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War: Father of Nations

With a thunderous clatter of hooves & blare

of battered brassy horn

light cavalry swept down upon

doomed men in a crimson morn.

________________

A ragged band was backed to a wall

of towering metamorphic rock  

in a foreign land long leagues from home, 

taut faces white with shock. 

________________

How terribly fast the tide had turned! 

How cunning the savage foe! 

A turncoat scout led them roundabout

into ambush. Treacherous woe!

________________

For weeks the marauders pillaged, burned

raped & drunken-reveled

till their captain, sated by gold & blood

cried, “Wheel, ye desert devils!”

________________

Laden with spoils the warband turned

back toward hearth & home

basking in martial glory built

’pon ashes & bleaching bones.

________________

A fortnight later they braced for the charge

of juggernaut-horsed cruel men 

slung low in the saddle, scything swords 

reaping again & again 

________________

leather-clad warriors who smote & roared 

in a frenzy of berserker fear; 

the desperate band made a fierce last stand— 

spears splintered, horses reared. 

________________

Wet work was done ’neath the pitiless sun 

to a man the invaders died; 

their corpses left to ripen & rot: 

sweetmeats for the vulture sky 

________________

that dispatched carrion birds to feast 

on the bloating, rictused dead. 

Black buzzing hordes of feted flies 

swarmed ’round severed heads 

________________

& limbs that littered the killing field 

soon buried by drifting sand.

What matter the names of the men who fell 

in that vanished, sun-seared land?

________________

The victors that day soon found their homes 

destroyed by a stronger foe  

who invaded the land, bronze legions agleam 

in scarlet, azure & gold. 

________________

Thus ever it was; thus ever shall be: 

man butchers man for wealth 

lost in turn to cyclic hordes 

worshipping power, brute force, pelf. 

________________

If today you stroll under cloudless skies 

face turned to the warming sun, 

spare a moment to think of countless dead 

who died that you may hum 

________________

some insipid tune of patriarchy—

family, church & state 

sing the tribal song of triumph: 

Noble! Manifest! Great!  

________________

–Carl E. Reed

This poem employs galloping rhythm, a judicious use of near-rhyme, abandon-rhyme (note the long “O” of “foe” and “gold” in stanza 9: an example of what I mean when I argue for the primacy of semantics–at certain critical points of an otherwise sonorously harmonized formalist narrative poem–over the mere aural, or sound, consistency of end-line rhyme), internal rhyme (rhymes on the same line), alliteration, assonance, consonance, the lack of end-line punctuation except where necessary to aid comprehension and regulate rhythm (a minimalist choice which also enhances reading speed and a sense of exhilarating forward momentum) and other poetic tricks to enhance euphony and over-all impact upon the reader. I hope the work imparts the same shock of lexical energy I felt in composing it; moreover, I hope these particular words arrayed in this particular fashion speak to the reader in a meaningful and authoritative way re: our collective guilt and responsibility for continuing to engage in the transfixing, tragic and (uneasily acknowledged) ecstatic social practice of war.

The formatting of this poem (if ever published) will follow the traditional formalist practice of indenting the 2nd and 4th lines of every quatrain. (Try accomplishing that in WordPress. ARRRGH!)

PS. Mellow: start sharpening that critical knife, heh!

PPS. I am pleased to announce that three new poems of mine will appear in issue #15 (July, 2021) of Spectral Realms Journal: “The Call of Lizzie”, “Shuffling Horror”, and “Bat-winged Battle Cry”. https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-15?zenid=qqgjdp8a4gt5fgkuuinkcr7vm0



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Uncategorized

A Writers Co-op Forum?

In last Monday’s post, Carl E. Reed was wondering if there were any other forum where writers could interact besides social media. I instantly thought of Book Country, Penguin’s old site where we posted multiple threads about any aspect of the writing life, including current works, requests for critique, thoughts, ideas, and general tomfoolery. The point is to allow for discussions beyond a single weekly blog.

Googling for possibilities, I came up with bbPress, a project of WordPress.org.
It is a plugin that adds a forum to an existing WordPress site. You can take a look at it at:
https://bbpress.org/

We may need a domain name and a hosted WordPress website. I already have the domain name, WritersCo-op.com, and website hosting is cheap these days.

The forum would be easy to add. We simply log in to our WordPress admin area and go to Plugins » Add New. Search for bbPress and then select bbPress from results. Install and activate the plugin. Upon activation, the welcome screen for bbPress comes up.
https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-add-a-forum-in-wordpress-with-bbpress/

Do you think we might benefit from having this? Members could post threads for open discussion whenever they liked. A forum would allow members to post excerpts from their WiP for critique, Carl’s poetry to flourish, Mimi’s drawings to delight & entertain, facilitate Tom’s anthology updates for Rabbit Hole 4, etc. and ect. It’s an idea worth kicking around and I for one am all for more general tomfoolery.

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book promotion, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Writers Co-op

Goodbye Facebook

In 2017 I discovered Facebook as a mecca for networking. Recently, Facebook has become a censored banality. In between, I was fortunate to find over 3,000 “friends” living the writing life. Many taught me, some edited and published my stories. I cannot thank Facebook enough for the opportunity to interact with so many talented people. But all things change and now the politicians have infested Facebook to get around the First Amendment and promote their own agenda while censoring that of opponents.

“U.S. Code § 230, (2)Civil liability, permits social media to censor content “whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230
Yet, the First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Politicians have used their regulatory and financial relationships with big media to exert a control over public opinion that is otherwise denied to them.

The result is a leveling of public discourse to the lowest common denominator.

And then, of course, Facebook algorithms ensure that writers who don’t buy ads get scant exposure for posts promoting their books. I left Facebook after scrolling down my feed to find any “friends” book promotion to share on my own timeline. I spent literally forty-five minutes enjoying posts of pets, whines, humor, look-at-me-chit-chat, amazing science (I’m a sucker for amazing science,) and feel-good platitudes. Abruptly, it dawned on me: Not one book promotion! This is all gossip! Critical thinkers have crept away while I wasted my time pretending that I was still networking.

What a waste of time. Goodbye Facebook. Gossip bores me.

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Uncategorized

The Ballad of Annie Croft

Narrative poetry (in English) has long fallen out of fashion. English narrative poetry arranged in rhyming quatrains = outdated + are you fuggin’ kiddin’ me?! (Exclaim post-modernist poetic arbiters of taste — such traditionalist poetry openly mocked as hopelessly outmoded, tired, played out. FYI: Writers of such formalist “drivel” are regarded by the apparatchiks of the avant-garde as vulgarians of the worst sort: unimaginative hacks who perpetrate tired moon-june-spoon rhyme schemes upon a jaded, seen-and-heard-it-all-before reading public. This is arrogant dismissive nonsense, of course: early 20th century faddish criticism that still holds unaccountable sway in many quarters (especially the academic) of the Realm Poetic. Such prejudice against formalist verse is as risible and wrong-headed as it is laughable. Summoned to give testimony for the defense: Robert Service, George Sterling, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Yeats, Frank Coffman, Robert Frost, et. al. Hmm . . . lotta “Roberts” in that list. Change first name?)

To be sure there is still power, potency and picturesqueness a-plenty to be found in the rhyming (and occasional near-rhyming —”missed” rhymes inject semantic tension and suspense into a work) narrative poem. Especially the ballad. The form has not yet—even now, in the early part of the 21st century—been exhausted. In fact, I would argue that formalist narrative poetry is having a bit of a moment here in 2021. Furthermore, I assert that the poetic form of rhyming narrative verse will never be entirely exhausted. How could it be, given the fecundity of literary imagination and the richness of our language?

Exhibit A (or should that be Y?) rejected by divers editors “with regrets” as being “too long for publication” (in truth, it’s asking a lot for an editor to devote 10-12 pages of a poetry magazine to one writer–especially an obscure unknown):

……………………..

The Ballad of Annie Croft

A Tale of New England: circa 1660

Part I.

_____________

Annie Croft had brown eyes soft

as sable fur, her hair

red as sun-kissed roses—carriage

& deportment exceeding fair.

_____________

Her charms caught the attention

of the village magistrate;

William Moore was married

but desired to fornicate

_____________

with the woman who had acted 

as mid-wife to troubled births —

Tom & John: William’s sons

bawled, & kicked, & nursed

_________________

at the breasts of rigid Constance Moore:

helpmete of grim, hawk-eyed mien;

ten years frigid, the magistrate’s wife

praised God, & hearth, & kin

_____________

“for the bounteous beauty of new life

predestined for Hell or Heaven;

scourging rod & dour prayer

shalt ensure their souls will leaven

_____________

the afterlife with willing thralls

obedient to God—

though here they’ll hunt, & fish, & farm,

& praise our loving Lord.”

_____________

Alas, but this was not to be;

sickness swept the village.

Tom & John died three-month’s-old;

warpath Indians pillaged

_____________

& burned surrounding settlements;

shallow wells ran dry.

Barley, corn, & oat crops failed

fully half the pilgrims died.

_____________

’Twas in this monstrous starving time 

Anne’s ministering hands

eased divers aches & ailments;

she served both God & man.

_____________

Her potions, salves, & ointments

brought relief to those in need;

ancien’ practice/hallowed tradition:

medicine of roots, & barks, & leaves.

_____________

’Midst Indian war & famine, 

sickness & internal strife,

the magistrate’s bold lustful eyes

turned from his somber wife

_____________

to smiling, sun-kissed Annie

who shrank from his loathsome touch.

William schemed to catch Anne alone;

his hands itched to feel her up.

_____________

A man of means & property

respected by the Church

Wil manifested Falstaffian vices:

greed, lust, & drunken mirth.

_____________

Anne spurned the magistrate’s advances;

William sulked & called her bitch.

He grabbed her bosom; she slapped his face—

Wil lodged the charge of “witch”.

_____________

Constance Moore took up the cry;

unhinged by woe & grief

she echoed William’s charge of witch

declared, “A vile, sneaking thief

_____________

crawls odious as an ambidexter

amongst God’s very own.

This wretched girl culled souls for Satan;

let Satan call her home!”

_____________

The magistrate issued a warrant 

for the arrest of Annie Croft.

She was jailed: stripped naked, poked & prodded

devil’s marks were sought

_____________

& duly found by venal men

who understood in times of strife

a scapegoat—preferably peasant class—

must sacrifice their life

_____________

that godly folk be reassured.

Noose, burning brand, & bludgeon

were educative instruments

in the inculcation of religion

_____________

& unquestioning blind obedience

to clench-jawed grim authority.

Majoritarian Calvinist polis:

control, consensus, conformity.

_____________

Anne Croft was given the water test;

William Moore was seen to gloat

as “witch-woman” Annie forbear to drown

but perversely deigned to float.

_____________

A trial was held: rank mockery

of fairness, truth, & justice;

hysterical children testified

that evil Annie corrupted

_____________

their innocent minds with devilry.

They capered, gibbered, danced

naked beneath an argent moon:

“Ann hexed us with a glance.”

_____________

Devil’s marks, failed water test,

unexpected deaths & sickness;

the testimony of dancing children—

“I trust we’ve proved the wicked

_____________

intent & malicious mind-set 

of a peasant girl so bold

as to forge a pact with the Prince of Lies.

The devil take her soul!”

_____________

So saying, the magistrate hammered hard

’pon the table with his fist;

closing argument thus concluded, 

he added, “Think on this—

_____________

Divine Providence hath gifted us

a New Canaan: virgin lands;

though witches, warlocks, heretics

pervert our blessings—all are damned

_____________

who ally with liar Lucifer.

In New England let us begin

to lead lives of shining righteousness

& root out the enemy within.

_____________

Will ye stand with Christ our Lord?

Will ye stand with God?

Or will ye suffer a witch to live

in defiance of the Law?”

_____________

Jittery men & tittering women:

a jury of Anne Croft’s peers

threw reason & good sense to the wind,

took counsel of their fears

_____________

& returned a shameful verdict: 

“Guilty as charged,” they said.

“Thou shalt be hanged from good stout rope

’till thou art surely dead.”

_____________

A fortnight later Annie Croft

mounted the gallows afore a crowd

 of stern-eyed men, women, & children—

shaved head upright, unbowed.

_____________

Anne’s countenance was ashen

as the noose slipped about her neck;

& though she trembled, no tears flowed

when she drew a final breath

_____________

& dropped hands-bound & shoeless

through the banging scaffold door;

she fell, jerked to a violent stop—

kicked—and knew no more.

_____________

The crowd: a dark-clothed murder of crows

turned as wrenching wail

scythed knife-like through that awful scene:

I—sister Abigail

_____________

to poor dead, convulsing Annie

vented oaths & shrill, hot screams

of horror, fury, shock, & rage

at act so vile, cruel, obscene.

_____________

I aimed a shaking finger

dead-straight at the magistrate:

“Ye days are numbered, swill-belly Wil!

Ye stand before the Gate

_____________

of Judgement with thy viper wife.

Repent! Afore it’s too late.”

& shouldering through that gape-mouthed crowd

returned home to seethe with hate.

_____________

Part II.

_____________

One month later, in the misted dark

of a cold November morn’

a band of grim-faced men & I

stood ready to greet the dawn

_____________

around the cut-log, thatched-roofed home

of the murderous magistrate

& hawk-eyed, forked-tongued Constance Moore.

We’d come to congregate

_____________

& exact a fiery vengeance

for the death of Annie Croft;

our blood had boiled to see fair Annie

dance at the end of a rope.

_____________

At a silent signal the torch was passed:

fire moved hand-to-hand;

we ignited the resin’d clapboard sides

of Wil’s home with burning brands.

_____________

The pitch-smeared tinderbox house inferno’d—

hellfire flames leapt high;

crimson tongues of fire crackled;

smoke boiled into the sky.

_____________

Minutes later piercing screams

sounded from within:

the magistrate & his false-witness Mrs.

burning for their sins.

_____________

The roaring fire flared & spit;

Constance cried & called

out to Heaven for mercy denied.

Wil burst out the door

_____________

wreathed head-to-toe in guttering flame—

he hit the ground & rolled.

I knocked him flat, raised keen-edged blade

to end his life & send his soul

_____________

down to the sulfurous, burning Pit.

The magistrate’s vulgar life

voided there in blood & fire

at the bitter end of my knife.

_____________

Wil’s face was charred & smoking —

flesh cracked & purplish-black;

burnt hands fumbled at blistered throat.

I crowed: “Woe & alack!

_____________

ye lusting, lying, swill-belly dog!

A sweet soul sent aloft

was mine own precious loving sister:

mid-wife Annie Croft.

_____________

Ye works condemn thee! Murderer!

Foul Magistrate, farewell!”

& planting steel in smoldering skull

I sent his soul to Hell.

_____________

Part III.

_____________

No other “witches” were ever hung

in that old New England town;

the arsonists who’d burned the Moores

were hunted, though never found.

_____________

Decades passed & life went on;

guilty consciences tread soft;

& the subject was ever swiftly changed

when arose the name of Annie Croft.

_____________

— Carl E. Reed

https://weirdtalesweb.wordpress.com/

Afterword: “Annie Croft” is a composite character who lives and dies three decades before the outbreak of witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts. Let us a take a moment to remember the actual people who perished in the madness of 1692 (WIKI):

Died in prison:

  • Ann Foster (née Alcock) – died in custody in December 1692
  • Sarah Osborne – died in prison May 29, 1692, at age 49

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Literary critique

Write Club

Apart from the online Book Country, I’ve never been in a writers’ group, simply because there isn’t one where I live. There was a time I thought I was missing out, but I’m not so bothered now. All the same, I’m interested to know how they operate, and when Shirley Weir, a contributor to one of the first anthologies I edited, said she was in a group from the UK’s Open University, I asked her if she’d like to write a piece about it.

In 2014, I completed my 3rd and final (so far) course on creative writing with the Open University (fondly known as the OU to its students). As writers and students, we were used to brainstorming with each other during the course, and quite a few of us wanted to keep in touch.

‘Why don’t we create our own writer’s group?’ suggested one bright spark.

And from that idea, Write Club was born. The group is a perfect example of a democracy with even the name being chosen by ballot, with fans of Chuck Palahniuk coming out on top.

Write Club is open to any OU participants past or present. The only other requisite is an interest in writing. Fiction, life writing, poetry, or something unique – any type of writing is welcome. Membership increases every year as more students start studying with the OU. The original committee, with a couple of persistent exceptions, has mainly given way to new members with fresh ideas. Changes for the better are always welcomed.

Socially, members meet in a Facebook group. It’s a relaxed group with daily prompts, but any writing is kept to short (mostly fun, but often dark) pieces. Members are supportive, congratulating fellow members on any achievement from having work published, to becoming a writer with the receipt of a first rejection. This group is also useful for passing on details of writing competitions and other tips.

Any serious writing is kept for the forums nestled on the OU student servers. These are secure and private. So, members can put in writing for advice or review, even if planning to submit elsewhere. There’s no obligation to use the forums, but peer review can be very helpful. To get the correct support, members are encouraged to include headings with abbreviations such as

  • BEG – Beginner,
  • INT – Intermediate,
  • ADV – Advanced
  • JFF. Just For Fun. -You don’t want any critique. You just want to brighten our day with your piece!
  • GF – General Feedback. You want to know if people like your piece, if they would read more, and you require some general opinion of areas of improvement.
  • GP – Grammar and Punctuation. You don’t want feedback on content or techniques, you just require grammar and punctuation feedback.
  • AF – Advanced Feedback. You are happy to receive an in-depth critique, with areas of underdevelopment highlighted, suggestions of improvement in various areas, and an analysis of the literary techniques you have used, and those you may like to consider, should they strengthen your piece.
  • FE -Final Edit. You have received feedback and re-drafted your piece several times. You would like one last check for the purpose of ‘polishing’ up, before submitting to comps or agents.

Although most of the groups’ interactions are in the online forums, we also meet up live once a month online.

We currently have six forums. The original for any short writing piece and announcements of activities, Novel Support, Poet Tree – a poetry forum, Children’s fiction, Non-Fiction and Monthly Meet Up Work-Sharing Space for any homework we give ourselves in the monthly live meetings.

Having a break between OU courses is no excuse for sitting back. Over the summer, the committee, steered ably by the amazing Cinnomen McGuigan, provides weekly writing tasks such as Cluster Club and Character Lab.

As well as our own forums, Write Club helps the OU Students Association to run a monthly online book club, where members chat for an hour a month and share thoughts on a specific read. The reading group uses a Goodreads group to keep book choices together.

It’s common taking part in writing courses run by other institutions (such as those run in the past by Iowa) to come across fellow WC members. And For NaNoWriMo and its camp, Write Club members often share a cabin together. (None of us snore.)

Over recent years, if there is one thing that has kept me writing through my ‘imposter syndrome’ spells, it’s Write Club. I’ve belonged to a couple of local groups, but one gradually died out and the other survived only until lockdown.

But Write Club keeps going. An online group, lockdown holds no problems for it. When members leave, there are always new students joining. And new members bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

When I struggle to write, the daily tasks keep me going. Many are just a matter of writing a few quick sentences (Sundays are six words). It makes the difference between writing (however short) and not writing. I love contributing to this and reading the other contributions.

With so many members, work in progress will always find someone in the forums ready to advise and encourage. Even when I think a story is finished, I’m grateful for suggested improvements which help me improve my technique.

But perhaps the chief advantage of Write Club is that I can be quiet for months, but when I come back, it’s still there going strong.

Over the years, group members have contributed to a number of charity anthologies, held together by a few dedicated members. Participation is as always voluntary, but there are plenty of members happy to contribute.

The next anthology Where’s the Manual? And Other Thoughts on Parenthood is in its final stages. Profits from it will go to Homestart and Save the Children.

Already published anthologies are:

The Other Side of the fence: Real Social Housing Tenants

The Gift

Generations

Footprints and Echoes

2020 Together: An Anthology of Shorts (published to support NHS Charities Together)

2021 Still Together (published to support NHS Charities Together)

I was in on the ground floor of Write Club and although I haven’t put as much time into it recently as some members, I still take part when I can. My own books are written under the pseudo name of Sam Speed and currently are

Flora the Fearless

Three short stories and a novella of a feisty octogenarian.

Dinosaur Diet

A not so cosy murder mystery first in the Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives series.

With Jurassic Justice, 2nd in Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives, due out shortly.

Shirley-Anne Weir

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