Paul Szlosek was born in Southbridge, Massachusetts, but currently resides in the nearby metropolis of Worcester. He was co-founder and host of the long-running Poet’s Parlor poetry reading in Southbridge and Sturbridge, as well as a past recipient of the Jacob Knight Award for Poetry. His poems have appeared in various local publications including the Worcester Review, Worcester Magazine, Sahara, Concrete Wolf, and Diner. He’s probably best known in the Worcester poetry community for his fanatical obsession with obscure poetry forms, and has invented his own including the ziggurat, the streetbeatina, and (most recently) the hodgenelle.
I was trying to find something appropriate to post today on this spooky holiday, and figured the following poem might just fit the bill. It originally appeared in We Are Beat: The National Beat Poetry Festival Anthology published last year, and I am planning to include it in a manuscript of my collected poetry I’m currently working on compiling tentatively entitled Pretense & Portents. I hope you enjoy it!
Night of the Walking Dead
No matter what George Romero or AMC Might have led us to believe, if the Dead, One night, should ever rise en mass from their graves, It won’t be because they developed A sudden hankering for the taste of human flesh. Rather, so sick of being still for so long, They’d simply wish to practice the advice Of their general practitioners postmortem, Stretch their legs and get a bit of exercise.
And who among us would not care to join Them on their nocturnal rambles, as they shuffle Down streets, amble across the countryside? The dead would be ideal walking companions, Silent, never interrupting our stroll, With inane conversation, complaints That their feet are killing them.
Yet where would we go, What routes would they travel? Would they seek out the familiar, Retrace the steps of their former existence, Slog through the old stomping grounds, Past the corner stores, the bars, the offices, The homes they once adored or dreaded returning to?
Or trek boldly into Robert Frost territory, Saunter down the roads not taken in Life, Proving Curiosity did not kill the cat, but resurrected it?
But no matter. Any ambulatory adventures with the Dead Can only end one way. As much as we try, The Living can not keep up. Someone is always dying. The Dead stride forward. We falter and fall behind Until they are a speck on the horizon, passing From our vision as they once did from our lives.
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in We Are Beat: The National Beat Poetry Festival Anthology)
Back in July, I announced on this blog that I had just made my first serious attempt at putting together a collection of my poetry to be published, a chapbook entitled The Farmer’s Son, and posted the title poem. The response from readers to both this news and the poem was so kind and enthusiastic, with many making inquiries about the current publication status of the book. I am sorry to report the manuscript has yet to find a home, but I remain optimistic, recently finding a few more leads of likely publishers. Meanwhile, I like to follow up by posting another poem from the chapbook, which was originally published about 20 years ago in the poetry journal Sahara. Thank you everyone for your continued support of this blog & my poetry and I hope you will enjoy the poem…
Summing Up the Fifties
Only in the center of this last century, would we find our fathers driving such monstrous vehicles with machete fins and blinding chrome cruising down highways and freeways all leading to the new frontier of sweet suburbia. Everywhere, we saw free-flowing forms, the sinewy curves of kidney-shaped swimming pools, boomerang-shaped coffee tables, and, of course, Jayne Mansfield & Marilyn Monroe. Famished eyes could feast upon an ever-present palette of powder pink and charcoal gray,with smatterings of turquoise and topaz for dessert. No lack for color then, except for faces glimpsed on television sets, men of drab suits and minds, who saw the world as if it were a newspaper, an embarrassed skunk a zebra with sunburn (black and white and Reds all over), forming their House Subcommittees to name the names and flush all the color out.
“The writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation.”
“My feeling is that poetry will wither on the vine if you don’t regularly come back to the simplest fundamentals of the poem: rhythm, rhyme, simple subjects – love, death, war.”
“For poets today or in any age, the choice is not between freedom on the one hand and abstruse French forms on the other. The choice is between the nullity and vanity of our first efforts, and the developing of a sense of idiom, form, structure, metre, rhythm, line – all the fundamental characteristics of this verbal art.”
“‘Love’ is so short of perfect rhymes that convention allows half-rhymes like “move”. The alternative is a plague of doves, or a kind of poem in which the poet addresses his adored both as “love” and as “guv” – a perfectly decent solution once, but only once, in a while. “
“Babies are not brought by storks and poets are not produced by workshops.”
“Generally speaking, rhyme is the marker for the end of a line. The first rhyme-word is like a challenge thrown down, which the poem itself has to respond to.”
“I don’t see that a single line can constitute a stanza, although it can constitute a whole poem.”
“A poem with grandly conceived and executed stanzas, such as one of Keats’s odes, should be like an enfilade of rooms in a palace: one proceeds, with eager anticipation, from room to room.”
“There is no objection to the proposal: in order to learn to be a poet, I shall try to write a sonnet. But the thing you must try to write, when you do so, is a real sonnet, and not a practice sonnet.”
“Writing for the page is only one form of writing for the eye. Wherever solemn inscriptions are put up in public places, there is a sense that the site and the occasion demand a form of writing which goes beyond plain informative prose. Each word is so valued that the letters forming it are seen as objects of solemn beauty.”
Having received such an enthusiastic response to my last post on the triolet, I figure it would be fitting to follow it up with one on its obscure and even shorter Portuguese cousin, the biolet. The biolet was invented by the Brazilian poet Filinto de Almeida and first appeared in print in his book Lyrica in 1887. It is a six line poem, and like the triolet, the first two lines are repeated as the last two lines, however in reverse. The rhyme scheme of the biolet thus can be expressed as ABbaBA (with the capital letters representing the repeated lines). The length of the lines, in my opinion, can vary, and be either metered or unmetered. Most of Almeida’s original biolets in Portuguese (I have only found a handful written in English on the internet) were in iambic tetrameter (8 syllables), but I, myself, have also been playing with iambic pentameter (10 syllables), iambic hexameter (12 syllables), and unmetered lines of random lengths as well.
I feel the key to writing a biolet is coming up with the first two lines, and then reading them in reverse. If they still make sense in the reverse order, creating the two remaining two lines of the poem should be a snap. If they don’t, try altering them until they do, or start fresh with two brand new lines. Writing biolets can be very fun, and quite easy to do. The subject matter can be almost anything, and the tone can be either humorous or serious. I hope my following examples might inspire you to write some biolets of your own:
From the Files of the Love Detective
Solving the case of your broken heart? It’s going to be harder than I thought. It seems your heart really loved a lot. and no clear clue why it broke apart. It’s going to be harder than I thought solving the case of your broken heart.
On an old gravestone, carved in slate, I read this menacing epitaph warning of our Creator’s endless wrath and all humanity ‘s eventual fate. I read this menacing epitaph on an old gravestone, carved in slate.
A Biolet for Those Who Cannot Sing
In his unrequited ardor for Fay Wray, I always empathized with old King Kong. Since he could not express his love in song, he had to show his passion in another way. I always empathized with old King Kong In his unrequited ardor for Fay Wray.
Biolet for the End of Day
Each night, when darkness descends like a curtain, I light a single candle and start to pray. Yes, tomorrow will be another day, but of only that I can be certain. I light a single candle and start to pray each night, when darkness descends like a curtain.
A Frozen Memory
On a chilly afternoon in late November, I stood at a kitchen window and watched it snow, And although that was over fifty years ago, For some unknown reason I can still remember I stood at a kitchen window and watched it snow On a chilly afternoon in late November.
As I get older, I frequently find that my failing memory is determined to make a liar out of me. This is definitely the case in a recent post entitled “Grand Little Things…” where I stated that of all the poems I have had published in my lifetime (besides those on this blog), just seven of them were my form poems (three steetbeatinas, a haiku chain, a ziggurat, and in the last two weeks, a pantoum and a quartina). Well, that statement isn’t actually true. I don’t know how it slipped my mind, but the very first form poem I ever got published (which was almost two decades ago) was indeed none of those forms, but a traditional triolet. And since it’s been a while since I wrote a post on poetry forms, I figure that it would be a good one to discus today, even though many of you are probably already familiar with it.
The triolet, thought to have been invented by minstrels in 13th century France, is a brief poem of eight lines, with the first line being repeated as the fourth and seventh lines and rhyming with third and fifth, while the second line serves as a refrain in the eighth and final line and rhymes with the sixth. In other words, the rhyme scheme of the triolet can be expressed as ABaAabAB (with the capital letters depicting the repeated lines). The length of the lines themselves can vary, but are usually metered, most commonly written in iambic tetrameter (four feet or eight syllables) but almost as often in iambic pentameter (five feet or ten syllables).
My very first published triolet appeared in the very first issue of Concrete Wolf: a Journal of Poetry in the Spring of 2001, being the inscription on the title page (an honor more likely due to its wolf theme than the actual quality of the poem). Since I was (and still am) quite terrible at meter, you can see my awkward attempt at iambic tetrameter (with the exception of the third line which contains nine syllables instead of eight):
Yellow Wolf Triolet*
Amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone, a yellow wolf howled through the night. In this urban land, he lived alone amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone. In his lament, darkness shone brighter than incandescent light amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone. A yellow wolf howled through the night.
*(Originally published in Concrete Wolf, Spring 2001)
And although the above poem was my first published triolet, it definitely wasn’t my first attempt at writing one. My favorite and probably the best of these early tries is the following written in iambic pentameter (which for some reason I am more comfortable with). You may also begin to notice a pattern that most triolets follow, though not all – the word “triolet” is usually contained within the title:
The Thinking Man’s Triolet
Oh, sometimes I think I think much too much, though others might claim I don’t think enough. Pondering imponderables and such, oh, sometimes I think I think much too much. Perhaps my pensiveness is just a crutch to do nothing else but sit on my duff? Oh, sometimes I think I think much too much, though others might claim I don’t think enough.
Because of the repetition and the fact it turns only on a pair of rhymes, the triolet is relatively simple to compose. If you can come up with the first two lines, the rest of the poem practically writes itself. So the most difficult part is deciding what the first and second lines will be. A trick I have often used is to think up a single sentence that can be easily split into two self-contained phrases or lines. Since the subject matter of a triolet can be almost anything (usually it is humorous but Thomas Hardy proved you could also write them about serious matters as well), inspiration can be found everywhere. For instance, I was recently reminiscing about episodes of the classic Star Trek TV series I saw as a kid, and soon the next poem was born:
First time I heard of a doomsday device was on an old episode of Star Trek. I didn’t think the concept was so nice first time I heard of a doomsday device – it’s like setting fire to a block of ice or slipping a noose around the world’s neck. First time I heard of a doomsday device was on an old episode of Star Trek.
I myself find movies and television as a great source for ideas for poetry. The title of my favorite film of 2020, “The Vast of Night”, spurred the succeeding triolet (if you haven’t seen this fantastic movie yet, you can still catch it on Amazon Prime Video):
Let’s wander through the vast of night, never knowing where we shall go. Guided toward a distant light, let’s wander through the vast of night, and if we’re lucky, we just might end up in a place we don’t know. Let’s wander through the vast of night, never knowing where we shall go.
This final triolet happened when the phrase “higher you climb, better the view” inexplicably popped in my mind, and I was able to work backwards to create the preceding line:
There are some folks who may say that higher you climb, better the view, yet it’s always poor where they’re at. There are some folks who may say that you can’t climb if the landscape’s flat, and don’t believe it’s really true there are some folks who may say that higher you climb, better the view.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my humble triolets, and will listen to my pleas to please trying writing one for yourself. I am sure you will be pleasantly pleased if you do, and will soon find it developing into the most wonderful habit…
“I try to avoid calling myself a poet because I think that’s something someone else has to call you. It’s like bragging.”
“I don’t know if we ever have enough distance to “see” our own trajectory. We’re in the muddled middle of it. Who knows what will last, what poems will take hold of the imaginations of the future.”
“The changes that have occurred in poetry have been minor when you look at it over the scale of human time. It’s like a rose, maybe a hybrid with color and size differentials, but the same genus, plucked from the same original blowsy family.”
“I write to invite the voices in, to watch the angel wrestle, to feel the devil gather on its haunches and rise. I write to hear myself breathing. I write to be doing something while I wait to be called to my appointment with death. I write to be done writing. I write because writing is fun.”
“Who you are contributes to your poetry in a number of important ways, but you shouldn’t identify with your poems so closely that when they are cut, you’re the one that bleeds. You are not your poetry. Your self-esteem shouldn’t depend on whether you publish, or whether some editor or writer you admire thinks you’re any good.”
“Every good poem asks a question, and every good poet asks every question.”
“I think what life experience has brought to my poems is compassion. When you work hard to make a living, raise a child up into the world, fail at marriage and try again, teach and fail, travel and fall, become ill, well again, weak but grateful, you learn patience, forbearance.”
“The more that accrues, the more depth, weight, and breadth we can bring to the poems, which we then need to throw overboard so we don’t sink.”
“I don’t worry anymore about writing. There are times that I go through dry periods. I never go through a block. I’m always writing, but there are times where I’m just not on my game, and I’ll use that time to read some new poets, go see some art, walk down to the river and just stare at it, or have a conversation with my sister, or whatever – do whatever it is that I do in my life, hoping that I’ll get filled up enough. And something will happen, some juggling will happen and boom.”
“I feel deep gratitude for the life poetry has allowed me to live. I know the life I could have lived without it. Both on the physical plain, and the soul plain. Poetry helps us endure.”
I am not sure about you, my fellow poets, but when sending out my poems to literary journals for possible publication, I have always seemed to have a far easier time getting my free verse poetry accepted than my form poems for some reason. Until recently, among numerous publications, only five of them have been my form poems ( three steetbeatinas, a haiku chain, and a ziggurat, a poetry form I invented which I have yet to discuss on this blog). So I am so pleased to announce that last week I have had another two more published in a brand new online publication called Grand Little Things. Instead of me trying to tell you what this great new publication is like, this is how the editor and publisher Patrick Key describes it in his own words on the About page of the publication’s website:
“Grand Little Things is a journal that embraces versification, lyricism, and formal poetry that focuses on anything, be it the expanse between the minutia of everyday life, to revelations on how we got here or why we use a thing called language. Grand concepts like spirituality, reality, existence are welcomed. So are little things like emotions and human relationships. Or maybe you write about nature? GLT wants to read all formal poems, be they grand like the sestina or little, like the couplet. GLT caters to formalistic, stylized poetry, but it is welcome to invented/nonce forms as well. Heck, as long as there is a strong sense of versification – does the poem sing? Is the imagery vivid and serves a purpose? Does the poem have meaning? Or does it do away with such concepts? – it will be considered…’
If you are so inclined, please read my two poems published on GLT hereand let me know what you think. The first “My Personal Poultry Apocalypse” is a pantoum, a Malaysian verse form popularized by French poets in the 19th Century and the second “Hated by Horses” is a quartina, a variation on the sestina, but using a set of only four end words instead of six. What makes this publication even sweeter is that these two poems are from my new chapbook “The Farmer’s Son” for which I am currently looking for a publisher. It seems that my first choice mandates that at least half of the poems of any manuscript submitted must be previously published, and with GLT’s publication of these two poems, that quota has been met and I can now send my manuscript on to them. Yay! And while you are there, be sure to check out all the great formal poets and poems they have published so far, and seriously consider submitting yourself! Like me, I am sure you will be happy that you did…
I am so pleasantly shocked to discover that Tanya @ Wildflower Walks and Garden has nominated me for The Inspiration Blogger Award! I want to sincerely thank Tanya for this incredible honor! I really enjoy reading her blog because Tanya has such wonderful posts and some of the most loveliest photographs of flora I have ever seen.
1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to his/her blog.
2. Answer their questions.
3. Nominate up to 9 other bloggers and ask them 5 new questions.
4. Notify the nominees through their blog by visiting and commenting on their blog.
5. List the rules and display the “Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award” logo.
6. Provide the link of the award creator of Ideal Inspirational Blogger Award as Rising Star from Ideal inspiration. https://idealinspiration.blog/
TANYA’S QUESTIONS FOR ME
1. What do you like to blog about most? Obscure and unusual invented poetic forms.
2. What’s your favorite kind of bird? So difficult to answer because I have so many. As a child, I was obsessed with yellow belly sapsuckers, turkey vultures, and cocks-of-the-rock, but right now I am very nostalgic for the common barn swallow.
3. How many books have you read this summer? All the way through? I guess four, all volumes of poetry.
4. Have you been to another country? If so, where? Never, but I do long to visit Australia.
5. What’s your favorite flower? Probably portulaca also known as the moss rose.
MY NOMINEES are these blogs that I enjoy reading and are constant inspiration to me:
1. What is your favorite decade for music?
2. What is the one thing in your daily routine that you would never give up?
3. What is your favorite quote?
4. What is your favorite comfort food?
5. What is the subject of your favorite daydream?
CONGRATULATIONS to the nominees! Thank you for your wonderful and inspiring blogs!
“Every poem I write falls short in some important way. But I go on trying to write the one that won’t.”
“Writing and reading are the only ways to find your voice. It won’t magically burst forth in your poems the next time you sit down to write, or the next; but little by little, as you become aware of more choices and begin to make them consciously and unconsciouslyyour style will develop.”
“If you want to be a writer in the world you really have to sit down and say, Why do I want to do this and why was I drawn to it to begin with? And keep reminding yourself to return to that original impulse.”
“A poem is like a child; at some point we have to let it go and trust that it will make its own way in the world.”
“To write without any awareness of a tradition you are trying to become a part of would be self-defeating. Every artist alive responds to the history of his or her art – borrowing, stealing, rebelling against, and building on what other artists have done.”
“We aren’t suggesting that mental instability or unhappiness makes one a better poet, or a poet at all; and contrary to the romantic notion of the artist suffering for his or her work, we think these writers achieved brilliance in spite of their suffering, not because of it.”
“Poetry is an intimate act. It’s about bringing forth something that’s inside you whether it is a memory, a philosophical idea, a deep love for another person or for the world, or an apprehension of the spiritual. It’s about making something, in language, which can be transmitted to others not as information, or polemic, but as irreducible art.”
“I would say my life experiences are my poetry, whether I’m writing about those actual, factual experiences or not.”
“Good writing works from a simple premise: your experience is not yours alone, but in some sense a metaphor for everyone’s.”
“There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I’ve found to be true: writing begets writing.”