Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

20 August 2023

English Chaos


Sketch of Gerard Nolst Trenité aka Charivarius
Sketch of Gerard Nolst Trenité aka Charivarius

In the spirit of the ‘English, English’ article two weeks ago and recent essays about the madness of the language, I dug out a copy of ‘The Chaos’. Its author, Gerard Nolst Trenité, who went by the nom de plume of Charivarius, was a Dutch writer, traveller, law and political science student, teacher, playwright, and noted contributor to the English language. More than a century ago, he gathered some 800 trickiest English irregularities into a 274 line poem called ‘The Chaos’ as a practice suite for his students.

Subsequent versions were adopted and maintained by the Simplified Spelling Society. Abrupt lapses in style and occasional losses of mètre suggest others may have tinkered with the piece, much like a recipient ‘improves’ an email tidbit before passing it along. Trenité himself dropped and added words in subsequent versions, and popular stanzas have been restored by historians. Any way it’s viewed, the collection impresses readers a hundred years later.

Note: This rendition carries over the formatting and indentation passed down by Trenité. Originally staggered couplets hinted at senses of masculine and feminine as used in other Romance languages, and they can still be comfortably read with alternating male and female voices.

Here now is…

The Chaos
by Gerard Nolst Trenité writing as Charivarius
Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter, how it's written!)
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via;
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven; how and low;
Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid; measles, topsails, aisles;
Exiles, similes, reviles;
Wholly, holly; signal, signing;
Thames; examining, combining;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From 'desire': desirable– admirable from 'admire';
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier;
Chatham, brougham; renown but known,
Knowledge; done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone; Balmoral;
Kitchen, lichen; laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German; wind and mind;
Scene, Melpomene, mankind;
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rhyme with 'darkly'.
Viscous, viscount; load and broad;
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
And your pronunciation's okay.
Rounded, wounded; grieve and sieve;
Friend and fiend; alive and live.
Is your R correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition.
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?
Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You'll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.
Would you like some more? You'll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.
Liberty, library; heave and heaven;
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed;
People, leopard; towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches; wise, precise;
Chalice but police and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable;
Principle, disciple; label;
Petal, penal, and canal;
Wait, surmise, plait, promise; pal.
Suit, suite, ruin; circuit, conduit
Rhyme with 'shirk it' and 'beyond it.'
But it is not hard to tell
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular; gaol, iron;
Timber, climber; bullion, lion,
Worm and storm; chaise, chaos, chair;
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rime with 'hammer.'
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some, and home.
Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker,
Quoth he, 'than liqueur or liquor',
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant.
Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.
Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.
And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with staring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don't be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.
Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the Z! (A gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don't mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don't want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.
But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.
Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you're not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.
Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Please don't monkey with the geyser,
Don't peel 'taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.
The TH will surely trouble you
More than R, CH or W.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget 'em—
Wait! I've got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.
The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.
Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi,
Gyrate, dowry and awry.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess– it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.
Mind the O of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.
Pronunciation– think of Psyche!–
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won't it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying 'grits'?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough?
Hiccough has the sound of 'cup'.
My advice is: give it up!

‘Dearest Creature Susy’ is believed to reference French student Susanne Delacruix.

19 October 2022

Stepping Up to the Plate



 You might say our adventure begins with A.C. Gunter visiting San Francisco in the summer of 1888.  You have probably never heard of Gunter, which would surprise the people of his time for he was one of America's most successful novelists.  Today he has only one, very tangential, claim to literary fame.

On June 8 he picked up a copy of the San Francisco Examiner and read a poem.  He enjoyed it so much that he tore it  out and took it with him when he returned to New York.  There, he handed it to his friend John A. McCaull, a theatrical producer.  McCaull was impressed enough that he gave the poem to his chief comedian, DeWolf Hopper, and told him to memorize it and recite it that night in the middle of a play which, interestingly enough, had nothing to do with the subject of the poem.  Theatre was more casual in those days.

Hopper did so and thus began a new career.  For the next forty years he recited that poem countless times on stage, on records, and even in new-fangled talkie cinema.  In old age he commented dryly that when summoned out of his grave at the resurrection he would probably, automatically, announce "The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day."

As you have probably figured out the poem Gunter rescued from obscurity was "Casey at the Bat."  It was published anonymously but the author was Ernest L. Thayer, a recent Harvard graduate, who had taken a job at the Examiner.  (Inevitably, other people claimed to have written it, but there is no reasonable doubt.)  Thayer, like Gunter, left no other memorable work behind.  But his little masterpiece shows no sign of fading away.


I learned all this in an entertaining little book by John Evangelist Walsh called The Night Casey Was Born.  Because of the way my brain works, reading the book made me wonder: Can I get a crime story out of this?

And I did.  The October issue of Mystery Magazine features "Murder in Mudville," in which that town's unfortunate chief of police is trying to solve the murder (by baseball bat) of the very pitcher who struck out the hometown hero.  

It was great fun to write.  

But here's the thing that haunts me: Think about Gunter stumbling on that poem.  How many little masterpieces are rotting away, undiscovered, in old papers and magazines?

 

05 March 2021

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a personal inspiration


Freshman year at Loyola University in 1969, I took Photography 101 from a prof who was into Beat Generation writers (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Carr, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others). For our final grade he asked us to do a photo essay of a poem. Any poem. He pointed to the books in his office and told us to look through them. As other students picked up Ginsberg and Patchen and Para and Rexworth, I found the collection A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, thumbed through it and the title of poem #22 on page 37 stopped me – Johnny Nolan has a patch on his ass.


I was juiced and put together a dynamite photo essay, illustrating Ferlinghetti's images:

  • "kids chase him" – easy, I went to City Park and photographed kids running after each other.
  • "screendoor summers" – a photo of an open screen door with the sun in the sky above.
  • "through the back streets" – illustrated by a photo of Antoine Alley at night (Antoine Alley runs along the downtown side of Saint Louis Cathedral).
  • "a man laments upon a violin" – visited several jazz halls until I found a man playing a violin.
  • "a doorstep baby cries" – wasn't hard, we had a few babies in the family.
  • "a ball bounced down stairs" – I used a tennis ball and a tall staircase at Loyola's Marquette Hall.

The hardest step was how to illustrate Johnny Nolan with a patch on his ass. Never found Johnny Nolan or a lookalike but I found pair of blue jeans with a patch on the butt at a thrift store and hung them from an old clothes line.

Man, I was proud of my essay. Nice, sharp black-and-white images.

Bought a copy of A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND and other books by Ferlinghetti and have read them so many times over the years. His poems inspired me, still do. The economy of words, the precise images.

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged our city, I lost most of my photos and negatives, including my photo essay of Johnny Nolan has a patch on his ass.

Recently, I read the poem to someone who have never read it and got teary eyed. Comes from being an old man. Comes from realizing how many things you loose in life.

"Johnn Nolan has a patch on his ass

kids chase him

thru screendoor summers ..."

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on February, 22, 2021. He was 101 years old.

www.oneildenoux.com

07 October 2018

Talking Turkey


Tomorrow Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and, in case you wondered, Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday in November. The time or place matters little to bachelors who celebrate the holiday much the same no matter when or where.

A Bachelor Thanksgiving
in honour of the Canadian holiday
arrangement in ironic pentameter
by deservedly anonymous


Thanksgiving cornucopia
I think I shall never sniff
A poem as lovely as a whiff
Of turkey and mashed po—
tatoes and frozen snow–

Peas in vast disproportion
As I gulp another portion.
Cranberry sauce, count me a fan,
Maintains the shape of the can.

Cheap beer and cheaper whiskey
Makes the shallow heart grow frisky.
Three litre jugs of screw-capped wine
First tastes horrible, then tastes fine.

Deli turkey, cellophane wrapped.
Processed ham and all that crap.
Sherbet, ice cream, anything frozen,
Packaged cupcakes by the dozen,

Ruffled chips and onion dip,
Reddi-Wip and Miracle Whip,
Maple frosting found in tins
Hide the worst culinary sins.

Seven-fifty millilitres of
Grain vodka labeled Scruitov,
Cheap brandy and cheaper beer
First smells awful, then tastes queer.

Pumpkin pie and store-bought cake,
Anything I need not bake.
If it’s boxed, if it’s canned,
I’m no gourmet, only gourmand.

Chorus    

Baseball, football on the TV.
One spilt bowl of poutine gravy.
This little poem with each verse,
I give thanks if it grows no worse.
vintage post card wreath turkey

vintage post card children, turkey, pumpkin

We admit nothing except Happy Thanksgiving. Graphics courtesy of Antique Images, The Holiday Spot, and Spruce Crafts.

Talking Turkey


Tomorrow Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and, in case you wondered, Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday in November. The time or place matters little to bachelors who celebrate the holiday much the same no matter when or where.

A Bachelor Thanksgiving
in honour of the Canadian holiday
arrangement in ironic pentameter
by deservedly anonymous



I think I shall never sniff
A poem as lovely as a whiff
Of turkey and mashed po—
tatoes and frozen snow–

Peas in vast disproportion
As I gulp another portion.
Cranberry sauce, count me fan,
Maintains the shape of the can.

Cheap beer and cheaper whiskey
Makes the shallow heart grow frisky.
Three litre jugs of screw-capped wine
First tastes horrible, then tastes fine.

Deli turkey, cellophane wrapped.
Processed ham and all that crap.
Sherbet, ice cream, anything frozen,
Packaged cupcakes by the dozen,

Ruffled chips and onion dip,
Reddi-Wip and Miracle Whip,
Maple frosting found in tins
Hide the worst culinary sins.

Seven-fifty millilitres of
Grain vodka labled Scruitov,
Cheap brandy and cheaper beer
First tastes horrible, then tastes queer.

Pumpkin pie and store-bought cake,
Anything I need not bake.
If it’s boxed, if it’s canned,
I’m no gourmet, only gourmand.

Chorus    

Baseball, football on the TV.
One spilt bowl of poutine gravy.
This little poem with each verse,
I give thanks it grows no worse.


We admit nothing except Happy Thanksgiving.

29 June 2018

North to Alaska


by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck
By the time you read this I will have been eaten by bears.

Or moose. A Møøse once bit my sister.

Remember Monty Python? Ah, those were the days, discovering off-kilter comedy on Public Broadcasting, brought from overseas. Now I scroll through cable and everything looks like a commercial. Maybe I'm just old and cranky, I just turned 47, which is the new 29, but still old. I am frightened for my country. We have a taste for war and little empathy, because we have never been invaded. Well, the South knows war better than we do. They're still bitter over it, even though they started it. War leaves scars. And the last person to get hit always thinks they're the victim.

In a few days I'll be visiting Canada, and after the President's foolish comments, I'm wary of meeting strangers. Usually when I travel, I like finding a pub to meet the locals. When I visited Ireland during the Bush II Presidency, I drank a lot of free pints from people who wanted to ask why we elected that buffoon. Now I'm more concerned that I'll have a beer splashed in my face, or worse.

Yuppie problems. Boo hoo, my country's harmful policies might ruin my vacation.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing, and everything.

I haven't been writing. Not as much as I'd like, or at all, depending on the day. I have trouble seeing the point.

Then I find some motivation and chunk along a bit, editing the crap I wrote the days before, and adding some more to it.

The dance band kept playing on the Titanic. People need entertainment more than ever.

When I feel this way I am reminded of a wonderful poem by Maggie Smith, called "Good Bones."

Good Bones

BY MAGGIE SMITH
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Or if you'd rather have it in a snappy hardboiled patter, the final lines from the movie Seven, written by Andrew Kevin Walker: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'the world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part." Hemingway's full words are, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it." But he did, when he felt useless. And he left so many cats behind. I can't imagine doing that. The cats survived, as they do. They even survived Hurricane Irma, when cat lovers fretted over the 54 six-toed felines. They weathered the storm in Hemingway's villa with its 18 inch thick limestone walls, as did the curators of the house. He built something with good bones, that outlived his own despair.

And we all do, when we write with our hearts in it.

I'll keep fighting.


27 May 2017

If The Goddaughter moved to other Genres (a seriously non-serious post)


Last year at about this time, my publisher gave me a challenge.  “We want to try some women’s
fiction for the Rapid Reads line,” she said. "So I need a book from you by August."

Huh?  Me, the scribe of mob comedy, write Chicklit?  Romance?  Okay, can I make it funny, I asked?  Luckily they went thumbs up.  And so WORST DATE EVER comes out in September this year.

More on that later.  This column is about something else.

Point being, all this writing-out-of-genre got me thinking.  Crime has always been my thing.  I write about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one.  Her inept mob family never gets it right.   

What would happen if Gina Gallo, the original mob goddaughter, were to be dragged kicking and screaming out of crime, and plunked right down into another genre.  Or three.  So here goes.

Western:
(on a stage coach near you)

Gina:  “Please move over.  You’re taking up two seats.”

Bad guy Cowboy: “Hey little lady.  You can sit right here on my lap.  What’s a pretty little thing like you doing with that mighty big revolver, anyway?”

Gina (demonstrating):  <BLAM>

Cowboy drops to the floor.

Gothic Romance:
(in a seriously spooky old manor)

Fiendish male character, rubbing hands together:  “You’ll never escape me, my pretty.  Never!”

Gina (looking around): “Are you sure this isn’t a set for The Rocky Horror Picture Show?”

Fiend:  “Enough!  You’ll be my wife with or without the church.”

Gina (extracting knife beneath skirt): <THWOCK>

Fiend drops to the floor.

Literary:
(at a slam poetry evening)

Male Poet:  “Stop.Cry.Laugh.Love not war.Peace not profit.Climate change.Capitalists.Love crimes.War crimes.Killing oceans.Killing whales.Every other cliché you can think of.Pain.I’m in pain.A pain so great.

Gina: <BLAM>

Poet is out of pain, and so is everyone else.

To be continued…(or not, if someone takes out the writer first)

Just released!  THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER, book 5 in The Goddaughter series
“…the work of an author at the absolute top of her game” Don Graves, Canadian Mystery Reviews



On Amazon

15 April 2017

So Mysterious: a Q&A With Gerald So


Gerald So is a name that's familiar to most of us who write short mystery fiction. In fact Gerald is a past president (2008-10) and past vice-president (2012-14) of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, as well as an author, editor, and publisher. Since 2008, he has published crime-themed poetry, first in The Lineup chapbook series, co-edited with Patrick Shawn Bagley, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, Richie Narvaez, and Anthony Rainone, and now at The Five-Two weekly website.

I e-met Gerald long ago, and although we've never crossed paths in person, I feel I know him well through our many emails and his many projects. We also share a love of crime poetry. (I've sold more than 300 poems, believe it or not--many of them in the mystery category--to Writer's Digest, EQMM, Grit, Farm & Ranch Living, etc.). Gerald reminded me recently of one of my poems called "Tinseltown," which appeared in The Five-Two several years ago.  (Here's a link.)

Okay, that's my warm-up act. Here's the main event: a brief interview with the crime-poetry king himself, Gerald So.


JF: Gerald, it's great to have you with us at SleuthSayers. Let's start with a clarification: What would you say is the difference between crime fiction and crime poetry?

GS: Mainly, unlike fiction, poetry isn't necessarily narrative. Poetry doesn't have to stick to procedural aspects of genre conventions. It can, for example, depict the aftermath of crime as an emotional moment, before the tendency toward story sets in. Poets have the freedom to approach crime from angles you might not see in fiction. I need occasional breaks from reading and writing crime fiction while poetry has held my interest all along.


JF: How did you get started writing poetry, and especially crime-themed poetry?

GS: I started writing bad poetry in high school. By college, I'd decided fiction was safer ground, but while teaching at Hofstra University I befriended poet Robert Plath, and handled the technical side of the faculty poetry website he edited. In reading the material to be posted on the website, I began to form opinions about it, and then seriously write my own poetry. I broke into print with poetry, not fiction, and decided I wouldn't give it up.

I think the theme of crime worked its way in naturally because powerful inciting events, such as crimes, are what hook and keep me reading anything.


JF: I agree. As I mentioned earlier, you started out publishing The Lineup crime poetry chapbooks. Now that you've published via a website, would you ever consider adding a Five-Two paper format?

GS: Yes, but I'd need more resources and help to make it happen. The advantage of maintaining a poetry blog and ebooks is I'm the only one who has to work on them to see them published. That said, a longterm goal of the site and ebooks is to keep crime poetry in the public eye, to grow interest in the concept until things like print or audio releases, and anything else you might imagine, are within reach.


JF: Can you tell us more about The Lineup series?

GS: The Lineup was a print-on-demand chapbook published once a year from 2008 to 2011. An acquaintance, author Alex Echevarria Roman, suggested the idea of a crime-themed poetry journal, and I ran with it, recruiting friends as co-editors. The Lineup had four editors per issue, each reading and rating all the poems submitted. It was a unique but complicated process, and as my friends turned to bigger projects, The Lineup couldn't be sustained. All four published volumes are still available here, though, on Lulu.com.


JF: The Five-Two, which I've heard you call a "crime poetry weekly," is a great site. Who are some of the authors you've featured in The Five-Two?

GS: Thriller author J.T. Ellison is one of the volunteer audio performers. There have been poems by your fellow Derringer Award winner Joseph D'Agnese and by novelist Peter Swanson. Other frequently featured poets include Robert Cooperman, Jennifer Lagier, Charles Rammelkamp, and Nancy Scott.


JF: What other kinds of writing do you do?

GS: I've written book, TV, and film reviews for Crimespree Magazine, a regular TV/film column for Mysterical-E, and a handful of short stories in various journals. I'm waiting on the status of two shorts whose titles I'm not allowed to mention.


JF: In closing, what are some other current markets for crime-themed poetry?

GS: I don't know many other markets that seek crime poetry specifically as The Five-Two does, but there are always markets for poetry with powerful inciting events, of which crime is just one. Some are Midnight Lane Boutique, Nerve Cowboy, Red Fez, Silver Birch Press, and Yellow Mama.


JF: Which is my hint to try some of these latest markets, and for our readers (hopefully) to try their hand at crime poetry also. Many thanks, Gerald, for joining us today. Keep up the good work!




And thanks to all of you as well. I'll be back next Saturday with my regular SleuthSayers column, and some observations of my own . .  . but I hope you'll tune in anyway.

24 November 2016

Messages in a Bottle, or Notes from the Pen


For the next several days, our band of authors will be writing about writing— for magazines, especially non-mystery magazines. We’ll have a couple of surprises and a lot of expertize. Thanks to Eve for kicking off the program with non-traditional penmanship. You'll see.
—Velma
by Eve Fisher

I just got back from a weekend workshop at the local penitentiary, which (as always) was full of interesting moments, hard work, and definite characters.  If nothing else, the weekend confirmed (even if I do say so myself) that I really nailed the young meth-head who's the centerpiece of my latest story, "Iron Chef", in the November, 2016 issue of AHMM.  ("He thinks he's a lady's man because he wants to get laid," and more here...)

I did not tell the guys that.  Actually, I don't tell them much about my writing, because (1) That's not why I'm there (I'm there to facilitate an Alternatives to Violence Project Workshop, not talk about myself all the time) and (2) most of them don't really want to hear it.  Including the writers.
(Sometimes especially the writers.  Recent dialog between myself and an inmate:
Me: "There's a place on-line that lists publishers and -"
Inmate (interrupting): "I HAVE an agent. Or I will soon."
Me: "Okay."
Inmate: "Yeah.")
And there are a lot of writers (and artists) at the pen.  Interestingly, I haven't met one yet that writes mystery or crime stories.  I'm not sure if that's because it doesn't interest them, or they don't know how to do it, or if they're afraid if they put anything in writing, it might be held against them in a court of law.  Like a confession or a plan for future criminal activity...  Anyway, most are poets and/or songwriters.  Some write sci-fi and/or supernatural/horror. And a few write autobiographies.

Getting prison writing published is easier than you might think, thanks to the internet.  Here are just a few of the on-line resources for magazines, newsletters, anthologies and e-zines dedicated to prisoners' writing:

From South Dakota, The Prisoners for Prevention blog.
The Prisoner Poetry Page.
The on-line Prison Poetry Workshop podcasts.
The Prisoner Express which publishes poetry, journals, essays, etc.

One of the main problems, of course, for prisoners is that these days so many places only accept on-line submissions, and access to the internet is hard to get in the pen.  And sending out ms. in hard-copy is expensive when you only make 25 cents an hour.  (Not to mention that getting access to a typewriter is hard to come by, too.)  And almost all of the markets specifically set up to publish prisoners' work are non-paying.

In the search for paying markets, Writers' Digest is invaluable to prisoners:  I'd bet there's a (more or less) old, battered copy in every prison library.  I know inmates who've sent stories to Glimmer Train, Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Playboy.  (No, I don't know any who've been accepted yet, but at least they're trying!)  I've read a couple of the stories, and even given a critique here and there. When I am specifically asked.  Again, not every inmate wants to hear any opinion other than that it's a great poem/story/song.  For that matter, not every writer OUT of the pen wants to hear anything else...

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing from the Pen ProgramAnother place where inmates writers can get published is with the PEN Prison Writing Contest. Prizes and publication in an anthology make this very prestigious.
And, for all of us, let's not forget sites like Angie's Desk and My Little Corner, both of which list anthologies and markets of all genres (although primarily mystery and science-fiction/fantasy).  Thank you, ladies!  Your hard work has opened up markets for us all!

Most of the work the inmates finally do get published is and has been edited by someone outside for content.  What gets passed around in the tier, chow hall, and our sharing circle is unedited, raw, and cannot be reprinted on this family blog.  Besides the poems of suicidal despair (since this is NOT the Gingerbread House of Corrections)

http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/november-20-2016/
gangsta rap is HUUUUUGE.  Personally, I get bored with gangsta rap, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  ultra-explicit rap symphonies in F Major on drugs, bling, fights, arrests, killings, and sex.
(It's like the prison tattoos:  the first few times you go in the pen, you see these guys who are absolutely COVERED in tattoos, and it's hard to look away.  But after a while, you realize that they're mostly skulls, naked women, snakes, names, etc., in endless repetition, and the only reason you study them is to figure out what gang they're in.)
But there are those stories that show real creativity and thinking, and poems that take your breath away, like the following from PrisonerExpress.org/?mode=poetry

The thirteenth amendment, Amended

by Name Withheld by Request
A coffle of state slaves shuffles
Slowly into the radiant rays
Of dawn's early light.
Spartacus nowhere in sight.
Flight scarred all, and bone
Weary from strife and stress,
Destined to toil under the sun til
Twilight's last gleaming brings rest.

The tools are issued:
One hoe per man, each
Dull the blade, each
Seven pounds of sweat-stained misery,
Each, in proper hands,
Seven pounds of peril.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
No quick and vicious fights, where, sweat stinging,
Fists flying, we cull living from dying:
No riots fought for fast forgot reasons__
Swinging steel scintillating in sunlight,
Blood gouting from the too slow heads__
Brown, black, white___
Our blood ruby red and thick with life,
No respecter of color or creed.

Let there be no peril today, we pray;
No dry crackling reports of leaden soldiers,
Chasing wisps of smoke from forge fashioned barrels,
Speaking the ancient tongue of Authority;
Guns guardgripped fast by bossfists,
In confederate gray cloths,
Their fire felling friends, freeing foes.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
Today only__hard work, for no pay.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except
as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall
have been duly convicted, shall exist within the
United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

So let it be rewritten.
So let it, at last, be done.


23 December 2014

A Very Tom Waits Christmas


by Jim Winter

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
Christmas Eve was dark, and the snow fell like cocaine off some politician’s coffee table
Rudolph looked to the sky. He had a shiny nose, but it was from too much vodka
He said, “Boys, it’s gonna be a rough one this year.”

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
The elves scrambled to pack up the last of the lumps of coal for deserving suburban brats
And a bottle of Jamie for some forgotten soul whose wife just left him
Santa’s like that. He’s been there.
Oh, he still loves Mrs. Claus, a spent piece of used sleigh trash who
Makes good vodka martnis, knows when to keep her mouth shut
But it’s the lonlieness, the lonliness only Santa knows

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And the workshop reeks of too much peppermint
The candy canes all have the names of prostitutes
And Santa stands there, breathing in the lonliness
The lonliness that creeps out of the main house
And out through the stables
Sometimes it follows the big guy down the chimneys
Wraps itself around your tannenbaum and sleeps in your hat

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
We all line up for the annual ride
I’m behind Vixen, who’s showin’ her age these days
She has a certain tiredness that comes with being the only girl on the team
Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix
She’s got a tear drop tattooed under her eye now, one for every year Dancer’s away

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh and
I asked myself, “That elf. What’s he building in there?”
He has no elf friends, no elf children
What’s he building in there?
He doesn’t make toys like the other elves
I heard he used to work for Halliburton,
And he’s got an ex-wife in someplace called Santa Claus, Pennsylvania
But what’s he building in there?
We got a right to know.

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And we’re off Off into the night
Watching the world burn below
All chimney red and Halloween orange

I’ve seen it all
I’ve seen it all
Every Christmas Eve, I’ve seen it all
There’s nothing sadder than landing on a roof in a town with no cheer.

05 November 2014

Sinking in the Amazon


by Robert Lopresti

About a bad habit (one of many) new authors can get into.  For a tune: think sea chantey.

I'm so proud I can hardly speak
My new novel came out last week
At the web I took a peek
To see how the sales went on
    They were low but began to rise
    I thought I was in for a sweet surprise
    All of a sudden, right before my eyes
    I was sinking in the Amazon
  
Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Where have all my readers gone?
I was sinking in the Amazon

My friends swore they would buy my book
Critics said it was worth a look
These sales figures have got me shook
This duckling should be a swan
    Some bad novels are doing well
    But my little masterpiece does not sell
    And while it drops toward the pits of hell
    I am sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Fiction should outsell non-
I am sinking in the Amazon

I stared so hard I began to squint
I wished these numbers would take a hint
I act like the sales race is a sprint
When I know it's a marathon
    Buy my book and the numbers lift
    Pass me by and the patterns drift
    Maybe my Uncle Ed needs a gift!
    I'm sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Is my career a con?
I am sinking in the Amazon

I know that I should be writing more
But now I really can't tell what for
If my books just squat in the big e-store
When they ought to fly hither and yon
    How can I make  my brain gears mesh?
    The spirit's weak and so's the flesh
    I slip to that site and I hit refresh
    And I'm sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Deader than Babylon
Sinking in the Amazon


07 July 2014

Sometimes


by Robert Lopresti


Sometimes when I'm writing well
All the world can go to hell
There's a tale I have to tell
Fiction front page news


Sometimes when I'm in the zone
I just want to be alone
Shut the door and cut the phone
Mingle with my muse


Sometimes when I'm deep in plot
Striking when the iron is hot
Eat or sleep, I'd rather not
Glued into my chair

Sometimes when the words flow through
Every scene is something new
Every word is bright and true
Writing's like a prayer

Sometimes dialog's a dream
Action thunders, settings gleam
Heroes dare and villains scream
Lovers meet and kiss



Sometimes when the muse won't play
I can't find a thing to say
Still I sit here anyway
Writing trash like this

20 October 2013

William McGonagall– One Really Bad Poet


William McGonagall
William McGonagall
Imagine a poet so bad, so awful, so lacking in metaphoric skill and seemly imagery, that he left audiences appalled, unable to absorb the shock of the abuse of the English language. When he recited his works in pubs, patrons pelted him with fish and flour, rotten eggplants and eggs. Unsurprisingly, he died a pauper.

I hasten to add that this poet (and actor, tragedian, and weaver) was not North American or even Australian, but British, Scottish to be precise, known as the poet of Dundee. In 1893, he felt so abused, he wrote a poem threatening to leave his fair town, whereupon a newspaper wrote he'd probably stay for another year once he realised "that Dundee rhymes with '93".

But as bad as this poet was, his works live on and remain in print to this day. Web sites and encyclopedia articles appear in his honour. A few years ago, a collection of his poems sold for £6600, more than $10,000. Nearly a century after his death, fans erected a grave marker in his honour. One of his contemporary admirers wrote without irony "Shakespeare never wrote anything like this." This is William McGonagall.

Marked for Greatness

Hoping to secure a royal patron, he wrote to Queen Victoria with a sample of his work. A clerk for VR returned a polite thank you note, which McGonagall misinterpreted as praise. He trekked on foot to Balmoral Castle in a driving storm, soaked to the skin. Upon arrival, he announced he was the Queen's Poet, which surprised the guards and greeters who well knew Alfred, Lord Tennyson. They sadly turned him away, leaving him to trudge back to Dundee, a 200km round trip.

Author Stephen Pile explains it this way: McGonagall "was so giftedly bad, he backed unwittingly into genius." So like Edward Bulwer-Lytton and William Spooner, William Topaz McGonagall became famous for actions in the breach rather than talent. Or maybe they were all smarter than we.

Before we turn to his most (in)famous poem, I should mention 'Topaz' was not his middle name. Rather, acquaintances constructed an elaborate joke and 'punked' him, so to speak. They sent the poor poet an official looking letter from the Burmese King Thibaw Min, appointing McGonagall Burma's poet laureate and knighting him Topaz McGonagall, Grand Knight of the Holy Order of the White Elephant Burmah. Thereafter, McGonagall referred to himself as "Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant."

Frankly, I'm starting to think McGonagall may have been a mad genius.

Less than Serious Portrayals

I'm grateful to our SleuthSayers fans. Shortly after this went to press, a reader sent a link to a discussion of the poet and a partial reading by the actor Billy Connolly.

That, in turn, led to this comic skit from four decades ago. The web page doesn't elucidate, but Spike Milligan of The Goon Show and Q5-Q9 fame appears to play McGonagall. I'm not 100% certain, but I believe Peter Sellers is playing Queen Victoria.

And now, a reading…

In the following poem, most readers content themselves with the first and last stanzas without further torturing themselves with those in between. Feel free to do the same.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

'Twas about seven o'clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem'd to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem'd to say–
"I'll blow down the Bridge of Tay."

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers' hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say–
"I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay."

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers' hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov'd most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill'd all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav'd to tell the tale
How the disaster happen'd on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.