important for children to experience the diversity of the world in different ways: when very small they need to feel the rhythms of day and night, winter and summer, and celebrate them with memorable festivals. When they are a little older, say six to eight, it is useful to experience the diversity of the world: if they live in cities, to go to farms and mountains and forests and beaches; if they grow up in a rural area as I did, it is a huge experience to spend a few days in a city. In either of those cases, the experiences make school learning much more relevant, something that can understood and believed in, because of the personal memories. I was fortunate to experience cities and countryside, jungles and deserts, before I started school. History, geography and languages were always very interesting as a result.

For even older children our family advocates a further step: in grade 10–i.e. at age 15–each of our kids got to choose where they were going for a year of schooling overseas. The only restriction was: Not an English-speaking country! They went away for Grade 11 and returned to finish high school with their friends for Grade 12. They went through competent organizations (YFU–Youth For Understanding, and AFS… though one went to the family of a boy we had hosted the previous year). The normal structure was that they went to a family (best if there are other children in the family) in which one parent spoke English; they had a week or two of prep time with the organization in the new country before the school year started; in school, initially they sat at the back of the class and didn’t know what was being said except in English classes and maybe Maths; by Christmas they understood everything; by Easter they spoke fluently; by the end of the year they had acquired the regional accent. The five kids each chose different countries: Denmark, Costa Rica, Italy, Japan and France.

They came back several years more mature than when they left. Instead of dreaming of owning a car, they none of them wanted a car particularly: they had learned to get around a strange city by bus and metro, which is cheap and flexible. Instead of believing that there is only one appropriate style of clothing and only one good type of music for their generation, they realized that even if all teens think that, those clothes and music are different in different countries, and it is a matter of choice. Instead of fighting with us, their parents, over teenage complaints of lack of freedom, they came home delighted to return to the rules and life they had known, with a year of living differently under their belt. And they had seen a lot of the world in a very deep way, the childhood and school experience, the local family experience, all the seasonal foods and songs and rituals, something that is very hard for an adult to ever experience in a foreign country.

And as it is from our childhood experiences that we derive our understanding of the world, and make the myths we live by and the goals we strive for, it is beneficial for us to have as wide and deep a range of childhood experiences as possible. So I believe, anyway.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It may feel like an unfortunate post for a time of Covid and lockdowns in various parts of the world, but the days of good travel should return soon, and we can start planning…

Photo: “Pink Sand Beach” by Cédric Z is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sonnet: ‘The Body Retreats’

Loss of response of toes, legs turned to jelly,
we’re fighting rearguard actions through the body:
the hair deserting, skin becoming shoddy,
strengths all withdraw – to reinforce the belly.
Under sustained attacks, the ankles fail,
cannot provide support. Legs mutiny,
they seize the muscles when no scrutiny
at night stops leg cramps grabbing to impale.

Stamina fading in both heart and lung,
sex organs weakened, bold lusts dying back,
skull’s the last stronghold where all force retreats.
With fading senses out the window flung,
success is redefined not as Attack,
but barely maintained memory and wits.

In the aftermath of the no-holds-barred wrestling match for the US Presidency by Trump and Biden, both septuagenarians, let us remember that they are past the “threescore years and ten” that humans are allocated by the Bible–to which both wrestlers profess to adhere. Things are going downhill at this point, regardless of how much care you take.

It’s time for science, the medical profession and gengineers specifically, to step up and give us all the tools to stop us ageing. Thank you, and I personally would appreciate it sooner rather than later!

This sonnet was originally published in Snakeskin, currently prepping for its 25th anniversary as a monthly online poetry magazine–likely the oldest such in the world!

“Getting old in dignity…” by ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jerome Betts, “View of the Old Market”

Jerome Betts

The sun comes out. Street-closing hills that climb
Below the scoops of cumulus from Wales
Are woodland backdrops lit for pantomime,
Bright as the ribbons round the horses’ tails.

Where steam-frilled dung and strawy puddles mix
In iron pens, the mud-scaled cattle groan;
The auctioneers outbawl the rapping sticks
And rattling bars and hobnails scraped on stone.

Lost in the din, the gaiters, boots and wheels,
The lambs cry, unregarded. Overhead,
The clock, white marble up in front, conceals
That all behind is brickwork’s weathered red.

A stray dog pauses, sniffs, then, deaf to shouts,
Swings up its leg against a net of sprouts.

Jerome Betts writes: “I’m attached to this piece, first printed in Pennine Platform, as it began as wispy free verse in university days and gradually metamorphosed over many years. The bellowing from the market punctuated lessons in a West Midlands cathedral city and other elements were attracted, like the ribbons in the horses’ tails and then a reminder of the street-ending hills in a small town in Castilla y León, and the closing couplet from another in the East Midlands.But, aided by the grappling-hook of rhyme, something unexpected emerged from the depths and took over with the lambs and the clock, often an intriguing result of struggling with formal constraints.”

Jerome Betts was born and brought up on the Welsh border, but now lives in South Devon, where he edits the quarterly Lighten Up Online. In addition to articles and verse in consumer and specialist magazines his work has appeared in Pennine Platform, Staple and The Guardian, as well as anthologies like The Iron Book of New Humorous Verse, Limerick Nation, Love Affairs At The Villa Nelle, and The Potcake Chapbooks 1 & 2, and online at
Amsterdam Quarterly, Angle, The Asses of Parnassus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts, Light, The New Verse News, Parody, The Rotary Dial, Snakeskin, and other sites.

https://www.lightenup-online.co.uk/

Poem: “Blues Sonnet for the Bahamas, 1929”

Storm track of the 1929 hurricane, stalling over Nassau and Andros

The hurricane of 1929–
That massive killer storm of ’29–
Came when boats sailed, thinking the weather fine.

The storm came violent as a warrior–
Crept up in silence, struck like a warrior
The Ethel, Myrtle and Pretoria.

The three were bound for Andros, two escaped–
The Ethel and the Myrtle, they escaped–
But 35 drowned when the sea’s mouth gaped.

The storm sat over Nassau for three days–
It killed a hundred, sitting for three days–
Three quarters of all houses just erased.

Bahamians now don’t know what happened then…
They just sing ‘Run Come See Jerusalem’.

The September 1929 hurricane is memorialised in the old Blind Blake calypso ‘Run Come See Jerusalem‘. Poorly-built structures and ships were destroyed throughout the Bahamas. 142 people were killed, out of a population of less than 50,000. Andros Island was within the envelope of the storm’s hurricane-force winds and storm surge for two days. Parts of the island were inundated by a 12 ft (3.7 m) surge that advanced 20 mi (32 km) inland, wiping out all crops and most fruit trees and livestock.

A wind gust of 164 mph (264 km/h) was measured in Nassau, which also experienced the calm of the hurricane’s eye for two hours. An estimated 73% of the city’s homes and businesses sustained damage, leaving more than 5,000 people without homes. The hurricane was a heavy blow to the declining sponge industry on the islands. Following the storm, wild birds and crops were brought from the Caribbean to replenish their losses in the Bahamas. New building codes were enacted after the 1929 storm to prevent similarly extensive destruction. (Wikipedia)

For the most part, hurricanes in this part of the world come west from Africa, turn northwest before or after reaching the Caribbean, and somewhere around Florida turn northeast, ending up as gales in Ireland and the UK. That’s their natural track, anyway. It seems that the storms that do the most damage in the Bahamas are those that get off track in the Atlantic, turn southwest into the Bahamas, and then pause for a couple of days while the surrounding weather systems slowly force them north again. That was true of Joaquin in 2015, Betsy in 1965, and the unnamed 1929 hurricane. 

This week is the anniversary of Hurricane Dorian, the storm that devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama last year. Dorian turned from north-northwest to west, then stalled over Grand Bahama for a couple of days before turning north again. If the hurricane just keeps moving it may be powerful and destructive like Andrew in 1992 and Floyd in 1999, but no location will have strong winds for more than a couple of hours. Buildings can withstand this. But when a hurricane stalls, and the strong winds continue for a couple of days and nights, with storm surges on top of several high tides… that’s when the most damage can happen. But we’re into September. Hurricanes happen at this time of year.

As for the poem, it’s a Blues Sonnet, an established mashup of European sonnet and Afro-American blues. It contains less information than a regular sonnet because of the amount of repetition, but it works well to express a mood of lamentation. The Poet’s Garret has Hillary Clinton singing the blues as an example.

Sonnet: “The Four Evangelists of the Apocalypse”

 

Apocalypse

Corporate Apocalypse

The evangelists of the apocalypse,
our old friends Murder, Murk, Lucre and Grab,
advance, all slinging guns and swinging hips–
valkyries, horsemen, ravens – rend and stab,
corporate-coloured red, blue, yellow, green–
give opiate online lives, plant-meat kebabs,
while sucking out the everything between
to flesh and farm their diabolic labs
where rats, replaced by chimps, replaced by us
are harvested, dissected and thrown out.
The Evangelists, a giant octopus,
seize and build all that maximizes clout
till A.I., comet-like (think Yucatan)
wipes homo sapiens out, grows Superman.

This apocalyptic SF sonnet was published in Star*Line, now edited by F. J. (Jeannie) Bergmann of Wisconsin. Think of it as pure optimism: the evil corporate giants were sucking humanity dry, but then A.I. takes over and, yes, wipes us out altogether, but at least replaces us with something better! The optimism being that we may not be actually eliminated, more like upgraded…

Do I believe that? No. But I also don’t think we can even guess at what the world will be like by the end of this century. Humans will be transforming themselves unpredictably by then. So hopefully the planet will still have some form of us around, and not just postnuclear cockroaches.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Jane Blanchard, “Transactions”

Erice, Jane Blanchard

Erice, Sicily

Transactions (in Sicilia)

The merchant was polite as I came in
on Monday afternoon to browse for wine,
but conversation happened only when
we spoke the common language of the vine.

A dozen bottles were selected, then
examined, labels studied, line by line,
at last set back into the proper bin,
except for one most likely to taste fine.

It did, so I returned to that same store
throughout the week and found the bill to be
a little less each time. I said no more
than grazie, smiling ever pleasantly.

By Saturday, I had a patron’s status,
awarding me a bar of chocolate gratis.

Jane Blanchard writes: “Transactions, first published in The Tau (2017), appears in my latest collection, In or Out of Season (2020). I am inordinately fond of reading and writing sonnets, perhaps because I studied so many of them while in graduate school. This particular sonnet is anecdotal; its speaker is my husband Jimmy, who accompanied me to Bread Loaf in Sicily in 2013 and wandered around Erice while I was in a workshop led by Stanley Plumly. Currently, it is hard not to feel nostalgic about such experiences.”

A native Virginian, Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia, USA. She has earned degrees from Wake Forest and Rutgers Universities. Her collections to date have been published by Kelsay Books.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Brian Gavin, “The Work of Trees”

Brian Gavin 2020

Brian Gavin

The Work of Trees

Things, like people, in the business of decay
depend on trees. Within this latticed dusk
the wearying pretensions fall away
like flecks of paint from off a shrouded husk
of clapboard, and green stones spilling from a fence.
The house leans forward now, nails soft with rust —
it is the way an aged woman bends
forward in prayer, shapeless in shawl. There must
be trees beneath which things grow ripe and rot,
to be again with other things, in dreams —
old women at mass, men at bars, forgotten
things, distilled of story. Underneath the beams
the brush ebbs; all change is by degrees
of lessening – that is the work of trees.

Brian Gavin writes: “This poem ran a couple of years ago in The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry. I chose it because, for me anyway, the compelling thing about writing poetry is the way that a poem kind of leads the poet where it wants to go. With this poem, for example, I had absolutely no idea what it was going to be about. Then I started playing around with the image of the dilapidated house and the other images and rhymes until it seemed like the poem was satisfied!

I find writing this stuff to be most gratifying when the process plays out this way, and least gratifying when I try to tell the poem what to do.”

Brian Gavin is a retired Distribution Manager who started writing poetry about 5 years ago. His poems have appeared in The Journal of Formal Poetry, Peninsula Poets and Snakeskin Magazine, and in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Careers and Other Catastrophes’. He lives in Lakeport, Michigan, USA, with his wife Karen.

Sonnet: “When the A.I. Hit”

When the AI hit, Diamandis, Thiel,
Branson, Page, Brin, some Russians and Chinese
became the gods of Earth, of skies and seas,
by grappling it to themselves with hoops of steel;
appeared as giants, credit cards, or scotch
to screw with mortals, rape them just for play;
fought, and destroyed the Earth, blasted away…
taking along, as fleas on arms, legs, crotch,
musician, writer, politician, whore,
derelict, linguist, murderer, the insane…
some samples of the human heart and brain
as being interesting distractions for
the gaps of interstellar time and space.
Aspire to fleadom, folks, or leave no trace.

This sonnet was originally published in Snakeskin a couple of years ago. Like the previous sonnet I put up here, it reflects my concerns about the near future. The list of people who might take advantage of the possibilities offered by the ongoing revolutions in genetics, robotics, A.I. and Nanotechnology should today include Elon Musk–but the candidates for practical godhood change every few years.

And what the vast majority of left-behind humans can do about it is anyone’s guess.