The Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium For December 31st, 2020

Happy New Years, Everyone!

I want to thank my fellow bloggers Brad Osborne and Corinne Bellocq for graciously accepting my invitation to participate in the following which I hope you will accept as my belated holiday gift to you all…

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Paul Szlosek

PAUL: Good evening, everyone! Hope you all had a delightful Christmas!

Welcome to the very first edition of the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium! I want to thank all you kind folks who took time away from your hectic holiday schedules to be here tonight. I am sorry to report that I will be assuming hosting duties by my lonesome since my regular Poetorium co-host and cohort Ron Whittle is not able to be with us since both he and his wife have been suffering medical maladies that require surgery. Please keep them both in your hearts and prayers as they go through this very difficult time. Ron, however, being a true trooper did send me a brand new poem that I will be sharing with you all later tonight. Tonight will be a bit different than our usual show since there is no featured poet, interview, mystery poet segment, or writing challenges, but instead we will have two virtual open mics – a regular one before the break and another one afterwards reserved for Christmas and New Year-themed work, and of course, the good old group poem. We will also be suspending the usual one work limit per person for each open mic. Our good friend and last month’s featured poet Howard J. Kogan sent us a note that he would be sitting out tonight’s presentation (hoping to be back with us in January) but graciously suggested the perfect poem for me to kick off our first open mic on this chilly December evening. The following is an excerpt from the wintertime classic by the legendary New England Poet John Greenleaf Whittier – “Snowbound”:

Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl (An Excerpt)

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of grey,
And darkly circled, gave at noon,
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill, no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out…

Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,—
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd’s— grass for the cows…..

Unwarmed by any sunset light
The grey day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
and whirl dance of the blinding storm,
As zig-zag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingèd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window frame,
and through the glass the clothes-line posts
looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts….

And when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,—
A universe of sky and snow!….

—John Greenleaf Whittier

Now please welcome our very first poet in our first open mic, Joan Erickson, who I understand will be continuing the theme of our opening piece with two wonderful snow poems of her very own…

JOAN:

I Shovel a Path

I shovel a path
for oil-man to fill tank,
use wide shovel – deep snow –
two or three feet.

Maybe the man could walk on top –
I try it – sink – so know he’ll sink
as he drags the hose.

I start shoveling. Dig – lift – throw to one
side – dig – lift – throw to one side.
Stop and rest – lean on shovel.

Gaze at snow covering yard –
field – stone walls. Blue shadows
slant across white surface.

I listen – listen some more – silence –
pure as the snow – and peaceful –
so peaceful.

I dig – lift – throw – too deep to shovel
to the ground – remove layers –
maybe two layers.

Can see the oil tank lid –
keep digging – stop and rest –
study the sky – deep blue
with wisps of clouds
moving slowly.

I dig – lift – throw – move toward
target. I know the man
will be happy.

Start back – shoveling as I go
over my own footprints. Maybe
tomorrow I will come out
and do some more.

But, if the wind is blowing –
if the temperature
drops, if the sun hides,
I will be in the house
playing with these words.

—Joan Erickson (02/23/15)

Red, White, and Blue Day

I hear the snowblower
as it does its job clearing
away snow and ice from
our first big storm.

Sun shines on the snow
on cars parked in view
from my windows.
Their rear red lights glow
in the morning sun.

My neighbor’s car is bright
blue. My dark blue jeep is
parked at the end of this
building and waits with others
to be shoveled off.

When I go to the windows
I can look out at the bright
blue sky.

When I finish this poem
I will stand up and say
good morning to this
red, white, and blue day.

—Joan Erickson (11/26/20)

PAUL: Next up is the one and only Joe Fusco Jr.:

JOE:

Dimensions

When my brother-in-law visits our home,
He immediately starts to fix things.
Sometimes, I have a list prepared,
Sometimes, he looks around, sighs, and improvises.
A bracket for the front- porch door,
A nylon line for the weed- wacker,
The water in my daughter’s Timex watch,
No matter the size, shape, or degree of difficulty,
John will eventually fix it.
He looks at broken things as opportunities to improve the world.
I look at broken things as a colossal pain-in-the-ass
and my brother-in-law a god-like proctologist.
“You’re so one dimensional,” my sister-in-law exclaims
“All you like to do is write funny poetry.”
“That’s not true. I’m three dimensional,”
I reply. “I like to write funny poetry, eat, and screw.”
“Make that two dimensional,” my wife interjects then walks away,
Not revealing which dimension is in need of John’s attention.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

PAUL: We will now hear from a longtime Poetorium regular, Robert Eugene Perry:

BOB:

Everything Belongs

I am a tree, grown up
twisted and gnarled from
bending backwards towards
the light, having spent
too much time
in shadow.

I am a stream, flowing
hither and yon, picking up
stuff meandering through
strange lands, sometimes singing
often murmuring seeking
an ocean.

I am a cloud, pursuing the heights
blown about and set off course
filled with moisture and vapors
stretched out and dissipated
at times reflecting the colors
of the sun.

I am the Universe, born of stardust
a miracle of contradictions
energy and matter, moving and static
constantly changing and adapting
neither created nor destroyed, only
Being.

—Robert Eugene Perry

PAUL: We missed seeing her last month, but she is back with us tonight. Please welcome to the Ho-Ho-etorium podium, Christine Burlingame:

Christine Burlingame’s Sweet Dog Rocko Warming Himself by the Fire…

CHRISTINE:

Words At War

Words don’t
Simply slip out
Or bewildered me
Like they
Had once
Before.
Certainly
Words wont
Dance for me
Or attempt to
Impress me
Because they
Just can’t
Anymore.
And it’s
Impossible to
Not feel
The heaviness
Impossible
To ignore.
The fight
In my mind
To speak
That wordless
Cognitive dialogue
At war.

—Christine Burlingame

‘Enough’

If you pretend
hard enough
to trust in
the moment
long enough
you might
learn to
let go
just enough.
To once again
be happy enough.
And yes,
it probably
won’t be enough.
But in some way
it will be
better than
because it will finally be
enough.

—Christine Burlingame

PAUL: Alongside the familiar faces of many of our Poetorium regulars in the audience tonight, there may be a couple new ones that you might not recognize. As some of you may or may not know, I have a poetry blog on WordPress, and I decided to extend the invitation to join us tonight to my fellow bloggers and writers there. I am happy to report I received two acceptances, so please welcome, the brilliant blogger and poet Brad Osborne (whose blog Commonsensibly Speaking is one of my personal favorites) trekking all the way from Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania to be with us this evening:

Brad Osborne

BRAD: Can’t think of any opening remarks other than I am grateful and happy to be here amongst the group…

Maiden Voyage

Fifty-two tons, one of the unsinkable ones
The proud flag ship of the White Star Line
With Captain Smith true and a seasoned crew
Left Queenstown for the New York skyline

But the captain didn’t know that the fires below
Were more than the common occurrence
The hull became frail in the miles they sailed
In the end, that would make all the difference

The lookouts worked hard, the only light stars
On a night that was cold and forbidding
But they did not see the iceberg set free
Hidden beneath still seas unforgiving

Then it was too late to avoid their fate
As ghostly ice gouged the hull wide and deep
The stokers knew first, as steel bulkheads burst
They were headed to an eternal sleep

The tragic fail, lifeboats hung at the rail
Hoped salvation that could not be lowered
And as water rushed in, raising panic and din
The North Sea came for what was owed her

What sealed their fate, how light scintillates
As scared signalman flashes passing ship
Distant twinkling light on such a starry night
Not seen as beyond horizon they slipped

The sea it is said, never gives up her dead
Tragic souls are gathered like plunder
But in the demise, saved spirits do rise
As the behemoth slowly slips under

There below the waves, the ones left unsaved
As what they said could never happen did
An icy deep shrine, forgotten to time
Where all the mariner’s failures stay hid

—Brad Osborne

PAUL: Thank you, Brad! I guess that concludes our first open mic tonight. I will close with a couple of poems, but before I do, I’d also would like to mention that Corinne Bellocq who pens the delightful blog Paquerite (a wonderful concoction of words and recipes) also wished to participate but feared the translation from French into English of her work would completely betray her writing (as a quote from Paterson, one of my favorite films about poets, so beautifully expresses “Poetry in translations is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.”) However, she has graciously whipped up a bowl of her heavenly “Rainbow Soup” as her contribution to tonight’s Poet’s Potluck Feast. Mmmmm… I can’t wait for you to try it..

I thought it would be fitting to end with another poem about winter, but I must warn you the following is one of my more downbeat pieces. Like much of my poetry, it is written in an obscure poetic form, in this case, an octameter. If you are not familiar with the form, it was originally invented by Shelley A. Cephas, and is a 16 line poem consisting of two stanzas of eight lines each. Because of the name, one might expect the form to be written in octameter (lines of eight metrical feet), but instead, each line consists of 5 syllables apiece. The rhyme scheme is rather complex – xxabxbxb cxacxcbb (x representing non-rhyming lines). This poem originally appeared online under a slightly different title in the Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine

Season of Disorder

Like a schoolyard fad,
Summer always fades,
leaving you to mourn
the loss of its light.

Please try to ignore
now premature night,
dying greenery,
fields shrouded in white.

Your thoughts, dense as lead,
weigh your spirits down.
Your body’s so worn,
it won’t rise from bed.
Old snow forms black scabs.

All songbirds have fled.
Spring, nowhere in sight,
is late (just for spite).

— Paul Szlosek (originally published in the Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine)

Yikes! That was so darn depressing! On second thought, that would be such a miserable way to close out the first half of what has been so far a pleasant poetry show filled with good cheer. Besides it doesn’t seem right not to end a Poetorium open mic without a poem by Ron Whittle. So instead, here is Ron’s poem which I promised I would share with you earlier…

The Moon Interviewing the Sun for
the Sunday Edition of the Newspaper

“So tell me
what do you remember
about the Big Bang?”

“Well, to be truthful
I don’t remember much,
but I do remember
it being cold and dark
and I lit a match
to see what was going on
and whooosh…
everything blew up in flames
and it’s been that way
ever since.
Kinda like lighting
the barbecue grill,
ya know what I mean.
Which reminds me,
when is the next time
a cow is going to jump
over you?
We haven’t had any
steaks or ribs up here
in a long time.
Ya know, I lost my beard
and eye brows the last time
I struck a match.
I won’t do that again.
You know it was kinda like whooosh…
and this whole side of the universe
smells like burnt hair.
You know
I get a kick out of your people-
they talk about solar flares
like they’re something special.
Hell, its just excess gas.
Here, pull my finger,
I’ll show you…”

Unfortunately this is where the interview end
and the Moon was shot into a new orbit.

—Ron Whittle

Well, folks, that is the end of our first open mic of the evening. We’ll be taking a longer than usual intermission before we come back and I present tonight’s group Christmas poem as well as the Secret Surrealist Santa Lists I asked people to submit. Then we’ll start the second virtual open mic, this one with a holiday theme. Now, I, being very fond of past holiday poetry gatherings (like the wonderful Jingle Mingle that our local Worcester area poet Anne Marie Lucci hosted each year at her Streetbeat poetry venue which the Ho-Ho-etorium is meant as a tribute to) and since some of my favorite memories of these gatherings involved food (who in the Worcester poetry community could forget Anne Marie’s blonde brownies at the Jingle Mingle or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies at the Poet’s Parlor?), I decided to replace the usual virtual vendor’s table with a virtual poet’s banquet table and asked people to contribute some imaginary food for a virtual poet’s potluck. So please sample all the delicacies you kind people have brought in and we will be back in a short while…

Intermission Begins

The Ho-Ho-etorium Imaginary Poet’s Potluck Banquet Table

Photo by Paul Szlosek

Dollar Store Skordalia brought by Paul Szlosek

Instead of what appears to be the mandatory bowl of hummus and pita bread served on the refreshment table of every gathering of poets from the beginning of time, here is a delicious substitute: skordalia, a Greek garlic dip or spread traditionally made by combining crushed garlic with a thick base such as day-old bread or pureed potatoes, lots of olive oil and citrus–either a wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice that usually takes hours to prepare, but this version is almost as good and can be whipped up in mere minutes with every single ingredient purchased at your local Dollar Tree, Dollar General, or Family Dollar...

Ingredients:
one cup of mashed potatoes (prepared according to the directions on a package of either Buttery Homestyle or Betty Crocker Instant Mashed Potatoes)
garlic powder
lemon juice from concentrate
olive & vegetable oil blend
dash of salt
cold water

Directions:
Place mashed potatoes in serving bowl, then stir in lemon juice, oil, salt, and garlic powder a little at a time to desired taste, then slowly add the cold water until the dip is the consistency of hummus. Drizzle with a little oil, dust with paprika and dried parsley or cilantro flakes (for an optional dash of holiday red and green), and serve with scoopable-shaped corn chips.

Velouté D’Arc-En-Ciel (Rainbow Cream Soup)* brought by Corinne Bellocq

*For a photograph of this scrumptious dish and the original recipe in French, please click here.

Photo by http://www.goodfreephotos.com

Hamburger Chilli with Potato Rolls and Shredded Cheddar Cheese Brought by Dwayne Szlosek

Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Pexels.com

Champagne brought by Brad Osborne

Ingredients:
1 – Bushel of the finest grapes

1- Glass bottle with cork

1 – Great amount of patience

Directions:
Squeeze the grapes into the bottle. Apply patience liberally. Wait for the magic to happen, then consume with vigor.

A toast – “May your words always be effervescent and sparkle with life when they are decanted and shared!”

Swedish Christmas Glogg and Swedish Cookies (Made in the Shape
of Snowmen) Brought by Joan Erickson

“Making glogg was a tradition in my husband, Bob’s, family. The alcohol and spices were heated in a pan and when ready was lit with a match – then putting the cover on. Strong stuff -could only have a sip and feel it burn as it went down.”

—Joan Erickson

Ugly Cookies Brought by Chrissy Burlingame

‘Ugly Cookies’

We painted faces
of icing and
sprinkled
colored sugar
on our misshaped cookies.
A disfigured attempt at
cookie decorating
and feeling better.
A reflection of
our insides out.
We hadn’t a future
in confectionery careers
But as
inexperienced decorators
we smiled
and laughed nonetheless.
Such failures were
never meant to
be gifted—
They were the punchline
to our winter afternoon
well spent.

—Christine Burlingame

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Intermission Ends

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PAUL: Oh my goodness, I am stuffed and a bit woozy from all that champagne and glogg! Everybody, please find a seat and I’ll kick off the second half of the evening with the Christmas group poem.

As you might recall, I requested that people send in one to six lines starting with the phrase “Christmas is… ” to be be compiled into tonight’s group poem. I also gave everyone the option of having your name listed as an contributor or to remain anonymous. Only Joan Erickson, Robert Eugene Perry, Dwayne Szlosek, and Brad Osborne gave me permission to use their names, so the identities all the other authors of the following poem will stay secret, fittingly for this time of year, like a Secret Santa:

Christmas Is…

Christmas is the eyes of a child.

Christmas is the twinkle of lights in children’s eyes.

Christmas is the fresh scent of pine.

Christmas is giving and learning to receive
suspending doubt, willing to believe
letting go of resentments
making room for Presence
allows the Mystery within to conceive.

Christmas is fresh snowflakes on eyelashes.

Christmas is a sugar rush mixed with caffeine.

Christmas is laying wide-eyed in bed with a thumping hear of anticipation.

Christmas is a visit from Santa.
Time to roll out the red carpet,
time to hang up the stockings,
time to get ready for fun.
Time for miracles
under the sun

Christmas is forgetting what you don’t have and being thankful for what you do.

Christmas is a caring smile.

Christmas is missing family.

Christmas is winter snow, and when the wind blows.
It feels so cold it is time to start a fire.
And to hear it’s crackle with it’s orange glow.
And with it’s glow. The cold comes with a cup of hot chocolate.
Waiting for old saint nick, to warm his bones by the fire.
And kiddy’s i am not delivering christmas presents this year. HO, HO, HO..

Christmas is lighting the night.

Christmas is remembering kindness.

Christmas is being our best…

And with that last line, I need to concur that all the contributors really are the best! Thank you so much!

And now what Christmas gathering would be complete without the tradition of gift-giving? So to add the traditional present-giving element to our imaginary holiday gathering, I proposed a variation on the old surrealist game The Time Travelers’ Potlatch. In case you are not familiar with it (by the way, a potlatch is a gift-giving competition practiced in certain cultures), the game is played by having each person describe the gift that they would present to various historical, mythical, or fictional figures of their choice on the occasion of meeting them. Our variation was to be the Secret Surrealist Santa List in which we could all list up to six historical, mythical, or fictional figures and the Xmas presents we would give them if we were their surreal Secret Santas. Now only two people submitted lists beside myself, but I was tickled pink by them and I sure you will be too:

Chrissy Burlingame’s Secret Surrealist Santa List

For Sylvia Plath, a white candle in a bell jar.
For Revenge, Jello, a dish best served cold.
For Edgar Allen Poe, his truck’s title.
For Every Mole, tiny magnifying glasses.

Brad Osborne’s Secret Surrealist Santa List

For Wile E. Coyote, a membership to Amazon Prime.
For Pontius Pilot, a new set of hand towels.
For Pheidippides, a Nike endorsement.
For Van Gogh, one Airpod Pro.
For Santa’s reindeer, Dasher, just one year of not having to look at Rudolph’s ass all night!

Paul Szlosek’s Secret Surrealist Santa List

For Alexander Hamilton, a kevlar vest and frockcoat.
For Lois Lane, lead-lined lingerie.
For Sherlock Holmes, an Occam’s safety razor and shaving brush set.
For Danny Pudi, good coffee and warm socks.
For Robert Johnson, a textbook on contract law.
For Mankind, a digital doomsday clock with snooze alarm.

Thank you, Brad and Chrissy, for your generosity and incredible imaginations! Well done, my friends!

Okay, we can now start the second open mic. Please remember, folks, your poem or story needs to have either a Christmas, New Year, or general holiday theme…

I actually had some great Christmas poems to open with including one about my one Christmas spent in South Carolina and a patchwork poem consisting of solely lines from Christmas carols, but of course I can’t find them! So I am going to have to cheat and convert an existing poem to a Christmas one. Like all my poems I will be sharing with you tonight, it is written in an obscure poetry form, this one being a biolet, but this time I won’t bother with the boring rules of writing one (and just let you puzzle it out for yourself from my example):

A Frozen Yuletide Memory

On a chilly afternoon in late December,
I stood at the kitchen window and watched it snow,
And although that was over fifty years ago,
For some unknown reason I can still remember
I stood at the kitchen window and watched it snow
On a chilly afternoon in late December.

—Paul Szlosek

Now please welcome back to the podium, Joe Fusco Jr….

JOE:

Our Neighbor

Our neighbor dresses in camouflage,
Straps himself in the chestnut tree that borders our backyards,
Waits for deer to prance by.

We live in Worcester, the Big City,
Concrete and asphalt,
Squirrels, an occasional raccoon if you’re not careful with the garbage,
Ornery wasps but the only deer are plastic and pull a bearded fat guy around,
Also plastic, two houses down most of December.

Our neighbor smokes grass while he waits in the chestnut tree.
He used to teach welding at the vocational school.
He used to play electric guitar for a Dead-like band.

Sometimes, his nine-year-old, also in camouflage, keeps him company.
If you look through the window of their family room,
You’ll see plastic antlers hanging from the fireplace.

Our neighbor waits like Godot in the chestnut tree.
The city has lowered our property assessment three times.
We instruct the kids to only use the front door,
Remember he has a night-scope and a bong,
Never ever prance.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

PAUL: Since the Ho-Ho-etorium is a celebration of Christmas and Christmas truly is family, please welcome to the virtual stage a dear friend of the Poetorium and my actual cousin, Dwayne Szlosek…

Dwayne Szlosek

DWAYNE: Good evening, everyone! Here are my Christmas Poems…

I Think I Might, I Think I May…

I think I might, I think I may.
I think, i think, i’ll stay,
To spend Christmas day with you.
I think i might, i think i may.
I think, i think, I’ll stay with you.
Thank you.
I will stay all day, on Christmas day.
I think I might, I think i may.
I think, i think, i will drink eggnog,
an open christmas presents on this day.
I think i might, i think i may.
I think, i think, i will stay for dinner,
an eat this wonderful meal with you.
An join you for that glass of wine, Caroline.
I think i might, i think i may.
I think, i think, i will stay,
the whole night with you.
The day after.
A month after.
The year after.
An the rest of my life after, with you.
And forever more….

—Dwayne Szlosek (12\14\2019)

Christmas With Everyone..

Christmas time of the year is for all of us
To share our joy with every girl and boy.
Christmas time is so near,
It’s time to share our thoughts and prayers
With you and everyone here.
Let them know I am thinking of them,
And all your well being.
I know you are thinking about me as well.
Because we are family in some way,
Why we are part of a family
Or we are friends or even best friends.
The joy of christmas will bring all of us
Together, on the Lord’s birthday.
To give thanks to him for our lives
And to the people we meet,
That will bring us joy.
I thank you all.
And a merry Christmas,
And a happy new beginning for the New Year…

—Dwayne Szlosek (12\7\2020)

Thank you! Hope you all had a great Christmas and will have a fantastic New Year!

PAUL: Now returning to the podium, is Joan Erickson with her Christmas poem…

JOAN:

Christmas Present

My oldest Granddaughter,
Jennifer, gave me a cat
for Christmas – a wooden cat –
almost the size of a real cat.
It now sits on my harvest table.

It has orange and gray tiger stripes
and has white on its nose and paws
and on the end of its tail. It is
a wooden puzzle made of large
pieces – easy to take apart and
put together.

I have named this cat ‘Puzzles.’ She
is very good – doesn’t scratch the
furniture and doesn’t need a litter box
and if I get bored during tomorrow’s
big snow storm, I can take her apart
and put her back together again and
not one scratch will I get.

I love my new cat.
Thank you, Jennifer.

—Joan Erickson (01/03/2018)

PAUL: And now once again, Robert Eugene Perry…

BOB:

Reflecting on Christmas

Before recovery
Christmas was painful.

The coming of the giver of Life
only highlighted
my own self-centeredness.

I hid my face
in a barrel of Whiskey
hoping I would drown,

till one day He came down,
gently lifted my head and said:
I can raise you from the dead.

Do you wish to be made well?

Those words broke
the sodden spell –
shattered

the gates of hell
and I whispered
yes.

—Robert Eugene Perry

And now we will have Brad Osborne with his Christmas poem…

BRAD:

‘Twas the Night Before Covid Christmas…

‘Twas the night before Christmas, 2020 the year,
The days were blurring with pandemic fear;
The face masks were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that gifted vaccine soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Thoughts of missing friends danced in their heads;
And mamma in her sweats and I in my briefs,
Had just settled down for some needed relief,

The year had been one like none could expect,
And holidays came with family to protect;
So, Nana and Pop wouldn’t be here this year,
But a video call would let them feel near;

Santa drove the smiling van instead of a sleigh,
And lucky we are to have gifts Christmas day;
The best gift from one generation to another,
When missing you meant we loved each other,

Dawn will still hold the wonder of little eyes,
As eager children bid a much too early rise;
And I offer but one wish as I turn out the light
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

–Brad Osborne

PAUL: Last but not least on on our Holiday open mic, for the very first time tonight, someone in the last few months who has been a wonderful and loyal supporter of the Poetorium -Mishelle Goodwin..

MISHELLE; Thank you! Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!

Here is a poem I just jotted down from the top of my head. It’s called “MY CHRISTMAS”. Hope you enjoy it!

My Christmas

At Christmas time
we laugh
we sing
and jolly
where we where
that night

We celebrate Christmas
with a Christmas meal. We open our gifts
play with new and old toys.

Empty our stalking’s
that are hung by our chimney with care.
Keeping warm by the fire

The Christmas tree is up
With gifts galore and sing Christmas carols
all night long
I hung up my coat

Upon the hooks
In the hallway
Black Leather Coat
tassels and buttons
That shine and glow

Every year my Christmas Gifts
Are opened and clothes all hung
In my closet with care.
While all my toys are stored away.

Because love has no boundaries
That this year and every year
We are kind to who we meet
And I lost some along the way.

—Mishelle Goodwin

PAUL: WOW! Thank you everyone! You were just all amazing. Your kindness, support, and poetry has been the best Christmas present I could ever wish for!

I am going to close out the show with a poem of mine that contains a callback to the first poem I read tonight (see if you can catch it). By the way, the poem is an hodgenelle, a poetry form I created inspired by one of my poetry idols, John Hodgen:

I’m Not Santa

It seems I can’t even walk down the street without being jeered
With Ho Ho Ho’s by nasty little brats, their faces smeared
With jam. Adults even worse, drunk, voices slurred, all-teared
Up, whining I never brought them a certain doll or multigeared
Erector set. What would they do if I turned to them and sneered
“It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,

And don’t try to climb upon my lap – that would just be weird!”?
My facial hair is real, I’m no mall Santa with fake whiskers adhered
To my cheeks with spirit gum. It might be easier if I sheared
The whole thing off, but I won’t. I have persevered,
Endured stupid jokes about reindeer and elves, silently steered
Past taunting teens. St. Nick’s a figure, not to be mocked, but feared.
It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,

Yet all my tormentors, one day, might find themselves speared
With sprigs of holly through their hearts, or basted and seared
Over an open flame like a Christmas goose, or simply disappeared
Down a chimney. So now that we have this matter all cleared,
Please don’t Santa me anymore! I’d much rather be King Leared,
(Or from all you poets) Walt Whitmanned or John Greenleaf Whittiered.
It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard.

–Paul (“I’m Not Santa“) Szlosek

Wow, I’m getting really groggy (It must be all the glogg)! It’s been a rough year for all for us, but you, my dearest friends, made it bearable for me with all your kindness, support, and poetry! So thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Hopefully Ron and I will see you all in January ( if I don’t end up hibernating like a polar bear – pardon the poor pun, but I did say “bearable”). Please keep Ron and his wife in your prayers and hearts, stay safe and healthy, and have the most fantastic, stupendous, and amazing New Year humanly possible!

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10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing From Movies

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“Some celestial event. No… no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.”

—Contact (1997)

“Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without method.”

—Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

“Truth is like poetry. And most people f**king hate poetry.”

—The Big Short (2015)

“If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it’s good I’ll be envious and I’ll hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.”

—Midnight in Paris (2011)

“In a poet’s pocket, you often find the product of an active imagination.”

—Cyrano Bergerac (1950)

“Why is it that the words that we write for ourselves are always so much better than the words we write for others?”

—Finding Forrester (2000)

“Poems are my solace for the eternity which surrounds us all.”

—A Quiet Passion (2016)

“There are no trashy writers, only trashy readers.”

—Reuben, Reuben (2016)

“Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it.”

—Il Postino (1994)

“Everything gets revised 4,000 times. There’s no writing. There’s only rewriting.”

—Get Bruce (1999)

10 Great Quotes About Poetry by C.D. Wright

“Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”

“Poetry requires deliberate movement in its direction, a filament of faith in its persistence, receptivity to its fundamental worthwhileness. Within its unanesthetized heart there is quite a racket going on. Choices have to be made with respect to every mark. Not every mistake should be erased. Nor shall the unintelligible be left out. Order is there to be wrenched from the tangles of words. Results are impossible to measure. A clearing is drawn around the perimeter as if by a stick with a nail on the end.”

“It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

“Poetry and advertising (the basest mode of which is propaganda) are in direct and total opposition. If you do not use language you are used by it.”

“Poetry helps us to suffer more efficiently.”

“Uniformity, in its motives, its goals, its far-ranging consequences, is the natural enemy of poetry, not to mention the enemy of trees, the soil, the exemplary life therein.”

“I am suggesting that the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation.”

“Poetry takes you into the recesses of the language, the neglected corners, cracks and crannies and to the big sky of wonder. It opens the door to a critique without which you have rather boring analytical tools by comparison. To cultivate poetry means to stay with it. Not to abandon hope, but to abide.”

“Readers have to be sought out and won to the light of the page, poem by poem, one by one by one.”

“Poetry seems especially like nothing else so much as itself. Poetry is not like, it is the very lining of the inner life.”

—C.D. Wright

Invitation to Participate in the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium…

If you’ve read the November edition of the Virtual Poetorium which I posted here on this blog a couple of weeks ago, you might recall me mentioning that although my co-host & cohort Ron was planning on placing the Poetorium on hiatus for the month of December (like we did last year) because he felt everyone would be too busy with holiday plans to participate, I, being very fond of past holiday poetry gatherings (like the wonderful Jingle Mingle that local Worcester area poet Anne Marie Lucci hosted each year at her Streetbeat poetry venue, the open mic and poetry reading that I named my invented poetry form the streetbeatina after, or the one we usually did with my own reading the Poet’s Parlor) suggested perhaps creating a special bonus stripped-down Christmas-themed session (with no featured poet, interview, mystery poet segment, or writing challenges, but two virtual open mics – one regular and another for Christmas and New Year-themed work, and possibly the good old group poem) to be called “the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium” if enough people expressed interest (whoa, that just may be the longest run-on sentence I ever wrote!).

Well, I heard from a few folks from our group (although admittedly not a lot) who really wanted to do it (in fact, four already submitted their poems) so I am happy to announce the “Ho-Ho-etorium” will definitely happen. Although the “Ho-Ho-etorium” will not be officially part of the Poetorium, and might have been held on any date, I decided it would be easier to post it on the Poetorium web site (and this blog as well) on the last Tuesday of the month (like we do with the Poetorium) which we will be December 29th, 2020. Also, although this is fairly short notice, I’d like open up the Ho-Ho-etorium for anyone who would to like participate and invite my fellow bloggers and faithful readers (or just anyone just happening to read this) to be a part of this special yuletide online poetry gathering in print. If this sounds like something you would like to do, please send us up to two poems or stories (one should be holiday-themed) in an attached Word document file or pasted in the body of the email along with your name, where you are from, any opening remarks you care to make, and where your poems or stories have appeared (if they were previously published) to poetorium@mail.com by Saturday, December 26th. Also if you like, you can send us a photo of yourself (even better if you are posing in holiday attire) to be posted above your poem or story, but that is totally optional.

We will also need contributions to the Ho-Ho-etorium Christmas-themed group poem. If you would like to participate, please send us one to six lines starting with the phrase “Christmas is… ” also to the above email address. All contributions (please let us know if you wish to have your name listed as an contributor of if you wish to remain anonymous) will be compiled into the group poem and included in the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium. Once again, the deadline for submissions is the night of Saturday, December 26th.

Although we are jettisoning most of the segments associated with the Poetorium, we are also adding two special ones just for the Ho-Ho-etorium. Since some of my favorite memories of actual past holiday poetry gatherings involved food, those exquisite tasty treats which we would all bring in to share with each other (who in the Worcester poetry community could forget Anne Marie’s blonde brownies at the Jingle Mingle or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies at the Poet’s Parlor?), I decided to replace the usual virtual vendor’s table with a virtual poet’s banquet table. Since this is an imaginary poetry reading in the form of the transcipt, I think it would be fitting for all of us to contribute some imaginary food for a virtual poet’s potluck. Just mention what delicious imaginary dish you are bringing. It could be something you might have actually brought, or something totally fanciful (like caviar from the flying carp of the planet Neptune). For extra (blonde) brownie points, include a photo of your delicious dish and/or a recipe so everyone can sample it in their own kitchen.

Also what Christmas gathering would be complete without the tradition of gift-giving? I remember us staging Yankee Gift Swaps at the Poet’s Parlor as well as making everyone salt dough Santa ornaments (I was so much more ambitious and energetic back then). So to add the traditional present-giving element to our imaginary holiday gathering, I propose a variation on the old surrealist game The Time Travelers’ Potlatch. In case you are not familiar with it (by the way, a potlatch is a gift-giving competition practiced in certain cultures), the game is played by having each person describe the gift that they would present to various historical, mythical, or fictional figures of their choice on the occasion of meeting them. Our variation will be The Surreal Secret Santa List in which we all list up to six historical, mythical, or fictional figures and the xmas presents we would give them if we were their surreal Secret Santas. As an example, here is a sample of a list I created to inspire you:

Paul’s Surreal Secret Santa List

To Socrates, an economy-sized bottle of Ipecac

To Elvis Presley, a dozen bananas, two jars of Jiff peanut butter, and a two pound package of Oscar Mayer bacon.

To Donald Trump, a complete collection of “The West Wing” on DVD given to him for Christmas 2016 with a note saying “Please watch by January 20th!”).

To Salvador Dali, a platinum porcipine quill-studded mustache comb.

To Doctor Watson, his very own sidekick.

Remember you can choose any historical, mythical, or fictional figure you wish, and the gifts can be as practical or wacky as you want. Of course, you don’t have to submit a list if you don’t want to, but it would be so much fun if everyone did.

I am sad to say I do not believe it’s likely that my friend and co-host Ron Whittle will be participating in the Ho-Ho-etorium, but it won’t be because he does not want to. Unfortunately, Ron has recently been suffering from some serious medical issues that require hospitalization, so although most of you never even met him, please, dear readers, keep him in your prayers and wishes, and let’s all hope for his speedy recovery!

If you do have any questions about submitting to the two virtual open mics, the group poem, or anything else about the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium itself, please leave them in the comments of this post, and I will try to answer them right away.

Thank you so very much for reading! I really appreciate everyone’s continued support of this blog, and hope to hear from you soon with your yuletide contributions!
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Invented Poetry Forms – The Cascada Veinte

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Wow, I can’t believe it’s been over three months since I last introduced a new invented poetry form here, a series which until recently had been the mainstay of this blog. I hope you will all forgive me for this inexcusable negligence, but I am back today with what I feel is a truly great one. Chances are you may not be familiar with the cascada viente poem (since it was only invented this year), but I am sure you are with its amazing creator, the very talented poet, writer, and blogger Brad Osborne and his wonderful blog Commonsensibly Speaking. Those who read Brad faithfully knows every Tuesday Brad posts a new installment of his weekly series, Whittled Words, which (in his own words) highlights “the innumerable types and styles of poetry to challenge any creative wordsmith”. There last August, Brad posted his very first attempt at inventing a new form of poetry, the “Cascada Veinte” (Spanish for ‘cascading twenty’). It was inspired by the Decima, Villanelle, and Roundabout forms and created in honor of a great artist and good friend, Francisco Bravo Cabrera.

The cascada viente is a twenty line poem containing five stanzas of four lines a piece (quatrains). It is isosyllabic with no required meter and has seven syllables per line. Its rhyme scheme consists of cascading alternate doubles and can be expressed as abab bcbc cdcd dede efef.

Brad has graciously given me permission to post his poem “One Is the Loneliest”, the very first cascada viente ever written (and no doubt still the best) to serve as a model for your own attempt at the form:

One Is the Loneliest

It’s a crushing kind of tired
Not of body, but of soul
Grace seemingly expired
Not a feeling at all whole

Playing a singular role
Acting it well to the bone
Oneness is taking its toll
Tired of being alone

Wanting words have not atoned
And un-warmed sheets yet to show
Worth slowly being dethroned
A fragile child’s ego

Longing heart that does not know
How to let love be set free
That one on which to bestow
The heart chained deep within me

Cherished one, stay not from me
Don’t make me wait much longer
Come and bring some proof to see
That love can make me stronger

—Brad Osborne

So what do you think, folks? I, myself, really love this form, especially because of its classical feel. If I didn’t know better, I would swear the cascada viente dated back centuries, not just a few months. Though I was a bit intimidated by the cascading alternate doubles rhyme scheme (it is, at least for me, somewhat tricky to master), I was inspired to try my own humble effort at this great new form, and believe it serves as a perfect vehicle for the following pastiche of one of my favorite Edgar Allen Poe poems (with a topical twist):

The Return of the Conqueror Worm
(A Sequel Set in Current Times)

Behold! The conqueror worm
Returns again to the stage
In the guise of a vile germ,
Its audience in a cage,

As it heralds in the age
Of Zoom (with us quarantined,
Trapped like words upon the page).
This strutting, villainous fiend

Having our lives guillotined,
Cut off from family, friends
Forcibly being pulled, weaned
From them til this madness ends-

Tragicomedy that blends
Mournful pathos with jest,
A sick farce which all depends
On its denouement. The rest,

Just exposition at best
And a bad plot twist unseen:
This play has no hero, lest
It’s truly Covid-Nineteen…

—Paul Szlosek

Thank you so much for reading for reading today’s post, and I hope you will try your own hand at writing this brand new form (the world sorely needs more cascada viente poems!)

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing From Movies

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“I think the greatest harm done the human race has been done by the poets. They keep filling people’s heads with delusions about love… writing about it as if it were a symphony orchestra or a flight of angels.”

—Spellbound (1945)

“Good order, very precise, feeling of the unknown. Fine poetry is the music of mathematics, numbers, singing. You have to look behind the words to understand their meaning.”

—The Good Shepherd (2006)

“In fact, when poetry is combined with ill-groomed hair and eccentric dress, it’s generally fatal.”

—Cold Comfort Farms (1995)

“T. S. Eliot said that the purpose of literature was to turn blood into ink. Well, I tried that. I published five collections of poetry in eight years and I bled like a hemophiliac. Then, somewhere along the way, the blood finally clotted. Over time, the scab became a scar, and now I can scarcely feel the wound. All the arteries and veins are dried out. I no longer turn blood into ink. These days, I turn whiskey into journalism. I haven’t written a poem since 1987.”

—The Hippopotamus (2017)

“Poetry in translations is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.”

—Paterson (2016)

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

Finding Forrester (2000)

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he’s worth something.”

—Stalker (1979)

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

–Dead Poets’ Society (1989)

“My dear, this is not a country that rewards poetry. This is a country that rewards gas mileage. Besides, people don’t read poetry anymore; they watch television.”

—My Girl 2 (1994)

“A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is a experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept a mystery.”

Bright Star (2011)

The Most Recent Edition of The Virtual Poetorium…

To celebrate that today is Turkey Day (at least in America), I’ve decided to post in its entirety our Thanksgiving-themed Virtual Poetorium from this Tuesday. Please enjoy, and have a great Holiday…

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The Virtual Poetorium, November 24, 2020

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Ron Whittle

RON: Normally at this time I have to tell everyone to hurry up and find a seat, but apparently everyone already has, so let’s jump right in and start the show…

Good evening, folks, and welcome to (believe it or not) our eighth Virtual Poetorium! If you look around, you can see we have a smaller group than usual, but I suspect that’s because it going to be Turkey Day in just a couple of days, and many of of our regulars are busy at home preparing their Thanksgiving feasts. So Paul and I want to thank all the diehards that did show up, especially the poet that trekked all the way from California to be here tonight. Thank you, thank you! Guys, you are all the best! And speaking of the best, I am pleased to announce that we have Howard J. Kogan, a fantastic poet I know you all know as our featured poet this evening. Howard was there at our very Poetorium at Starlite in May of 2019, and has remained a loyal friend and regular contributor to the Poetorium ever since. Way back in October of last year, we actually had scheduled Howard to be our feature then, but unfortunately he had to cancel due to an unexpected injury, so we are so grateful to finally have him here to read tonight!

Once again I am going to dispense with the rules of the show because I’m sure we all know what they are by now. But enough of my blabbering, I’m sure we are all eager to get this show on the road. Like always, I’ll start the show off with the first poem and then I’m going to turn the mic and podium over to Paul…

My Words May Never Cure the Disease or Cause World Peace

I lie, beached upon my couch
hoping the tide will go out soon
while humming a forgotten song
I drift in and out again
letting another day die
with the setting sun
There is a virus scratching at my back door
and I’m afraid to go anywhere
I lie believing I am waiting on the wrinkles
of time to summon me
Tonight sleep shall not share my bed
nor this old couch, I will be
reliving the dreams of failures
and the nightmares of my successes
Bored to near death, I am going out for a walk
Behind my mask, I smile with my clown face
and put on my floppy red shoes
to let the world laugh at me
if that’s what they wish to do
Here in the autumn wind
I pull my coat tighter around
this weathered frame of an old man
The leaves that fall
laugh as they pass by me by
protesting that there was no safety left
within the limbs of the trees
The death of the leaves is the final answer
for the trees to survive the approaching winter
that hurls all its cold threats in all directions
Love fuels the flames of memories and time
but my fields lie empty and dormant
while the crows and migratory birds that
pick at the remains of Autumns last harvest
I walk alone down empty streets and think
it may well be better to scream out loud
from behind this mask
then to exist and take the chance
within the silence of the virus that is waiting
for another clown like me

—Ron Whittle (written during the Covid 19 Pandemic of 2020)

PAUL: Ron makes an excellent point that since it’s almost Thanksgiving, most of us probably still have a lot of stuff to do. So in light of that, I will be skipping the “Mystery Poet” segment I usually present at this time, so we can hurry up and bring Howard Kogan up to the stage for his interview and feature. But before we do, I’d like to let you know a little more about Howard…

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Howard J Kogan

Howard J Kogan is a retired psychotherapist, poet and writer. He and his wife Libby moved to Ashland, MA in 2018 after spending thirty years in the Taconic Mountains of rural upstate New York. His poems have appeared in Still Crazy, Occu-Poetry, Naugatuck River Review, Up the River, Poetry Ark, Writer’s Haven, Farming Magazine, Pathways,and Award-Winning Poems from Smith’s Tavern Poet Laureate Contest (2010 and 2011 Editions) )as well as many other publications. His book of poems, Indian Summer, was published in 2011 by Square Circle Press and is available from the publisher or Amazon. His chapbook, General Store Poems, published in 2014 by Benevolent Bird Press, is available from the author. His latest book of poems, A Chill in the Air, was published in 2016 and is also available from the publisher, Square Circle Press or from Amazon. (Please buy it from Square Circle Press! http://www.squarecirclepress.com). His first (and last) novel, No View, was self-published in 2016 is available from Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.

Please welcome to our virtual stage, Howard J Kogan…

RON: Well, Howard, please have a seat. Thank you so much for agreeing to be this month’s featured poet! Paul and I have been looking forward to this for a long time… I’ve been reading some of your work online. I had a similar experience with a young lady who was teaching a swimming class. Every time she would bend over, she would expose her breasts in her loose fitting bathing suit top. I think I was around 12 years old. I fell in love. I hadn’t thought about that in years. Oh yeah, back to the questions. If you had to pick one poet, who was your biggest influence?

HOWARD: I find it interesting, but not unusual, that my poems remind you of a beloved childhood memory. That it is that memory is curious, but … I’m retired, ahem, no comment.

I can’t pick one poet, though if I were forced, I could narrow it to a generous half dozen: Robert Frost, Philip Larkin, Sharon Olds, Donald Hall, Lucille Clifton, Lawrence Raab, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Billy Collins. I also read and hear many poems from friends, at open mics, and ongoing poetry groups I attend. Directly and indirectly I’m probably influenced by every poem I read or hear. How can’t you be?

RON: Where did your first interests in writing take you, subject matter wise?

HOWARD: I have been writing about pigeons and to a lesser degree chickens most of my life, mostly non-fiction articles, but poems and stories too. Breeding, showing, and flying pigeons and chickens have been lifelong interests. Did you know Frost wrote for the Farm-Poultryman before he was a poet?

RON: Your style of writing is very easy reading and it keeps the reader interested. What would you call that style?

HOWARD: I call it poetry, accessible, mostly narrative poetry. Some people have said my writing is a form of storytelling and I’m fine with that.

RON: The more I write the more I understand that with poetry, a poem is rarely ever finished, even after it has been published. Sometimes it’s just a matter of explaining something better, other times it’s just to change a few words to get a greater impact on the subject matter. Would you agree with that? And have you found yourself changing things long after the material has been produced?

HOWARD: Absolutely, I often look at old poems, even published ones, and revise them. Most of my poems, new and old, go through many revisions before almost anyone sees or hears them.

Some of my poems have been through more than 30 drafts, though more typically it’s between 10 and 20.

RON:. Do you find reading poetry is an important part of writing poetry?

HOWARD: I read some poetry every day, I don’t see how you can write poetry seriously without regularly reading it. Reading good writers is how one becomes a better writer.

RON: Do you proofread your own material? Even though I do try, what looks perfectly good to me means it equates out to a ton of mistakes.

HOWARD: I do, but I find if I put a poem away for a week or two between drafts, I catch more mistakes. Also reading the poem out loud helps. It is also useful to have poet “partners” you share work with, who also share their work with you, so you can edit each other’s work. Of course, that also happens in poetry groups. In each case it is important to focus on the poem, not the poet, and to be clear and direct in your feedback.

RON: What is your opinion on the length of poems? Personally, I try to keep mine to a page, I think anything longer than that is hard to keep the readers’ interest up.

HOWARD: It depends on the poem and what you’re trying to say. I like writing short stories and creative non fiction too, so I often need to decide what form works best for the subject.

Never underestimate your reader, if the material is good, they’ll stick with you. Some ideas can be briefly expressed, others require character development or plot development and need to go on some. One of Frost’s finest poems, The Death of the Hired Man, is practically a short story, but I can’t imagine a reader wouldn’t stick with it to the end. Incidentally, that poem, which I encountered as a 10 or 11-year-old, was what first turned me on to Frost and poetry.

RON: If you had to look back at your early writing, what would you change about it?

HOWARD: Probably everything.

RON: How many books have you published?

Two books of poetry, plus a chapbook were published in the traditional way, Indian Summer and A Chill in the Air by Square Circle Press, the chapbook, General Store Poems by Benevolent Bird Press. My novel, No View, I published through Create Space/Amazon.

RON: Paul do you have any questions for Howard to answer?

PAUL: Yes, thank you, Ron. I do have a few…

Howard, do you believe being a psychotherapist has influenced your writing, and if so, how?

HOWARD: It’s complicated. Being interested in understanding people and connecting with them and equally understanding myself and connecting with my inner self, motivated my choice of profession and my interest in poetry. None of my patients or clients has ever been portrayed in my writings, though other people (mostly family) often have.

PAUL: In 2011, you were crowned the Poet Laureate of Smith’s Tavern in Voorheesville, NY. Could you please let us know a bit more about that?

HOWARD: It was a contest in which a group of poets read three poems in rotation to a panel of judges and were scored. I was lucky enough to win that year, another year I was third, other years I didn’t do as well. It was a fun event sponsored by a group of local area poets led by a very fine poet, Dennis Sullivan. That group also ran a monthly open mic in Voorheesville, NY that I attended for years. I learned an incredible amount about poetry and the process of reading/performing poetry during that period.

PAUL: Four years ago, you published your very first (and according to your bio, last) novel, No View. Was writing a novel something you always wanted to do, and could you tell us what inspired you to write it, and what it is about?

HOWARD: It’s basically a highly fictionalized auto-biographical novel of my 20’s with a later ‘look back’ at that that period. The idea seized me and would not let go until it was finished. It’s very difficult to write a novel, both for the writer and the people in their life. I was more or less living in two worlds for the year or so I was writing it, my everyday world and the world of the novel. It was an exciting experience, but exhausting. I doubt I’ll be seized like that again or have the energy to do it again, though that possibility exists. All in all, I’m happy I wrote it and I wish more people would read it. (You can get the kindle version from Amazon for 99 cents! If you read it, please let me know what you think.)

If you ever feel similarly seized, I suggest you go for it!

PAUL: What is your opinion of poetry workshops and writers’ groups? Have you ever been a member of any, and do you feel they are vital in the development of a poet?

HOWARD: I’ve been to a handful of formal poetry workshops and classes. They’ve varied in their impact, but I must say I’ve always gotten some ideas that impacted my writing.

I’m currently in two poetry writing groups (both via zoom now). I find them very helpful and stimulating. Critique groups in particular are essential if one wants to raise the level of their writing. I recommend poets give them a try and find ones that match where they are at this point in their writing.

PAUL: Throughout the years, have you developed a writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?

HOWARD: When I was working full time, I wrote, but in ‘catch as catch can’ moments.

Since I’m largely retired now, I generally spend about 10 to 15 hours a week writing or revising poems or stories. More some weeks, less others. It can be helpful to schedule specific times to write and put it on your calendar. If I’m near my laptop, I’ll write on that, if not, I write in a notebook that I transfer to the laptop when I get a chance. I’m more or less thinking about writing most of the time and often make notes about an experience or idea that I can come back to later. The basic rule I have for myself is focus on writing/reading, I rarely watch TV and keep distractions like facebook or surfing the internet to a minimum.

Of course, we all have dozens of chores we must attend to, and relationships we want to maintain, but I try to make reading and writing a consistent, regular activity.

PAUL: My final question of the evening is one I like to ask most of the featured poets we interview at the Poetorium. What advice would you have for someone who is just starting to write poetry?

HOWARD: Write as much as you can, and don’t worry about how good or bad it is and don’t be in a hurry to show it to others. Being a beginner at any art is always awkward and intimidating.

You need to write a lot and to suspend your ‘inner critic’ to become a better writer. I know this is easier said than done, but struggle to do it. You need to write a lot of lousy poems or stories to learn to write better ones. This is true for all poets and writers.

Read poetry! Find poets you like and read as much as possible. Take yourself seriously! Write what you care about and care about what you write. Good luck!

PAUL: Well, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Howard, thank you so much for such an engaging and thought-provoking interview! Now, everybody, we have a special treat for you. Please sit back and enjoy as Howard J Kogan honors us by presenting five new never-before-published poems…

HOWARD:

Pandemic

Now that Covid -19 has clarified matters
I’m feeling somewhat encouraged that we’re all,
in a manner of speaking, on the same page and
can agree, that from the moment of conception,
Mother Nature, as if in the grip of creator’s remorse,
is doing her best to kill us, the more of us there are,
the harder she tries. Eight billion people using
her as a dump and sewer was not her plan.
Forgiving our trespasses has its limits.
When Mother Nature creates new diseases
and perpetuates old ones, who can blame her?
But retail deaths, one here, one there, take forever.
So, periodically she goes wholesale; wars help,
but to make the big quotas sing you need pandemics
like the Black Plague, Spanish flu, Covid-19 or
some other teeming petri dish of lurking nasties
waiting to devour your organs the way Uncle Irv
works his way through the buffet at family weddings.

Mother Nature wants a little peace and quiet.
She has a plan. You may not like it.

–Howard J Kogan

Red Rover

I dreamt last night of playing Red Rover
as we did in the long twilight of summer.

Someone was calling from the other side,
Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Joanie come over!

Joan, my older sister and I, holding hands
holding hands, standing side by side,

I don’t remember her playing Red Rover,
but last night she was there on our side.

And when she let my hand go and went over,
I knew she would not be coming back.

—Howard J Kogan

New Year’s Day

It’s morning on a chilly New Year’s Day,
only you and the young children are not hungover,
your silent family, today even more oblivious than usual,
sits mutely watching the TV that’s on to occupy the children.
It’s the Rose Bowl Parade from sunny Pasadena,
and when the float from the Shriners Hospital for Children
comes into view, your eyes fill.
The float is escorted by fez topped clowns on tiny tricycles
tossing candy to the youngsters lining the parade route.
An announcer says it’s made of forty-thousand red and white
chrysanthemums, and thirty-thousand blue forget-me-nots.

The forget-me-not’s start a slow trickle of tears,
ignored by all but the smallest child in the room, who
like a nurse out of options in the middle of a long night,
comes to you and holds your hand,
a home remedy older than words.

—Howard J Kogan

Shadow

You know how at the end of the day I like to walk the path
that marks the borders of our small farm and woodlot,
you called it my patrolling the known world.
Well this evening it was different; odd and unsettling.
I hope if I tell you, the strangeness will diminish
the way shame or fear is lessened when it’s shared.
You know how I am,
I would protect us from harm, not bring it home,
but tonight, I felt I was followed.
So, let me tell you what I saw and why I regret
coming directly home, though the home lights looked
so like a safe harbor, I couldn’t help myself.
I should have thought of it before, but I was unnerved,
as if I’d seen a ghost, knowing full well there are no ghosts.
Maybe it was a trick of the eye, or the play of shadows,
or I was overtired; what I’m saying is, whatever it seemed; it’s not.
I know this much; I was walking the path that runs along
the stone wall when some movement caught my eye,
I thought it was a bird or squirrel.
It was slipping beyond the hour of deep shadow into dusk,
yet it seemed to me light enough to see.
I looked toward the movement, saw nothing but a shadow,
though I thought for an instant, of a drawing of a family,
like you might see in a child’s picture book.
When I looked again, I thought I saw a woman,
someone who looked familiar, someone I’ve seen before,
but long ago, walking with a little girl.
As I walked on, they walked along with me on the other side
of the wall moving neither closer, nor away. Nothing was said.
I heard only my footsteps on the fallen leaves,
yet as I turned toward home, I felt I was followed.
It was a feeling, I didn’t look.
Look at what, I said to myself, there’s nothing there!
Where they are now, I don’t know.
I don’t know what to think, if I look,
they might be standing at the door
or maybe they’re back on the other side.
Though as I say this, I wonder if, as we get close to leaving this world,
we get a glimpse of the world to come, see others who’ve crossed over
as you have and I will soon enough. That would be a gift,
a hint that when we get there, we won’t be so alone,
a barely noticeable sign, the way in winter there comes a day
that tells you Spring is on the way.
Maybe what I saw was like that,
a glimpse there’s something beyond the wall
we were once so certain marked the end.

—Howard J Kogan

Slickrock

On a solitary morning walk along the slickrock,
I recall why this sandpapery sandstone terrain
carries this odd, old cowboy name.
American Indians rode their horses on rimrock
bare-hooved, sure-footed,
but clad with iron shoes, the cowboy’s horses
tended to lose their footing.
Sudden drop-offs into deep crevices
and canyons made it a troubling place
for a horse to lose its footing.

The sudden clattering of hooves losing their grip,
the cowboy’s yelp and whoa
the slap of horseflesh hitting the slickrock,
then, in slow motion, the terrified white-eyed
horse struggling to regain its footing,
the bewildered, open-mouthed rider,
cinched together, sliding over the edge
into history and language.

—Howard J Kogan

PAUL: Bravo! Bravo! That was just fantastic! I just love these new poems of yours, Howard. Everybody, let’s please show our appreciation for such an outstanding feature by placing our hands together, and giving a rip-roaring round of applause for Howard J Kogan!

As usual, we’ll be taking a short intermission, but before we do, it’s now time once again to present this month’s Poetorium group poem. Since it’s November, this month’s poem suitably has a Thanksgiving theme. Participants were asked to email us one to six lines starting with the short phrase “We are thankful for…” All contributions received (which this month, for some reason, there were very few) were then compiled into the following poem:

What We Are Thankful For…

We are thankful for the existence of words –
The essence of human communication
And vital lifeblood of all poetry
Including this humble effort.

We are thankful for walks in the sunshine,
Music by great composers
Authors of classics
And poets of every age.

We are thankful for the way the air smells
After a rain storm
And our ability to appreciate it
During these Covid times.

We are thankful for my mom and dad, sister too,
and uncles and aunts, nieces, cousins, friends
All the year through.
I also love my thanksgiving dinner.
I get to sit with everyone for a beer or two..
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

As you probably know, normally all contributions to the group poem remains anonymous, but tonight I’d like to break that policy and acknowledge the only three poets, besides myself, who participated in this month’s poem – two of our loyal regulars, Barbera Roberts and Dwayne Szlosek, and someone who participated in the Poetorium for the very first time, Elizabeth Thomas from Connecticut. Thank you, thank you so much! I am so grateful to you for keeping this monthly tradition I treasure alive…

Well, I guess that appears to be the end of the first part of tonight’s Virtual Poetorium. We’ll be taking an even briefer than usual intermission so you can grab a drink, contemplate all the great poetry you have heard from Howard tonight, and perhaps even purchase a copy of one of his amazing books available at our virtual vendor’s table. When we come back, we’ll be presenting the submissions we received for not just one, but two writing challenges (our regular monthly form challenge and a special thematic one) followed by the virtual open mic hosted by Ron.

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INTERMISSION BEGINS

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Click Here to Purchase A Chill in the Air by Howard J Kogan

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PAUL: Welcome back, everyone. We just need to unveil the submissions we received for this month’s Poetorium writing challenges, and then Ron can start the open mic…

For this month’s Poetorium writing form challenge, we switched from flash fiction to poetry and invited everone to write what is commonly known as an abecedarian or alphabet poem, a short poem consisting of exactly 26 words in alphabetical order. Along with our monthly form writing challenge, for this month only on the occasion of Thanksgiving, we also had a special thematic one as well suggested by longtime regular and friend of the Poetorium, Dwayne Szlosek. The challenge (if one chooses to accept it, and apparently hardly anyone did) was to write about what you believe happens to turkeys after they die (What is their afterlife like? Do they become ghosts, go to poultry paradise, or something else?) in any form you wished:a poem, a song, a short story, an essay, or even an investigative piece of journalism as long as it was under 1000 words. I am sorry to report that besides myself, only two people rose to meet those challenges (even our fearless leader Ron chickened out): true stalwarts, Dwayne and Barbera Roberts. So I will call up both to the stage so they can personally present their efforts, first the form challenge and then the thematic one. First up is Dwayne:

DWAYNE:

What Happens to Turkeys When They Die

The butchers snicker as turkeys go through the processing plant.
Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, gets overwhelmed with spiritual turkeys
on Thanksgiving day in Heaven…

—Dwayne Szlosek (© 11\15\2020)

Untitled

Abundant Birds, Common Discovery, Expanding Field Guide
Has In Justify Killing Loons, Murder Never Obtained Personally.
Questions Russia’s Statute To UN. Very Witty XXX Yeltsin’s Zippers…

—Dwayne Szlosek

PAUL: Thank you, Dwayne! Now it is Barbera’s turn…

BARBERA:

Thanksgiving at the Schrodinger’s (Thanksgiving 2020)

Every Thanksgiving since 1935 the Schrodinger family gets together for Thanksgiving. Now in the 21st century there are about 45 close members left of the clan. Being descendants of the great man himself – some of them are currently scientists – they all agreed to the following family tradition. That tradition being to bring a turkey in a box. Now just like Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrodinger’s cat no one in the family knows whether the turkey which is in the box is alive or dead.

Many of them understand the LaPlacian operators and they know that quantum particles of the turkey can exist in a superposition of states at the same time. These can collapse down to a single state (I.e. a live turkey in the box or a dead turkey in the box.) The question each member of the family asks themselves is( “Will we eat turkey this thanksgiving or will we eat Mala’s hot dogs?” And of course they will not know until they open the box.

Pretty soon everyone has arrived – all 45 of the surprisingly intelligent grandsons and granddaughters along with a few great grandchildren. The box is placed on the roosting pan. The tension is at its highest. Some are salivating. Some are resigned. Mala being the great granddaughter is the cook and it is her responsibility to open the box.

It’s time. She reaches down and inserts a knife along the box’s edge and cuts the perforated cardboard. And there…and there…and there…is….

…What do you think?

—Barbara H. Roberts

Untitled Alphabet Poem

Alice buys cool
Drinks every Friday
Giving her instincts
Juicy kicks
Learning more nothings
On prizewinning questions
Re: stumpers today
Until very wisely
Xeroxing yesterday’s zingers

–Barbara H. Roberts

PAUL Thank you, Barbera! Now I guess I need to go. I confess I was stumped by Dwayne’s thematical writing challenges, but I managed to scribble this right before the show began:

Living in a Poultry Paradise

I like to think that the afterlife of turkeys
(At least, for the American ones) is an alternate reality
Where Benjamin Franklin managed to persuade his fellow
Founding Fathers to declare them the National Bird,
So they are no longer associated with Thanksgiving,
But Independence Day instead. So now, like cows in India,
The gobbler, is now sacred, venerated, free to wander
Through its eternal existence wherever it wishes,
Feasting on plump golden kernels of corn
From vast silver troughs which every American citizen
has erected in their backyard to pay tribute
to this most magnificent of fowls. And when that familiar
Thursday in late November rolls around, they can rest easy,
Secretly snickering that some once arrogant Bald eagle
will be plucked, basted and served as the traditional
Main course on holiday tables through out the USA.

—Paul Szlosek

I think I maybe cheating with this abecedarian, since I wrote this one years ago that was published in The Issue, but I like to dedicate it to my two fellow alphabet poets…

Ode to an Abecedarian Poet

Abecedarian bard composing doggerel,
elegies for God. His inspiration?
Just kooky, loony, monomaniacal
notions of poetry. Quite ridiculous!
Stacking twenty-six unrelated words-
xenophilic, yawping zaniness!

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in The Issue)

Well, that’s it! Dwayne and Barbera, thank you for such wonderful work!

Okay, before Ron starts the open mic, I just want to note that since its a real quiet night and we only have a handful of people who signed up, anyone who wishes will be allowed to read two pieces instead of the usual one. Now take it away, Ron…

RON: Thanks, Paul! As I usually do, I will kick off the open mic with a poem of my own…

She Danced With Me

Loving her was never an option
it was a given
She was the soft bed of pine needles
that cushioned my every step
into all of her unknowns
I was the empty vessel
that thirsted to receive
all that was hers
She was the one who rode
all my goosebumps leaving me
breathless
Her flesh wet with sweat
tasted the sweetness of holy water
that permeated all the taste buds
on my tongue
There is the softness to
the blurred edges
of her skin against mine
while her lips moved softly
touching and beckoning me
to play hers like a love song
She never lacked for
the innocence of spring
and you could never confuse
her intentions
for not being winter or fall
She found no interest in
domestication
and was anything but tame
I wanted everything she
held as a secret not to be told
I tried to make a goddess out of her
through my lust, greed, and pride
On my knees
I banged at the gates of heaven
saying amen after every hallelujah
as the angels watched
from a distance
not knowing what to do with me

—Ron Whittle (2020)

RON: Now please welcome to the podium, Joe Fusco Jr. who makes his third appearance in a row at the Virtual Poetorium…

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Joe Fusco Jr.

Knuckles to Knuckles

My wife goes to bed at 10 pm.

She has work in the morning.

I stay up and watch the news after taking my Ambien.

I like feeling unsettled.

When I join her in the bedroom, my wife is sleeping on her back,
her left hand outstretched.

I put on my CPAP and mouthguard then position myself on my right side,
my left hand extended.

Our knuckles graze.

My wife doesn’t like cuddling or even touching anything in her sleep
but I keep the knuckles in place and hope it doesn’t disturb her.

We have slept together for thirty-five years now.

Like any couple, we’ve had our share of joys and sorrows:

Four astonishing children, nine beautiful grandkids.

I’ve lost my Mom, Dad, and younger brother.

Cyndi watched her Mom pass and Covid took her Dad.

We are both navigating the semi-golden years.

God knows how much longer we’ll keep our health, our house, our connection.

I just know we’ll try, knuckles to knuckles, to carry on.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

RON: Next up is Meg Smith, who was our fantastic featured poet last month…

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Meg Smith (Photo Courtesy of Derek Savoia)

MEG: This poem, “Gray Cat Tidings,” recalls two gray and white cats, Jake and Serena, that my late husband and I adopted. They both died last December, within days of each other. They were a link to him as well as loved in their own right…

Gray Cat Tidings

When you claimed
a streak of sunlight
after the hurricane,
you marked your inheritance —
the coming of winter
in green eyes, a place called fire.
A brother in a white space
dissolves; two beings of dust, ions
cast a trail from the front hall
to the back stairs.
This is all, and done.
There’s no more well met.
Shadows fail, and night
creeps in from the doorstep.

–Meg Smith

RON: Our next poet I am sure will be a familiar face to all our regulars –
the Poetorium’s good friend (and Paul’s cousin) Dwayne Szlosek…

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Dwayne Szlosek

Turkey’s Last Days

Turkeys have it easy on the farm,
E – I – E- I – OWE.

They get fat and lazy from the farmer’s feed.
E – I – E- I – OWE.

Not knowing where they are going,
or end up at.
E- I – E- I – OWE.

But we know where they are going to be –
in our stomachs on Thanksgiving day,
E- I – E- I – OWE.

Then out the muddy slide shoot into a stinky tank,
where they will stay for a year
before they will see daylight again,
when they will be pumped out
and never to be seen again.
E – I – E – I – OWE.

That is Jenga…

—Dwayne Szlosek (© 11\13\2020)

Thank you all, you all were great tonight. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

RON: Here is another poet who has been a wonderful friend and loyal supporter of the Poetorium, Barbera Roberts…

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Barbera Roberts

BARBERA: I am so glad to be back speaking at the Poetorium. What a great pair of organizers. Well, tonight I am going to recite another of my squirrels stories… so here goes.

Well, some of you may never have heard of Simon P. Chase. Let me introduce you and then tell you of his most recent experiences with Covid-19.Simon P. Chase is a grey squirrel who lives near Worcester, Massachusetts. His mother named him after Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury but she got his middle name wrong because she did not have an internet connection. Simon has two close friends. Owl is wise and Raven only says “Never more, Never more.” Well, one day Simon was crossing the street as he usually does in the Fall – mostly to gets nuts that have fallen on the other side. He found a cell phone which had fallen out of a young girl’s back pocket. He kept it. And he got in a lot of different kinds of trouble through his untutored use of that cell phone…

Simon’s Covid Cases

Recently Simon was sleeping with his wife in his tree home. His cell phone was nearby. It went off with an emergency message. It was a COVID-19 emergency alert sent by the Governor of Massachusetts. The alert notified Worcester residents that they live in a high-risk community. The Governor’s purpose was to remind them to remain on guard against the virus.

Simon and his wife jumped out of bed. “Emergency, emergency”, they cried.

Simon’s wife said “What kind of emergency?

Simon said “I don’t know. What is covid?”

His wife said “I don’t know. Maybe it’s some kind of new hawk.”

Simon said “Yes, yes. We could use a warning about hawks. But how would Governor Baker know when a hawk is flying over our house?”

She said “Well…I don’t know. Can you use google to find out what kind of hawk is a covid hawk?”

Simon quickly got on line.

Simon found the reference and said to his wife. “Its not a hawk. It’s a disease.”

She said, “What kind of disease?”

Simon said “I don’t know but one can go and get tested downtown to find out if you have it. Something about putting a stick up your nose.”

His wife said “You haven’t put a stick up your nose since you were a kid, why would you do it now?”

Simon said “I only want to know if I have Covid or not. It is an awful disease – millions upon millions of people are dying from it…an unknown number of squirrels too!”

Waving goodbye to Simon, his wife yelled out “Be sure to be home for Thanksgiving supper.”

So Simon P. Chase and his two friends headed down to Worcester for the free Covid testing behind city hall. Simon took bus number 6 and owl and raven flew. Raven was a little confused because he is a corvid. That’s a class of birds, crows and ravens and such. Are the humans afraid of us, he wondered. He was about to ask the others but thought the better of it.

As they arrived behind city hall there were a number of humans lined up. They all had masks on. Soon a man – an organizer- came to Simon and his friends and informed them they can not have a covid test unless they have their masks on. Puzzled, Owl found out that the three of them could get a free mask nearby. Owl flew over and picked up one for each of them. Now the masks were for humans and therefore large of all three friends. Being good sports each put the mask on and got in line. Simon’s more than covered his eyes, Owl’s mask had a hard time being secured to his ears. Raven flapped his wings and the mask went all the way down to his chest.

Soon the organizer came along again and told them to remain six feet apart. “Maintain social distancing; maintain social distancing!” He pointed to human foot prints on the ground. Our friends had not been maintaining social distancing – indeed they had never heard of it before. “Okay, okay, Mister,”said Owl. “If you hadn’t noticed we animals generally stay more than six feet away from humans.” Simon seconded that with “When did you ever see a squirrel less than six feet from a human? Well…maybe a kind human giving out food to squirrels but not the run of the mill human.” Then Simon remembered his uncle… how a human shot and killed his uncle cause he didn’t like squirrels. He started to retell the old story to his friends but Raven interrupted and said “Never more, Never more”, which for once was a rather appropriate comment.

Pretty soon they got to the medical technician. He had his mask on and his plastic shield. Owl said “Wow! This must be some horrendous disease. I hope we owls don’t get it.” Raven said “Never more, never more.”

The technician looked at our three friends and was puzzled. “Hmm, he said to himself…I must be seeing things. I think I am hallucinating …from covid.” And he stuck one of the stick up his own nose. When he was finished he came back to Simon and his friends and he took three sterile nasal swabs and stuck it up Simon’s, Owl’s and Raven’s noses.

Now of course the swab was made for the noses of human beings not squirrels, owls or ravens. So like the masks – the swab was a little too large. As the technician stuffed it up our squirrel’s nose Simon moved his tail all over the place. Up and down, up and down, sidewise, then straight out, then straight up, and finally he curled it in a very tight curl. Owl having heard that Covid might have been made in a biological warfare lab said “Who!!!! Who!!! Who made this and let it out of the biowarfare lab?” Raven really irritated said in a screeching voice “Never more, Never more!”

Well, the technician let them relax while he went off to get the 20 minutes results. A short while later he was back – still blinking his eyes and thinking that he had covid and was hallucinating …why else would he be seeing talking squirrels and owls and the like?

“Well, gentlemen” said the technician “the results are in. You, Mister Owl and you Mr Raven tested negative but you Mister Chase tested positive.”

All three friends were now excited. They all clamored “What does that mean; what does that mean?!”

The technician said “Mr. Chase, you must quarantine for two weeks. That is absolutely mandatory. No going to work. No visiting friends or relatives. No parties. No music or art events. You must go directly home and stay there all by yourself. Stay away from anyone else in the house. Wash your hands all the time, Wash down your door knobs. Rest and don’t even go out for groceries.”

Simon thought “Hands? Door knobs? I don’t have hands and we don’t have door knobs in the nest.”

Then the technician turned to Owl and Raven and said “You have been exposed to covid by being with Mr. Chase and you also have to self-quarantine. Do you understand?” He added “Soon someone will come to your house and interview you for contact tracing. Now please go home.”

Simon, Owl and Raven started home. Simon didn’t know if he was supposed to take the bus or not. So he decided to hop home. Owl and Raven flew. Upon arriving at Simon’s house Owl checked the news and found a Mr. Musk, an inventor and rocket specialist, had been tested four times in one day…with two positive and two negative results. So he called Simon. “Simon, stop in at Walgreen’s on your way home and get tested again. Maybe you will be negative.” So Simon did just that. And the test came back negative!

Finally after walking all the way home and stopping at Walgreens Simon reached his tree. His wife said “Where have you been? I’ve been worried.” Simon said “I have covid. I don’t have covid. I have to self quarantine. And I don’t have to quarantine.”

His wife gave him a hug and said “I just put on a nice warm pan of hickory nuts for thanksgiving diner. Would you like to have some now?”

And so Simon settled down for a nice warm evening with his wife.

—Barbera H. Roberts

RON: Now please welcome back Mishelle Goodwin, who first joined us this July, in her second appearance at the Poerorium…

MISHELLE: First, here is a poem…

Joy

Thanksgiving is to do things together.
not everyday but,
once and a while.

Just getting together to Celebrate
and once and awhile
we share our happy thoughts

To have fun and share love
For the Holidays
May you fill them with Cheer!

—Mishelle Goodwin (11/19/2020)

And now, my short story…

Thanksgiving

It was an Autumn day where the leaves all have changed, cold, and dark. It had been raining all day and the leaves started fluttering to the ground. It was November and it was getting close to Thanksgiving. My mother and I had just finished shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner. It was going to be at her house. We got a 20lb. Turkey, Stuffing, Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes. Carrots, Yams and Squash. Cranberry Sauce and Gravy. Dinner Rolls, Pumpkin and Apple Pie. Cheese Cake with Red and White Wine with Hazelnut Coffee. Whipped cream with whipped cream and cherry’s.

As we put everything away we pull out the table to decorate it for supper tomorrow night. Placing a table cloth on the table with place mats to match. The napkins, plates, and silverware that matched. A serving plater for the turkey. A creamer and sugar bowl. Plates with glasses to match as well.

Mom slowly prepares the turkey with stuffing and gravy and places it in the oven to cook at 150 degrees to let it cook very slowly until tomorrow night all golden brown and hot rolls as well to taste to melt in your mouth. Getting three kinds of potatoes ready for the oven and prepares the squash and cut, pealed, and washed carrots in a pan with water and sets it aside on the stove all ready for tomorrow night.

It is ten pm. and thinking to her self that the last minute shopping the night before she puts up the Christmas tree. She decorates it with garland and bulbs. Colored and white lights that blink. Places the Nativity scene of Jesus on the coffee table in the Livingroom with the tree. As she goes into the bed room she goes into the closet to get all of the gifts out and wraps them to place them under the tree when she is done.

It is after mid-night and she while she checks the oven and stove she covers everything with a lid so it won’t spoil. She bought a camera to take pictures to send with a thank-you cards and now that she has a minute to make name cards for everyone so that they will have a place to sit and serve themselves. Supper starts at six, opening gifts at eight, and dessert at ten-thirty.

Meanwhile the kids are sleeping and mom decides to check everything again like a fine tooth comb. She turns on the radio to listen to some music to stay awake she get’s the music for tomorrow night ready and puts the radio on low.

She decides to make some homemade chocolate chip cookies, chocolate pudding with whipped cream on top, and chocolate fudge with walnuts to make for goodie bags with green, gold, and red ribbons with bows for them to take home as a treat.

Everything is slowly cooking on the stove on low it is four in the evening the guests should be arriving soon. Cakes and cookies are all done nice in ribbons and bows. Pies are done and the turkey will be ready at six cut, carved, and ready to eat. Stuffing is in a bowl with the cranberry sauce.

She is cooking the potatoes and squash with the carrots and yams. And while she does the she bakes three apple and pumpkin pies for dessert at seven thirty. It is six pm and everything is done and being served. They begin to eat still talking saying pass the gravy and cranberry sauce or pass the cream and sugar.

While everyone is eating they notice the tree with gifts. And they ask Peggy their mom what is it with the tree and gifts? No one else brought anything just themselves Peggy. Yah! Peggy What’s up with that as they all laugh. She said, It’s Thanksgiving and we all have a lot to be grateful for.

So, after every one has finished they talk to one another and get seated in their chairs, serving themselves, and eating. They are all still talking and listening to music. They have finished and it is nine thirty. Every one is getting ready to leave the grab their gifts and goodie bags and get ready to go home. They say their good-byes and shake hands, hug, and kiss.

While the kids are out with their father at the park and going to have pizza at Zoey’s eat and run on main street tonight it is open until one in the morning. They stayed out all night until eleven thirty the next morning. Every thing is put away and clean. By the time the kids and their father get back home. But Peggy, their mom is asleep and when they were all at home so did they.

—Mishelle Goodwin (11/19/2020)

RON: Last but not least on our open mic, please welcome a fantastic friend and loyal supporter of the Poetorium, Eugenie Steinman, who travelled all the way from California to be here tonight:

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Eugenie Steinman

EUGENIE: Thank you, Paul and Ron. I love the Poetorium at Starlite! I tried the alphabet poem writing challenge – my respect and admiration for those who did it.

When my mom moved from Brooklyn to Miami Beach Florida I would visit her every year around the holidays.I watched the senior citizens strolling along the esplanade in their black oxford shoes (little heels on the women’s and fine black leathers, polished – the men’s were flat). One year I noticed they were wearing shoes like mine – Reebok’s running shoes. They had picked up the pace and some were doing the jog. This was my inspiration for…

The Final Mile

The senior citizens of today
Don’t worry about health going astray
Or even life going away.
Instead they ponder that final mile
That they must face for the marathon trial.
And dreams no longer memory bound
Soar above that Boston Ground.
There they are at 84,
The one to beat Bill Rogers score.

—Eugenie Steinman (from Persimmon: Poems and Recipes)

RON: Okay, before I close out the show tonight, let’s call back to the microphone, my co-host Paul Szlosek so he can recite one of his own poems for you…

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Paul Szlosek and Friend

PAUL: Thank you, Ron! Since Thanksgiving to me is very much about family, I’d like to share with you tonight a poem about my late father, which was first published in Silkworm 11

News at the Eleventh Hour

My father may not hated baseball,
but being a farmer and a practical man,
had no use for it. What he did have use for
was the Channel 4 Eyewitness News at 11 O’Clock
or more precisely, its nightly weather report.
Since he was his own boss and had no one else to tell him
what to do, he relied on Don Kent, TV meteorologist,
to help him decide his work schedule for the following day –
a forecast of rain meaning the difference
between a morning spent grading eggs
in the basement, and one out in the field
picking sweet corn or tomatoes.

Every night, my father would turn on
our black and white set in the living room
a few minutes before prime time programming ended,
and settle into his favorite comfy chair,
waiting for his sacred local news to begin.
But seemingly as often as not, instead on the screen,
there’d be some athletic event going long,
extending into overtime, and my father would slap
the side of his chair with a calloused palm
and mutter “damn ball game, damn ball game”.
He referred to every sport as that “damn ball game”
(tennis, golf, even hockey), but baseball was always
the worse offender. In theory, baseball can last for an eternity,
a game easily stretching from the standard nine into endless innings.
Another man might have simply changed the channel
but he was too loyal to Don Kent, not trusting those idiot weathermen
with their coiffured hair and hundred dollar suits on channels 5 and 7.

So he sat there, his frustration mounting as the wall clock ticked
toward midnight. And then, just when he thought it was all mercifully
coming to an end, with the Red Sox down by three at the bottom
of the 12th, some Boston slugger like Yaz, Carlton Fisk, or Fred Lynn
would smack a homer out of Fenway Park and tie it all up.
An hour later, the Boston Red Sox would defeat the Yankees,
the Orioles, the Twins (or whoever was their opponent that night),
and my dad as well, who (robbed of that essential weather report)
had long switched off the television and all the lights,
and wearily dragged himself off to bed to sleep the remaining,
dwindling hours before he had to rise at dawn,
a chorus of “damn ball game, damn ball game”
echoing through out the darkened house…

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Silkworm 11)

Before I hand the microphone back to Ron to finish the show, I’d like to make a couple of quick announcements:

First, I just want to thank everyone that participated in tonight’s program including our feature Howard Kogan, those few diehards who contributed to our Thanksgiving group poem and this month’s writing challenges, and especially everyone in the virtual open reading,: Barbera, Dwayne, Joe, Mishelle, Meg, and Eugenie. As I say in every show and truly mean it: you really are all amazing people and poets and without all of you, the Poetorium in any form would not exist!

Second, I know Ron would like to place the Poetorium on hiatus next month in December due to the hectic Christmas season like we did last year, but I myself am very partial to holiday poetry gatherings (virtual or otherwise). So I thought if enough people are interested, maybe we can have have a bonus abbreviated Christmas-themed session (no feature, just an open mic, and maybe a group poem). Please let me know what you think after the show, and if I can find at least 5 people to commit to participating, we’ll give this special “Virtual Ho-ho-etorium” a go (clever name, huh?).

Now back to you, Ron…

RON: Thanks, Paul! And now folks it’s time to end this month’s show. It’s always hard to come up with something that is appropriate for closing, but I am going to take a cue from Paul and stick with the “family” theme…

Reflections of Mom

I learned to speak
through the language
of my mother
She taught me
with her rich milk of
phrases, metaphors
and adjectives
She instilled in me what
she believed in
Her blood pumps through
my veins
Her fire is my fire
She nurtured my bones
since the day I was born
and who would I be
if she hadn’t put the
fire in my heart
and the gravel in my eye
It has always been
about me and never about her
She knew one day I would
understand and one day
my time would come
She wore motherhood as well
if not better than most
To me, she was home
to her, I was her son
but she had a temper
when it came to her making
apple pies and you needed
to move quickly to get
out of the house

Dad taught me that

—Ron Whittle (2020)

Good night, everyone (waving his hand)! May peace be with you and yours, please stay healthy, and have a Happy Thankgiving! I realize that Paul may have other ideas, but I don’t believe we will be seeing each other until next year, so have a Merry Christmas as well, and we’ll catch everyone in 2021! And as always, good night, Mrs Cowart, where ever you are!

Introducing the Virtual Poetorium…

My dear readers, my post today is going to be extremely long (what my fellow bloggers refer to as “a long read”) so I will try to keep what I feel is a necessary explanation of what exactly the Virtual Poetorium is and how it came to be relatively brief (though I’m not sure I can). Even if you are a long time reader of this blog, you probably won’t recall a post from early February 2019 in which I shared an invented poetry form that I created to honor “BeSpoken”, a delightful open poetry reading that was held monthly at the Starlite Bar & Art Gallery in Southbridge, Massachusetts. Well, within a few months, the young man who ran and hosted the “Bespoken” reading suddenly seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth (don’t worry, he has since shown up in a nearby town perfectly fine but with no explanation of his absence), and the concerned owner of the Starlite approached me and my friend Ron Whittle to see if we would be willing to take over the reading. We agreed under the conditions that we would be allowed to make any changes to the format we saw fit. Some of the first things we did was to except expand the concept from just an open mic to full-fledged monthly poetry show which included a featured reading by a guest poet along with a short interview on stage with them, and various other segments including a spotlight on a Southbridge poet, a tribute to a dead poet by an audience member and an improvised monthly group poem we would compose in the few minutes before the show started. Renaming this ambitious endeavor “The Poetorium at Starlite”, we held our first show on the last Tuesday evening of May 2019 with the host of a popular local poetry television program as our first featured poet. That night we had over 60 people in attendance, and though the amount of people fluctuated, our monthly poetry show continued being a success through out the remainder of the year as well as early 2020.

Then of course, early last March, all this COVID craziness began. Even before it was mandatory, we decided it was best that we cancel all our live shows until the current health crisis abated. Yet Ron and I still wanted to keep to keep the Poetorium alive in some form. Of course, the logical choice would have been to produce a live online version via Zoom (which most of the other poetry readings in our area has since done), but because neither Ron nor I felt we were technologically proficient to do that, we decided to go with a more primitive lo-tech (and I believe totally unique) solution. The Virtual Poetorium is probably more like a monthly online poetry journal in transcript form than what most people would envision as a virtual poetry reading. Our idea is to recreate in print what an evening at the Poetorium would be like if we were still able to actually do it by posting a written transcript of a simulated poetry reading that just takes place in our imagination on the Poetorium website. Near the beginning of month, we invite members on our Poetorium mass email list to participate in that month’s show by sending us poems for our virtual open mic as well as a contributions to a group poem on a designated theme. I compile what we receive along with poems from our featured poet and an interview Ron and I conduct with them via email into an imaginary transcript which I post on our website at the end of the month, emailing everyone on our list a link so they can hopefully read and enjoy it at their leisure. I will producing producing our eighth edition next week, and decided to take this opportunity to introduce the Virtual Poetorium to all my readers as well by reposting in its entirety a recent one from this September on this blog. For greatest effect, it works best to read the following in one sitting, but if you don’t have the time or patience, feel free to skim or jump around like you might do with any poetry journal. The Virtual Poetorium is jam packed with poetry and I am sure you will find something that will interest you (although it is probably too late, if you graciously take the time to read it and become interested in perhaps participating yourself in this month’s Virtual Poetorium or more likely one in the near future, please contact me at poetorium@mail.com, and I will send you details how to do that)…

photostudio_1584884377621

The Virtual Poetorium September 29, 2020

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Ron Whittle

RON: Well hello everyone!  It’s been great having a month off.  I did some much needed writing and completed three books which my publisher now has in production.   I ‘m not sure what Paul has been doing.   I have only heard the usual rumors.  I assure you Paul is alive and well though.  Has anyone besides me had the COVID-19 test done to them.  Its like a two foot long Q-tip on a wooden stick that they scrape the back side of your brain with.  It left me with one eye twitching for a week or so.  (Only kidding).  But it is pretty weird.   It did get some good news from my Doctors my cancer is in limbo for now, and if I can keep it that way for three years they will consider me cancer free.  I can’t remember if I told everyone but I had a pacemaker put in after I was hauled into the emergency ward.   Things are looking up though, I went from twenty dollar man to a couple thousand dollar man and I’m looking for that million dollar man slot as if it could be a possibility.   So if blur runs by you it just might be me.  Okay enough of my foolishness.   We have a huge new show for you.   When Paul and I took over this show we told everyone that we would try to keep it as fresh and a different as we could.   Well, we made some changes to do just that and with your help we’ll find out whether or not you guys like the ideas.   Which by the way, if you guys have any ideas to improve the show let us know.    For now I’m going to let Paul explain what is coming up that’s new.  

Once again I am going to dispense with the rules of the show.  I believe by now we all know what they are by now.   We have a very special lady as our guest speaker tonight.   She once told me she taught all the boys in her school how to french kiss.   Oh yeah, she is wild, wonderful, she makes me laugh, and I love the way she writes.   I have known her for several years through poetry readings in the Greenfield area of Massachusetts. I can’t wait for you to meet her, Jovanna Van Pelt.    

Paul is going to introduce a new segment he calls the Mystery Poet, as well as for the first time, a monthly writing challenge.  This month’s challenge was to write something called a Drabble which Paul will explain later. Once again, we also have a new group poem tonight, this time inspired by Wallace Steven’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  

One more thing, Paul and I have made a point of not putting any of personal political beliefs on or in the Poetorium show.  We would greatly appreciate if you would keep your political opinions to yourself.   This a poetry show, not a political party event by any stretch of the imagination and we want to keep it that way.   So poetry please, but no politics.  Thank you!

I don’t want to be top long-winded at the beginning of the show tonight.   So I’ll get things started with the first many poems tonight.  I’m going to start with a love poem of sorts titled:

A Harvest of a Strawberry Too Late

The winds of yesterday
lick at my door
and my chest heaves
as I pant for a breath of air
with every gust of wind
and at every sound
that I remember 
I am neither a temple
nor theatre
I am only the human
that I am with a reverence
towards all the yesterdays
I could have known but
will never, even so
I am decorated with
all her memories that
I live with
There is love in holding on
and there is perhaps 
more love in letting go
Sadly, I have been unable 
to do either, I’m always
seeking the unattainable
where dreams captivate me
and sustain all my hopes
and passions
It’ not that I don’t
like strawberries, for I do
It’s just they are too far 
out of season
and by now, sadly
to overripe to eat

-Ron Whittle

And now I’ll turn the microphone over to Paul…

PAUL: Thanks so much, Ron! As Ron stated earlier, starting tonight we’ll be making several changes in the format of the Virtual Poetorium. First of all, we will be discontinuing the Spotlight on a Southbridge Poet segment (at least for the time being) which we usually present at this point in the show. We’ll also be replacing the Dead Poet Tribute ( due to a lack of volunteers) with a very similar Spotlight on a Mystery Poet in which I will present now. The way this will work is I’ll give you several clues before revealing their identity and presenting a few of their poems. Okay, everyone all set to guess who tonight’s Mystery Poet is? Great! Here we go…

Your first clue is that, like many famous poets of both the 19th and early 20th century including Edgar Allen Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Stephen Vincent Benet, he was known by three names. Our Mystery Poet was born in Garnett, Kansas in 1868 and passed away in a nursing home at Melrose Park, Pennsylvania in 1950 at the age of 81. However, he lived most of his life in the state of Illinois, growing up in the small towns of Petersburg and Lewistown (with both inspiring his most famous work) before moving to Chicago as an adult. Although primarily remembered today as a poet, he was also an attorney, novelist, biographer, and playwright. In fact, for several years, his law partner in Chicago was Clarence Darrow, who arguably was the most famous lawyer in America of the time. He was considered a leading writer of the Chicago Literary Renaissance which flourished between 1912 and 1925, and included Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, Vachel Lindsay, and Ring Lardner. As a biographer, he wrote six biographies including ones about Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Stephen Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln, the latter being lambasted by critics because of his overt political opinions and rather dim view of our first Republican president (our Mystery Poet was a lifelong Illinois Democrat). He also published a dozen plays, six novels, and a whopping twenty-one volumes of poetry. However, his fame rests almost solely on one single book of poems, which many consider, along with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, to be the most famous and popular book of American poetry of all time. First published in 1915, the book is an anthology of interconnected free verse poetry in the the form of epitaphs (most of the poem’s titles are a person’s name) which narrate the lives and deaths of the residents of the cemetery in a fictional Illinois town (based on a combination of both Petersburg and Lewistown). So have you guess the identity of tonight’s Mystery Poet yet? If not, what if I tell you the name of this book is The Spoon River Anthology? Yes, you are right! It is Edgar Lee Masters…

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Edgar Lee Masters

The first poem of Edgar Lee Masters that I will share with you tonight is the very first one in The Spoon River Anthology, which serves as rhe introduction to the book…

The Hill

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom, and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife–
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie, and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?–
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in a search for a heart’s desire,
One after life in faraway London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag–
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Issac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With veneravle men of the revolution?–
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying–
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

—Edgar Lee Masters (from The Spoon River Anthology)

The next poem, which is considered one of the more happier ones in The Spoon River Anthology, features the character of Fiddler Jones who was mentioned in the previous poem..

Fiddler Jones

The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.”
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill–only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle–
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

–Edgar Lee Masters (from The Spoon River Anthology)

I will conclude with another poem from The Spoon River Anthology entitled “Anne Rutledge’ which was the name of an actual woman who was rumored for many years to be the first love of Abraham Lincoln. Because of the popularity of the book, her body was later exhumed and reburied in Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois (the same cemetery where Masters also lies at rest), and this poem is now the actual epitaph carved on her granite gravestone.

Anne Rutledge

Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!

–Edgar Lee Masters (from The Spoon River Anthology)

Well, folks, that concludes the Poetorium’s very first Spotlight on a Mystery Poet. I sure hope you enjoyed this new segment.

Now I am so thrilled to introduce the amazing Jovonna Van Pelt as our featured poet tonight at the Virtual Poetorium. Before we call her up to the virtual stage to be interviewed, I’d like to tell you a bit more about Jovonna:

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Jovonna Van Pelt

Jovonna Van Pelt edited her high school newspaper and wrote English assignments in rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter for fun. She considered a career in journalism but was advised that she wasn’t tough enough; it may even have been true. Jo is a recovering pk, animal lover, and modern medievalist. A resident of Greenfield, MA, she has been a finalist in the Poet’s Seat competition; a frequent contributor to open mics and spoken word events throughout the Valley; a member of Straw Dog Writers Guild, and a selected poet in their anthology Compass Roads, edited by Jane Yolen. Unrelated Questions from Human Error Publishing is her first published volume of poetry.

RON: Welcome, Jovonna! Please have a seat up here on the stage.  Its so nice to see you again.  Jovanna, Paul and I all read at many of the same places in the Greenfield area.  Just so you understand, at many shows we go to, we never get to learn much about the guest speakers.   So Paul and I decided that we would right that wrong and get to know our guest speakers a little more intimately by interviewing them.   So, Jovonna, we want you to be candid and funny and what ever makes you feel comfortable.   So with that in mind , say something funny…   I’m only kidding unless you have something funny to say.

Okay, here are my questions. I think I may have peaked the interest of all  the guys involved in the show.  Do you hold classes on the proper etiquette of french kissing?  Be careful how you answer this or you might have a line of guy twenty deep wanting to sign up to be the teachers pet. Sorry, Jovonna! I am just clowning around again. Okay, I’ll be serious now. Where did you grow up?

JOVONNA: My family moved around quite a bit, so I have 3 “home towns”: childhood in Brooklyn NY, teen years in Somerset MA, and early adult years in Boston MA. I’ve been in the Pioneer Valley since 2004.

RON: Who or what peaked your interest in writing poetry?

JOVONNA: Dr. Seuss, Ogden Nash, and AA Milne. My mom read Seuss to us all the time growing up. And “The Cremation of Sam Magee” – my father used to recite it around campfires like a ghost story.

RON:  I know you have humorous style of writing.   Who did you learn your humor from?

JOVONNA: My mom, who had a keen sense of the absurd and was a great laugher.

RON: We know that you have your book “Unrelated Questions” out now. Do you have any others in the works?

JOVONNA: I am not consciously – or conscientiously – writing a new book. Research has begun on a couple of novel ideas; and I’m writing new poetry daily, so another book of poems is likely in a year or two I hope.

RON: How long have you been writing for?

JOVONNA: I started writing poetry in the 3rd grade —so, age 8, precocious child that I was. In my serious teens, I wrote poetry like journaling, most of which was predictably terrible. I had some success in college, publishing a couple of poems in the collegiate literary magazine. I’ve always written for my own amusement in fits and starts throughout my adult life. But I didn’t “commit” to writing, to being a writer, until 2016 when facing a personal crossroad. At age 64 now, that makes it 56 years or 5, depending upon how you look at it!

RON: Are there any writing groups that you belong to?

JOVONNA: Yes, indeed, I love my groups! I was recruited to join a Northampton-based group run by Carla Cooke after she heard me at the first open mic. I’m going on year 5 with them; we use the Amherst Writers method. I also helped to start a new group in Greenfield after a bunch of us took a memoir class with Mary Clare Powell – we’re struggling to regroup within the pandemic restraints, but I’m sure we’ll figure out how to move forward smoothly again.

RON: Do you have any awards or any individual poetry pieces published in magazines? 

JOVONNA: I have twice been a finalist in the Poet’s Seat competition – out of four entries, that’s a pretty good batting average. Years ago, a piece of prose was printed in Puppetry International magazine, and I had a poem published in 2018 in Compass Roads, the Straw Dog Writers Guild anthology edited by Jane Yolen. To date, though, I don’t spend much time pursuing publication.

RON: If someone asked you how to get started writing poetry, what advice would you give to get them started? 

JOVONNA: I’d say don’t worry about form, don’t be intimidated by the idea of it, at the beginning. What you want to say is more important than how, to start. You can tell a story in prose and then pare it down to its essence to make it into a poem.  You can take a rough first draft of a piece, and radically revise it, trim and condense and add meaning between the lines to give each word more depth. Find better words in order to say the same things using fewer words. That really starts to be poetry, as you work it. Then, if you like structure, you can play with all the fantastic forms that are available. Or not.

RON: Okay, Paul, do you have any questions for Jovonna?

PAUL: Yes, thank you, Ron, I do. Jovonna, through out the years, have you developed a regular writing routine, and if so, can you describe it for us?

JOVONNA: I stick to my writing plans better when I make a commitment to someone else, so writing groups or partners help keep me on track. Sometimes it’s just a phone call, then an hour or so to write, and then a follow up call. I still have a day job, so blocks of writing time other than weekends are problematic. I often get a few lines going as I’m commuting; I have to scribble the thought down as soon as I arrive at work in order not to lose it. These days, I ALWAYS have a small pad with me, to jot down words or phrases or inspired beginnings, and I go back to them when I need a prompt.

PAUL: Are there any consistent themes or subject matter that tends to crop up in your poetry?

JOVONNA: Memories—personal events, family issues; real life activities and observations; when I get riled these days, I write political stuff too—anger is very energizing.

PAUL:Do you ever write in any form other than poetry, such as essays, short fiction, etc.?

JOVONNA: Flash fiction is fun, and I’ve played with that form, as well as some short stories. I do write essays, non-fiction prose or memoir often in writing workshops – I don’t have an outlet for it though.

PAUL: My final question for you is who are your favorite poets to read and why?

JOVONNA: Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood (both as poets and novelists) – marvelous woman-oriented themes and rich true language; Mary Oliver – gorgeous natural imagery, calm and centered spirit

ee cummings – for playing around with words and forms; Shakespeare – for reading aloud

Dr. Seuss still and always, and Edward Gorey –  just for the pure fun of it

PAUL: So unless someone in the audience has another question… no?…well then, that concludes our interview for tonight. Jovonna, you were amazing! Thank you so much for such thoughtful and informative answers. Now, everyone, let us put our hands together and give our featured poet Jovonna Van Pelt a tremendous round of applause while she walks to the podium to present poems from her book ” Unrelated Questions “…

JOVONNA:

Multitasking

at this very moment
I am losing an argument
with the universe
about how much fun blondes actually have.

at this very moment
I am outliving my Grampa
who died at 61 from emphezema
and disappointment.
he could play the ukele
and he always sang my name
to the tune of “Ramona.”

at this very moment
I am actively engaged
in the benevolent neglect of my garden.
flora that survive
will foster the next biological wave and possibly
insect rule of the planet.

at this very moment
I am not eating the New York style cheesecake
marbled with rich chocolate fudge and
topped with luscious red raspberry sauce
that flung itself importunate
into my shopping cart last night.
clearly I deserve a treat.

at this very moment
I must tell you
that I never intend to be obscure
I want these words to resonate
upon first hearing.
say them out loud.
we women know that silence
is not our friend.

at this very moment
I am not forgiving my father
for saying he never wanted me.
like a death camp guard hiding in Argentina,
he is old, sick, caught.
waiting until now
doesn’t make him less guilty.
he wasted little time on me.
I do not yield.

at this very moment
my benevolent neglect also extends
to the cleanliness of my car
the paid bill filing
and the birthdays of cousins twice-removed.
it no longer works
for citizenship.
the evening news makes me twitch
and I am marching again.

at this very moment
there is little reason to expect that
Justin Trudeau
is sending the limo to pick me up
but one should not lose all hope.
that way lies madness.
madness as it turns out
runs in the family
but insanity
and male-pattern baldness
stop here.

—Jovonna Von Pelt (from Unrelated Questions)

Morning Mist

i
never leave
the water’s edge
empty-handed.
in younger days,
it often was
a pocket
full of angry poems.
but this morning –
O, this morning –
i
gather peace
like the water draws mist.

on the other side
of this fog-kissed pond
who knows?
it might be Avalon.

—Jovonna Von Pelt (from Unrelated Questions)

Benediction

i could say
on the day Leonard Cohen died
i got drunk,
made love like a demon,
spent time in a hazy funk of old jazz
and city skyline, smooth skin
and half-tried Bible verses,
turning wine into words again.

actually
i found out the day after.
he might like
the tribute-in-hindsight,
even from my unblessed lips,
but he would call me out
for lying.
truth was Eliezer’s song.

when i believed life would be beautiful,
his was the music
of rags and midnight.
some love lasts, some love does not.
beauty has its own
brief prayers, fearful sacrifice, sudden blessings.
i think
he would recognize
this tenuous mix of faith and flesh,
the flux of soul and self:
his psalm of praise, the upheld knife,
love rituals of life and hope.
and now
all earthly rites are done.
the only words remaining
both thanks and benediction:
go in peace.

—Jovonna Von Pelt (from Unrelated Questions)

My prompt [for my next and last poem was this list] of random words: today, star, end, living, roar, world, elephant, item, mistletoe, feather, iota, and flamingo…

Pachyderm Apocalyptic

at the end of the world
I will be wearing
a feather boa
of bright flamingo pink
and
riding an elephant, I think,
into the star burst
of our extinction event.
those style choices will be easy.
it’s living well until then…
today is harder
than tomorrow,
I swear.

tomorrow, I swear,
I will do more.
dishes will be washed, bills paid.
I will be productive, thoughtful, kind.
I will find the time
to get everything done,
each item on the list and then some.
reverie is a total distraction,
an iota of indecision a waste.
do more, think less.
there isn’t much time.

there isn’t much time.
what choices will you make?
kiss on the first date.
don’t wait, like the good girls.
exploit every mistletoe opportunity.
better the well-rumpled bed,
the sharpened brain, the full heart.
better the unrepentant community
of lovers than these fearful saints.
the roar of defiance 
should drown out the prayers.
leave dishes in the sink.
regrets will be useless
when the time comes.

the time comes,
regardless of your planning.
pack the bug-out bag
with cheap shiny beads 
or Treasury bonds–
it makes no difference.
damn the torpedoes.
stay with me tonight.
the elephant is patiently parked
outside.

—Jovonna Von Pelt (from Unrelated Questions)

PAUL: Wow! Thank you, Jovonna! That was just incredible! Folks, let’s show our appreciation for such an amazing feature by giving a big (virtual) hand for Jovonna Van Pelt!

In a few minutes, we’ll be taking a short intermission, but before we do, it’s time once again to present this month’s Poetorium group poem. You might recall last year in July, we rewrote the classic Wallace Steven poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird as our group poem. This month, we once again used that classic poem as a template, but substituted the word “umbrella” for “blackbird”. The way it worked was all our participants sent us one to seven lines containing either the word “umbrella” or “umbrellas”, and then all contributions (which like always will remain anonymous) were numbered and compiled into the following poem which I entitled “Ten Different Ways of Looking at an Umbrella” …

Ten Different Ways of Looking at an Umbrella

I
She was the type of child
Who would secretly punch holes
In condoms, umbrellas, and unflated life rafts.

II
By inverting my open umbrella,
I now own a one man raft
With a hang-on handle in the middle,
for curb side flooding.

III
Every time some idiot said
‘Let your smile be your umbrella”,
He imagined
His frown was a scimitar
And verbally slit their throat.

IV
I put confetti in your umbrella
On April Fools Day
So the next time it rained,
Your jacket glittered.

V
I took that old umbrella
And punctured white string lights
Into the fabric
And made a private constellation
for one.

VI
An umbrella:
A personal dome
Of escape from both
Good and bad weather.

VII
Since March,
All our lives have been
Turned inside out
Like a flimsy umbrella
In a windstorm.

VIII
Mary Poppins:
The icon of umbrellas –
The weatherman said
“You are going to need
Your umbrella. Mary Poppins
Was spotted in the area…”

IX
Living in Seattle
She went to the festival,
Traded her umbrella
For a bumbershoot.

X
He considered himself
A pragmatic pessimist;
He wouldn’t leave his house
Without a gun & an umbrella.

Okay, folks, I guess that concludes the first part of the Virtual Poetorium. We are going to have a brief intermission so you can get take a moment to reflect on all the amazing poems you have heard so far and perhaps  even purchase a copy of  Jovonna Van Pelt’s  fantastic first full-length collection of poetry Unrelated Questions at our virtual vendor’s table (you’ll be happy that you did). When we come back, I will present the submissions we received for this month’s Drabble writing challenge, followed by Ron hosting our virtual open mic.

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INTERMISSION BEGINS

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Click Here to Purchase Unrelated Questions by Jovonna Van Pelt

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PAUL: All right, folks, we are back from break. Please find a seat so I can begin…

This is a brand new segment of the Virtual Poetorium in which we will challenge you to write in a different flash fiction or poetic form each month. This month’s challenge was to write a Drabble. In case you are not familiar with this popular flash fiction form, a drabble is a short story that some people insist should be exactly one hundred words long, but since most of you were writing one for the first time, we wanted to give you a little leeway and decided to define the length to be between 90 and 110 words. However there is no consensus of what a drabble actually is, with many feeling that any short story under a 1000 words qualifies as a drabble, so we also accepted a story of about 400 words which some people might call a double drouble ( that makes sense since a drouble is 200 words, twice the length of the standard drabble).

I have to say the response to our first writing challenge is a bit disappointing, since besides Ron & I, only three other people submitted. Yet I am very pleased by the quality and diversity of the drabbles we did receive. The five drabbles I will share with you tonight are of a variety of genres ranging from relationship stories to a western, strange fiction and even a memoir.

The first one I will present is a rather melancholy love story by our fearless leader, Ron Whittle:

If You Had Only Known

Fairy tales are true and I can prove it.  Assume we know dragons can be beaten and some can even be slain.   Disappointed, delusional, and depressed, I lied, I needed you more than at any other time in my life.  I was a troubled dragon, my head hung low and you walked away never knowing that you were this dragon’s life.  My dreamland Cinderella.  Apparently, some dragons live on forever hating themselves.   Hold up in deep dark caverns of self-pity and this is the fairy tale that did not live a happily ever after, but rather wallows in the what could have been puddles of pathos.

—Ron Whittle

Next up is a thrilling story set in The Old Wild West by Dwayne Szlosek:

Nine Gun Billy

My name’s Billy Gunn. It’s May 1st, 1880. I am, at the age of fourteen,
the man of the house since my father died a year ago. I live with my mother and sister named Sarah.

I go to pick up supplies in the town of Frisbee to start planting crops. When I get back to the ranch with the supplies, the house is on fire, and my mother and sister are dead. All I know is it was nine men that killed them. So I set out to hunt them down, all nine. I’ll kill them all and keep all nine guns, earning the nick name Nine Gun Billy…

–Dwayne Szlosek

Now we have another well-crafted story about a relationship, this one I believe written in precisely 100 words by Christine Burlingame:

The Decision

The two are always in bed before nine p.m. “I found something in you, when there was nothing left in me,” she whispers. And with that he puts down his phone and turns. He sighs, “I know you did, and no one will ever love you like I do.” She smiles weakly and nods more to herself, than to him. She is no longer sure this is love but her insurmountable sadness is certainly her own. He faces her still, but returns to scrolling, eyes transfixed on the screen. Those bastard cell phones, she thinks. Tomorrow she will pack.

—Christine Burlingame

Okay, here is something a bit weird by yours truly…

The Bandage

When people asked Harlan about the bandage, he’d tell them he cut himself shaving, which was technically true. Few questioned why the bandage was on his index finger, not his cheek. He wouldn’t bother explaining that he wasn’t shaving his own face, but that of his 94 year old grandfather with dementia, and didn’t slice his finger on a razor blade, but the sharp stub of silver wire inexplicably protruding amidst the whiskers on his grandfather’s chin. Naturally, Harlan was perplexed and disturbed by this, as well as the steel wool that seemed to be slowly replacing all the old man’s body hair, but it certainly wasn’t anyone else’s business…

—Paul Szlosek

Last but not least, our final story is our double drouble, a touching childhood memoir by Barbera Roberts:

My Elm

Back in the 50’s before the housing boom, when dirt roads with grass down the middle led off to the other side of town, a field of grass – about a few acres – lay across the street from our house. The field played sanctuary to a stately old elm tree just North of an equally old oak tree abutting a stone wall with old barbed wire now unused since the farmer used a different field for his cows. The grass in that field, in yellow summer days, blew in waves as the wind flowed over it, up one small hill and down the other.

It was here in this field that as a child I made a friend of that old stately elm and it of me. Being alone with few if any playmates, I would lie beneath the old elm, watching the sky, the birds, daydreaming I suppose. And it came to me slowly that this old elm knew who I was as I knew who it was. And I sensed that it in some way loved me – if I can attribute that emotion to a tree. There were no other elms around for they had died from the Dutch Elm disease but I didn’t know that then. Throughout that summer I would habitually go and lie peacefully beneath the elm.

But it was right after the war – World War II – and a baby boom had followed all the death and dying. Those new families with children needed new houses to live in. One day my father knowing my love for the tree in the field told me a building contractor had purchased the field and was going to build a small subdivision in what was then the elm’s field. To make matters worse the old elm lay where the planned street was to go.

After lots of crying and pleading my father went and negotiated with the builder and reported back to me. There was no way to save the old elm. The builder was firm on that. But the road could be moved slightly westward to save the old oak next to the stone wall with the barbed wire. And so the new homes were built, families moved in, new people became our neighbors – and new playmates were discovered. Three quarters of a century later the sweet memory of the spirit of the old elm tree remains with me.

—Barbera H. Roberts

Well, that concludes our very first Virtual Poetorium Writing challenge.
Let’s give a big hand for all our participants! Thank you, Ron, Dwayne, Christine, and Barbera for rising to our challenge, and creating such outstanding work. I promise to try to make next month’s writing challenge a bit more easier, so more people might submit.

Okay, before Ron starts the open mic, I would just like to make an announcement. Beginning tonight, Ron and I have decided to relax the rules of our virtual open mic, and allow not only poetry, but flash fiction and short stories of all kinds as well, as long as they are under 2000 words. I know this announcement is short notice for most of you and we will probably have mostly poems tonight, but I do know at least one person is planning on reading a short story that I am sure you will all enjoy.

So, Ron, the podium is now all yours…

RON: Thanks, Paul! As per usual, I will lead off the open mic with a poem of my own…

This Poem Walked Into the Bar and Ordered a Drink

My tongue slowly twirls at the ice cubes in my tilted glass
and it hints at the taste, of what’s left of my tonic and gin
Looking down at the dark mahogany bar 
at all the empty glasses and bottles 
the thought occurred to me
I guess, I’ve had my moment in the light
that sparkled from your loving eyes
I will fight to keep that memory
for as long as I live
That may well be all that I will ever have
to keep what you gave me
Change for me may well have been clearly imminent 
though I never saw it that way or saw it coming
I just never knew how the story was supposed go,
or what I had to do to get there
I spent this night drinking for the truth
but fate has posed as an intricate spider web
that I cannot escape from
Loose ends are all I ever had to hang onto
for all of these years
Lost in my own thoughts
the Barmaid hands me another tonic and gin
and I will continue to try to drown in the past 
As those around me drown in their own 
catechism of capricious topics 
that no one else is aware of
Some patrons may laugh at those of us that are
hung up on our own belts 
on the horns of our own dilemmas
but we, we are the only ones who can give dignity
to being, totally immersed in the half-full glass
which we hold in our hands
We are the shining, the vulgar, the profane, and the lonely
and we glitter like freshly painted graffiti on a rusty old train

—Ron Whittle

Okay, first up is a poet who is well-known in the Worcester area poetry community, but ix making his very first appearance at the Poetorium. Folks, please welcome Joe Fusco Jr….

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Joe Fusco Jr.

JOE:

The “Waiting” Poem 

I have waited for my wife in front of a gift store in Aruba.
I have waited for my wife in front of a gift store in Bermuda.
I have waited for my wife in front of a gift store in Santo Domingo.
I have waited for my wife in front of a gift store in San Diego.
I have waited for my wife in front of a gift store in New York City.
I have waited for my wife in front of a gift store at Walt Disney.

I have waited for Cyndi on benches made of stone.
I have waited for Cyndi with other husbands or alone.
I have waited for Cyndi on chairs made of wicker.
I have waited for Cyndi and not once have I bickered.

I have waited and waited from dawn until dusk.
I have waited and waited and not once have I cussed.
I have been a good husband and loved every purchase.
I have been a good husband and never got nervous.

I am writing this poem as I wait in our car.
I am writing this poem as I wait in a bar.
I am writing this poem ‘cause I have some much time.
I am writing this poem and, god damn it, it rhymes!

—Joe Fusco Jr.

RON: Next up is a poet who made her debut at the Poetorium in April.
Please welcome Joan Erickson…

JOAN:

The Lost Pepper

I see something small
in the middle of the parking lot
of the apartment complex
where I live. There is no one
else around.

I go over and take a look –
a large green pepper.
I pick it up – looks good
enough to eat. Must have
dropped out of someone’s
shopping bag.

I could go to every door
and ask – ‘Did you lose
a pepper?’ Or I could say
to myself – ‘Finders keepers,
losers weepers.’

I could take it and cut it up
put it in salads or better yet,
since I am an artist, I could
paint it. I could paint another
food painting to add to my
vegetable collection and put
it in my next exhibit. Title it –
‘The Lonely Green Pepper.’
No, I already have a painting
of five green peppers
on my wall.

I take it out to the entryway – put
it on the shelf by itself by the
mailboxes.

The next time I check my mail,
it is gone. Did the owner find it or
did someone see it as a gift and
take it home for supper?

I am so glad no one squashed it.

—Joan Erickson (7/15/2020)

RON: Now please give a big welcome to the always entertaining Howard J. Kogan who made his first appearance at the Virtual Poetorium last May…

HOWARD: This poem was first published in my book, Indian Summer and is available from Amazon or Square Circle Press…

King Kong

If I was a more perceptive child
when I first saw King Kong in the late forties,
I might have predicted what the future would bring.
It’s not the moment you’re thinking of
when King Kong climbs to the top of the Empire State
and World War One fighter planes unleash
hail after hail of machine gun fire, though it’s a good guess.
Nor is it a moment later when King Kong lies dying
on the pavement and the cop says,
“Well Denham, the airplanes got him.”
And Carl Denham, Hollywood philosopher, replies,
“No, it wasn’t the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast.”
No, it was the moment before as King Kong was falling,
all around me the other boys cheered, while I cried.

Then for weeks after, all of us, me too,
wedged baseball cards in our bicycle spokes
and rode up and down our street, a squadron
of fighter planes looking for our King Kong.

—Howard J Kogan (from Indian Summer)

RON: Next up on the open mic is both a loyal regular and a popular favorite at The Poetorium, Dwayne Szlosek:

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Dwayne Szlosek

DWAYNE: Hi everyone. I hope you all had a great summer.
It’s wonderful to see all of you again. Here is my poem….

Cycle

Where blossoms bloom,
The icicles melt to nourish the flowers
In the month of May.
The grass is green.
Birds sing the song of summer, to have their young into the Fall.
The air is filled with flocking birds, heading south in the cool weather.
It looks like the end of summer.
It is time to get out my coats and sweaters,
Grab a good book of poetry
And that chicken soup too (to warm up),
And watch the leaves fall in the cool crisp air.
The wind whips and stirs up the leaves under my feet,
Telling me to wear underwear. I will be warm when the snow flies
Because I will be by the fireside, watching the orange glow,
While the winter snow falls,
Hibernating like a bear
Until spring starts once more…

–Dwayne Szlosek (© 9 \ 14 \ 2020)

Thank you, I wish you all great joy…

RON: And now please welcome to the virtual microphone, a poet who this year has become a familiar face at the Poetorium, Christine Burlingame…

CHRISTINE:

Sick Sunflowers III

This year, in spite of the uncertainty,
my tallest sunflowers grew.
When I carelessly tossed the seeds
into the cold ground,
our future was trapped inside.
I soon forgot the ache
from all the years I knelt down.
The time wasted, tirelessly tending the earth.
Spring, a pale stranger with clean fingernails
and no garden to call home.
Yet, as luck would have it,
the stalks were too thin to hold
the full bellied blooms that exploded
in bursts of mustard and maroon.
Those drunken ballerinas
danced in beauty
with heads too heavy
snapped and kissed the ground
in redemption.

—Christine Burlingame

RON: Please now welcome back to the virtual podium a good friend to the Poetorium who we haven’t seen here in quite a few months, Karen Warinsky…

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Karen Warinsky

KAREN: This poem “Spoken Word” was published this summer in Deep Wild Journal and appears in my new book Gold in Autumnalso released this summer and published by Human Error Publishing.

Spoken Word (For Wendy)

Two young, single girls on a Saturday,
your old station wagon named George
and your black lab named Blue,
we were feeling good and free
as we set out toward
Issaquah
to get out of the city
out of our 9 to 5
and into an adventure.

It is years ago now.
I remember I didn’t have
hiking boots,
just my old college snow boots,
scuffed faux leather with red laces and spongy souls,
and it was fall,
cloudy and dramatic like it is in the Northwest.

Hiking deep into the trees,
off of an old logging road
we came out on a ledge,
sat to eat our sandwiches and
my 35 millimeter rolled down to the bottom of the ravine,
but smart Blue went down and got the thing.

After lunch we hiked a little higher
and there was a moment when we both stopped short
because we heard it at the same time.
Not a sound,
but a thought coming from
a giant fir tree,
and you grinned at me
because trees always talked to you,
but it was my first time.

—Karen Warinsky (from Gold in Autumn*)

* Originally published in Deep Wild Journal

RON: Our next poet has become a loyal regular and a great friend to the Virtual Poetorium in the last few months. I understand from Paul that she will be sharing a short story with us tonight – please welcome Barbera Roberts!

BARBERA:

Pay Now or Pay Later

It was deep in the winter in the year 2000 on South Main St. Worcester. At the light where Chandler crosses Main a few homeless people stood around the Salvation Army shelter waiting to get out of the cold. Safe in our car Arthur said “I wish I knew how people end up like this.”

Next fall we were asked to become foster parents for three months for two young boys whose mother was a drug addict expecting her fourth child. Our own children were grown; we had been successful in our parenting efforts. We thought we could do a good job. After we passed the Corey, a social worker came by our house. She told us the federal government ended funding of long term foster care. Now Massachusetts had to decide after the first three months whether to pay for ongoing foster care or to return foster children to their mother or families.

Our two foster boys arrived with butch hair cuts, short sleeve shirts and no coat even though it was getting cold. One was in first grade, the other in second. They were pretty smart boys. One could read Harry Potter as well as an adult. The other had trouble sequencing words when looking them up in the dictionary. Almost certainly he was learning disabled. The teacher, his mother and his grandmother didn’t seem to understand when I told them this.

Each boy wet his bed – every night. So they washed their own sheets each morning – stripping the bed, carrying the sheets downstairs, pushing them over the top of the washer, climbing on a stool to reach the controls. The bed wetting never stopped during the three months they were with us.

Both boys always urinated with the bathroom door open. After the first two or three times I said, “Boys, you are old enough to close the door.” But they refused to close the door. In order to get them to finally close the door I had to pull the shower curtain back and show them no one was was hiding there.

Daylight Savings time changed to Eastern Standard time. It was now dark when we ate supper. We had been having dinner at the table, saying grace from readings from a nondenominational book. The younger one’s chair at the table backed on the next room which was now dark due to the time change. Anxiously he kept asking me to change places with him. “I want to sit where you sit,” he would say. He kept this up. Finally we realized it was the darkness behind him that worried him. I went into the next room and turned on a light. He relaxed and ate supper.

We enrolled both of them in gymnastics. They excelled at the sport and were athletic and fearless. But soon they dropped out. Just did not want to go any more. So we signed them up for karate and bought the uniforms and took them to classes. Again their athletic promise was exceptional but again they quit.

One day we played an imaginary game. They wanted me to play a judge sitting in our black chair pretending it was the judge’s chair in a court room. They both wanted to play the part of prisoners on trial. (Now at this time their father had been arrested, convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail.) I was amazed at how well they played the role of a shackled man on trial shuffling imagined shackled feet making it appear hard to walk. Sometimes as judge I would sentence them to years in jail, sometimes I would let them off. After awhile I asked them to let me play the prisoner and have them play the judge. They were horrified. “No! No!” They exclaimed – the judge was the enemy.

On Sundays we took the boys to see their mother who was in an institution for pregnant mothers addicted to drugs. We remained on the sidelines and watched from a distance. All the various children from different foster homes cried, embraced their mothers, and expressed deep love with enormous depth and emotion. The meetings always lasted about one hour. Then the children had to say goodbye. They were tremendously tearful. We put the two boys in the back seat of our car and clicked them into their seatbelts. They went limp. Driving away I looked over my shoulder at the younger one. He was emotionally crushed slumped against the seat belt unable to speak, eyes casted down, immovable all the way home. The older one was out of my sight but I suspect it was the same for him.

Soon the three months were up. We returned them to their mother who was now out of the institution. A week before we had visited her in the hospital; she had given birth to her baby girl. As we were riding up to her hospital room we talked with a nurse in the elevator. “There are 60 drug addicted babies on the sixth floor,” she said. Our boys’ sister was among them.

Years went by and every once in a while we would hear from them. Once we were invited to visit their mom in Webster. We drove down to see her and the boys. As we arrived we saw an ambulance was outside her house. Their mother had overdosed, set her bed on fire, and was being taken to the hospital. A policewoman held the boys’ sister in her arms. We asked the policewoman where they were going to take the boys. She said “The police station”. We went along in support of the boys. I remember the younger one hypnotically playing a computer game. I went over and stood next to him. He said nothing but leaned up against me for the longest time.

We met up with the younger one by chance in Barre at a restaurant. He was with a different foster parent, other foster children and a male social worker. We spoke to them briefly. Everyone seemed uncomfortable. Hw seemed distant. But he came over to our car as we were leaving and when he was out of sight of his fellow foster children, and the social worker he gave us a huge hug and said goodbye.

We heard the older one was in a boys’ detention home in Fitchburg. We drove up to visit him. Eight children lived there. We got to visit him in the home’s kitchen. All the letters of the alphabet were on the wall along with a list of the house rules. He had been singing, was good at it but told us he was giving it up.

As they got older it was one foster home after another. One had been going to school in Webster but the school was late in sending his record to a new school in Western Massachusetts. He had to redo that year. In high school he got into the vocational school in Worcester but by this time he was two years behind. So he dropped out and joined the National Guard. He took the GED; he passed it without studying. On returning home from the National Guard, he didn’t make meetings. He had no car. He received a dishonorable discharge.

The other became one of the leading drug dealers in Worcester. Once both of them needed IDs to get a job – at least that is what they told us. So we took them down to the registry. I walked though the registry with the drug dealer while Arthur parked the car. About every 5 feet huge Black men would high five him implying great respect…each laughing and smiling to each other. Apparently he was somebody. I told him he had leadership abilities but was applying them the wrong way.

Each of the boys…now men..got addicted to drugs. One overdosed twice. Their father died in the basement of St. John’s church one cold winter evening. Their mother slept though that same winter under a trailer. Once she called us to help her dry her blankets at a laudramat. One spent four years in jail.

We wonder how it will all turn out. We have helped others get over other problems and they have gone on to live good lives. These brothers are still struggling. Is it early childhood abuse, the back and forth from foster home to mother to foster home? Is it an inherited condition? Is it our government’s system? Arthur says ,”You either pay for a good foster system or you pay for them to be in jail. Pay now or pay later”.

—Barbera H. Roberts

RON: Next up is Ariel Potter who has participated in every Virtual Poetorium so far with the only exception being the last one. Welcome back, Ariel…

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Ariel Potter

ARIEL:

Spring Rain

Today there was a storm,
Rain coming down like psalms murmured,
Droplets, laying in layers on slices of leaves,
Round and reflective.
Just as quickly, it ended.
The lawn, now fresh and wet,
A new painting just finished.

—Ariel Potter

RON: Next up in our virtual open mic tonight, please welcome the Poetorium’s good friend from California, Eugenie Steinman…

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Eugenie Steinman

EUGENIE: My friend John Kirby was the best friend a person could have. I wrote this poem to honor his commitment to his friends. He was not happy with the word practicality and wished I had left it out.

The Practically Perfect John Kirby

The practically perfect John Kirby
So dapper his name should be Dan.
The practically perfect John Kirby,
Will help you as much as he can
If you call John Kirby and say,
“I just murdered a man,
“and Kirby I’m scared of the can.”
He’ll say “Come on over I’ll think of a plan.”
He’ll open the door offering champagne and chartreuse,
“Drink this to prevent mental abuse,
“Now there’s gas in the Pinto,
“Course the Olds has the tape,
“I thought of a fine place for you to escape.
“And while you’re away I know a lawyer who’s gay,
“He’ll handle the case for very little pay.
“He’ll get you off ; you won’t even have to show,
“And there’s a great bar on the way, so let’s go.”

—Eugenie Steinman (from Persimmon: Poems and Recipes)

RON: Paul and I are both proud and pleased to announce that last poet in the open mic tonight will also be our featured poet in the October Virtual Poetorium next month. Please welcome to the podium, Meg Smith…

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Meg Smith (Photo Courtesy of Derek Savoia)

MEG: This poem is new, and has not been published anywhere. The title comes from a line in a poem I found in a jewelry box — Constancy of Numbers — and which  my late husband, Lawrence Carradini, had written for me. He was a poet and scientist, and served for several years as the president of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! I wrote this poem wondering what he would have made of our turbulent times. 

If Shadows Could Keep You
(In Memory of Lawrence Carradini)

It rains after midnight, and I lose all literacy. 
I reach for you in the least important ways — photos, poems 
written on bar napkins and the backs of placemats. 
We stood, once, at many subway stops.
We have found our way to all the right places, thus. 
It seems wrong — shadows walking that are
not your shadows, as if birthed by a foreign sun
lost from its home planets. 
It leaves to me only to put papers together
in the last of the light. 

—Meg Smith

RON: Okay, before I close out the show, let’s get back to the podium, my co-host and cohort in poetic crime Paul Szlosek…

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Paul Szlosek

PAUL: The poem I would like to share with you tonight was first published in the Sahara poetry journal about twenty years ago. I hope you will enjoy it..

Flitter (Flying Litter)

Outside the post office,
a slip of white paper
flutters from my pocket,
transformed by an errant breeze
into a satin moth soaring
in dust-gray skies.
I standing there motionless.
This unexpected spectacle of flight
forces the rusted gears
within my brain to revolve
(momentarily alleviating my guilt
about littering) and out tumbles
this never before remembered memory:

I am five years old,
satiated with Saturday morning cartoons,
flying newspapers in the blustering afternoon wind
(please understand I am not flying home-made kites
but single sheets of the Boston Herald-American
with no supporting frames of sticks,
no strings attached).
I simply spread each piece flat upon the lawn.
In seconds, they hover inches
above my head of tousled hair,
levitating like alluring ladies in a magic show.
I, the triumphant magician
wildly wave my arms,
urging their prone forms to float
higher and higher into the air.

My father rushes out of the front door,
intending to stop this act of childish mischief,
instead tilts his hairless head back
and gazes skyward, forgetting to yell.
His massive fingers, rough with labor,
enclose around mine. We marvel together.
A squadron of black and white rectangles
saturates the heavens. One by one,
they sail over the tops of trees,
vanishing forever from our sight.
Wordlessly, we turn back toward the house,
neither one of us wanting to consider
how each sheet of newspaper
will careen and crash back to the earth
to decompose in someone else’s yard.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Sahara)

RON: This, folks, is the last poem of the night and it always is so hard to do.  Paul and will have endure another month without seeing many of you.   And the last poem goes something like this:

Old Dogs and New Tricks

My eight year old self
wouldn’t understand
why I can’t make
my Ipad work
My seventy three year 
old self wants to
throw the damned
thing out
I’m beginning to 
understand why my
Father could never get
the red light on the
VCR to stop
blinking

— Ron Whittle (2020)

So long, everyone,
God bless and please be safe!
We need you back for the next show.
Good night Mrs Cowart, where ever you are!

See you next time….

10 Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Horace

“It is not sufficient to merely combine well-chosen words in a well-ordered line.”

“The poet must put on the passion he wants to represent.”

“Poets, the first instructors of mankind, brought all things to the proper native use.”

“It is no great art to say something briefly when one has something to say. However when one has nothing to say, and yet still writes a whole book and makes truth into a liar – I call that an achievement.”

“Every old poem is sacred.”

“Good sense is the foundation and source of all good writing.”

“One gains universal applause when mingling the useful with the entertaining, while delighting and instructing the reader simultaneously.”

“Mediocrity in poets has never been tolerated by either men, or gods, or booksellers.”

“Take back ill-polished stanzas to the anvil.”

“A comic matter cannot be expressed in tragic verse.”

—Horace

10 More Great Quotes About Poets, Poetry, and Writing by Matthea Harvey

“I think all poetry is accessible in a certain sense if you spend enough time with it.”

“I have poetic failures all the time. Many failed poems. I try not to publish those, though some have slipped into each book, since I can’t always tell they’re failures until later… or I don’t want to admit that they are.”

“I do love the prose poem because it’s such a perverse and provocative little box – always asking to be questioned, never giving a straight or definitive answer.”

“Poems can’t help but be personal. Mine are certainly an accurate blueprint of the things I think about, if not a record of my daily life.”

“To be a poet you have to experiment.”

“Poems tend to have instructions for how to read them embedded in their language.”

“I’m all over my poems, even if their relation to my everyday life is that of dream to reality.”

“Read widely (in and outside of your own genre), keep a notebook with you at all times. Do something that scares you every now and then. Try to locate your own frequency, knowing that one year your voice is on AM 532 and the next it’s on FM 92.8.”

“I’m interested in concrete poems – anything that complicates the line between the written and the visual.”

“As a reader I don’t distinguish between confessional and non-confessional work. After all, how do we even know that certain “I” poems are confessional? It’s a tricky business, this correlating of the speaker and the poet.”

—Matthea Harvey