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)…

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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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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….

14 thoughts on “Introducing the Virtual Poetorium…

    1. Thank you so much, Brad! As always, you are so kind and generous. Having read your About page, you seem to be a fairly private person, so I am not sure how you would feel about being interviewed, but I would be honored if you might consider being a featured poet in an edition of the Virtual Poetorium in the near future?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would consider it a great honor to be involved in any way, Paul! Thank you for the consideration. You can find my email on the contact page, if you need to communicate directly. Again, thank you for all you do in promoting poetry as the art form it is.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Looks like you two are rolling with it and it’s chugging along very nicely! I skimmed this month’s program transcript and very much enjoyed what I read and will keep my eye out for future editions. Maybe this winter I will send you an email to become part of the Poetorium.

    Like

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