Invented Poetry Forms – The Cascada Veinte

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

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

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

One Is the Loneliest

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

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

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

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

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

—Brad Osborne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Paul Szlosek

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

Night of the Walking Dead

Happy All Hallows’ Eve, everyone!

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)

Summing Up the Fifties

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.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Sahara)

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

It’s been quite a while since I published my last beau present written for my favorite poets on this blog, so today I am posting my fifth in the series (for those who need their memories refreshed,  the beau présent is a brief poem of French origin intended as a tribute to a person which consists of only words formed from the letters in that person’s name). Comparing this one to the first in the series honoring the poet Charles Simic certainly provides evidence that not all  beau présents are created equally. For instance, for some reason, although Charles Simic has only two more letters in his name than John Hodgen ( an amazingly talented local poet from the Worcester, Massachusetts area yet who is also nationally known that I am attempting to pay tribute to), I was able to come up with close to two thousand words as vocabulary for his  beau présent while I could barely scrape together a little more than a hundred for the one about John. Because of the limited pool of words I could use, the resulting poem turned out a bit more on nonsensical side than I would prefer. The other major difference is that Charles Simic does not know who I am, but John certainly does, so I am really risking insulting him with a bad poem (actually I did email him a copy, and never heard back, so that is definitely not a good sign). However I pray my humble effort does somehow reflect John’s keen sense of humor (John is probably best known for his poem “For the Man with the Erection Lasting More than Four Hours”) and that he wasn’t too badly offended by the following beau présent:

A Beau Présent For John Hodgen

Oh no! John Donne gone?
No doggone gogo dojo?

No dodo hen egg eggnog?
No hood donned, no edge honed.

No good deed done. Heed no one –
No neon god, no hoodoo hedgehog,

No odd noodge (he no good).
Oh, go jog! Nod & ooh.

Go do good, go end godhood,
dodge ego (none needed).

Invented Poetry Forms – The Biolet

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.

Final Warning 

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.

Traditional Poetry Forms – The Triolet

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:

Doomsday Triolet

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):

Nocturnal Wanderings

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:

Ascension

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…

The Farmer’s Son

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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…

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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

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Recently, 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

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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!