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Unread 08-16-2023, 05:38 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 11,128
Default Poems on Poetry

Angelica recently posted a poem on poetry - a subject which many of us have toyed with (usually with so-so results, IMAO) - and Michael T. suggested a thread on poems about writing a poem. Having written any number myself - a few decent, most only of interest to other poets - I jumped at the opportunity to preen and prance. In going through my Poems on Poetry file I realized that the only ones that were decent, and got beyond my po-world, were those that combined a poem on poetry with some insights from the real world.

Here's one that was published in The Cumberland Review years and years ago.

The Perfect Sonnet

I’ve been at this forever and I think
the perfect sonnet should consist of one
long sentence which will elegantly slink
around caesuras; have a little fun
with word-play as it sets its feet upon
good meter and an intertwining rhyme,
and then, just when it seems it will run on
and on without an insight worth a dime -

sublimely superficial, laced with wit
that sidesteps the realities of life -
shall open up a bit and half admit
concern about old age, finances, wife;
so that, instead of running out of gas,
it turns around and bites you in the ass.

And here's one which actually made it into my latest book - Furusato.
Like the first, it gets beyond being just a poem about a poem.

Trochees Are The Perfect Fix

I love a line of trochees now and then
Snort them up - my ear will tell me when
I’m due again - set for that metric hit -
the off-beat rush I need to discomfit
and chop the chain of pure iambic verse
that spreads a sonorous Shakespearean curse
across my winter sonnet’s boring drone.

Trochees are the poet’s perfect fix – stone
fences that provide a periodic high
to lift a rhyme through dull New England sky
to a caesura; punctuate the hills
with jig-saw boulders, frozen silver spills
of rock, the drift of snow on wind-tossed
lake, two paths uncrossed, a touch of frost.

I kinda like those two - particularly the second. But then we get into poems that are more directly focused on writing a poem and I think the quality suffers greatly. The next two don't get beyond a workshop chuckle. The first is a sonnet about the villanelle.

She Talks in Beauty Like a Villanelle

A proper, formal Miss, of classic phrase,
Her soft, hypnotic voice can weave a spell
That leaves this anxious suitor in a daze:
She is my siren of the villanelle.
Those retold lines and oft-repeated rhymes,
Old-fashionedly romantic Gallic pace,
The ease with which she makes each point four times,
Accent her elegance, her form, her grace.

And if she seems to stutter, just as well -
No twists or turns or sonnets’ clever ways
Disturb the quiet, mesmerizing swell
Of every echolalic, encored phrase,
As I begin to see that I adore
A nagging and reiterative bore

And here's my obligatory villanelle. Again, it focuses only on the poem, so it's dull-dull-dull.

A Simple Villanelle

Not good enough to show, I tell –
repeat some lines to ease the way –
and write a simple villanelle

that circles like a carousel
to grab at every last cliché
not good enough to show. I tell

in bloated, perfumed lines that swell
with labored adjectives each day
I write. A simple villanelle

is what is needed, to dispel
the force that leads my work to say,
not good enough to show, I tell.

Therefore I'll dwell, in parallel,
on word-play to restrain the bray;
and write a simple villanelle

(okay, a bitchy bagatelle)
that renders florid prose passé,
not good enough. To show, I tell -
and right a simple villanelle.

And finally (for now) another villanelle that I think is better because it mixes poetry with the real world. (I think this one was in Umbrella, centuries ago.)

Do Not Go Gentle into Villanelle

I wish I could create a villanelle
with poet’s flourish, and a sous-chef’s care,
as sweet and subtle as a plump quenelle.

I must find piquant lines that mingle well
(the recipe demands a perfect pair)
with which I could create that villanelle

as easily as I take shrimp and shell
Them, grind them, beat in egg whites full of air
and sweetly, subtly, raise a plump quenelle.

But overlabored tercets will not swell
my dish - If I could blend their essence with the flair
I wish, I would create a villanelle

that marries words and verbs in parallel
with nutmeg, cayenne, heavy cream; prepare
it sweet and subtle as a plump quenelle,

French-kissed with fruits de mer and bechamel,
a mix to metaphorically declare:
I wish I could create a villanelle
as sweet and subtle as a plump quenelle

Basta! Let's see your stuff.

Last edited by Michael Cantor; 08-17-2023 at 10:36 PM.
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Unread 08-16-2023, 06:00 PM
Jayne Osborn's Avatar
Jayne Osborn Jayne Osborn is offline
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Middle England
Posts: 6,926

Hey Michael,
Over the years you've slammed "poems about writing poems" more times than I can recall. However, you have just brought an enormous smile to my face! I enjoyed all of these - but right now I'm in (physical) pain, and it's also bedtime here in the UK, so I'm outa here in a moment, but I'll be back in a couple of days.

Big thanks for making me feel better,
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Unread 08-16-2023, 06:59 PM
Chris O'Carroll Chris O'Carroll is online now
Join Date: Apr 2002
Posts: 1,812

Thanks for firing this one up, Michael.

Every poet I know loves to roll their eyes at the whole navel-gazing concept of "poems about poetry." But I have yet to meet a poet who can resist writing one from time to time.

Here's a short one of mine.

Keeping It Real

Bullet wound is concrete, mortality abstract;
The latter’s a cool concept, the former a hot fact.
Love is an abstraction, orgasm concrete;
Only one is salty (although either can be sweet).

And here's a longer one that appeared in Big City Lit, a response poem to an anti-slam essay that I though was pretty clueless. The author had cast himself as a champion of the Western canon, standing strong against barbarians the gates, so it gave me great pleasure to go all Alexander Pope on his ass, by which I mean make fun of him in heroic couplets.

To a Defender of Poetic Tradition

You know how people look like fools when they
Dis formal verse as fusty and passé?
When they call meter a straitjacket, rhyme
A lifeless fossil from a bygone time?
Well, that’s how foolish you look when you damn
With cognate cluelessness the sins of slam.

You say slam poets seem to prize cheap thrills
And edgy topics more than verbal skills.
You grumble that they’re all pierced, tattooed,
Unversed in subtle wordplay, “urban,” crude.
Their hip-hop histrionics on the stage,
You sneer, can’t match your deep thoughts on the page.

Thank God your coded ethnic slurs aren’t cheap,
And your disdain for skin art is so deep.
The way you pierce the surface, plumb the core,
When you anatomize what you abhor
Saves you from sounding like some shallow jerk
With his head jammed up his collected work.

Are there particular slam poems you hate?
I might agree. I wouldn’t hesitate
To say some slammers suck, if you’ll admit
Page poets, too, sometimes write dreadful shit.
There’s good work in both camps, and both include
Some poems as lousy as your attitude.

It’s generally unwise to generalize
About whole genres when you criticize.
Keep it specific; broad-brush imprecision
Makes you an easy target for derision.
Slammers, you charge, talk dirty. Which is true.
But so did Shakespeare. So do I. Fuck you.
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Unread 08-16-2023, 11:48 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 11,128

Chris - neat, but I'd prefer it if it was pared to S1, S4 and S5. And S5 by itself is wonderful for a shorter critique, and you don't have to go through as many lines to get to the all-important "Fuck you".

Last edited by Michael Cantor; 08-17-2023 at 12:14 AM.
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Unread 08-17-2023, 08:53 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 16,410

An unpublished ditty I seem to have written 18 years ago:


Here's the first line. It will be recast
and used again before this poem is through.
And here's the line I need to end on last.

The challenge of a villanelle is vast.
I started poorly, reader, telling you
'Here's the first line. It will be recast,'

and even though I knew it was half-assed
I kept on writing, knowing it was true.
And then I wrote the line that would come last.

By now, dear reader, you are shocked, aghast,
and wondering if you have grounds to sue.
Here's the twelfth line. Like the first, recast,

its vapid senselessness is unsurpassed.
It's like a food you cannot taste or chew,
as is the line that's destined to come last.

We can only hope that it comes fast.
We all have better things by far to do.
Here's the first line, thoroughly recast.
And here's the line I'll end upon at last.

Last edited by Roger Slater; 08-17-2023 at 04:40 PM.
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Unread 08-17-2023, 09:10 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 16,410


When I sat down, I did not plan
... to write the poem you're reading,
but when I tried to write the one
... I wanted, on proceeding

I discovered to my sorrow
... that I would be needing
not to write it after all
... because the rhymes were leading

me to say what I had not
... in any way intended,
so all my plans for what I'd write
... were totally upended.

My friend, if you're enjoying this,
... I've no right to be proud.
It wasn't me! I simply wrote
... whatever rhyme allowed.
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Unread 08-17-2023, 10:04 AM
Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: NYC
Posts: 2,313

The wind—

p. 5
p. 7
p. 5
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Unread 08-17-2023, 11:07 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 16,410


This poem's self-referential.
... Of that there is no doubt.
This poem itself, and nothing else,
... is what this poem's about.

The way it blithely bops along,
... much like a metronome,
the way this poem proclaims this poem
... is all about this poem.

It's not about the ache of love
... or autumn leaves that fall.
This poem's a poem about itself,
... exclusively. That's all.

You may not like it. That's okay.
... You need not take it home.
It's not about your taste in poems.
... This poem's about this poem.
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Unread 08-17-2023, 12:22 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 11,128

Here's a translation of Orwn's haiku:

Sonnet twists and turns
Villanelle repeats itself
Haiku jumps - kerplop!

This one is so old it was originally written in charcoal on the wall of a cave.

Teach a Man to Write

Give a man a book, they say,
and he will read it through the day;
but teach him meter and some rhyme,
and see how he, in little time,
fights sleep to write, and with first light
makes coffee, then will re-recite
the sonnet that he gibble-gabbled
at all night: what once was babbled
now will form a half-defined
and vague, but metrically aligned
melange of words he’ll stir, then stuff
with metaphors, until enough
is there to fester, seethe and cook.
(Oh Christ! Just give the guy a book!)

And - just to prove you can write a poem about poetry without rhyme or meter:

From Russia With Love

I think today I'll write about
Potemkin Villages -
hell, I'm Russian,
or at least my father was born there,
and I even wear a big gold ring,
a double eagle coin
with the Tsar of All the Russias
trapped face down
kissing my finger,
so the description of these villages -
propped up house-fronts
nothing behind them
erected quickly
fits right in -
and I can even use it
to write my daily
Potemkin Poem
because it gives me something,
to talk about
some starting point
and piece of reality -
good images -
the ring,
all those Potemkin housefronts,
maybe sheathed in ice
in a hard Russian winter,
while I scribble
scrabble dribble
words and pictures down a page
as quickly as I can type
and make sure to
line breaks
so it looks like a poem
and it's amazing
how many people
regard it as a poem,
even me,
even though all I did was
quickly write
whatever came into my head
scrible scrabble, dribble, drabble,
for fifteen minutes,
and here's my latest
Potemkin Poem.
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Unread 08-17-2023, 01:05 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 16,410


Say me, please.
Don't just read me.
Sound is food.
Won't you feed me?

Life itself
is what I give,
but first I need
your voice to live.
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