Thursday, November 26, 2009


I'm off to warmer climes for the weekend, so my poem arrives a few days early. I hope that all you faithful readers find yourselves in the safe surroundings of home and family for the remainder of the vacation. The work week and the routine life will return all too soon. Enjoy the simple pleasures while they last, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


An arrow cannot find its distant mark,
as in a rush of iron-feathered flight
it intersects the kingdom of the lark,
unless an archer ushers it aright

and sets it off, upon a certain track,
ascending from the taut and furled cord,
with swift release and merciless attack
to lift it over warrior and lord

and take its target with a windy kiss,
though none can tell the closeness of its course,
or whether it is like to win or miss,
except the fool, stricken so by force.

But you, the archer, escort of the sky,
I tell you of the fool: it is I.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Debt

So many rhymes! And here I was just criticizing rhyming. This one is a bit more complex than most, though, and certainly took more work. The continuity, in particular, was troubling, not to mention the structure of the internal rhymes. Now that it's done, however, I find I am relatively pleased. I would even go so far as to say I'm quite happy with the constant mercurial shift between the artificial rhythm of lines and the natural rhythm of sentences. And yes, I know the subject is love, and love has been done to death by poets, but it is a well-known poetical rule that every poet is entitled to an allotment of love poems equal to the number of years he has lived. I'm still working my way up to 27.

The Debt

My heart and hand? A meager fee
and fine to ask, inferior
as common sand or crude debris
when set the task. This pauper, poor,

is so forlorn, for gathered round
and all about my little heart,
full weary-worn, the others bound,
while I, in doubt, still strain to start,

and so maintain a hand to hold -
far less than you could hope to win
from one so plain, and one so bold,
who would pursue immortal skin

as yours, when I could only seize
at purchase on consistent ground,
content to lie and take my ease,
to stay withdrawn. I am unbound

and empty, now. My hand, alone,
holds nothing but a heart to give
to you. Allow, from on your throne,
a gift. Of what? A life to live,

a debt to pay, a rift to fill,
a feeble strength to sacrifice,
and I shall stay your own until
my life, at length, has born the price.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Raptor

I spend a fair amount of time, each week, looking for other modern formalist poets, but my searching often goes unsatisfied. There are countless people out there who rhyme - and even a few who combine rhyme and metre, in a sort of caricature of old nursery rhymes - but are there any who treat it as a serious art? I just don't know, anymore. I make no claim to be a great poet, but I am a meticulous poet, and I created this poem to demonstrate the sort of mechanical thought and effort that, I believe, are essential to any real poetry. For those of you not concerned with the dirty details of writing poetry, please enjoy the poem. For everyone else, I have included a brief and limited analysis of poetic elements after the poem, itself.

The Raptor

The carrion-call, shrill upon the air,
as ragged wings now buffet, two and two,
and beat the ribboned rain in disrepair,
to hold a height no summit ever knew,
precedes the silent plunge, as if a prayer
were yielded to fledglings, unaware,
in steady circlings beneath the blue,

that, here, the sand, descended in the glass,
has reached the end and emptied at a rush,
and cannot count the moments as they pass,
for moments make a closing with a hush
before the storm that plummets in a mass
of surging ruin, ready to harass
and break the vibrant spirit of the thrush,

and so, it bursts upon the heedless back,
as bird and bird spin earth-bound in a grip
of lifeless held in life, of swift attack,
while severed feathers scatter free and slip
to wander downward on a flightless track,
and he who bore them, buoyed up, so slack,
by he who will embody Charon's ship.

Ignoring, for today, the actual content of poetry, I would argue that the poet must be concerned with the words and syntax he uses. Poetry is, at heart, spoken song, and, without the aid of music, the lyric of the poetry is carried solely by the words. Further, unless the poet, himself, is there to read his poems aloud, interpretation is left to the reader, who has little or no idea what the poet intends. Therefore, the words should both make the poem sonorous and guide the reader as he renders the written words as sounds. Good poetry begins with inspiration, but only finds its completion in hours of laborious minutiae. Thus, there is little, if anything, in my poetry that is not intentional, and all word choices are made to maximize the ability of the poem to carry its own cadence and tone. I'll only analyze the first verse of 'The Raptor', and then, only the most important parts, but even that should be sufficient to get my point across. To begin:

The carrion-call, shrill upon the air,
This first line begins with two instances of consonance: first, the alliterative 'ca' and second, 'll'. This is followed by the sonic referencing of 'carrion' by 'upon', and the paralleled soft vowels beginning 'upon' and 'air'. A touch of onomatopoeia is provided by 'shrill'.

as ragged wings now buffet, two and two,
The 'a' of 'air' is recalled, here, in the first two words, followed by the repetition of 'w', between 'wings', 'now', and 'two'. We also have our first instance of epistrophe, with the dual 'two'. 'Ragged' continues the theme of onomatopoeia, and this second line solidifies the structure of the poem as iambic pentameter (or ten syllables to a line, alternating between stressed and unstressed syllables, in pairs known, to scansionists, as feet). You may recognize this line structure from traditional Shakespearean sonnets. It gives the poem a sort of tumbling feeling, which matches the subject of a raptor diving on a helpless bird. Notice how the stress is universally placed on every other syllable, starting with the second. There is almost no variation upon this throughout the entire poem.

and beat the ribboned rain in disrepair,
The 'and' that begins this verse ties it to the penultimate 'and' of the last verse, followed by 'beat', which pairs with 'buffet' and 'ribboned'. This is a consonance we won't see again till the end of the verse. Finally, the doubly alliterative 'ribboned rain' carries the center of the line, only to find closure in 'disrepair'.

to hold a height no summit ever knew,
The consonants of 'to hold' are reversed in 'height', even as the latter reaches forward to 'summit'. Finally, 'no' plays off of 'knew', in both consonance and a slight double entendre.

precedes the silent plunge, as if a prayer
This line has an alternating pattern of contrasted hard 'p' sounds and soft 's' sounds: 'precedes the silent plunge, as if a prayer'. It also ends, for the first time, in the middle of a clause. This is important, because the next line is about to break the rhyming scheme, and end with the same masculine rhyme as the current line. The two lines are, thereby, tied together in both thought and structure.

were yielded to fledglings, unaware,
The unity between this line and the last is further enhanced by 'were', which acts as a subdued connection between the more dominant, but still very similar, sounds of 'prayer' and 'unaware'. There is also a subtle progression from the soft, to the plosive, and back to the soft, in the middle of the line: 'yielded to fledglings'. Notice how the sounds rise from 'y' to 'd', then drop back down to the concealed 'y' of 'ing'. Also, the alternate 'l's provide a natural, rolling transition between the open 'y' sound and the plosive 'd' sound.

in steady circlings beneath the blue,
The rhyming pattern is finally cemented as ABABAAB, mixing the simple four-line form of the beginning with an enclosed rhyme at the end. As a side note about the rhyme scheme, notice that the first two verses use soft rhymes, while the third verse uses hard rhymes, leading to a harsher sound that matches and amplifies its violent content. There is, also, a quick triple repetition of 's' in 'steady circlings', which hearkens back to the similar triplet in 'precedes the silent' of two lines previous. 'Circlings' is not traditionally used as a noun, but it is a very small step from adjective to noun, and the hint of onomatopoeia was too nice to pass up. The line finally ends with 'beneath the blue', an inverted double consonance. The alliteration of 'b' was used extensively in the second and third lines, but then given a rest until this point, while the double 'th' acts to draw the final phrase into one continuous sound.

There it is. If I have scared some of you away from attempting poetry ever again, I apologize. If, on the other hand, I have motivated you to make something more of it than simple lines that share nothing but end-rhymes, I have accomplished more than I could have hoped. Let there be no mistake; this sort of writing is difficult, to say the least. Yet, it also grows easier over time. Techniques which were once awkward and unnatural for me now seem intuitive, and it takes me substantially less time to write a poem now than it once did. As with any skill, practice is the truest path to mastery, and though it may be painful and frustrating at first, you will find, over time, a gradual change taking place, as you go from simply writing poetry to being a poet. Good luck.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Two Homes

California seems an awfully long way from Oregon, these days. Winter is lovely, but I'm far more fickle than the seasons, and I'm ready for a temporary change.

Two Homes

My body has one home, a humble place,
that knows me only by the empty space
I leave behind as lightly as a ghost
whose footsteps tread the floor without a trace.

My heart, too, has a home, so far from here,
but closer, yet, and ever more so clear;
perhaps a dream, or just a wish at most,
but even dreaming can be counted dear.

And I? I do not mind this double fate,
for as my heart is stamping at the gate,
my flesh consents to play the patient host
and so the two, in bondage, bear the wait.