Poetry Roundup – Early 2020

Prompt: Rubiginous (#vss365)

Have you seen
my electrons?
I could swear
I left them here…
or there…
or in this vague

I used to be
when I had them
floating near
but now I’m
oxidised for
all to see

Prompt: Velleity (#vss365)

Did I tell you
of a boy—
let’s call him Henry—
who couldn’t quite
decouple from
his sheets?
“I’ll get up soon,”
he said,
a time
and that duvet
attached to him
for weeks

Prompt: Submontane (#vss365)

You humans conquer
higher peaks and claim
the climb is tough

While we who burrow
dig beneath—
but never deep enough

You strain and swear
and summit

While we
strain and swear…

if we hadn’t
started digging here
there wouldn’t be
a hill

Prompt: Periapt (#vss365)

Wear this in
my memory dear—
it’s fashioned from
the bone
that caught in
Uncle Reuben’s
when Satan called
him home

My darling
don’t be sorry
he was the spawn
of Hell—
but wear it
and remember
we’re both
destined there
as well.

Prompt: Ingurgitate (#vss365)

She scoffed a saucerful
of worms
some spiders, and a frog —
that pixie preys on anything
that lingers near her log —

So children, for the love of Pan
stop playing by the bog.

Prompt: Benthos (#vss365)

It’s far too cold
plunge me into
your diffuse depths

let me sink
still shivering
until I brush
that veiled bottom
clenched closed
lungs lurch
skin alone

I’ll stay
a second

and then




my way back
to the

Prompt: Ambrosia (#vss365)

“Well, what do you think?”

“It’s okay.”

“Okay? It’s the literal food of the Gods!”

“Call me a stickler, but I’d prefer the food of the chefs.”

Prompt: Sapid (#vss365)

I’ve carried the taste
since that bakery closed down
sweet nothings linger

Detour: Depression

Two weeks ago, I thought I was old and tired. Thankfully, I’ve still got that to look forward to — I was unknowingly carrying chronic depression, and it came to light only by chance and the selfless intervention of someone special.

I was doubly lucky, because my depression was tied to clear external triggers, around which I had wrapped a bundle of secret, illogical, shames and fears. A couple of those were unwoven at a fundamental level, causing a contextual reframing that destroyed my depression’s habitat — literally overnight.

After a week of extreme oversharing with a few patient individuals, I wanted to post something publicly because we need to continue to normalise these topics beyond the meme level, and the conversations kept coming back to a few key points which seemed worth sharing:

It can be easy to dismiss or suppress our own struggles in the face of objectively harder ones, but life is not a competition, and self-care makes it possible to be there for our part in the “bigger” battles. Shame is often misplaced, and rarely constructive — especially the shame that arises when we measure our issues against others, and decide they don’t matter.

It isn’t enough to know you are surrounded by loving and supportive people if you don’t turn to them when you actually need them. Not asking for help is something I’ve always struggled with, and in the local context, at least, I know I’m not alone in that (which is why I’m posting this).

Checking up on yourself is vital. Use more than one set of tools. I didn’t feel “bad” when I was depressed. Nor did I feel the numbness I’ve experienced in the past: I just felt worn, heavy, and quietly worthless, and loosely blamed existentialism and age. But when it was suddenly lifted I felt (feel) at least a decade younger. I have energy I thought was gone forever — which is energy I can now apply to the “insurmountable” external things I had thought I couldn’t affect.

Depression is insidious precisely because it’s a personal and holistic affliction. It can hide in plain sight because it’s tied up with all of our other individual neuropathies and can be easily justified. In hindsight, it’s usually painfully evident, but that doesn’t make it easy to see when it’s inhabiting our bodies. Because of this, it’s also nuanced and subjective, so it’s worth scheduling time to ask yourself hard questions and have difficult conversations with those you love. Whether or not depression is in residence, these moments can help us be better.

A certain Lisa just reminded me that even in our own conversations we’ve (I’ve) had a tendency to minimise suggestions of depression — because while we’ve made great strides towards normalising depression as “a bad thing”, it’s therefore something we’d prefer not to acknowledge or recognise if there’s a more palatable explanation.

I have no pithy take-home message: this is my experience, and yours operates in your own unique context. But depression is an ill that takes so much so easily, and if my story might offer a second of self-reflection or a spark of recognition, then I felt an obligation to share it.

Please don’t diminish your own experiences. The following page has some useful resources in Aotearoa, and your GP will often be a good place to start to get help.


Requisite Words 21 – How to write

This episode is for anyone who’s ever stared at a blank page, waiting for the words to come.

We explore one possible solution, using a walkthrough of an untitled poem I published on Twitter, in a thread started by @scotianselkie

Episode Music:
Be Chillin’ by Alexander Nakarada | www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Photo is by Pixabay, courtesy of Pexels | www.pexels.com/photo/blank-bloom…-business-356372/

In Shakespeare’s Footsteps

The Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SCGNZ) has been running a series of competitions, and I’m really pleased to have won second prize in their sonnet competition for my piece From The Dark Lady.

My winning sonnet and other entries follow. Two draw on Shakespeare’s characters, and the other two take four “quotable lines” from his work and shape sonnets around them.

This first piece was written from the perspective of one of the addressees of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the titular Dark Lady.

From The Dark Lady

I cannot quite decide which fate is worse:
To have you make presumption of my sin,
Or bear your masochistic little verse,
Ostensibly to worm your way within.
Were I to lesser station given birth,
Perhaps I’d deign rejoinder to your “wit”
With puerile intimations of your worth:
“How short, how thin—how ever will it fit?”
But, rest assured, I’m flattered by your rhyme,
Propriety, you see, requires grace;
So should we meet at some unwitting time,
That isn’t raw contempt upon my face.
    Aye, Will, you might have plucked a willing rose,
Had less been on the page, and more inside your hose.

My next sonnet borrowed Lysander’s words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and Friar Lawrence’s “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” from Romeo and Juliet. This one was the most difficult to write, because I had a clear vision for the piece that was a little too ambitious and autobiographical, and ended up having to pare the concept down.

The Race

The course of true love never did run smooth
Since on Her toes thy clumsy footstep fell,
And trying this impression to improve
Then trod upon Her other foot as well.
Thy missteps were too numerous to count,
And ignorance in similar degree,
If offered love of any small amount
You’d magnify it exponentially;
Then reeling in despair—of thy own make—
Would jealousy comport you to cliché
And even thy convictions would forsake,
Until that love in tatters tore away.
    We seldom love well, till our youth is past:
Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.

The following piece is the first sonnet I wrote in this sequence, and it provides a right of reply from Shakespeare’s Young Man, the other addressee of his sonnets. Like the poem From The Dark Lady, it extends from Shakespeare’s own bawdy tone.

From The Young Man

These centuries have passed, but I remain
Ensorcelled by your hubris on the page,
And where you scribbled pseudonyms for shame,
I suffer each indignity of age.
You wrote of youth, committing me to ink,
Ideas, you calculated, would endure;
But did you ever hesitate and think
Your motivation might have been impure?
The scholars do not worship at my thighs—
My name, my face, my self remain unknown—
But rote recite your shittiest of sighs,
While I am just a guy you might have blown.
    Will I forgive who took away my name,
Imperfectly you loved me, but you loved me, all the same.

This final piece takes a new approach to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2, starting with the same first line, “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,” and sticking as obstinately as possible to that military metaphor and its implications. After much deliberation, I took “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad” from Antonio in The Merchant of Venice as a fitting, if not uplifting, conclusion to my final couplet.

Revise and Conquer

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
They shan’t expect thy forehead to attack—
Descending in a weak, compliant bow,
Then striking up to claim thy beauty back!
Mere Time is a pretender to the throne,
Her armies flee in regimented beat
Before the dread advance of thee alone;
Upon the faintest fancy of thy feet.
This coward isn’t sanctioned in Her war
Yet takes immoral plunder as Her due:
The colour from thy tresses as we snore
And memories that we together grew…
    I have a plan… That is… How odd! I had…
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.

Requisite Words E20 – Shakespeare’s Junk Strikes Back

By popular (if inexplicable) request, a sequel to Episode Seven. Reeling from the hit success of Sonnet 135, Shakespeare penned Sonnet 136, which continued the argument for… well, a close reading of the Bard’s breeches.

Not safe for work, children, or anyone who thinks the world has heard enough dick jokes.

Episode Music:
Be Chillin’ by Alexander Nakarada | www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Image: Public Domain portrait of William Shakespeare, sans junk.