On The Satisfactions Of Verse

My late wife used to describe me as a combination of a poet and an engineer.   She was right.  Sometimes, for me, the sense of having created art is the primary motivation; and sometimes, the process of writing a poem has its own rewards; its own satisfactions; its own frustrations.

For example, I imagined the following little verse as a story poem — the protagonist visits his aged parents in order to convince them to move to some sort of care facility.   At the time I wrote the first version, some years ago, i created a rough draft, divided into stanzas  that told the basic story.   Then I added a new challenge — a complicated rhyme scheme.  I added the complication for two reasons, one good and one bad.  The good reason was that I felt that by making the rhyme scheme complicated I would disguise the fact that the rhymes existed — always my ideal when i was using rhymed verse to convey an idea, a message, or a strong emotion.  The bad reason was that, as often happens to me, the technical challenge got in the way of the story I was trying to tell, and I ended up with a satisfying rhyme scheme, but a muddied story.

The version that follows is the usual compromise; the story I was trying to tell is much clearer, but I had to give up some of my favorite lines., and the rhyme scheme is simpler and more obvious.

Tired and frail, the old house stood,
With termites eating at the wood.
I walked through the door.

Too well I remember my sense of despair
On seeing them still living there,
Bereft, bewildered, and ignored.
I had come to ask them to move out,
The proper thing to do, no doubt.
Did I want to succeed?

I sat, and listened to the past.
Agreed, that it had past too fast
— My obligatory deed.

Age resembles poverty —
A kind of blameless misery
Insufficiently deplored.

Because my aged parents couldn’t cope,
My talk of care homes gave them hope.
They walked through the door.


Plainsong v 2

Years ago, when I was at Rice, I had a roommate named Fred who was very musical — he played the piano and guitar  and had a powerful but sweet tenor voice.   One evening, he claimed to me that he could sing anything, absolutely anything.  I challenged him and offered a textbook øn differential equations.  He opened it, and immediately began to sing the text beautifully, turning phrases like: ” the partial of y with respect to the partial of x” into lovely sounds.

I thought of Fred when I wrote the following song/poem.  It is meant to be sung (or chanted) aloud.


Once, I sang,
And the people came,
And they smiled at me and said:
“Sing, sing some ore.”

No more song.
My voice has lost its music,
And now the people are
Deaf, deaf to me.

I cannot hum.
Life has a hum
I cannot hear, or understand.
Noise, noise to me

I need song.
I must find a way
To rejoin that harmony
Lost, lost to me.

Old. Grown old.
Oh tell me, God
Why life must needs be linear?
Bend, bend a little.

I’ll be a child!
A child can laugh, a child can cry
If I can cry, the I can
Sing, sing some more.

Death Looms

Several years ago, I became interested in the cinquain, a deceptively simple verse form invented (or, rather refined) around a hundred years ago by a poet who died too young.  The poet’s name was Adelaide Crapsey, and part of my interest was simply that my mother’s name was Adelaide, and I’d never known a poet by that name.

The talented Ms. Crapsey was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the brain at the age of 32, and died a few years later.  All of her later work is focused on the idea of approaching death. The following cinquain, to which I have given a title in the Crapsey manner, was written in her honor:


Death looms.
Once, I cowered.
Now, I give anxiety
Another name; I turn my head
And wait.