A revised and expanded version of my sonnet collection has been published online today.
I’ve just had this poem published in Snakeskin #235. I wrote the first draft over five years ago, then put it aside and forgot about it. I discovered it again by chance about 50 days ago. It will be the first in a sequence of four called “The Four Tempers” in my upcoming, second edition of I Sing the Sonnet, which Snakeskin plans to publish in the near future.
I woke at 4 one night two months ago and witnessed my wife doing exercises while sleeping. After recovering my composure, I found this phenomenon could easily be described in a line of IP: “My wife does exercises in her sleep.” I then began to construct a sonnet. The word “parachute” popped up as a word to conclude with rather early on, which was quite a help, as then it was just a matter of filling in from A to B. At one point I gave myself the advice of reducing the pentameter to tetrameter as the IP seemed bloated.
“Look! We Have Landed!” (a reference to D.H. Lawrence’s poetry collection from 1917, Look! We Have Come Through!) is in this month’s issue of Snakeskin.
I’ve been playing quite a lot of chess over the last 1½ years, both online and over the board. I played quite a bit as a kid, but other interests, not least poetry, elbowed their way into the foreground. What started me off again was writing this sonnet:
Chess with Monsieur Joffroy
In memory of Frédérique Joffroy (1962-1980)
Losing to me wasn’t the badge of shame
your father thought it was. He couldn’t stop
the stronger player coming out on top.
It came as quite a shock to hear him claim
my proletarian tactics were to blame.
It’s standard stuff to snatch a pawn, then swap
off all the pieces; suicide to drop
the basic principle behind the game.
To think that he was meant to be the host!
We were thirteen, your father forty-four.
Five years later I was told, by post,
that you, my friend, had hanged yourself. Your ghost
jolted my memory. Outplayed once more,
your father kicked the table to the floor.
It was published in CHESS Magazine in January. At my suggestion, I was given a year’s subscription instead of payment.
Chess has now elbowed poetry into the background. Until last month I hadn’t written anything for half a year. Then I wrote this. A friend of mine, Nigel Stuart, has added two more stanzas, which he has given me permission to post here:
Though they might seem distinct, as the white and the black,
xxxchiaroscuro best lights each endeavour –
while the whitest of knights treads a devious track,
xxxpawns transgendered as queens render pleasure,
and a sinuous line, in conception divine,
xxxoften issues in muddles of meaning,
and an image whose shine, past attempts to refine
xxxits expression, turns out overweening.
Though some poetry seems by illumining dreams
xxxto rival the light of the cinema,
neo-realist themes and their verismo gleams,
xxxshow illusory scenes, not dissimilar.
Every struggling art, when considered apart,
xxxseems a separate route to redemption,
yet one finds at its heart there’s inscribed from the start,
xxxfrom exposure – there’s never exemption.
Then in July’s Snakeskin I had a short unrhyming poem (very rare for me), “The Bad Dancer” published. I wrote it in under half a minute, inspired by a fellow poet announcing on Facebook that for Father’s Day she was off to write a poem about how she lacked a father.
So thank you, George Simmers, editor of Snakeskin!
Here’s a sonnet I started on June 7th. Papsie is what we call my dad:
On Papsie’s 89th Birthday
I’m sitting in the Shamrock Inn
in Copenhagen, where there’s time
and space enough for me to rhyme.
Why do I do it? Not to win
applause, or please my kith and kin,
but rather so my soul may climb
up to the stars, to some sublime
reunion with its long-lost twin.
The two kids kissing to this track
(Mumford and Sons, “After the Storm”)
remind me of the face-down Jack
of Hearts downstairs. When love is warm,
we never dream of turning back;
our only duty’s to perform.
I composed the title last, as I often do, and this was partly inspired by the fact that there were 89 words in the sonnet. In fact, the sonnet amounted to 89 words without my intervention. I only had to count them. The subconscious at work, I think. It was Papsie’s 89th birthday after all.
The title can also be read “On Papsie’s Eighty-Ninth Birth Day”. The acronym of this is “OPEN BD”. The original title has 21 letters and the 21st letter of the poem is a small “C” (which is the letter you find if you “OPEN BD”). The new title has 28 letters and the 28th letter is a capital “C”, immediately followed by “open” (in “Copenhagen”), i.e. the cryptic clue has been solved; “C” is now “open”. There’s an extra gift to “open” too, as the remaining letters in “Copenhagen” are an anagram of “Change”. Perhaps this was a numerical/linguistic effect created by my subconscious. How else to explain it?
Anyway, it’s a nice anagram, and no doubt one my dad has come across, seeing as how he’s a great solver of cryptic crosswords. We share an interest in wordplay, as well as chess and bridge, but I leave the crosswords to him, and he leaves the poetry to me.
I’ve assembled the sung versions of my sonnets on a single page. There are also two spoken versions.
I’ve recently purchased a Roland R-05 wave/mp3 recorder, and I’ve begun to record some of my other poems/songs. My most recent post, “My Naked Heart”, whose title is a translation of the title of one of Baudelaire’s works, Mon Coeur Mis à Nu, showcased my first recording on it. I can recommend it.
Here’s an early sonnet, published in my collection, Red Moon. I wrote it at my family’s holiday house just outside Kenmore (in Perthshire in Scotland) on 8th December 1985.
I was drowsy in bed
when the authorities on me
set their ravenous bitch.
But I tamed her, so
they took her away
and left me so poor rich.
Later on that hound returned
and sat upon my belly.
She was warm, and I was free;
we soon turned into jelly.
But our sexual sport disturbed
our ever-present neighbours;
she decided she would go
and left me to my labours.
If you’re wondering how line 2 is scanned when this is to be spoken rather than sung, it’s an anapaestic dimeter with two elisions:
when th(e) auTHO/(ri)ties on ME