The Farmer’s Son

photostudio_1590045944957
The Author From Over a Half Century Ago

Loyal readers (if indeed I do actually have any) may recall me mentioning in a previous post back in May a couple of good friends of mine, the very talented poet Curt Curtin and his wife Dee O’ Connor. In the last few months, they generously helped me put together my first real book of poetry, a still yet unpublished chapbook entitled The Farmer’s Son (I have been writing poetry for over fifty years, and believe it or not, this is my first attempt to gather together a volume of my poems for actual publication). Today I would like to share with you the title poem of this collection.

I am not sure if I can claim this poem written about my father Winslow Szlosek, who passed away 26 years ago last month, is the best one I ever written, but definitely my most award-winning and most published as well as a personal favorite, It won first place in The Landmark’s annual poetry contest in 1998, and as I understand one of the reasons why I was awarded the Jacob Knight Poetry Prize in 2001. The poem was subsequently published in Sahara (2001), The Randolph Herald (2018) and numerous times online. Here it is:

The Farmer’s Son

On a certain June evening,
unable to descend
into the shadowy depths of sleep,
I find myself back
in the back of a pickup truck,
seven years old and pining away
for the Saturday morning cartoons
I’ll be missing.

My mom’s at the wheel,
steering the old Ford
down the rock infested path
to the potato field.

My two sisters are already there,
so eager to begin, they are digging
with their bare hands, the soil accumulating
in back quarter moons at the tips of their nails.
And my dad, he’s perched high in the seat of the John Deere
staring straight ahead, as steel fingers
rake the earth behind him.

It’s our job to walk these trenches,
trying to tell the dirt-encrusted spuds from stones,
dropping our bounty in to burlap feed bags
slung over our shoulders.

I do not care to be here,
laboring under the morning sun.
I do not care for potatoes
except for their names:
Kennebec, Catawba, Green Mountain,
names too exotic, too divine
for such bland-tasting fleshy tubers.
I believe they are really the names
of foreign kingdoms,
lands of of untold wonders.

I am the farmer’s son,
but not a good one.
I am, by nature, an indoor child
grown pasty by the blue light
of the television screen,
a pale boy who prefers
school work to farm work,
who withers and faints
while picking string beans
in the summer heat.

My dad conceals his disappointment
in a son who does not share
his love for the land
he has toiled for his entire life.
Yet somehow he understands
and tries not to push me so hard.

Perhaps he recognizes
I am not a crop to be cultivated,
but more like a weed
which must spread its roots
wherever it pleases to survive.

And now once again,
it’s thirty years in the future,
the path I chose, led
not to the potato field,
but this cramped city apartment
where I lie in an unmade bed,
trying to come to grips
with the passing of my father,
harvesting longings and regrets.

It is soul, not soil
I dig through now
and what I uncover may not be
as comforting as potatoes.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in The Landmark)

Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed my poem “The Farmer’s Son”.  As a bonus (or perhaps a punishment?) for those readers who may be curious what I look and sound like now, please click here for a video of me reading it out loud.

The Streetbeatina Revisited…

IMG_20200705_221801

A little more than a year ago, I published a post on the Streetbeatina, a poetry form I originally created to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Street Beat, an amazing open poetry reading series  that was ran and hosted by Anne Marie Lucci, a talented local poet, in my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts for many years. At the time, since three of my streetbeatinas, along with a short history and explanation of the form, was just published in a prestigious online literary journal called Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge, I decided it probably wasn’t proper etiquette to republish those 3 poems or go into much details on how to write the form on this blog and instead just posted a link to the original publication on radiuslit.org. However I feel enough time has now passed to revisit the Streetbeatina and give instructions on how to write one using those 3 original poems as examples:

The streetbeatina is an eight line poem with each line consisting of eight syllables. What makes this form both a challenge to write and uniquely different from other forms is that the first syllable of the first line is repeated as the second syllable in the second line, the third syllable of the third line and so on, the repetition of the sound of the syllable at precise intervals providing the poem with a natural beat and musicality. Although it is completely optional,  the poet can emphasize the repeated syllable by either printing it in italics, bold, or a different color.

Three Streetbeatinas by Paul Szlosek *

Travel Advisory

Go unprepared into the world.
Forgo certainty. Pretend to
be cargo bound for distant ports
(perhaps the Gobi Desert? Mars?)
Travel by pogo stick or dreams,
a blank map: your logo. Treat the
unknown as your amigo. Or
ignore this advice, but go. Go!

A Message to a Married Middle-Aged Man
in Middle-Management in Mid-Life Crisis With Artistic Ambitions 

So few chances to start over,
go solo, cover past mistakes
with gesso, paint a new version
of your life (sophisticated,
worldly, yet also real) like a
truly virtuoso artist
living in a loft in Soho.
to replace one that’s just so-so.

Ghost Story

Local legends say if you go
solo into the deep dark woods
when the lotus blossom first blooms,
and the moon’s low in the night sky,
the girl in yellow will appear,
her lips mouthing “Hello, my love”
while lunar light spills like lotion
on skin translucent as jello.

*(Originally published by Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge )

Three Prayers & a Curse

IMG_20200527_172119Recently, a couple of good friends of mine, the very talented poet Curt Curtin and his wife Dee O’ Connor were perusing through Curt’s  sizable collection of local poetry publications, when they came across  an interesting literary oddity. In a wonderfully generous gesture, they graciously made scans of the pages of  it, a literally forgotten chapbook of mine from 25 years ago (at least I forgot about it) and  emailed them to me. Actually I did have a vague memory of it, but had no idea that any copies still existed. I do recall it was a handcrafted miniature chapbook (consisting of just 5 poems) created from a single sheet of folded paper and entitled Four Prayers and a Curse. As I read these scans , I immediately recognized three of the poems, including one that is still in my open mic reading repetoire, but the other two has apparently been completely obliterated from my memory. Although a bit embarrassed,  I do truly find these poems somewhat amusing in a crude sort of way and feel maybe the readers of this blog might too.  So I am sharing them with you today (omitting possibly the best one “An October Benediction for Baseball Fans” to post at a more appropriate time in the Fall). Hope you enjoy them!

Three Prayers & a Curse:

The Wall Street Prayer

Oh, Almighty Dollar,
The Lord of Loot,
Shallow be thy name.
Dow in Heaven,
Forgive us our Debts,
But put the squeeze on our Debtors.
Spare us Bears
But spur on the Bulls
For Greed is Good,
Greed is Great.

For all our earthly sins
May monetary gains compensate.

Amen.

Vegas Prayer

Lord, let my faith be as steadfast
as the atheist of unshakeable will,
who wagers all against the House
that there is no House
to win a jackpot
of nothing –
nil.

Amen.

The Critic’s Prayer

Oh God, give me a critical ear
So anything that it might hear
Which I do not understand,
I’ll dismiss with a sneer,
Make sure it gets panned.
Oh God, give me a critical ear.

Oh God, give me a critical eye,
So anything that it might spy
Which I don’t particularly like,
I’ll vilify & crucify
With a verbal spike.
Oh God, give me a critical eye.

Oh God, give me a critical disease,
So anyone who won’t do what I please
Or chooses to disagree,
I’ll infect with a sneeze.
Then they’ll think just like me.
Oh God, give me a critical disease.

Amen.

A Curse for Poets and Writers
(Warning: To Be Used Only Against
Ones You Truly Can’t Stand)

May a plague of plagiarists
Descend upon your unpublished work
And feast upon your experience,
Consuming your images
Until all you have left
Is the dried-out husks of words.

The Fourth in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

Red Mill2

This fourth in a series of beau présents written for my favorite poets is meant as a tribute to probably my ultimate fave – the one and only Thomas Lux (in case you haven’t read my previous posts on the form, the beau présent is an usually brief poem composed to honor a person that consists of only words formed from the letters in their name):

A Beau Présent For Thomas Norman Lux

Thomas Lux’s a natural author,
a most moral man (not a trashman
nor a smut mouth, not rash nor lax,
not sour nor ho-hum), a smooth
orator, an ultrasmart annotator,
a solo astronaut, a tutor to lost tarantulas.

Thomas Lux has an autonomous soul,
uses humor to summon truth
& rout out rumor, shouts out
marathon rants to taunt & harass
amoral morons, louts, & trolls,
or to honor an oath to mutual human trust.
.
Thomas Lux’s as hot as arson,
as sonorous as a sonata on an alto sax.
Lux’s our mantra, our motto, our north,
our south, our moon, our sun, our stars,
our sultan, our tsar, our start, our last
hurrah, our utmost, our total – our all!

Invented Poetry Forms – The American Sentence

IMG_2148 (5)

Today’s post is on the American Sentence, a poetry form invented by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the mid-1980’s as a twist on traditional haiku. Like haiku, American Sentences consist of 17 syllables, but instead of being arranged into three lines, they are written as a single line or sentence. They also may or may not have a title.

As far as the other rules of the form, there seems to be varying opinions. Many seem to feel the poem should be just one complete grammatical sentence, while others have written them as two, three, or four or even just as series of phrases. Paul E. Nelson (the poet most associated with the American Sentence, besides Ginsberg) emphasizes the use of concrete images though ones written by others often deal with abstractions. Ginsberg, himself, stated that the poem, if possible should mention either a time or place (or both) and the use of articles such as “a” and “the” should be avoided. But even he didn’t always follow the last suggestion as seen in these four of the original American Sentences composed by Ginsberg:

Nov 1991 N.Y.

Put my tie on in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate

—Allen Ginsberg

Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella

—Allen Ginsberg

On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium

At sunset Apollo’s columns echo with the bawl of the One God

—Allen Ginsberg

Approaching Seoul by Bus in Heavy Rain

Get used to your body, forget you were born, suddenly you got to get out!

—Allen Ginsberg

In comparison, here are four American Sentences that I attempted:

Boulevard Diner

The ham slices squeal on the smoking grill like the ghosts of dying pigs

The Sad Truth About Aging

To grow old is to witness your world being dismantled around you

The Gambler’s Mantra

Luck is a middle finger waved in the face of probability

An Urban Stroll a Week After a Winter Storm

Propelled by my feet, chunks of frozen snow skitter down gritty sidewalks

As you can see, some of my American Sentences adhered to some of the rules stated above, while some others didn’t at all. If you decide to try your own hand at writing one (I really hope you do), please feel free to pick and choose which rules you want to follow. The only vital rule that should not be ignored is that the American Sentence be 17 syllables and written in one line.

 

An Experiment Repeated (Rereading Old Notebooks and Resurrecting Forgotten Poetry)

001 (2)

Last year on this very date, I decided to go through my massive collection of old notebooks and journals filled with poems I penned, find an old poem I totally forgot about, and attempt to give it a new chance at life by publishing it on this blog. This is a practice I would encourage every writer to try at least once. Though revisiting your past words might prove to be quite embarrassing, it also helps track your progress as a writer. On this first anniversary of that post, I’ve chosen to repeat that experiment, settling on an even older piece which I estimate is about 25 years old. Rereading the following has proven extremely illuminating to me, showing me how much my writing has changed (and hopefully improved). Back then I was writing strictly in free verse, not yet having developed my fanatical obsession with weird poetry forms. Also slam poetry was a definite influence on me, although I didn’t really care much for that style (I still don’t), but it seemed like during that time slam poetry was the only type of open poetry readings that were happening in my area (the line about “greater Providence” is a reference to AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island which hosted a slam poetry venue I frequented). As a result, I heard a lot of angst-filled rants and I remember this poem being an attempt to parody that type of poetry even though it probably wasn’t much better than what it was trying to satirize. Truthfully, I don’t even think this poem is all that terrible. I sort of rather enjoy the building and construction metaphor which I later recycled in what I believe was a much more successful poem. Still, like its title indicates, it probably is an example of fairly bad poetry. But I am not sure, so please let me know what you think:

In Celebration of Really Bad Poetry

There is enough venom in my veins
to poison greater Providence

(or at least make their spirits sick)
and I have bled all over this verse,

flooding the foundation with
an ocean of my insecurities.

The previous metaphor
was so poorly mixed,

the whole damn construction
is structurally unsound,

and ought to be condemned.
So unsuspecting reader,

be forewarned, do not seek shelter
in this poem so full of holes,

the similes like a leaky
ceiling drip incessantly,

disturbing this slumber
I once thought was my life.

The Third in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

new olympus pictures 260b (2)

This third in a series of beau présents for my favorite poets was written in tribute to a poet I have adored since childhood, Ogden Nash. Because beau présents are composed only of words made up from the letters contained in the person’s name, I decided to expand the vocabulary I could use by utilizing his full name (did you know his first name was actually Frederic?). They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I have attempted to copy his familiar style with rhymes and irregular lines. I’m afraid the poem that resulted may just be nonsense, but hopefully, as fun to read as it was to write:

A Beau Présent For Frederic Ogden Nash

Frederic Ogden Nash
carried no foreign cash

(no francs, dinars, or Danish coins in his coffers),
ignoring his French granddad’s condescending offers

of finance,
and offended France.

The Second in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following beau présent, a poem written as tribute to a person by using just the letters of their name, is my humble attempt to pay honor to the wonderful Naomi Shahib Nye (in case you are not familiar with her fabulous poetry, lines 12 & 14 are intentional allusions to her poems “Bees Were Better” and “The Traveling Onion” respectively):

A Beau Présent For Naomi Shahib Nye

I am a boobish boy,
she’s a bonnie lass.

I am a baby, a bambino.
She’s a nanny, a mom.

I am a homeless hobo,
she is a shiny mansion.

I am a minion.
She is a boss.

I am an amoeba,
she’s an immense biomass.

I am honey (so messy).
She is a bee.

I am a banana,
she’s an onion.

I’m a noisy hyena.
She’s a mime.

I am no one,
she is somebody.

I’m a nebbish, an inane ninny.
She is my bohemian shaman.

By no means mean,
she eases my shyness,

minimises my mania,
banishes my insomnia.

I am me.
She is Naomi Shahib Nye.

The First in a Series of Beau Présents Written for My Favorite Poets

IMG_4056

Having received such an enthusiastic response to the two poems I wrote as examples of the relatively obscure French invented poetry form known as the beau présent on a recent post, I have been inspired to try writing an entire series dedicated to some of my favorite poets (warning: there are hundreds of poets I really adore so this may turn out to be a very long series). In case you have not read that particular post and have no idea what I’m talking about, the beau présent is a poem written to honor another person using only words made up from the letters contained in that person’s name. This very first one is my attempt at a heartfelt tribute to the brilliant Pulitzer-winning Serbian-American poet, Charles Simic (I hope you will enjoy reading it and be encouraged to try your own about your favorites):

A Beau Présent For Charles Simic

Charles Simic is so chill,
he’s as cool as chili-lime ice cream.
His smile is a classic semicircle,
his ears mimic small cameras.
I recall his earlier careers
as a clerical armchair researcher,
a Maharishi, a macrame messiah.
I cherish his mesmeric charisma,
I relish his harmless sarcasm.
He’s a shameless schemer,
a rare charmer, a seamless liar,
a serial rimer (all his similes are
sheer miracles). He’s a hammer,
a chisel, a seismic missile –
he smashes racism, he erases malaise.
His cashmere lies caress me,
his alchemical mercies shall heal me.
He is a real mishmash (as harsh
as Islam, as rich as Israel). He is America!

Invented Poetry Forms – The Anagrammatic Selfie

IMG_4369

Like the similarly-named acrostic selfie poem which I wrote about on this blog last April, the anagrammatic selfie is a short, usually whimsical self-portrait in verse. But unlike the acrostic version where the first letter of each line spells out the poet’s name, the anagrammatic selfie consists solely of words formed from only the letters contained in your name. So logically, the first step when writing one is to choose which variation of your name you want to use (this will also be the title of your poem). For example, if I just used my first and last names, Paul Szlosek, I could create a list of 333 different words to write my poem with, but if I add my middle name Michael, I would then have an even larger choice of 2724 (if you are one of those people that lack a middle name, you could substitute a maiden name, or a title like “Doctor”, “Mister”, or “Miss”). After deciding which version of your name you are using, you just start puzzling out all the words you can create with its letters. Just keep in mind a letter can be used in a word only as many times it appears in your name. In my case, I could not use the word pizzazz because in that word the letter z appears 4 times, but only once in my name Paul Michael Szlosek (however I could use the word pass since the letter s appears twice in Szlosek). To save time and effort, you may want to consider using an online word finder tool to create your word list (the one I would recommend most would be https://www.wordmaker.info). Once you have a list of at least a hundred words, start studying it to see if any words on it might suggest a certain pattern or theme to you. For instance, on my list, the words schlimazel, schlemiel, cellulose, calluses, and shoelaces caught my attention and inspired me to write the following:

Paul Michael Szlosek

Is a schlimazel, a schlemiel,
Has cellulose, calluses,
Smells like sheep’s pee,
Loses his shoelaces,
Lacks all social skills,
Is as musical as a homesick camel,
Helpless as Achilles’ heel.

So, please, POEM,
Please call Paul home.
Help him cope,
Heal his soul.
Help him hope.

Here is another one of my attempts at an anagrammatic selfie which I hope might serve as a model if you decide to try one for yourself:

Paul Michael Szlosek

He is so much like
A small, pale mouse.
He leaps up, escapes his maze.
Police mice chase him home.

So what do you think of this form, my friends? What I really love about this form myself is that the repetition of the sounds of the same limited set of letters gives your poem a natural sense of rhythm and resonance without you even trying. I really hope that you will try the anagrammatic selfie yourself. If you do, I am pretty sure you will be pleased with the results.