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Thirsty? Have a taste of this.

In my youth I wrote poems, as I suspect many of us did. Bad poems. At some point, thankfully, I realised this and stopped. These days I write lines that always rhyme, occasionally scan, and for the most part are silly. I don’t grace them with the term ‘poetry’. Doggerel would be more accurate.

The thing about poetry is that it’s incredibly difficult to write. And the apparent ease of free verse is illusory because “no verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job” (T.S.Eliot). Which is why, on the whole, I stick these days to prose.

But I still have a taste for good poems and an admiration for those who write them. Several volumes are dotted around my random, unorganised book shelves, but I know where each one is and every so often, I dip into them. Poem are sips of a special brew that slakes a special thirst.

A few poems are scattered throughout the Rabbit Hole volumes. I would have liked more but we didn’t get that many poetry submissions, and when we did, they didn’t correspond to our (admittedly subjective) taste. Volume 0 has one by David Rogers (who also has an excellent story in Volume 2) and a couple by Mitchell Grabois, whose Arrest of Mr. Kissy Face vividly highlights the oddness of everyday moments; Boris Glikman’s clever and playful PS (In Memory Of) aptly appears at the end of the forthcoming (October 9th) Volume 3; Kelsey Dean’s Rabbit Hole Poems (one of which is below) are a delight in Volume 1.

Too often in my view, what’s put forward as a poem is a piece of prose with unconventional line breaks. These poems bring something more – a startling way with words, or an original insight, or a juxtaposition that reveals a hidden truth. When I started blogging, I discovered Robert Okaji. His poems don’t, as a rule, fall into the category of ‘weird’, and he never submitted to The Rabbit Hole, they have the subtle ingredient which slakes that special thirst. Don’t ask me what it is. If I knew, I might do it myself. As it is, I stick to doggerel.

Tea Party by Kelsey Dean

The sugar cubes cascaded down the tablecloth,

And “One lump or two?” asked the hatter –

but actually there were three

that lived and lumbered in the tissue.

“The doctors took them out with knives

and fixed her with needles,” I said.

“And there were tubes and tests tangled in her breasts.”

“How curious!” replied the hare.

I nodded and stacked the cubes neatly in my mouth

while the sparrows nested in my hair;

we sipped and slurped

and the violets twinkled at our toes.

“Another cup?” asked the hatter,

but it was quite the opposite, and I told him:

“No, a less cup actually, or two.”

“Curiouser and curiouser!” sang the hare.

Stone by David Rogers

No leaf left on any tree you can see from here.

It is good to have one’s darkest

suspicions confirmed.

You may keep secrets but you are not allowed

to choose which ones.

Some will be written on your tombstone

whispered over and over

by fallen leaves.

The thing you wanted everyone to know

will be forgotten.

Carve your own stone to say whatever you like

but beware survivors who may revise.

I’d rather trust the leaves:

the other day I met Ambrose Bierce walking

through the woods. I don’t mean his ghost.

The last thing he said to me was

“. . . before it’s too late.”

I’ve been trying

hard to remember the first part of the sentence.

That night I dreamed everyone I knew

wore masks that looked just like themselves.

Standard

27 thoughts on “Thirsty? Have a taste of this.

  1. Thank you for a refreshingly different post, Curtis! It brought to mind a bit of whimsy by Gelett Burgess.

    Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
    I’m Sorry, now, I wrote it;
    But I can tell you Anyhow
    I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Perry Palin says:

    Thanks, Curtis.

    I don’t write poems. At the encouragement of a couple members of my writing group I cut up a piece of flash fiction with “unconventional line breaks” and it was published like a poem by the literary journal of a local college. Another writing group declared that another bit of my flash fiction was a poem disguised as prose.

    I read poetry sometimes. I read it in an effort to improve my prose. In a writing class last winter my fellow student reviewers called the writing in my story “lyrical,” which I liked because that’s what I was trying for in several of the paragraphs. I have to be careful though, to read the right poems.

    One of my favorites:

    POETRY
    By William Wantling

    I’ve go to be honest. I can
    make good word music and rhyme

    at the right times and fit words
    together to give people pleasure

    and even sometimes take their
    breath away — but it always

    somehow turns out kind of phony.
    Consonance and assonance and inner

    rhyme won’t make up for the fact
    that I can’t figure out how to get

    down on paper the real or the true
    which we call life. Like the other

    day. The other day I was walking
    on the lower exercise yard here

    at San Quentin and this cat called
    Turk came up to a friend of mine

    And said Ernie I hear you’re
    shooting on my kid. And Ernie

    told him So what punk? And Turk
    pulled out his stuff and shanked

    Ernie in the gut only Ernie had a
    metal tray in his shirt. Turk’s

    shank bounced right off him and
    Ernie pulled his stuff out and of

    course Turk didn’t have a tray and
    caught it dead in the chest, a bad

    one, and the blood that came to his
    lips was bright pink, lung blood,

    and he just lay down in the grass
    and said Shit. Fuck it. Sheeit.

    Fuck it. And he laughed a long
    time softly, until he died. Now

    what could consonance or assonance or
    even rhyme do with something like that?

    Liked by 7 people

  3. I may be the odd-man-out here in appreciating and writing both traditional and free verse. (The correct tool for the job, right? Or momentary mood.)

    Shameless plug #gazilliontorp: Spectral Realms Journal #13 has just come out (https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-13) ; I have three poems appearing therein. A couple of lines from each (to give you a flavor of the pieces):

    Marchen (Fairy Tales)

    Magda recites the ancient fabeln
    savage, dark & grim:
    wolves & witches, lost little boys,
    kobolds, trolls–“Again!”

    A Conspiracy Penetrated

    Self-conscious nothing thou protests:
    I opt & choose with every breath.
    Exactly as the “thing machine”
    expressed in regimenting genes,
    jerks the puppet ’round & ’round
    till death lays absurd puppet down.

    Dr. Ripper, I Presume?
    (a Shakespearean sonnet)

    A top-hatted man of hot madness seeks
    surcease of compulsion, respite in dreams
    of crimson convulsions, echoing screams–

    Issue #13 of Spectral Realms Journal marks the fourth consecutive issue in which my work has appeared.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. I don’t call my stuff poetry, even though some has been published in a book of science fiction poetry called Eccentric Orbits. I call my pieces verse, but doggerel also fits. I also write song lyrics. Here’s one called Forever to Infinity.

    I am unmoored.
    I am adrift on the vastness of space.
    Like a boat, lines cast free from the shore,
    freed of land’s embrace.
    Slowly drifting out to sea,
    no rudder, no compass, no map, no haste.
    Across the vasty void.
    Forever to infinity.

    The farther I drift ‘cross the vasty void
    the harder it will be for me
    to find my way back from the endless sea
    to safe harbor, to home, to thee.
    I may discover new worlds out there.
    Or I might just drift, ‘cross the vast nowhere.
    Forever to infinity.

    I am excited, ah th’ adventure,
    the dreams of magnificence in the sky.
    I am terrified, yes, for I shall surely die.
    I am lonely, for home and love left far behind me.
    Across the vasty void I fly.
    Going where? Nowhere at all. No reason why.
    Forever to infinity.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    The only poetry I write is the rhyming kind. It’s the best fun in the world. I’ll have more to say here but I can’t think right now. I’m worn out from finishing part four of Maisie.

    I need a night to sleep on it.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. victoracquista says:

    Thank you for a timely post, Curtis! I say this because I rarely write poetry but just so happened to come across a poem that I never felt was complete due to my unhappiness with two lines. Here it is:

    DINNER PARTY

    Invitation
    Salutation
    Presentation
    Conversation
    Gustation
    Mastication
    Ingurgitation
    Assimilation
    Appreciation
    Relaxation
    Elimination

    There are four syllables to each verse except gustation. Originally, I thought gustication might be a word but I’ve not found that to be the case. I also think assimilation as a word to connote digestion is ok but I would like something better.

    If any of my wordsmithing colleagues have suggestions, that would be great.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I need to get this on the record somewhere; might as well be here: There is an unnecessary period injected into my poem Marchen at the end of the fourth quatrain in SR #13.

    Before you start grumbling and impatiently shifting in your chairs, consider: It is oft remarked that in poetry every punctuation mark counts (even more so than in prose). To see the evidence of this with your own eyes, consider:
    ………………………

    Outside: the rising howl of wind
    A flash! A rolling boom!
    Thor unleashing lightning & thunder
    inside, in warmth & gloom.

    Gunter hangs on every word
    bewitching mutter chants;
    his scalp hair prickles; he pants in fear–
    Ghouls! Ghosts! Vampires! Plants:
    …………………………

    That superfluous period at the end of the first quatrain reproduced here not only stops the poem dead in its tracks, it turns semantic meaning into comical, overwrought nonsense: Thor is unleashing thunder and lightning inside a house?

    :::sigh:::

    My only hope is that (a) the diligent, attentive reader will recognize the error and auto-correct for poetical rhythm and meaning, (b) I’ll fix this if the poem ever gets reprinted.

    PS. This should in no way be misconstrued as authorial whining about editorial errors; writers always lament the errors injected by editors but never tell you about the myriad ways those very same editors strengthened and refined their work before it saw print. Rather, I share this because (a) as working writers you will no doubt have similar rueful tales to tell about regrettable errors that saw print, (b) it serves to underline how critical proper punctuation is to a poem’s rhythm and meaning, and (c) I needed to vent.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I saw that and wondered: was it an error or was the writer trying to make a point? Poets are always doing weird things with words and ideas!
      I’ll tell you what I think, adding to your list: (d) it shows the importance of reading your stuff out loud to yourself multiple times–before you publish.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Very true! Although in this instance, to be clear, that punctuation error (superfluous period) does not occur in my submitted copy. I suspect what happened is that the editor read the poem through once or twice, set it aside for a month or so, and then–prepping the poem for publication–noticed that every other quatrain in the poem ended with a punctuation mark, so . . . .

        Liked by 3 people

  8. mimispeike says:

    Well I’ve been debating whether to try your patience with this. Read or not, as you will. That should tell me something in itself. All I can say is, I love it and nothing is going to change that.

    I do the reverse of what Perry has posted. I write rhyme, then run it together as prose, counting on the punctuation to cue where to pause to breath.

    Some of my sentence run on and on and are meant to be read in one whoosh. (A poetical term, right?) Here’s about half of part one.

    I have seven parts in all that add up to close to ten thousand words. I’ve made part one very short, not to scare readers off immediately.

    Oh yeah, this is my version of Cinderella. The name of it is Celestine and Her Sisters.

    _________________________________________

    A merchant, well-regarded in the wine and spirit trade until his monies were embezzled by a swinish partner, prayed the snot-rag’s vow of restitution and abject apology might calm the wrath of one who, stunned by an immense catastrophe, and being something of a Tartar–fierce–was ever prone to waggle a sharp tongue at him, to gripe and grouse, a shrew, a scold, a nag, a woman utterly indifferent to any need to save until a fit of desperation laid her husband in his grave.

    His widow, making do on what was left of the estate, obliged to peddle her few jewels and to pawn the silver-plate to keep herself and her three girls, forced to discharge most of her staff and to shut up both wings of a big house, eliminating half a huge upkeep, learning to tolerate darned hose and thrifty stews, earmarked her resources for other purposes.

    She meant to use that which remained to her to finance the pursuit of men of wealth, to stalk, to meet, and to acquire one by subterfuge and stealth or by an out-and-out seduction: a sly smile, a saucy glance, and an enticing show of neck and arm, a generous expanse of nubile female flesh paraded.

    She’d endeavor to incite some fool to fevered fascination, prelude to, perhaps, a plight of marriage, the match very welcome though the jerk be a great fat, foul-smelling, slack-jawed, pock-marked, hump-backed ugly ogre, or a rat-faced troll, or amatory octopus, a gruesome, grasping fish, not the suave, sensitive, romantic whom a young lady might wish for; a sweet capture nonetheless, whose most exasperating trait should be the failure to appreciate a tasty bit of bait.

    .

    Liked by 4 people

      • mimispeike says:

        I will interrupt my read of Hedda Hopper’s autobiography (research for Maisie in Hollywood) to read some Gertrude Stein.

        Stein gets a mention in Maisie also. Maisie runs into her on a jaunt to Paris. (During which she dances alongside Josephine Baker in a miniature paper-mache-banana loincloth at the Folies-Bergère.) That will make a fabulous paper doll!

        Maisie Part Five is finished. I’m working on an image to go with it, a poster from a 1998 silent film festival, a Marcelline Mulot Retrospective.

        God, this is fun. Hard to believe, even more fun than Sly.

        Liked by 1 person

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