Poem #29: My Mother’s Birthday

Posted in Poems with tags , , on May 15, 2009 by czarnickolas

My Mother’s Birthday

we met when I was born (imagine that)
our bond a branch on history’s great oak

for years you kept me warm and fed and blithe
my rock of hope, unfailing with your praise

you planted trees for Mol and me to climb
and built a garden where we both could dream

we never were afraid to be ourselves
so long as you kept howling at the moon

at times I’m awestruck by your joie de vivre
especially in times as grave as these

in tune with grasping ducks and needy dogs
you make all living creatures feel at peace

a model student, buried in your books
with time to spare for culinary art

though when we watch TV you fall asleep
and nitpick me when I am less than neat

no other mom could bring me half the joy
(though which of them would want me as her boy?)

on this, your birthday, let us celebrate
your past, your present, and what more remains

@NBF 5.15.200


With my Mother, 2007



Today is my mother’s birthday, so I’ve written her some blank verse couplets in celebration. I’m sure she might have preferred a plane ticket to Costa Rica, but a poem isn’t a terrible consolation prize.


Poem #28: Four Brothers

Posted in Poems with tags , , on May 14, 2009 by czarnickolas

Four Brothers

gawking giant doppelganger
hollow but whole
a credulous cherub stretched
to super-size
metabolizing at rapid rates
reporting life
in code
a backdoor witchcraft
cipher built to defy mainstream
culpability (he has the touch!)

a new testament devil
in perfect time with
life’s script
exact entrances and
sentimental wit
getting older
but never taller
(he once played Amadeus
you know)

headfirst risks on credit
and odd jobs held with
hot hands cooked
in conservatory kilns
and competitive
truth breaks through on-
line (in 5/8 time)

displaced in space
past-me pulls the arm
back to the first groove
repeating records already
spun and patterns
taught downstream
to two more fish who long to
walk on land (and walk
in love)

@NBF 5.14.2009


Manhattan Beach, 2008



Four character portraits in mixed media: figurative and literal language.

Poem #27: Two Lovers in an Hourglass; Prompt #4: The English Sonnet

Posted in Best of TPP, Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2009 by czarnickolas

Two Lovers in an Hourglass

What makes us grow to wish these days away,
content to spend our hours combing sand?
The grains between our toes have much to say
to those still clinging grimly to our hands.

Encased in glass, we’re safe from fortune’s touch
as subjects in our own menagerie.
Though trapped inside we cannot hope for much,
the risks we face are minimized this way.

In time the coarse precipitate will fade
and facing us will be a question, too:
do we attempt to flee this cell we’ve made
or flip our fragile hourglass anew?

Well there is one thing history has shown:
The choice is not one I should make alone.

@NBF 5.13.2009


Los Angeles, 2008



This poem is an English Sonnet, the form employed by Shakespeare when he wrote his collection. Like blank verse, the English Sonnet is written in iambic pentameter. In addition, it uses an end-rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, upping the challenge a bit. I invite any serious masochists or poets (or both) out there to give an English Sonnet a try. The balance of narrative, rhythm, rhyme, and originality is very tough to maintain, but the satisfaction level of creating a great sonnet cannot be overstated.

The sonnet, though less popular today, has evolved over time and many twentieth century poets experimented with the form, including Robert Lowell and John Berryman.

Poem #26: people: good and evil

Posted in Love Poems, Poems with tags , , , , , , on May 12, 2009 by czarnickolas

people: good and evil

in love,
a perfect time becomes forever,
happiness is people,
good thoughts, sweet hearts
perfect people

to hate love, forever,
is bad for time,
for time,
two times make a nice, three times make
define people

bad feelings hate sweet, sugar-
salts and sorrow

in love, in evil, there is time,
feelings of forever, happiness
perfects thought, perfect thoughts then

time becomes a sweet smile
bad happiness spoils, sent
back forever, to evil, to people

don’t time love, time feelings,
forever is a time, perfect,
sweet hate takes life, takes time

fact feelings find evil, people
love, perfect facts, feelings hate
good people,
love forever, forever

time is sweet, sweet heart a word,
perfect for good life,
bad people, hate, sweet
thoughts, perfect time,
good heart, bad love, forever,

@NBF 5.8.2001 [rev. 5.12.2009]


New Jersey, 2005



I wrote the original version of this poem in response to Gertrude Stein’s How to Write. I have always found something very naughty about the matter-of-factness behind Stein’s language experiments. I hope to do more of this subversive language poetry in the future.

Poem #25: The Lizard in the Bedroom

Posted in Love Poems, Poems with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by czarnickolas

The Lizard in the Bedroom

The lizard in the bedroom spends its time
between my oaken desks. It breathes through skin
of hunter green and greets me with its tongue.

The lizard in the bedroom sheds its tail
when I have come undone. But in its place
a new one grows, cohering me again.

The lizard in the bedroom hides the names
of others I have loved. Unburdened by
these vestiges, I’m free to love anew.

The lizard in the bedroom looks like you
but only from behind. Your face up close
is more defined and what I had in mind.

The lizard in the bedroom slips away
when I have had enough. A life alone
would suit it well, but still more need its touch.

@NBF 5.11.2009


Washington, DC, 2005



I had a dream about a lizard in my bedroom. Naturally, there was also some romance, but the lizard was more a catalyst than it was a participant. I’m not sure what sex the lizard was, so it remains gender-neutral in this poem.

The exact phrase “the lizard in the bedroom” has 2 hits on Google. That seemed disproportionately low to me, but was not the motivation behind the poem.

Blank verse again with some assonant phrases woven together. I cannot endorse blank verse enough.

Last Week in Poetry #5: 5/3-5/10/2009

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by czarnickolas

It seems impossible, but I assure you it’s not: it’s Monday again. What that means for most people is burnt coffee, chronic self-loathing, and “Someone’s got a case of the Mondays!” underpants. What that means for you, dear reader, is another list of stories that – just last week – turned the world of poetry on its head. (And what that doesn’t mean is a series of awful Shaquille O’Neal puns.)

Without further delay, let’s go back a week!

1 – Craig Arnold: 1967-2009

Craig Arnold, 1967-2009
(© unknown)

As reported here last week, poet Craig Arnold went missing while on a remote volcano in Japan. News sources confirmed Friday that Arnold suffered a leg injury and then fell to his death off a steep cliff.

“The only relief in this news is that we do know exactly what befell Craig, and we can be fairly certain that it was very quick, and that he did not wait or wonder or suffer,” wrote Rebecca Lindenberg, Arnold’s partner of six years, on a Web site she maintained during the search.

Jacqueline Osherow, professor of English at the U. and Arnold’s adviser in the doctoral program, said is devastated by the loss. Osherow said her letter recommending Arnold for the fellowship in Japan weighed on her at first after news of his disappearance, but has since lifted. She described Arnold as a big-hearted person whose immense talent let him do what he wanted in life.

“I’m more broken-hearted for him than the poems he didn’t live to write,” Osherow said. “This is a loss to American literature and letters. It’s wrong to say he was full of promise, because he delivered on that.”

The Poetry Project sends its condolences to Craig’s family and friends.

2 – Lord of the Verse

Tolkien fans rejoice: after being lost for 70 years, J.R.R.’s poetic adaptation of old Norse legend has found the light of day, thanks to the efforts of Tolkien’s son Christopher. The poems are available as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun and contain, as do all good sagas, “betrayal, love, and slaughter” as well as “dragons, dwarves, golden hoards, and a lot of drinking.”

The poems – the “New Lay of the Volsungs” and the “New Lay of Gudrun” – aren’t direct translations of the original Old Norse “sources,” which were “various in their nature.” This was J. R. R.’s attempt to “organize the Edda material dealing with Sigurd and Gunnar.”

The “Volsungs” deal with the life and death of the Volsung family. It’s mainly about Sigurd who slays the dragon Fafnir, takes his cursed gold, wins the love of the warrior maiden Brynhild but is told to come back when he has a kingdom. Sigurd, overcome by an enchantment, marries the beautiful Gudrun instead, then deceives Brynhild into marrying his friend, Gunnar. As you might guess, the proud Brynhild doesn’t take this well. Sigurd is assassinated and Brynhild kills herself so she can join him on his funeral pyre.

Although there is no word yet whether Viggo Mortensen will be involved in a staged reading of the poems, I’m pretty sure that Dominic Monaghan is looking for work.


Los Angeles, 2008

3 – White House Hosts Poetry Slam… Or Jam… Or Something Like That

In his continued effort to bring distinguished artists to the White House, President Barack Obama has scheduled the White House’s very first poetry slam. While I support Obama’s intention to “open up the White House and remind people [it] is the people’s house,” I’m not sure that Obama’s PR team has sufficiently investigated the meaning of the phrase “poetry slam.” About.com’s Bob Holman and Margery Snyder agree that the name is a bit misleading:

“Poetry slam” is in quotes in our post’s title because the evening’s program doesn’t sound like an actual poetry slam — the invited artists include Mayda Del Valle, who is known as a slam poet, but also novelist Michael Chabon, bassist Esperanza Spalding, pianist ELEW and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. But poetry slam has deep roots in Chicago, one of Obama’s home towns, and being a poet himself, I imagine Obama has ideas about slam, so it may well be that an actual poetry slam is staged at the White House this week.

An exhaustive list of articles relating to poetry in last year’s presidential campaigns appears here, courtesy again of Bob and Margery. Thanks for your hard work, guys.

4 – Spotted: Lonely Professor Making Passes at Aspiring Young Poets

When jockeying for a professorship starts to resemble a terrible episode of Gossip Girl, things have gotten out of hand, especially when all-time great Derek Walcott is at the eye of the storm. UK’s Times Online reports:

The race to win poetry’s most prestigious academic post has turned dirty after Oxford academics were anonymously sent a lurid dossier accusing Derek Walcott, the frontrunner and Nobel laureate, of being a sex pest.

The package was circulated last week to staff and graduates eligible to vote in next Saturday’s election for the Oxford professorship of poetry, as well as to the offices of Cherwell, a student newspaper.

The dossier recounts a sexual harassment claim against Walcott, 79, when he taught at Harvard in the 1980s.

The poet was reprimanded following the allegation that he tried to pressure a female student into sleeping with him.

Two things jump out here: first, the claim is over twenty-five-years-old; second, the claim was handled by Harvard already. Yes, the UK has a different legal system than the US does, but surely the concept of double jeopardy isn’t lost on the fine minds of Oxford academics. Walcott has faced these accusations already – judge the man on his merits, not the crimes for which he has already been punished. Professor Hermione Lee agrees:

Lee, president of Wolfson College and a leader of the Walcott campaign, was one recipient of the dirty dossier. Criticising the “campaign of vilification”, Lee said: “The fact that this has been anonymously circulated is rather shocking. It is an unpleasant way of carrying on.

“Should great poets who behave badly be locked away from social interaction? We are acting as purveyors of poetry not of chastity.”

Amen, Hermione.

MasonAtECTLos Angeles, 2008

5 – Cowboy Poets!

From the OMGWTFBBQ sauce files: a new youth Cowboy Poetry Workshop has begun in Mesquite. I would write that sentence again in a much larger font, but I don’t want to come off as amateurish. So many questions spring to mind: What is “Cowboy Poetry”? How do I go about starting my own Cowboy Poetry Workshop? Since when is Mesquite more than just a flavor of BBQ sauce? I’d go on, but it’s all covered here:

The youth are learning the rules of cowboy poetry as provided by well-known cowboy poet [and Lariat Laureate!] Sam Jackson from Kanab, Utah, a sheep herder and guest poet at Mesquite’s 3rd Annual Cowboy Poetry Hootenanny, which was held on April 10-11 this year.

There will be some invited guests who will be speaking to the youth about their experiences in the field of cowboy poetry.

The goal of the group is to learn to read, write and recite cowboy poetry to their own ability and with originality.

Their skills will be honed within the next several weeks so that they can present their “works” at a program to which the public will be invited.

If anyone is interested in forming a Chicago-based Cowboy Poetry Workshop with me this summer, please leave a comment.

…and that’s Last Week in Poetry!

Poem #24: Weekend Haiku, First Series

Posted in Haiku Series, Poems with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2009 by czarnickolas

Weekend Haiku, First Series

backwards baseball caps
free with leased rims and stubble
girls dating down

naked and afraid
he cowers at my greeting
someone’s lost a dog

a bulbous body
on her back she tells the truth
cunning black widow

garrulous barkeep
I’m not your biographer
I just want a drink

balloons and charades
that’s not what they studied for
clowns frown upside down

arbitrary love
bought and sold at the drug store
Hallmark holidays

@NBF 5.10.2009


Los Angeles, 2008



Nothing says Sunday night like some strict 5-7-5 haiku. I enjoy using haiku to wrap up a busy week, so I think I will institute a “Weekend Haiku” series here at The Poetry Project. Did you know that “haiku” is the plural of “haiku”? This is surprising to me, as the plural of the word “person” in Japanese (hito, 人) is “hitobito” (人々).

Speaking of surprises, it’s The Poetry Project’s one month anniversary on Tuesday. In lieu of gifts, leave a comment in which you describe a dream, the moment you realized Hamlet’s famous soliloquy could have been one-third its published length, or your favorite Poetry Project moment. Bonus points for those combining haiku with hypertext.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, even you non-mothers who pretend to have kids for various subversive reasons.