Publication news (after a fashion)

Quite a while ago, I actually got published (in a fashion)! Not paid, but you can go to the site/blog and find my poems for yourself.

If you follow the comments on this blog, I have received several peopleʼs approbation for my verse — and from strangers, mind you, not people I already knew. One approver is a huge fan of the poetic form I have presented here four times now — the villanelle. One of my (in my opinion) best  poems is a villanelle, which I posted here all the way back in history on October 6, 2009 — when nobody but me was reading this thing. I was desperately putting up poems of all kinds earlier this year when I had resolved to force myself to write something each day by posting daily for as long as I could keep it up. The second villanelle appeared on January 18, 2010, receiving a lot of attention (relatively speaking, of course, “a lot” for me and this blog). At that time I figured it was the only other villanelle I had ever written (it was the only other one I remembered without looking then). That was the one that caught someoneʼs eye, and he made a very favorable comment, inquiring about reprinting it on his site about a week later.

It took me a while to respond to his generous offer, mostly because I was actually writing creative stuff like stories daily in those days, but I accepted, pointing out to him that I had other villanelles as well, particularly “Busy Music.” He also took a while answering my e-mail, but when he did, he offered to print both of the ones I had previously published plus a third one that I had found in my poetry file and posted on January 22. And eventually I located a fourth (and still presumably last) villanelle, appearing on the blog on March 10.

Well, the news is that you donʼt have to click the links to see my posts of these poems, you can instead go here, to Christos Rigakosʼs site and look me up among the real poets (and others more like me).

His site is “The Villanelle: a blog about all things Villanelle.” And if you click here, mine come up as the featured poems. Even if my name, predictably, varies.

Check it out (repeatedly). I am sure that he, like me here, would appreciate the (multitudinous) hits your (repeated) visits would create.

On a Monday, as I head off to another day of handling Census documents and payroll forms over and over and over and over and over, it has been nice to recall (and of course bring to your attention) my little bout of unpaid publication outside a school or academic setting.

And, speaking of web publication, I donʼt think I have won the Twitter-story contest for which I wrote 21 words in 120 characters. So here is that story in its entirety for your delicatation:

“Twitter sucks,” he said and shot the fool who’d suggested anything of value could be said in fewer than 140 characters.

(I think I at least can see why I did not win anything with that.) And as recent posts have run long (and as always self-indulgent), Iʼll keep this one short. Happy Monday, and have a good week, all.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

How Many Villanelles (am I going to find)?

Startlingly, I keep finding old villanelles I have completely forgotten writing. This one should, however, prove to be the last (and in my own view, the least). I actually located it about three weeks ago when I went through the poetry folder (you can see it in the photograph here) and dictated about a dozen poems into computer files, copying ten over to WordPress to save as the bases for future posts (like this one). It has been awhile since I last inflicted one of my poems on you, silent readers (truly, not many comments considering the number of hits both WordPress and the map widget record), and I do have to work half the day today as well as flee the house in the morning for its biweekly cleaning, so it’s time for another poem, I guess. And a final (?) villanelle.

Let’s consider this one an experiment that led to some of the more successful villanelles (which you can read here, here and here). It is also like an addendum or commentary to “Freya’s Steel,” an impossibly convoluted (and therefore challenging) poem that seems to be or becoming—as I reflect on my poetry-writing phases now—quite central to my poetic imagery and concerns. I had seen Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man series on television (PBS) that year (I believe it was that year and not earlier), and many things about his historical overview of the development of scientific thought/perspective and technology stimulated my imagination. (I bet they still would; I saw one episode rebroadcast several years ago as part of a PBS retrospective package, and although Dr. Bronowski looked quaintly old-fashioned in that godawful Seventies clothing and the quality of the video looked antiquated as well, as older films always seems to do, even though they looked modern and clean in contrast to older stuff in their own day, the episode still enthralled me.) In particular, repeatedly, since the series was rebroadcast soon after I moved to Maquoketa (but after I got a television set), the episode that included his analysis of steelmaking, via Japanese swords. The complexity of the process and the necessary complexity to transform pig iron into steel through carbonization and doubling (take a look at the epigraphs to “Freya’s Steel”) and redoubling the steel billet under hammering and heating, fascinated me. Layers seemed to me at the time to be the essence of art (or at least artistic or aesthetic experience), and I wanted a poem or any artistic creation or experience to be not an onion but something more crafted (so the sword image worked brilliantly).

I am not sure I can summarize or objectify all the things that the blade of steel came to signify for me, and in “Freya’s Steel” I was deliberately and consciously wrapping it around all sorts of things—snow, love, isolation, craft and art, seasonal change and weather…

This poem uses that same set of imagery, as you will quickly tell.


Thanks, BBC — rather appropriately

The quicksilver sunmusic binds air and ice,
upon my unsubstantial surface forges you,
and bends sight, soft like steel, behind our eyes.

A wet wind roars from bright skies,
seeks pure elements to weave through
the quicksilver sunmusic, binds air and ice.

A simmering magic boils anciently wise
in this fleshy cauldron fired by thoughts of yew,
and bends sight. Soft like steel, between my eyes,

I have a warped work and weather. Into my cries
a bubbling rune steams primevally new
the quicksilver sunmusic, binds air and ice.

I have struck you flaming frozen out upon my thighs:
with my tongue I’ve twisted, shaped and rolled you
to bend sight soft like steel between their eyes.

All I know in say and all I do are lies.
Thus you in my windhand will shrive them through,
for the quicksilver sunmusic binds air and eyes
And bends sight soft like steel behind your ice.

4 April 1976

30 September 1978

The speaker appears to be forging a poem (or maybe a relationship) in these stanzas. I think I am more comfortable that the addressed audience is a poem, but as long as “you” is not a person, maybe a relationship (if one can talk to a relationship, even as a figure of speech) will work as well. The creation process is like forging and smithing a sword or any piece of steel.

I am not sure why I decided to give it two dates. I only have this draft, so I don’t remember now how much of the poem as it stands was accomplished at either time.

On Sunday morning, while Janet—very unusually for her—lazed in bed for a while before officially arising. I read the second of the three parts in Samuel R. Delany’s Atlantis: Three Tales, a memoir of his youthful education in music (playing the violin), art and sex (if you don’t know about Delany, those three are not an unusual combination) as well as an essay in exploration of artistic form and beauty, expression and aesthetics. Not only did his eloquence and narrative/expository skill shame me—as always—but that memoir made me blush at the wordy and extensive shallow dredging of my past here in this blog. He deserves to be read…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Notes on earlier Posts

When I started posting some of my poems on the blog, mostly copied at first, like the retirement speech, from stuff I had posted as Notes on Facebook, I just put the verse in the post and left it that way. Now that I have gotten bolder at revealing some information about myself, I should update those posts. However, as infatuated with links as I am, it seems more fun to create a new post today and just link back and forth between those posts and here for the various  biographical and analytical remarks I may feel compelled to say (I haven’t thought up anything yet).

“Busy Music” (the first poem here and the first villanelle)

I should acknowledge that I did edit one post a little before I got this idea. Although I have had an offer to kind of/sort of publish one of the villanelles, “Busy Music” remains my favorite. I realize that I rely on near rather than actual rhymes in the first and last stanzas, but that imperfection is part of the pattern. I also like the neat storytelling the poem does within its limited resources of words and syllables.

The speaker admitted to love before being sure that was what he felt, then fell into the harness of a relationship (did indeed fall in love?) until the girl graduated (“commenced”) and found a larger life and more opportunities (“conjure other faces”). I like that the relationship is a waltz (a box-step). The poor speaker is still trapped in the emotions and relationship he effectively summoned on himself until he can fight free (“exhale my impassioned incantations”). As the third line asserts: love is mysterious magic that we don’t control—it controls us.

I think I should acknowledge that “the busy music bends us on our way” in allusion to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength) and the so-called “bent ones.” The direction life takes us, shapes us, may not be all for the best.

“Sanctuary” (autobiographical mythology)

The next poem, “Sanctuary,” is not quite ten years later. Although I did choose to center it in recent editing, it originally aligned left like any standard poem, and I was wondering what my readers thought. My eye likes the centered version, but I also think it makes it harder to read.

The story of this poem is pretty straightforward. A primitive, even savage speaker arrives at a temple, a building of a more civilized people. His own prehistoric rituals correspond to our archaeological evidence, while this new structure contains a pool of water in which he sees his own reflection (without realizing it?) and a statue of a mother and child (either an overt Pietà or just some early fertility image). The image intrigues him but terrifies him with its possibilities; as he turns to depart, a religious woman, who strikes him as beautiful, appears. He hesitates between flight and remaining.

In my introduction to that post, I said it ends with a doubt, a question. Does he stay or does he go (to echo the Clash)? In truth, I know the poem answers its own question: the speaker knows it’s a statue, uses a huge civilized word—holographic—and has presented a poem.

Perhaps unpredictably, the poem did arise from life, although unlike the creation, in reality I fled.

Closing Rambles

I will keep it short for today. The ice of last week chained me to the house (and made walking to play rehearsals impossible: thanks for the rides, cast mates and Janet) so I got lengthy with many of those posts (and ones that were scheduled into this week). I also sat all day on Monday to finish “Details, Details,” and that fifth chapter got lengthy. Janet and I went to her one-year eye appointment for her detached retina this week and also went out for lunch, so I have actually freed myself from the keyboard a little. I even got a bit of substitute teaching today—reminding me that I should work on activities that might lead to financial compensation.So I will take it easy on you all and stop now.

Things have been on my mind of late (like the Cowardly Broadcast System and its unfair advertising policies), as Facebook followers might realize, that could, if not checked, have led to another “Foxhunt Friday” a day early, and no one’s ready for that right now.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


a third villanelle

the new iMac (with the unbelievably huge screen showing this very document)

I have been going through my poetry files, both physical and on the computer. Here on the new iMac that’s an issue because transferring here meant my arrival at System X (Leopard for me, 10.5.8), and jumping up from system 9 in a hurry caused me to transfer a whole lot of document files without extension suffixes, leaving the poor computer perceiving them as Unix files, executable as code in Terminal, not as WordPerfect, Word or AppleWorks text files (.wpd, .doc or .cwk). So I must either run between the old computer now in our basement and this one with a list of file types copied from the old one or just guess while sitting up here what suffix to add (which does interestingly often work). I had word-processed more of my poems than I had remembered (perhaps much to your dismay, faithful readers).

What do you know? I had forgotten I wrote as a villanelle this poem—arising from a one-night stand (would that be the right word? We didn’t think of such things then, back in the Seventies) with a young woman who rescued me one other collegiate (winter) night, when my aforementioned first big romance had in fact ended for certain and with finality. I found overnight shelter in the lounge (I wonder how illegal that was) of another girl’s dorm. The next day, she and a visiting high school friend of hers let me drive them to the Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, where I first found and bought Robert Graves’s The White Goddess. Later this blackhaired Irish beauty accompanied me to a community theater cast party in the woods down by the Skunk River (how romantic is that?) in the summertime…

I guess this is what comes of youth, broken dreams of some kind, romance and The White Goddess while one is living entirely on his own for the first time in Ft. Madison, Iowa, attempting somewhat unwillingly to become a teacher. I don’t think I wrote anything else quite as slavishly devoted to Graves’s ideas in the book—so much so that many of the references may make no sense at all to the uninitiated. Sorry about that (you could try clicking on the first White Goddess link above and checking out the Wikipedia content—which I just may have to edit, knowing more than whoever wrote it). However, I still think the poem sounds so darn cool.

Poe thought poems should be about ninety percent sound and ten percent meaning, which is why so many of his seem so simplistic in content (some, not all). Sound over sense can go too far in the other direction, though; probably I have.

Interestingly, in the last stanza, because I wanted the appearance (also an important poetic feature for me) of all those “c”s in the poem, I chose to spell Kabbalah in the weirdest (old-fashioned) way I would never do since. Also, reading it, I can see that this biographical introduction, which may truly impart too much information, might not be necessary. There’s more than one girl in my mind (or heart) in there…

So here is a surprising third villanelle.

Irish Honey, Ninety Proof

Kiss-cleft and raven-tressed: elder mare’s blood moon
joked conception sanctified, lit the stars that are your eyes,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

Solstice birth: twelve reeds before your naked feet were strewn
for you to trample, dexterous-sinister patterned ancient lies,
kiss-cleft and raven-tressed. Elder mare’s blood moon,

a horny halo, frames your hair, goddess of too soon―
crimson painted lancet nails, lips which need no dyes,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

Molten laughter, liquid love, freezes, severs every boon
and slips, an onyx knife, into breasts you touch with ice,
kiss-cleft, raven-tressed elder mare’s blood moon.

Tonguetip tastes tidbits by conversation’s scalpels hewn;
scythes of hawthorn are your words, wicked, witching wise,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

White one, hear this reedy sealike cabbalistic tune,
accept my sacrificial haploid blood, and rise,
kiss-cleft, raven-tressed elder mare’s blood moon,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

12, 23 April 1976

I really do just leap right over any immediate sense in this one (for not the only time in my poetry). I hope the sound does carry a reader through.  I could easily fill a year with old poems, so I hope the introductory and concluding remarks (rather randomly Dantesque—in the manner of La Vita Nuova—now that I get self-conscious about it) add to the interest and make reading these posts worthwhile.

The White Goddess in its old cover (the version that I bought back in 1975)

Hmmm, thinking to emulate Dante, I have already given a vague biographical background (really vague, but I didn’t want the title of this post to actually be valid). Maybe I should make some analytical remarks. I already hashed out what a villanelle is (and Wikipedia tells you much more). I’ll refer back to sound effects.

The vowels are meant to kind of flow, and the liquid consonants (“r” and “l” and “w” mainly in this poem, also “s” and soft “c”  and the nasals—“m” and “n”—and “v”) keep the riverlike flood of sound going, along with “h” . The plosives (hard “c” or “k,” “t”) work like rocks, creating rapids, with “d” and “b”—both plosives—intermediate for me.  As for the situation/story of the poem, the goddess is first dancing (or more realistically walking), then laughing and talking. The verse is fleshed out (ha!) with some description of her eyes, hair and finger(nails). She laughs cuttingly and her remarks discomfit the speaker, who would like to become her lover. She is also, if it needs demonstration, the poetic Muse, à la Graves.The last stanza gets indelicate in its intent. Too much information?

For more depth in meaning, try reading the Graves book all the way through (and I prefer the older cover that I scanned and reproduce here).

Looking at the photo I just shot for the introduction, that is my actual work area visible (you can examine the clutter and mess in detail by clicking on the photo). You can see the copy of the book I reviewed yesterday (although I haven’t written that review yet: creating this post to save for future use was easier). And that’s a poem on the reading stand that will appear (and is strangely connected with the unwritten book review, too). My mixer board (which I bought for myself at the same time as the one for the school’s Andrew Comment program) helps me digitize old LPs and cassette tapes for the iPod (although I haven’t done that for months now).

You can see Janet in two really old photos (is that Eighties hair visible?) that used to sit on my desk at school; she’s right there behind the gargoyle at the top. The little skeleton guy used to sit on some of the computers at school, too; he’s a memento from a fall play, Boo! Thirteen Tales of Halloween. Above the computer (and I remain amazed how Apple gets a complete computer inside a screen, no matter how big) on the right you can see the physical folder of poems. Since I mentioned the kabbalah, that’s a laminated diagram of the Sefirot rising from the yellow, overstuffed pencil holder on the left of the iMac. And having mentioned it in an earlier post last fall, the big stapler is sitting next to Janet and the gargoyle up on top.

There’s a lot more, but I think I am overindulging myself now. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

the other villanelle

Just a short one for today.

I said when I posted what is possibly my favorite of my own poems, “Busy Music,” that I had written another villanelle. In the interest of artistic fairness and balance, I am posting the second effort at this difficult and exhausting verse form. I don’t think it’s as good, but in typing it up I found myself caught up in something about it.

A villanelle, originally invented in Italian, nowadays requires a sternly rigid form: six stanzas of three lines each (except the last, which is four lines)—so 19 lines, and the first and last lines of the initial stanza alternate as the last lines of the following stanzas, with both lines used to end the poem, which is why the last stanza is longer. It also rhymes in an ABA pattern, leaving the poet only two rhyming sounds. It’s quite hard to make sense with such limited resources (and I am not quite sure I do here). In this poem I wanted to play grammatically, altering the repeated lines by breaking them up differently in the repetitions. Well, at least one of them.

“Busy Music” was the fruit of the unsought end of my first big romance, written in 1974 originally (I’ve labored on it since). This one popped out in the fall four years later.

As with the other villanelle, I wanted the repetition to be an element of the meaning (since as I note elsewhere:  form is meaning is form), and as with the other one, the speaker is trapped, caught up in his inability to escape a former, ended romance, although he would like to…

Waking Up

Sunslippered musics name our afternoon
at morning too often for me nowadays.
When simple magic spoke, your silent tune

…reminds me more of our own kitchen now rather than the seedy rental house in which I lived in 1978

shaped quiet pleasure in a sleepy June;
honeyed, dew-hearted, you in a thousand ways
sunslippered music’s name. Our afternoon

blessed us in a drowsily amorous swoon,
as craftily I plotted two-edged to praise
when simple magic spoke your silent tune,

and invented night―and none too soon―
icesharp (because starlit nothing stays
sunslippered). Musics name our afternoon,

though memory states cruel darkness’ rune,
and between, pointless existence strays
when simple magic spoke your silent tune.

Morninglight smears yellowed coffeespoon
todays, and no perky-pot rhythm awakes

sunslippered musics:  Name our afternoon
when simple. Magic spoke your silent tune.

29 September 1978

Sound effects were large in my mind while writing and revising this poem. I can still recall reading it aloud to myself repeatedly to savor the vowels and consonants in their proper orders. This poem is also from the same period (early Maquoketa) as “Freya’s Steel.” Although I originally composed that one during my two-year residence in Ft. Madison for my first two years of teaching, I kept working on it for about five or six years, eventually breaking the original sonnets into the free-verse lines now. You might notice the shared images, especially in the fourth and fifth stanzas.

For what it’s worth, there it is, actually completed on the day noted (which I had to search out in my poetry file). Although I recall exactly what romantic implosion created “Busy Music,” I don’t think I had any particular personal issue in mind writing this poem—just general mid-twenties romantic angst, I guess.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

a villanelle

I have been remembering lately, late January 2010, (via the comments to this poem) that I wrote it in several phases. It’s a break-up poem (oh, breaking up really is so hard to do). The situation that inspired it occurred when the young lady addressed as “you” had graduated from high school and once off at college—probably late the next spring—determined we should separate. Clearly, I did not want to. Later, in my memories summertime weather, I convinced her to re-establish our relationship, but it didn’t last. By the late fall or early winter of that same year, 1974, it was all over when she had definitely met and gotten closer to her future husband.

Busy Music

The busy music bends me on my way
in prisoned love denying maturation,
and love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

I said I loved you when I hadn’t, fey:
you harnessed me in heartstring traces,
and the busy music bends us on our way.

You snared my heart with wordless magic sway,
a witchcraft forged from kissing and embraces,
for love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

We waltzed like children in a timeless May
til you commenced to conjure other faces,
and the busy music bends us on our way.

Still childish sorcery sends my heart to stay
selfbound within those former loving laces,
for love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

You are consumed by distance, and today
I exhale my impassioned incantations:
the busy music bends us on our way
and love’s a rune we cannot shape or say.

Although this is ages old, it remains one of my very favorite of my poems. (And yes, this one is also posted on Facebook Notes.) I have only written one other villanelle, and the tight repetition and rhyme scheme make that one read more stiffly than this, the first I ever tried. The busy music referred both to the kind of music I was listening to and to life itself, of course.


©2009 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.