A happy New year to one and all. I think 2020 might be a game changer, in the sense that things are going to get so bad that it might shake many people out of their apathy. Who knows?
And as if things could not get any worse, my New Year’s Eve post this year will encompass all things poetry.
I’ve been online since 1996, when we used to be called ‘nerds’ (no Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al, back then). At the end of 1999 I joined a new web site called ‘WrittenByMe’, where writers could post their work for comment and critique (I used to post as ‘Budapest’ – and where that handle comes from is another long convoluted story from my days on the early internet). ‘WrittenByMe’ was run by two drunken Aussies, who, like many other people at the time, were trying to figure out how to make money on the Web. It didn’t cost anything to join the site. The Aussies were trying to make money from advertising, mostly Fosters beer. I posted almost entirely in the poetry section, where I encountered someone who called herself ‘Miriam’. Subjective as poetry is, I will still say that Miriam was excellent at her art. In fact, she wiped the floor with all of us poets on that writing site. From her syntax and language I took Miriam to be in her mid thirties; about the same age as me at the time. In fact, I later found out (after meeting her in real life – under the clock at Charing Cross Station) that Miriam was just 18 years old.
We used to set challenges on that writer’s site, and on a freezing day in January 2001 I threw down the gauntlet: we had to write a ‘square limerick’. The limerick is one of the easiest poetry forms there is. It consists of just five lines – usually humorous and frequently rude – in predominantly anapestic metre with a strict rhyme scheme of AABBA, in which the first, second and fifth line rhyme, while the third and fourth lines are shorter and share a different rhyme. To set the scene here’s a famous example…
There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, ” Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec”
Yup, the limerick is a really flippant poetry form; but what about a square limerick? Well, the challenge was to write a limerick as a square poem. A square poem is where the first words of each line make up the first line of the poem, and the last words of each line make up the final line of the poem, and each consecutive word in the first line becomes the first word in the following lines – look at the first word in each of the five line limerick examples below and how it relates to the complete first line of the poem. Likewise look at the end word of each of the five lines and how it relates to the final and fifth line. Does this make sense? (does anything make sense?). This of course is just about impossible to do within the constricted form of a limerick; but we managed it on that freezing January day back in 2001. Needless to say, Miriam got over the line first, within hours of me setting the challenge (and as far as I’m aware she became the first person ever to write a square limerick). An American professor called Larry came in second, and I came in third. The following shows our efforts, including our own comments and a time stamp to show how quickly we did these square limericks. It might all look like gobbledygook to you, dear reader, yet I have to stress again how incredibly difficult it is to do (for example, it’s impossible to keep proper limerick metre without cheating). If you don’t believe me have a go at writing a square limerick yourself (clue: you start from the bottom of the poem and work up)…
Date: 23 Jan 01 13:48
THE WORLD’S FIRST EVER SQUARE LIMERICK.
BUDAPEST I’VE DONE IT!!!!
This limerick square’s awful beat
Limerick with too many feet
Squares have me spitting
Awful, I’m admitting
Beat feet spitting, admitting defeat.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Date: 23 Jan 01 14:37
The World’s Second Square Limerick.
Thanks to rosekat, budapest, and m.compton for the inspiration.
That Monster Under My Bed
A bed monster develops—shivers!
Bed squeaking leads to more quivers.
Monster in the night
Develops such fright.
Shivers, quivers; night fright delivers.
© 2001 lap0530
Date: 23 Jan 01 15:25
Ok, it’s left to me to do the World’s Third Square Limerick…
A man known as Smithers
Man handles and delivers
Known hepatic specimins, oh quite
As in the organ on the right
Smithers delivers quite right livers.
A year or so after that square limerick challenge, I was doing a series of ‘London Sonnets’. This was during the summer and autumn of 2003. There were ten sonnets in all, and they were a sort of farewell to my hometown (I haven’t been back to London ever since). This is the third in the series and it was written for Miriam…
The Yank In The Tank
We chased limelight to Tower Bridge
to see our dreams hang in the air,
where once stews sucked on Eckett’s ridge
and cholera took Bill Sikes’ lair.
I caught my breath, your gymslip dare,
as little girls sang songs to Dave,
the thrusting piles of finance there
now plunged into Fagin’s moist grave.
We thought it was rather quite brave
to swing with dollymops and rats
in such a very taboo place, save
for chic bistros and yuppy flats;
and I gave you a crooked grin;
you said: “shut-up and drink your gin”.
The early 2000s were the golden age of internet poetry, with new comment and critique boards springing up all the time, including my own board, which was called Burgundy and came into existence in early 2002. Miriam never joined the good ship Burgundy, a board that for a time had quite a large and vibrant membership. One of those members was known as ‘Maz’. Her real name was Margaret Griffiths. An English woman, she was that rare breed of poet who wrote both formal and free verse poetry. If you’re interested in poetry you can argue about it forever, because it’s so subjective (which is one of the things I love about poetry), yet Maz became very widely respected in the online poetry world. Such was her talent that she could have easily found a real world publisher, but she always refused to do this, instead publishing her work entirely on the internet. In 2009, and now living in France for years, I was devastated to learn that Maz had died. She was in her 60s and shed this mortal coil alone in her own home, totally unknown outside the online poetry world. I used to get on quite well with Maz, and wherever she is now I’m sure she won’t mind me including one of her poems here. This was always a favourite of mine…
Drips from Psyche’s Lamp
Tell me you’re blind at night and I’ll believe you.
Tell me they raise the sky on ten thousand turquoise poles
and I won’t quibble. I’ll point out the flapping canopy,
and the places in the T-shirt clouds where their points stand out
like nipples. I don’t care about lies, about tall tales,
only about the tourniquet musk of you, the bowstring tight
around my aorta so my brain pulses harder than my heart,
all thoughts turned to sparkles.
Wind me in your elastic time
so I’ll live forever before breakfast, so I’ll fall apart
and curl in a yolk, then break out all gold and new
like a Paschal chick on a daffodil cake. Launch me
on a crocus sea. I don’t care if you’re blind at night,
if the sky collapses on me like a marquee in a squall.
I’ll be ova, ovine, big sheep’s eyes,
I’ll be nova, novacodeine, noddy as a noodle,
I’ll be tangy, tangerine, mango, mandarin,
tango, tanga, bingo bongo bang.
The shock of Maz’s death kicked me out of a three year poetry drought…
If I could write such joyous pain,
the mellow flux, the ecstasy,
the ink portrays a starry mane,
an orbit reaching apogee:
disintegration, c’est la vie
for qualia that race in space;
a tea ball dance with gravity:
creation is a lonely place.
Hip volatiles and ions trace
consummation in the sky.
Erato shrugs and turns her face
towards a fond goodbye.
Cognition clicks, ideas won,
skin will warm beneath the sun.
Well, dear reader, if you managed to get this far, having ploughed through all the poetry, I might as well plug my third memoir The Iberian Job and my fourth memoir Cranial Capacity 1400cc. These books cover the things I’ve talked about in this post, along with a whole host of other weird and wonderful stuff.
I suppose all that remains now, with regard to this post, is to collect the glasses, empty the ashtrays, sweep-up the floor and turn out the lights.
Oh, and to wish everyone a Happy New Year!