People-Watching at the No-Name Diner

Photo by Michael Goad on

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you a poem that I wrote which originally appeared in the premiere issue of the Concrete Wolf journal of poetry close to twenty-one years ago. I sincerely hope you enjoy it…

People-Watching at the No-Name Diner

While digesting two cheeseburgers
and a side order of fries,
you begin to speculate
on the circumstances of strangers,
assigning stories to the unfamiliar faces.
The scraggly fellow with a pen
becomes a millionaire poet
transforming the lunch habits
of the working poor
into the ultimate metaphor
for the nature of existence.
And the throng of giggling adolescents
at the table to the left are plotting
the overthrow of the Archdiocese,
starting with Saint Ignatius’ School
for Wayward Girls. But soon,
you find your attention shifting,
dwelling upon the two figures furthest from you:

A stick-thin girl, midway through her teens,
and a bearded man, at least a generation removed.
They could be father and daughter,
or illegal lovers, wedged into one side
of their corner booth like paupers
in Potter’s Field. They sit graveyard still,
motionless as upright corpses,
neither daring to disturb the ghosts
laid buried in their silence.

Something is strangely amiss,
someone should be there,
her presence or the lack of it,
a gaping hole in this tableau.
Although you hear no sobs,
see no tears,
you can sense their mourning,
their grief, thick and black
as smoke wafting up
from the grease-splattered grill.
And you must look away out of respect
for those who might be dead
and those who simply wish to be.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Concrete Wolf)

Introducing My New Color Photography Blog “Paul’s Wonderful World of Color”…

“Dream Big Dreams” by Paul Szlosek

Happy New Years Everyone!

I started this blog “Paul’s Poetry Playground” almost three years ago and have been posting my black and white photography on my WordPress blog “Gargoyles and Grotesques” since 2013. As the new year of 2022 begins, I have decided to create a brand new site to start sharing my color photos with you as well (my usual approach to color photography has been heavily influenced by the super-saturated hues of Kodachrome, which I sorely miss, but occasionally I also use color in a more subtle way)…

If you are curious, you can check out my new blog “Paul’s Wonderful World of Color” here (and please consider subscribing):

Thanks so very much,

Paul Szlosek

Our 2nd Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium For December 28th, 2021

Hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and will have an equally fantastic New Year!!

I want to thank my fellow blogger Diane Puterbaugh 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 and Friend

PAUL: Good evening, everybody! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas?

Welcome to our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium! I really appreciate all you kind folks taking time away from your hectic holiday schedules to be here tonight, as well as all those who supported and participated in the Virtual Poetorium throughout the past year. Like last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium, tonight will be a bit different than our usual show since there is no featured poet or interview, but instead, we will have two virtual open mics featuring Holiday-themed poetry and stories (one before and one after our break) and of course, the good old group poem. We will also be suspending the usual one work limit per person for each open mic.

This year, Joan Erickson, a long-time fixture in the Worcester County poetry community, and a wonderful friend to the Poetorium passed away on May 20th.

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Joan Erickson (1937-2021)

Regular attendees of the Poetorium may recall that Joan generously donated the beautifully-crafted wooden podium that her late husband Bob originally built for the  Poet’s Parlor (a poetry venue that I once ran and Joan was a dedicated participant) to the Poetorium which we used for our live shows at the Starlite in Southbridge. Although she was never able to attend in person, she frequently participated in our virtual open mic including our first Ho-Ho-etorium. As a tribute to her memory as well as to her incredibly gentle slice-of-life poetry, I’d like to start tonight’s show with her three poems that she presented here last December…

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)

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: Now first up in our first open mic of the night is our good friend of the Poetorium, and the host of the monthly open poetry share at the Booklover’s Gourmet in Webster, Massachusetts, Bob Perry…

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Robert Eugene Perry

BOB: Hello Poetorium‭!

Here are two Christmas poems I recently read at Tidepool Bookshop for my Solstice feature.‭ ‬Both can be found in my most recent collection of poetry,‭ ‬Surrendering to the Path.

Born Anew

What is it that we await
to be born in us each Christmas day‭?

We hold our breath in advent’s hope
this year will bring the savior home.

Two thousand years of stories told
how can the message not seem old‭?

What new meaning finds its worth
in retelling the Messiah’s birth‭?

A new star risen in the east
to give hope to the lost and least,

the Word has come to impregnate
every fertile heart by faith

and Mary shows us in due time
we must each give birth to the divine.

—Robert Eugene Perry (originally published in Surrendering to the Path)

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 –

the gates of hell
and I whispered

–Robert Eugene Perry (originally published in Surrendering to the Path)

PAUL: Thank you, Bob! And now please welcome to the stage, a long-time regular of the Virtual Poetorium, Meg Smith…

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Meg Smith Earlier This Month After the Snowfall at Acton Arboretum in Acton, MA

MEG: It’s amazing how quickly the holidays seem to come as an adult, while as a kid they can’t come fast enough! I think during the winter festivities, people can feel a sense of drawing close together — but there can also be moments of solitude. A person can even be surrounded by family and friends and still feel alone. The following three poems, “Nativity on Boston Common,” “Forest Land,” and “A Man Watches Snow and Disappears”, are inspired by different scenarios of the solitary moments that can make themselves known, even as the holidays draw near…

Nativity on Boston Common

The gilded pillars of the theater
have drawn me up to heaven.
I remain within it,
even when crossing Beacon Street
to the T stop. My city is peopled
with the angels and ghosts of
my father and grandfather, and
my grandmother,
on a line at Schrafft’s Candy.
The Holy Family,
in blue and pink and silver,
draws my homage.
Their shepherds are men
in bivouacs of shopping bags.
One such is sitting in a wheelchair at the
entrance to the Green Line.
I give him my scarf.
My prayer is for us all to see
the other side of winter,
in the coming of new light.

—Meg Smith

Forest Land

This place holds gravity
in skylights
and spiraling conifers
in green, blue, red,
streamlets of white.
A frame conjures
Rod Serling and
his string theory —
binding an unquiet heart.
This is the place of
children and adults
not yet whole, but
in light, at least,
in the drop crystals
of heaven’s outer clouds.

—Meg Smith

A Man Watches Snow and Disappears

It’s this, each night, when white strands
unravel, but never reach the earth; something
catches them and draws them out again.
Such as that dance at a window strewn
with red ribbons, approximating joy.
There is nothing left to frame the winter,
no fading shadow in the frost.
There is only falling in silence.

—Meg Smith

PAUL: Thank you, Meg! Believe it or not. Meg was the last poet in our first open mic tonight. I will wrap it up with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…

The Meeting

After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
In the top of the uttermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Well, folks, I guess that is the end of our first open mic of the evening. We’ll be taking a really short intermission before we come back and I present tonight’s group Christmas poem (I’ll be skipping the presentation of the previously announced Secret Surrealist Santa Lists because no one submitted any this year). After that, we’ll begin the second virtual open mic.

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 was planning to replace the usual virtual vendor’s table with a virtual poet’s banquet table like we did for last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium. and asked people to contribute some imaginary food for a virtual poet’s potluck tonight. Unfortunately, since no one besides myself brought any goodies, I am afraid our poet’s banquet table is rather bare, but please feel free to grab a mug of my special hot beverage I concocted to warm us up on this chilly December night during the break before returning to your seats!

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Intermission Begins

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

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Photo by Paul Szlosek

Dollar Store Hot Mulled Mock Cranberry Cider Brought by Paul Szlosek

Perhaps not as tasty as actual spiced cider made from pure apple cider, but a lot cheaper and certainly better than a concoction fashioned from a “just add hot water” powdered mix which you would probably get if you ordered it at a coffeshop (the drops of apple cider vinegar is what gives it the “cider taste”). It will hit the spot and warm your insides on a chilly and can be thrown together in mere minutes from ingredients purchased at the Dollar Tree. An extra bonus is that it is sugar-free and perfect for diabetics and folks on the diet (if you do wish it to be sweeter, just add brown sugar to your desired level of sweetness).

64-oz. jug of Old Orchard Healthy® Balance (or equivalent brand) Cranberry Apple Juice Cocktail
One or two of apple cider vinegar (per each mug served)
Two or three lids full of Cafe’ al Fresco (or equivalent brand) Pumpkin Spice Low Carb Syrup (per each mug served)
Several shakes of powdered cloves and cinnamon or Chinese 5 spice powder

Pour as many mugs-full of Cranberry Apple juice cocktail as you wish to serve into a cooking pot, add drops of apple cider vinegar, lid-fulls of pumpkin spice syrup, and powdered cloves and cinnamon or Chinese 5 spice powder to taste. Heat on stovetop (stirring until the spices are no longer floating on the surface of the liquid) to the desired temperature, then pour into mugs and serve.

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Intermission Ends

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PAUL: Welcome back, everyone! I hope you are enjoying your hot spiced mock cranberry cider! Please find a seat and I’ll kick off the second half of the evening with the Christmas group poem.

As you may recall, I requested that people send in one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Christmas… ” to be compiled into tonight’s group poem. Since only Bob Perry and Dwayne Szlosek responded, our Christmas group poem tonight will be rather brief…

This Christmas…

This Christmas, after weeks of painstaking preparation,
like all the Christmases that came before,
will be over before we know it,
Will all the trouble and stress be worth it?
Yes, perhaps not for the actual presents exchanged,
but for fond, precious memories of friends and family
that we will store forever in our minds like all
those useless unwanted holiday gifts up in our attics.

This Christmas comes with caution
Like last year, masked and distanced
Yet Love takes many forms
Sometimes it is the thing we do not give
That makes the difference.

This Christmas… it is just me and my dad on Christmas Day.
I will fix a ten-pound turkey with mashed potatoes,
carrots, and gravy. Stuffing too with broccoli.
We will eat and eat on this day, then we will eat apple pie.
But most of all I will want my father on Christmas Day.
I do not want presents, I just want my 87-year-old father on this day.
Merry Christmas to me and to my 87-year-old dad!
Oh happy day for me! I am not sad…

Thank you Bob and Dwayne for contributing!

Okay, we can now start the second open mic. I will start it off with the poem probably most associated with New Years, “Auld Lang Syne” by the 18th-century Scottish poet, Robert Burns:

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine.
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

—Robert Burns

PAUL: Since the Ho-Ho-etorium is a celebration of Christmas and Christmas truly is family, please welcome as our first poet in our second open mic of the evening, a dear friend of the Poetorium and my actual cousin, Dwayne Szlosek…

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Dwayne Szlosek

DWAYNE: Hi everyone, I hope you all had a great Christmas! I know I had a fantastic Christmas…

Instead of the latest installment of NINE GUN BILLY saga, I want to give you two Christmas poems tonight:

Santa For a Day

Christmas is the cool time of the year.
A tree in the middle of the living room,

with lights and tinsel with glass ornaments,
that twinkle in the eyes of children.

Presents under the tree for you and family.
Can’t wait to open them on Christmas Day.

Oh, what fun it is going to be on that calendar day.
There will be lots of smiles throughout,

and around the Christmas tree.
Giggles and laughter, jumping for joy.

Right then, you’ll know you done your job
being Santa for a day…

—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 12\12\2021)

My Cat at Christmas

Christmas time of the year is a joyful time
when I put up a Christmas tree.
My cat climbs up
to the very top of it.
He becomes the star of my tree.
Yes, he is no angel,
but he keeps me stress-free.
by watching him do his dance
under the Christmas tree.
As the light blink on and off,
my cat changes colors,
to blue, to green, to red,
to orange and yellow.
How cute is that?
A camouflage cat at Christmas.
Wait until Santa sees that.
Santa may give me and my cat
extra presents because of that.
All I got to say about that
is to all of you in the audience:
“A Merry Christmas to all!
Ho, Ho, Ho…”

—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 12\10\2021)

PAUL: Thank you, Dwayne! Our next poet will be our good friend from Tennessee, Diane Puterbaugh…

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Diane Puterbaugh

DIANE: Here is a prose piece I wrote a few years ago…

Keurig and Santa

Wednesday night I dreamt that when I pushed the handle down on the
Keurig coffee machine, a podcast would start.

This may be a divine message to stop drinking so much coffee or to start lis-
tening to more podcasts.

In 1988 I was a bank teller. One of my customers was Santa. Really. When he
walked up to my window, he gave me his business card and was proud to be
Santa at Thalhimer’s Department Store in Richmond, VA.

Santa ate breakfast at Perkins this morning. Really. I would have taken a pic
of his red Jeep in the parking lot, but was too busy telling my husband to “be
good,” because Santa would be watching.

From our booth I observed everyone who walked by Santa (he was wearing
Levi’s and a blue shirt, by the way), said “good morning” and shook his hand.
“See,” I earnestly said to Ron, “everyone wants to stay on the nice list.”

I believe in Santa.

I believe in magic cards, too, even though my husband and the guy selling
them firmly told me, “no, it’s not real magic.” I still believe.

I believe in puppies and love and happily ever after.

I believe in rainbows and dreams (maybe not the Keurig podcast one) and in
that electricity when you hold hands.

I believe in tenderness, hope and “when you wish upon a star.”

I believe in the patient, tolerant smile my husband gives me when I tell him I
believe in all this stuff. Puppies and rainbows and electricity and the Keurig-
Ron is the reason I believe, so he better be good. Santa is watching.

—Diane Puterbaugh

Thanks. I wish you all a healthy and happy Christmas season!

PAUL: Thank you, Diane! Our final poet of the evening is the host of the brand new monthly Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading series at the Root & Press Bookstore and Cafe in Worcester, Joe Fusco Jr….

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Joe Fusco Jr. and Friend

JOE: The following are two traditional Holiday pieces in the Fusco household:

The King and Christmas Eve

“Elvis died on the toilet!”
My seven-year-old son announces at the dinner table
Christmas Eve.
We’re feasting on shrimp cocktail, stuffed lobster tails, and steaks with my mother and brother,
A Fusco holiday tradition we haven’t shared in
Twenty-three years.

“He was taking a dump and a man in black shot him in the head!”
My mom’s visit is quite a blessing,
She’s been hospitalized five times in ‘98.
My brother and I talk every Monday night on the phone,
But are rarely seen in the same building,
For security reasons.

“I’m not kidding everyone, that’s how Elvis really died!”
After strawberry shortcake, we relax in the living room and open presents.
My brother and I exchange novels containing explicit sex and graphic violence.
The family watches a traditional holiday video

“Took a dump and got shot. That’s how it happened!”
Mom stays the night.
My brother returns home to Webster.
My wife and I clean up fast and prepare for Christmas morning.
My son’s fast asleep with visions of sugar plums and a sweaty fat guy with long sideburns in a sequined jump suit dancing in his head.

Merry Christmas
Long live the King!

—Joe Fusco Jr.

2nd Night Worcester

We took the family to 2nd Night Worcester, the eve of New Year’s Day.
We arrived downtown around 9:00 p.m.,
Parking on Main St. was ample.
We walked over to the new improved Union Station but it was locked,
Ditto for Mechanics Hall.
We lit a candle for the six fallen firefighters in the United Congregational Church.
We bought sausage grinders from the vendor in front of Sh-Booms while waiting for the shuttle.
The night was cold but serene, a few bright stars twinkling in the dark sky.
Our children played hackie-sack on the Aud’s steps.
“What happened to the fireworks Daddy,” my nine-year-old son asked a little after midnight.
“There are no fireworks, my son,” I mused,
“Life is a series of minor disappointments. Expect nothing more.”
“We came the wrong night,” my 14-year-old daughter wisecracked,
“Daddy’s a moron.”
A little after 1:00 a.m., we walked back to our car, discovering the passenger-door jimmied.
Nothing was missing except our “Best of the Moody Blues”cassette, my wife’s favorite.
Driving down Route 9, I reflected on my forty-five odd years,
Looked forward to the new Millennium, then rear-ended a Shrewsbury police cruiser near Spag’s.
“Happy New Year, officer,” I offered after rolling down my window.
“License & registration, moron,” he replied.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

Merry Xmas!

PAUL: Thank you so much, Joe! By the way, I will be the featured poet at Joe’s Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading at the Root & Press on Thursday, December 30th. Hope to see you there!

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

I am going to close out the show this evening with the same poem of mine that I ended last year’s Ho-ho-etoriim (I hope you like 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 doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard.
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 multi-geared
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

2021, like 2020, was a difficult year for most of us, but you, my dear Poetorium 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, we will be seeing you all next year (perhaps not in January because I am contemplating putting the Poetorium on hiatus for that month, so I can recover from 2021, but sometime soon in 2022). As you probably know, my co-host and cohort Ron Whittle is still recovering from his recent cancer surgery, so please keep him in your hearts and prayers. Please take care, stay safe and healthy, and have the most fantastic, fabulous, and amazing New Year humanly possible!

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10 Great Quotes about Poetry, Writing, and Art by Sonia Sanchez

“All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’”

“The poem is the dance of the page. When you give it out to an audience, it has got to be there, pulling up, getting ready to soar, dance, spread itself, do the magic that needs to be done, to capture them, to make them enter your arena, and they don’t get released until you are at the end of that poem, then you release them. That’s the power that you and that poem will have over an audience. You’ve got to understand that there’s music in those lines and in those words. There’s magic in them. But there’s also authority in there. There’s also a responsibility—that is a part of what I teach, the responsibility that you have when you give these words out in an auditorium, in the classroom, to the universe.”

“I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people.”

“The joy of poetry is that it will wait for you. Novels don’t wait for you. Characters change. But poetry will wait. I think it’s the greatest art.”

“Poetry is subconscious conversation, it is as much the work of those who understand it and those who make it.”

“To me, poetry is many things. Poetry is life, it is water, it is earth, it is sound, it is music, it is language that allows us to stay alive. Poetry is ancient, it is new, it is old, it is current. Poetry is a baby’s smile when he or she is smiling at you. Poetry is a burp from a child who is well fed. Poetry is a kiss from your lover. Poetry is a handshake from comrades. Poetry is a hug. But most of all, poetry is a language that says, ‘stay alive, do not die on me, do not move away from life.’ Because poetry is life, and it keeps people alive.”

“Art… reacts to or reflects the culture it springs from.”

“What I’m trying to do is to tell young people that I teach them how to breathe before I teach the haiku. That one breath, that one breath, because the haiku keeps you alive. It keeps you going. If you learn how to breath the haiku, you learn how to breathe. If you learn how to breathe, you’re much healthier.”

“I probably have not killed anyone in America because I write, I’ve maintained good controls over myself by writing.”

“What is the beauty of the haiku is that it is not simplistic. The beauty of the haiku I just said is very complex. It reaches all the complexities of our life on this Earth. Peace – that’s a very complex idea, peace, so we can’t get it as human beings.”

—Sonia Sanchez

An Invitation to Participate in Our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium…

I am very pleased to announce that this month, we will be once again producing a special Christmas-themed edition of the Virtual Poetorium which this year we are dubbing our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium. And like last year, we would like to once again open it up for anyone who would to like participate and invite all 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. Unlike a regular edition of the Virtual Poetorium, there will be no featured poet, but instead, we will have two open mics — one regular and another for Christmas and New Year-themed work. Because of this, we are lifting our usual one piece per person limit and requesting that you send us up to three of your own original poems or stories (ones that have a Holiday or Winter theme are preferred though not required) either in a Word document file or pasted in the body of an email along with your name, any opening remarks you care to make, and where your poem has appeared if it was previously published to by Friday, December 24th. Also if you like, you can send us a photo of yourself (extra brownie points rewarded if you are dressed in a festive holiday costume) to be posted above your poems, but that is totally optional.

Our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium will be posted on the Poetorium website (and on this blog as well) on the last Tuesday of this month which will be December 28th, 2021. However, as always, like a normal Poetorium (but in this case even more because you, our dear friends and readers, are the whole show) for it to be successful, we really need folks to participate. So please, please send us your poems and stories!

We also need contributions to the Ho-Ho-etorium Christmas-themed group poem. If you would like to participate, please send us one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Christmas… “. All contributions (please let us know if you wish to have your name listed as a contributor or 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 Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24th.

Although we have jettisoned most of the segments associated with the Poetorium, like last year we will once again be including two special ones we created 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 could forget Anne Marie’s blonde brownies at the Jingle Mingle or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies at the Poet’s Parlor?), we will once again have a Virtual Poet’s Banquet table. Since this is an imaginary poetry reading in the form of a transcript, 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, we are utilizing a variation on the old surrealist game 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 called 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. To help inspire you, here is the list I created for last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium:

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.

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.

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!

10 Great Quotes About Poetry, Writing, and Art by Robert Bly

“You say to yourself, Well, this poem isn’t going to be any good, but I’ll write it anyway.”

“My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important, actually, than any of the poetry he writes.”

“Poetry keeps longing alive.”

“One day while studying a Yeats poem I decided to write poetry the rest of my life. I recognized that a single short poem has room for history, music, psychology, religious thought, mood, occult speculation, character, and events of one’s own life.”

“The language you use for your poems should be the language you use with your friends.”

“A poem in fact may be a sort of nourishing liquid, such as one uses to keep an amoeba alive. If prepared right, a poem can keep an image or a thought or insights on history or the psyche alive for years, as well as our desires and airy impulses.”

“Those of us who make up poems have agreed not to say what the pain is.”

“Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us close once more to the wellsprings of poetry.”

“When anyone seriously pursues an art – painting, poetry, sculpture, composing – over twenty or thirty years, the sustained discipline carries the artist down to the countryside of grief, and that descent, resisted so long proves invigorating. . . . As I’ve gotten older, I find I am able to be nourished more by sorrow and to distinguish it from depression.”

“The best poems take long journeys. I like poetry best that journeys–while remaining in the human scale–to the other world, which may be a place as easily overlooked as a bee’s wing”

—Robert Bly

Invented Poetry Forms — The Skinny

In today’s post, we will be exploring the Skinny, a short fixed poetic form created by Truth Thomas, a singer/songwriter and poet, during the Tony Medina Poetry Workshop held at Howard University in 2005. The skinny is an eleven-line poem in which all the words of the first line are repeated in the eleventh and final line. The words may be used either in the original order or rearranged. Also, like in a sestina, the words in the last line do not have to be the exact match of the ones in the first but can be variations of the root word (for example, with the word “confuse” you could substitute “confusion”, “confused”, or “confusing”). All the other lines of the skinny consist of just one word, with the second, sixth, and tenth lines being the same word. The main goal of the skinny is to try to convey a precise idea or vivid image with the least amount of words possible. Although the subject matter can be about anything and the tone may vary from humorous to serious, most skinnys that have been written so far deal with prevalent issues facing society today. I have found writing them can be quite fun, and even addictive as you can witness by the following numerous examples I ended up writing for you to use as models for your own:

Mysterious Sabbath

Last Sunday morning,
Last Sunday morning.

Strange Dreamscape With Felines

In these reoccurring convoluted dreams,
In these convoluted reoccurring dreams.


There are unfathomable things
Unfathomable things are there…

Poetic Truthseeker

Do I believe there’s some truth in all poetry?
I do believe there’s some truth in all poetry…

Am I Really a Snowflake?

Like a tender peach, my delicate ego bruises
Bruising my tender ego like a delicate peach.

Still Feeling Bad After All These Years

His guilty conscience still
His still guilty conscience.

Perhaps Poetry Is Meant To Be Misunderstood

A failure to communicate
A failure to communicate).

An Ancient Greek Philosopher Questions His Religion…

Who truly deserves the favor of the gods?
Who truly deserves the favor of the gods?

So dear readers, what do you think of the skinny? I hope you will find them as fun and fascinating as I do and will try writing some of your own. If you do, please consider submitting them to The Skinny Poetry Journal, an online poetry journal exclusively dedicated to this unique and wonderful poetry form (you will also find much better examples there than my own meager attempts.)

The Virtual Scaretorium For October 28, 2021

Happy Halloween Everyone!

I want to thank my fellow bloggers Diane Puterbaugh and John Ormsby for graciously accepting my invitation to participate in the Virtual Scaretorium which I am reposting from the Poetorium website below. It is a rather long read filled with some wacky, weird, and even spooky poetry and surprises (be sure to check out the time machine during intermission) but I think you will enjoy it…

Paul Szlosek Wearing a Homemade Halloween Mask He Fashioned From Papier-Mâché

PAUL: (Spoken in a very bad imitation of Boris Karloff) Good evening, every body!

Welcome to our very special Halloween-themed edition of the Virtual Poetorium which we are calling tonight the Scaretorium. As I scan the audience I spy the usual suspects, but there is one unfamiliar face who I surmise must be our special visitor all the way from scary old England, but I’ll talk more about that later. Unlike our regular editions, tonight there will be no featured poet, but instead, we’ll have an extra-long open mic to be divided into two sections, and since we have eight people on the sign-up sheet, there will be four poets in each. We are also lifting our usual one piece per person limit, so everyone can read up to three poems or stories. But before I call the first poet to the stage to read, I will kick off the show with one of my favorite poems by America’s 19th century master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe:

The Conqueror Worm

Lo! ’t is a gala night
   Within the lonesome latter years!   
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
   In veils, and drowned in tears,   
Sit in a theatre, to see
   A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully   
   The music of the spheres.

Mimes, in the form of God on high,   
   Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
   Mere puppets they, who come and go   
At bidding of vast formless things
   That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
   Invisible Wo!

That motley drama—oh, be sure   
   It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore   
   By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in   
   To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,   
   And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout,
   A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out   
   The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs   
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
   In human gore imbued.

Out—out are the lights—out all!   
   And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
   Comes down with the rush of a storm,   
While the angels, all pallid and wan,   
   Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”   
   And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

—Edgar Allan Poe

And now please welcome to the podium, a long-time regular of the Virtual Poetorium, and our featured poet from last Halloween, Meg Smith…

A Selfie by Meg Smith From Her Photo Series Called “The Bride Wore Dead.”

MEG: Inspired by two crows I saw perched on a balcony in Cobh, Ireland, this first poem really speaks to the grief of the pandemic, through the Irish observance of Samhain. Being first-generation, I’m speaking of the authentic cultural context — rather than the pop culture notion that Samhain, Beltaine, and other Celtic holidays are whatever the observer imagines…

Lovely Crows

I praise you, overlooking Cobh
from a wrought-iron balcony; 
the bones of trees at Hampton Court;
pumpkins in their rows of snarls in 
the dry grasses of Simeone Farm, 
I love you in your laughter,
and gossip, and flashes of night
in a year’s worth of Octobers. 
Call back the lost. The year
is filled with wailing.
Call back the lost,
through the falling veil.

—Meg Smith

I participated in the “Ghosts of Pawtucketville Night” tour offered by the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festival. Jack Kerouac’s Lowell of his upbringing is filled with ghosts, and the haunted presence of those lost before their time. This includes a neighbor of the Kerouac family, who now has a square named in his honor…

Houde Square

At last, a sign, to mark
the crossing in the blue
street lamps — shouts
in nighttime basketball games,
but only one poet
will catch every shade,
every spirit walking, shouting
in the twilight of the floodplain.

–Meg Smith

My final poem of the night was inspired by Valda Hansen, who was an actress who appeared in Night of the Ghouls, a film by Edward D. Wood, Jr., most famous for Plan 9 from Outer Space. In the film, she masquerades as a ghost as part of a con artists’ scam. But she is actually quite ethereal and poetic, a muse of horror camp…

Prom Ghost

In memory of Valda Hansen

Enough to frighten the kids
making out in the sedan
by the edge of the marsh — 
but more, still to love
your dance without breathing,
through your shadow house — 
not of this world, but
casting threads through
its night 

–Meg Smith

PAUL: Thank you, Meg! Next up is our Virtual Poetorium’s featured poet from last November, Howard Kogan…

Howard J Kogan

HOWARD: Halloween is not a topic I have written about, so here is an October poem instead:..


On an uncommonly warm October morning
mist-shrouded mountains dream of the Song Dynasty
crows stand in mid-air conjuring Canada geese,
who appear and disappear along ridgelines
apricot-colored leaves drift from quaking aspens

Last night an immense moon rose
through the trees like a spaceship
glazing the world silver
by morning it was gold.

—Howard J Kogan

PAUL: Thanks, Howard! We actually have three previous Poetorium featured poets with us tonight (the third, Diane Puterbaugh, will be reading in the second section), but now I’d like to read a wonderfully charming Halloween poem written by a fourth, Carl Sandburg, who you may recall we brought back from a hundred years in the past using a time machine I borrowed from my cousin Dwayne so he could feature for us this last June (more about that time machine later)…

Theme in Yellow

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

—Carl Sandbug

Now please welcome a good friend of the Poetorium, and the host of the monthly open poetry share at the Booklover’s Gourmet in Webster, Massachusetts, Bob Perry…

BOB: Hello Poetorium. Everyone knows that Halloween is when the computers become little gremlins. Caught this one on camera…

Bob Perry With a Computer Gremlin

Both my parents passed on in early October, 11 years apart. On the second anniversary of my dad’s passing I sat down at work and this became an insistent poem. It felt like they were there when I was writing it. What a gift…

October Ghosts

In October my ghosts don’t wait for Hallows Eve
They come early to check out this year’s foliage
To talk of times that were, reinterpreting memories 
As we walk through the forest, each moment
A grace I could not see while they were alive
They tell me nothing is ever wasted, ever lost
Pay attention to the way things come back to you
Spend yourself extravagantly, like these trees 
Let everything go and you will discover
You have had everything you needed all along.

—Robert Eugene Perry

Bodhicitta (Attaining great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the ego)


shards of glass, blue red lights road
slick with rain, viscous river of fluids
wailing sirens; other wailing, others waiting
staring deep not seeing not feeling gurneys
odd angles holding fractured forms shouting
rushing figures smoke inhaling crying out 
help is coming just hold on gasping 
overwhelming fumes vision
blurring, drift to
void – 


ghost or angel
soaking up your pain
bleeding out compassion
remaining present, keeping intention
holding on and letting go
simultaneous heartbeat
separation is the


rubbernecking tourists
grumbling at the logjam, making 
the sign of the cross as they pass – 
sacred and profane are abstractions
to the dead and dying – 
which in fact
every body

—Robert Eugene Perry

Here is something new…

I’m including this next one because it is the Scaretorium and this has the word “Hell” in it. Sorry, that’s as scary as I get…

Roadmap Out of Hell

To look within and own your sin – 
your past with all its demons 
A fearless search for truth will hurt 
but only for a season.

To stay awhile with all the guile 
digging through the layers 
It may seem vain but from the pain 
will blossom earnest prayers.

Beneath the mire your soul respires 
despite the suffocation 
Dung unearthed will prove its worth 
becoming your salvation.

With no regret, you place your bet 
and sing your darkest song 
The truth will out, there is no doubt 
you’re here where you belong.

—Robert Eugene Perry

PAUL: Thank you, Bob! And here is the final poet in the first section of the open mic, the host of the brand new monthly Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading series at the Root & Press Bookstore and Cafe in Worcester, Joe Fusco Jr.

A Computer Rendering of Joe Fusco Jr. as if He Was Wearing Skull Makeup

JOE: This is an older piece that I like to put out every Halloween…

Halloween Rations

My wife never buys enough candy for Halloween.

The family gathers at our house for sandwiches then everyone goes trick or treating except my 86-year-old mother and me.

“She didn’t buy enough candy again,” I lament.

“Just give one piece per costume,” my mother replies.

I feel like a gas attendant during the Carter administration distributing a Twizzler and Snickers to the more mature participants, but only one or the other to the adorable, naive little ones who won’t vandalize our property over my frugality.

By 7 p.m., I’m stuffing my hand into their pillowcases like a penny-pinchin’ Christian at Sunday Mass, so they won’t discover my meager offerings.

        (Let me digress: Years ago, when we first moved into the house, on a dark rainy Halloween night, just returning from a cruise of the Caribbean, not a stitch of candy in the cupboard, I was forced to give boxes of store-brand raisins for treats. For years after, kids avoided our house like lice and I received sly death threats in late October with Sidney Poitier analogies.)

 By 8 p.m., Mom and I are running on fumes, tossing quarters into their sacks from my son’s silver collection, then Long-Island potatoes, finally just dispensing sound advice from our porch like “Don’t be a fool, stay in school!”

When the family returns, all the house- lights are off. Mom and I are huddled in the back-bedroom over a candle listening to FDR on the radio.

“Is it over yet,” I ask my wife sheepishly.

“Yes, you moron,” she gently replies.

I gather my manhood and shuffle to the kitchen where I rifle the kid’s bags for Kit Kats and Nestles Crunch bars.

Happy freakin’ Halloween.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

PAUL: That was great, Joe! I thought it would be fitting now to close out the first part of tonight’s open mic with a poem I wrote as a sequel to the one I opened it up with — “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe. The poem is written as a Cascada Viente, a poetry form invented by Brad Osborne, who coincidently was our featured poet for our One Year Anniversary Edition of the Virtual Poetorium last March…

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 that 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

We’ll be taking a short intermission (something we haven’t done for a long, long while) in a couple of minutes before we begin the last half of our virtual open mic, but now it’s time once again for me to present this month’s Poetorium group poem as well as our final Poetorium monthly form writing challenge. This month’s theme was “This Halloween…” with people being asked to email us one to eight lines starting with that short phrase. All contributions were then compiled into the following poem which I’m afraid is rather short this month since we only received submissions from just Bob Perry and Diane Puterbaugh besides myself:

This Halloween…

This Halloween people hope for no snow in Syracuse
and that the temp. is under 80 in Memphis.

This Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis will star in Halloween Kills,
but perhaps after twelve films and four decades
there are some horrors that should just be left behind
in adolescence and others that should be faced head-on.

This Halloween night I will mourn the Halloweens
of childhood past as I wander the streets alone,
passing by trick-or-treaters wearing masks under their masks
beneath stars like pinholes punched in a perfect plum-hued sky.

This Halloween, just buy 2 bags of Snickers, because you know
you will eat through one of them before the 31st.

Thank you both Bob and Diane for contributing to tonight’s Scaretorium group poem!

And now it’s time for me to present, as I mentioned earlier in the evening, our very last Poetorium monthly form writing challenge in which for the last year we invited you to write in a different flash fiction or poetic form. I am sorry to announce that this will definitely be the final one due to dwindling interest but don’t worry, we will have something different to replace it starting next month. You might recall that last Halloween, we challenged you to write a six-word story?  Well, this month’s writing challenge was a variation on that. We invited you all to write a six sentence story or poem, preferably one with a Halloween theme (it could have included a title or not, the choice was up to you), but unfortunately only my cousin Dwayne Szlosek took up the challenge and submitted the following untitled poem:

Dracula’s a blood-thirsty fiend…
Frankenstein is the first to be the living dead…
Wolfman becomes a gypsy curse…
Mummies can be ruled by evil…
Witches can be ruled by the Devil…
They are all classic Halloween movies…

—Dwayne Szlosek

To tell you the truth, I was a bit disheartened by the lack of responses to this month’s challenge, and almost ended up not writing one myself but since I was the one who issued it, I felt it was my duty to present to you for your approval, the following hopefully chilling brief Halloween tale:

The Open Door

Arkham College photography student George Allenby was walking home from a Halloween photoshoot at Hope Cemetery along Webster Street at dusk when he first noticed the faint strains of “Radar Love” drifting from the century-old brick building in the distance. As he walked closer, he recognized the familiar voice of the early evening disc jockey of a local classic rock station blaring from the wide-open green wooden door of the Whitechapel Chemical Distribution Company. He thought “how strange, this is something you might expect to find on a warm summer evening in July or August, but not in the cool brisk weather of late October.” His first instinct was to call the police and report the incident of the open door, but he had forgotten his cell phone in his dorm room.  Although he knew deep within his gut that it wasn’t a good idea, curiosity got the better of him, so he poked his head through the darkened doorway and yelled “Anyone there?”, but there was no answer. As he unwisely entered the pitch blackness of the premises, the last thing George heard was the sound of ‘Stairway to Heaven” being cranked up to an ear-deafening volume as if to drown out any possible screams…

—Paul Szlosek

I hope you enjoyed this month’s submissions and want to thank Dwayne for being the lone submitter (besides myself) to our very last form writing challenge. As I said earlier, we will have something different to challenge you all starting next month.

Now I have a bit of a treat for you all. We will be taking a short intermission so you can check out the photos on display courtesy of Diane Puterbaugh and myself in a special Scaretorium photography show. Also, do you remember my cousin Dwayne’s time machine? During the break, you will have the opportunity to use it to travel back 45 years into the past to Edgar Allan Poe’s home city of Baltimore and attend a Halloween poetry reading held on the night of October 31st, 1976 at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Don’t be afraid to dawdle there and enjoy the poetry since you have a time machine and plenty of time to get back here for the second part of our open reading. By the way, you may notice the time machine looks very different since you saw it last June. That’s because while programming it for tonight’s adventure into the past, I accidentally hit a random button on the console and it morphed into a somewhat familiar-looking British blue police call box… Anyway, have fun and we will see you when you get back!

Intermission Begins

The Scaretorium Halloween Photography Exhibit

Photo by Diane Puterbaugh
Photo by Diane Puterbaugh
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek
Photo by Paul Szlosek

Dwayne’s Virtual Time Machine

Click Here to Travel 45 Years into the Past to Attend a Halloween Poetry Reading on the Night of October 31st, 1976 at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore Maryland

Intermission Ends

PAUL: Welcome back, everyone! Hope you all had fun during the intermission…

When we think of Halloween, we usually think of ghosts, witches, and monsters. And what kind of monsters? Usually the classic ones such as Frankenstein, werewolves, and vampires. Well, I’d like to kick off the second part of the open with one of my previously unpublished poems about one I doubt you ever heard of before…

The Ballad of the Goo Goo Ga Ga Monster

At the age of three, I died
constantly in my sister’s dreams.
Each morning, she would wake
and regale me with her nocturnal
visions of my demise, explaining
how the night before the vacuum
cleaner had ambushed me on the stairs
and thrusting its crevice attachment down 
my throat, had slurped my insides out.

Or how as I ran across the lawn to greet 
her home from school, her yellow school bus 
suddenly swerved and pounced upon
my measly form, reducing me to just
another oily stain upon the grass.

Much too young to be bothered by the fact
that to my sister these were not hideous
nightmares but pleasant dreams, I waited
anxiously for the next installment of my death, 
soon learning that these were not just random
exterminations by machinery gone haywire, but  
masterminded by the dreaded Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster.

Yes, the infamous Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster
with a face of pablum mush and breath
putridly sweet like baby burps, patron saint
of sisters with bratty baby brothers,
the Grim Reaper of the toddler set.

As weeks passed, my deaths became less frequent,
my sister’s subconscious slowly ceasing its hostilities
until  Mister Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga vanished 
without a trace from her morning tales.
So I was forced to scour my own dreams,
hoping to glimpse his festering face, 
but he would never show. I was cursed with 
sweet dreams of chocolate choo-choo trains, 
fuzzy-wuzzy bunny rabbits, and puppy dogs. 
The  Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster could not be
induced to make a guest appearance amidst
such nauseatingly wholesome company.

So here I am fifty years later, still obsessed with dreams 
not my own. Perhaps I just want to stare him in his eyes, 
and recognize my own mortality. Every story
I ever heard, every movie I ever saw
has had an ending, either happy or sad,
but my life, so far, has not. I just want
to be assured there will be a grand finale,
a slow fade into blackness, and the credits will roll
because how can you enjoy any story, no matter
how satisfying if you never know the ending.

Each night as I drift into slumber, I continue trying 
to conjure up the image of the Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster, 
but each night, I fail. Yet one evening in the (hopefully
distant) future, I will not. I will finally grasp
his disgustingly slimy hand and exclaim
like some star-struck fan “I’ve heard so much
about you. I am so pleased to meet you,
pleased to meet you at last!”

—Paul Szlosek

As some of you know, I have a poetry blog called “Paul’s Poetry Playground. About a week ago, I wrote a post inviting my readers and fellow bloggers to participate in tonight’s Scaretorium. Our next poet accepted that invitation, traveling all the way from Manchester, England to be with us tonight. So please put your hands together for a big first-time Poetorium welcome for John Ormsby…

JOHN: Hi! My name’s John Ormsby and I’m an aspiring poet with a WordPress account: MrOrmsbyAtLarge. Anyway, here are my poems:

Happy Meal

The female spider dines alone
For reasons chilling to the bone
Perhaps more dates would turn out right
If she could curb her appetite

—John Ormsby

High Stakes

Should I love you
Take hold of you
Our first kiss would be your last
Blood pulsating
Seeping, sating
Taking more than I had asked.
This lifeless life out of the sun
Exiled from God’s own plan
Its beastly feast that’s fit for none
Was not how I began.
Still, you near me
Don’t you fear me?
I can pull you down to hell
No I’ll leave you
Let me grieve you
In that place where monsters dwell

—John Ormsby

Watch Your Tongue

When canny cannibals suggest
You call round as a dinner guest
You’re right to feel suspicious 
They’re hoping you’re delicious 
And if the book next to the pan
Is ‘How To Serve Your Fellow Man’
It’s time to quit the venue
‘Cause guess who’s on the menu?

—John Ormsby

All three of these poems appear on my blog:
Cheers, Mates!

PAUL: Thank you so much, John. And now please welcome a long-time Virtual Poetorium regular to the podium…


My First Halloween

My first Halloween started when I was young so very early in life, all I ever wanted to do is die like in all of those Halloween movies on FREAKY FRIDAY’s all of us wanted to be that way even if they were all boys, mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers for bringing us too, this planet and I just want you to know good luck and have a safe and Happy Halloween one and all.

Kids passing out candy, kids passing out candy and party’s, parties that we go to always invite us there. Great costumes that I didn’t even know who they were judging the costumes, bobbing for apples, playing ghetto games and Halloween masks that become us.

Trick or treat the smell my feet give me something good to eat. Goes out to every doorstep for candy and parties for goodies and pizza. Some wear costumes or make-up.

Later at night those who walked home would seal their doom. You could feel the slash felt real good to your sick descended souls. The shuddered screams of Horror as the blade crosses the thoughts of boxes yet to be opened while you finally get home you’re only tired of giving up the fight.

Looking at your goodies in your goodie bags that you got from each and every door. Some surprises and toys that you can share with your family and friends. It’s past midnight and you can feel the evil lurking at your own door. You can hear the moon scream while all the while you shudder every thought about the THRILLER NIGHTS.

You can go to your room just because the sounds you hear can make it. Watching the screen. While Freddy and Jason take the terror off the screen. And all the while you are watching and you feel something hit you hard.

—Mishelle Goodwin


Freaky Friday just before you change the number on your dial “What” Let me take you home. O.K. Micheal just one thing though I’m not like the other boys? The shrill of thousands screaming sounds and while you both are laughing you walk through the woods and it is very dark you are suddenly paralyzed. HA HA HA HA HA.

—Mishelle Goodwin


I hear the dogs howl,
The voices scream,
And all the while
The pitter patter of little feet
Saying Trick-or-treat!

—Mishelle Goodwin

PAUL: Thanks, Michele! John isn’t the only poet to come a long distance to be with us this evening. Please welcome our last month’s feature, trekking in all the way from the great state of Tennessee, Diane Puterbaugh…


October 2021

It’s Autumn now
the sun moves faster
slanting through the back door at 7:03
then the kitchen at 11:11
and finally the laundry room at 6:15

Celebrities ride in rockets
gravity touts itself as a tourist destination
satellites zip across the Corona Borealis-
a rush-hour of shooting stars

Orion, raised in perpetual aim
toward a target orbiting down range
long shot
moon shot 
covid shot

—Diane Puterbaugh

PAUL: Thank you so much, Diane! And now last but not least in the Scaretorium open mic, my cousin and the man who loaned us his time machine for tonight, Dwayne Szlosek…

Dwayne Szlosek Dressed in an Improvised Halloween Costume

DWAYNE: I hope you are all doing well and a Happy Halloween to you all! Due to the holiday Halloween, I thought  I would give Nine Gun Billy a break this month and give you two Halloween poems on this October evening instead. I hope you all enjoy them both…

Make Me Rich

Open your door.
Put a green bottle in the threshold.
Just say these words six times and six times more,
and just to be sure say it six more times
in front of your door:

“I’m not rich, I’m not poor.
I welcome all spirits to my front door.
Make me rich instead of making me poor.
I will let you stay in my home forevermore.
I will cast a spell so no one can break or can 
Make you leave my home. 
Oh, hear me spirits at my front door,
Make me rich instead of making me poor…”

—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 3/29/2021)

It Is Halloween Night

You’ll gasp with delight in every bite
You make on Halloween night.
Because you are a vampire
living in a neighborhood,
Looking out your window,
Seeing those sugar-sucking
Little monsters going to every house
Looking to pluck that sugar-sweet candy
From the bowl and put it into their bag.
They will say “Thank you
And we will not egg your house.”

On this occasion,
As they look up at you,
You look down on them and say
With a snickering laugh
“Thank you, and  I will
Not  bite you tonight,
My pint-size little snacks.”
And smile with delight,
Making them all wonder
What does that mean?
It means it is Halloween Night…

—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 8/23/2021)

Thank you all for coming tonight and have a safe and happy evening!

PAUL: Thanks, Dwayne, that was a lot of fun! As most of you know, Ron Whittle, my regular Poetorium co-host and cohort, is battling the return of his bladder cancer and can’t be with us tonight. But before I close out the show with a poem of my own, I’d like to share one of Ron’s with you. The following poem is the one he read to open the Virtual Poetorium last Halloween…

Halloween 2020

The end of Autumn howls
in the dark of the night
When shadows take flight
to wrap themselves around
tombstones, trees and such
A time for the dead
to reappear
as ghostly mortals
to haunt the imaginations
of whose who challenge
the night
near the old town cemetery
Lights flicker
wind chimes ring out a scary tune
and a fog appears
out of nowhere
An erie sight to see
as caskets lay opened
behind the veil of night
Creaking gates
Tomcats screech
and church bells
ring out a warning
at every step taken
beware the ghouls behind you
and the specters in front of you
As doorbells ring
and door knockers rap
Fear what is on
the other side of that door
as treaters descend onto
sidewalks full of tricksters
in full regalia
planning to trick you
into giving them sweets
in exchange
for safe passage into the night

—Ron Whittle

The final poem of the evening is one that I wrote many years ago. It is both a 26-word abecedarian and a magic spell. I hope you will enjoy it (and it doesn’t work)…

A Bloody, Creepy, Definitely Evil, Frightening,
Ghoulish Halloween Incantation

A Black Cat’s Dandruff,
Elderberry Flowers,
Giggle, Higgle, Intestines Jiggle.
Karloff’s Lurking Monster,
Necromancers’ Occult Powers.
Quabala, Rubella, Salmonella.
Tonight, Unspeakable Voodoo, Witchcraft…

Xalabombies, You’re Zombies!!!

—Paul Szlosek

Thank you so much everyone for participating in the Scaretorium! Have a good night, a scary but happy Halloween, and see you back here in November!

A Virtual Poetorium Interview With Poet Jonathan Andersen

Poet Jonathan Andersen

The Virtual Poetorium interview with James R. Scrimgeour, which I reblogged here on this blog in August, was so well-received that I decided to follow it up today with the interview Ron Whittle and I did with the poet Jonathan Andersen that originally appeared in the very first Virtual Poetorium published on March 31, 2020 (I hope you will enjoy reading it)

Jonathan Andersen is the author of Augur (Red Dragonfly Press, 2018), which was the recipient of the 2017 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2019 Connecticut Book Award in Poetry. Other books include The Burden Note, (Meridian Prize, 2014), an English/Serbo-Croatian chapbook, and Stomp and Sing (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2005). He is the editor of the anthology Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U.S.A. (Smokestack Books, 2008). He has been a featured reader throughout the eastern United States, the United Kingdom, and Serbia, including at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, the 49th International Festival of Literature in Belgrade, and the 42nd Smederevo Poetry Autumn. His poems have appeared in print and online publications, including Blue Collar Review, The Café Review, Chiron Review, Connecticut Review, Counterpunch, Exposition Review, Freshwater, HeART, Here, North American Review, The Progressive, Rattle, The Worcester Review, and others. For 12 years he was a high school English and special education teacher, and since 2008 has been a professor of English at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson and Willimantic, Connecticut. He and his wife, fellow writer and educator Denise Abercrombie, live in Storrs, Connecticut with their two sons. Jonathan’s books Augur, Stomp and Sing, and Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U.S.A. can be purchased online at his website Jonathan Andersen — Teacher/Poet by clicking here.

A Virtual Poetorium Interview With Poet Jonathan Andersen

RON: Thank you once again, Jonathan, for agreeing to do this! My first question is what or who got you involved in poetry?

JONATHAN: Before poetry, or necessarily bound up in poetry, is a love of language and its possibilities, so I’d have to say my parents were the people first responsible for my involvement in poetry, even if a little indirectly, because they read to me and my twin brother every night, or almost every night, when we were very young. I can remember, vividly, lying in my bed, listening to the summer night sounds from the open bedroom window, thinking about Stuart Little out there in the dark somewhere, searching, motivated by love. I always tell my students at the college, with all the urgency I can muster, to read to their children.

Public education also got me into poetry. In sixth grade, Mr. Novinski did a poetry unit which culminated in every kid in the class publishing her or his own collection of poems. And when I was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, I was fortunate enough to meet a few professors — especially James Scully and Joan Joffe Hall — who saw something in my writing to encourage. Even more importantly they kept sending me to the library stacks to read. They introduced me to poets such as Jim Daniels, a Detroit poet who was writing powerfully spare poems that had forklifts and time clocks and economic struggle. That poetry could so fully admit my reality was absolutely a revelation.

RON: Who is your favorite poet and why?

JONATHAN: I can never really answer this question because there are so many. Here’s a sampling:

William Blake is a major influence, for his energy, and profoundly human vision (even in his supernatural excesses).

Langston Hughes should be important to everybody for his combination of tenderness and fearlessness, qualities which are gathered together in “A Dream Deferred,” but run throughout his work.

I always come back to the Polish poet Tadeus Różewicz’s book The Survivor and Other Poems for its spare, defiant humanity.

I am an enormous admirer of June Jordan. Her work had such wide emotional range and she kept putting poetry into community, into life, seamlessly blending her art with her teaching.

I admire poets who are ambitious. I don’t mean ambitious in a careerist or entrepreneurial sense; I mean that they are always trying to get at something deeper, bigger, more true, in terms of craft and content. You can’t always swing for the fences, but I gravitate to those poets who try to take on in some way the big questions about what it means to be human, and try to develop or expand the ways poems can be up to the task.

RON: Does your poetry hold any secrets that you would care to share with us?

JONATHAN: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Kidding, obviously. I think actually that some of the secrets I haven’t found out yet, and some of the secrets won’t be mine, but will belong to the reader or listener. I don’t mean to mystify — I don’t admire mystification — it’s just that there’s more to find out, and often there’s more to what we’re writing than we realize at the time. We find out what that is if we’re lucky.

RON: If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?

JONATHAN: “Sublime.” No — kidding again. “Genuine” is my real answer.

RON: So, Paul, do you have any questions you’d like to ask Jonathan?

PAUL: Thanks, Ron! Yes, I do! Jonathan, do you have a writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?

JONATHAN: I try to catch time when I can. I’d like to say I have a more disciplined routine, but I don’t.

There’s still hope, though — I’m only fifty. I want to be better at following the advice I and all writing teachers give to our students: regardless of your exact writing strategy, your first process should always be to just let go of the inner censors, the ghostly voices of past English teachers or critics or whatever and just write.

Two other aspects of my process that are really essential for me: I meet with a writers’ group. I am fortunate to have been able to be in long-running groups with writers I admire and trust.

Finally, my wife is a poet and writer, and we read each other’s work, we admire each other’s work, and we critique each other’s work. Even more importantly, we navigate this life together, and the writing comes out of life.

PAUL: There are so many things I’d like to ask you, but to keep this interview relatively short, I just have one more question. What advice would you have for someone who is just starting to write poetry?

JONATHAN: Be curious. Read widely. Be open to critique. I also like the advice at the end of Gary Snyder’s poem “For the Children”: Stay together. / Learn the flowers. / Go light.

An Invitation to Participate in the Virtual Scaretorium…

I believe it’s been several months since I last mentioned the Virtual Poetorium on this blog, but be assured we haven’t discontinued it. In fact, I am very pleased to announce that this month we will be producing a special Halloween-themed edition which we are dubbing The Virtual Scaretorium, and would like to open it for anyone who would like to participate, inviting all my fellow bloggers and faithful readers (or just anyone just happening to read this) to be a part of it. Unlike a regular edition, there will be no featured poet, but instead will have an extra-long open mic to be divided into two sections. Because of this, we are lifting our usual one piece per person limit and requesting that you send us up to three of your own original poems or stories (ones that are scary or have a Halloween theme are preferred though not required) either in a Word document file or pasted in the body of an email along with your name, any opening remarks you care to make, and where your poem has appeared if it was previously published to by Saturday, October 23rd. Also if you like, you can send us a photo of yourself (extra brownie points rewarded if you are in costume) to be posted above your poem, but that is totally optional. 
We also need contributions to this month’s Poetorium Group poem. To participate, please send us one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Halloween… “. All contributions (which will remain anonymous unless otherwise requested) will be compiled and included in what we are calling this month the Virtual Scaretorium Group Poem. Once again, the deadline for submissions is the night of Saturday, October 23rd.
We will also be continuing (at least for this month) our monthly writing challenge in which we invite you to write in a different flash fiction or poetic form (it is very likely that this will be the very last one due to apparent dwindling interest). This month’s writing challenge is to write a six sentence story (your story can include a title or not, the choice is up you), and once again, a Halloween theme is suggested.  The only rule is that your story (or poem if you wish) must be written in exactly six sentences. The sentences can be extremely short or long. Also remember, in case of a poem, we are talking about sentences, not lines (sentences and lines are not the same since a sentence can run on for more than one line). I am afraid I don’t have any examples at this time for you to use as models, but I’m confident you probably don’t need any in order to write one. Please send us your best efforts to by Saturday, October 23rd to be included in the Virtual Scaretorium.
Also if you wish, please feel free to send us any of your own original scary or Halloween-themed artwork or photos to be displayed and shared during our virtual intermission!
If you have any questions about submitting to the virtual open mic, the group Scaretorium poem or anything else about the Virtual Scaretorium itself, please leave them in the comments, and I will try to answer them right away.
Thank you so very much, my dear friends! We would really appreciate your help to make the Scaretorium a success, and look forward to your participation. Please take care, stay safe, and try to have a very scary but fun rest of October!