Sunday, July 21, 2013

Poetry Today: Trends and Traditions
Edited by Anthony Servante

Let’s discuss the premise before looking at the words. It is an axiom in academic writing that poetry must speak for itself. A writer cannot interpret meaning for the reader, giving insight to his own words as if they required his presence to clarify the work’s intents. The poem must stand up to the scrutiny of the reader alone. All poetry, artwork and links belong to the respective authors and are used here on a one-time basis only. Thank you. 

With this axiom in mind, we proceed to our poetry for today; we have works by Phibby Venable, Uvi Poznansky, Drew Arnott, Vincenzo Bilof, and a special appearance by my old friend Michael H. Hanson. 

Let’s begin with Phibby.

Phibby Venable

Venable's work has been published in 2River, Poetrybay, Southern Ocean Review, Sow's Ear, Voices, the Appalachian Journal & various other national & international mags.
Three chapbooks: What I Saw Beautiful, On White Top, and Indian Wind Song.
Two books, Blue Cold Morning & There Is A White Girl, 2009.
Phibby Venable lives in Abingdon, Virginia. Much of her work depicts the
Appalachian & Blue Ridge Mountains. She works in human & animal rescue.


The Water Lily Eyes
If I love them it is because of the cacti.
We are of that clan.
My mother, the spine, my siblings raw & prickly.
I am disguised as a water lily and float
in their grand oasis, not apart but sectioned
into whatever they think me to be.
Still imaginary in who I really am.
They are warriors and ragers that climb
taller toward the sun.
They eat themselves and each other and suck
flesh and water from their roots.
When they bloom I move closer and shift
my flowered pad into their line of vision.
I dream of touching them
in the spots that sprout nourishment,
but they are too angry in the heat.
Each believing the desert is a punishment.
Each believing the lily pad is an illusion
Having grown up determined
to cling to the mother spine,
they can see nothing
but the one sun.

To The Open Road
I kindle a song from the trespass of faces
that press against money and fall flat
that ride the roads with artful pieces
for words and the genius of open eyes
in a shut off world
This is to the new year and the poor bones
who falter, starve, in beautiful places
and long for grand highways , the ones that float
in blue ribbons past everyday pain
to watch the heartbeats of humanity
rise in a rejoicing of individual truths -
Let me twist a canvas into long roads
and add stops of fresh milk, watermelons,
a loaf browning in the distant sun
on the highway of gentle portraits
that do not push, nor shove
that whisper brilliant sentences or paint hues
to lava the eyes with bright scenes
to scent the wild fir with belief
and climb the sand dune road
straight to the beach, I wave
a new year to the machinery that made the roads
to the men who sweat, freeze, who hold signs
saying stop, slow, go! Go
to the gulls and pipers the flatbeds,
and the dignified Mercedes, go
all of us down this splendid twist of road
where America believes like an adolescent
stretching wide eyed toward a dreamer's goal,
still stubborn enough to be happy
still holding her hand drawn picture
of the open road.

The Water Lily Eyes works as personification. The narrator, "I", loves "them" (nature/flowers) because of the cacti (both plant and flower bearer); then the I becomes "we", joining nature and man in the same "clan". The personification is extended to include the "mother" as spine (note the play on words: spine for backbone of the family--a matriarchy--and the prickly needles of the cactus). The sun represents the goal of the plant that strives to reach the light above, as man reaches for heaven as "warrior" and "rager" (with an echo of Rage Against the Dying of the Light by Dylan Thomas). Unified as plant and person, we becomes "they" who  "eat themselves and each other and suck/flesh and water from their roots." The plants take on human emotion (anger, for instance) as the person takes on the form of a flower, now replacing each other's role in the cycle of nature: "Each believing the desert is a punishment./Each believing the lily pad is an illusion." The personified transformation is complete, but that which unifies them both is their common reliance on the "one" sun, life to both plant and person. It is a neatly sustained metaphor that avoids the trappings of anthropomorphism; it is subtle and gentle in its rage to live. 

To the Open Road celebrates the Beatnik philosophy of seeking one's self in journey, as represented by the "road" (do I need to name-drop Kerouac?!). The money grubbers "fall flat" as the open highway becomes a canvas to paint a trip with the "genius of open eyes", as observation of life is travelling and appreciating one's surroundings. The canvas adds images of "milk" and "watermelons" and converts nouns to verbs to paint an abstract concept: "that whisper brilliant sentences or paint hues/to lava the eyes with bright scenes/to scent the wild fir with belief." The journey is inside the head; the traveler as painter, and the road his masterpiece. American (more personification) "believes" in this masterpiece, for America is the ultimate critic, its roads the "stubborn" invitation of "her" highways. The narrator seeks an America that encourages the self-discovery of those who travel with her. Very transcendental. Very Beat. 

Let's turn now to Uvi Poznansky.

Uvi Poznansky

Uvi Poznansky is a California-based author, poet and artist.
She earned her B. A. in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion in Haifa, Israel. During her studies and in the years immediately following her graduation, she practiced with an innovative Architectural firm, taking a major part in the large-scale project, 'Home for the Soldier'; a controversial design that sparked fierce public She won great acclaim for her novel, Apart From Love, published February 2012 and for her poetry book, Home (in tribute to her father, the poet and writer Zeev Kachel) published September 2012.debate.

Late Lover
By Uvi P
A diamond short, a decade late
I come to stand outside your gate
Unlock and open, let me in
Forgive me, love; what is my sin?
I fled from you across the land
But now I ask you for your hand
A decade late, a diamond short
I can't imagine why you snort
My limbs are frail, my breath is cold
I must admit I may look old
I fall, I kneel, why—I implore
You are the woman I adore
I feel so weak, I feel so brittle
Don't touch! I may be impotent a little
You loved me once—or so I thought
Stop! Take your fingers off my throat—

Painting by Uvi P accompanying 
the Late Lover poem.

These are Uvi P's words regarding the painting and poem. 
"I painted Late Lover from the point of view of the girl he had left behind. She and you, the observer, are one. He is yearning to come back home. A blue cape is flung around his shoulders, which allows the eye to stay with him, rather than drift off to the background, seen in the spaces between his flimsy ribs. More importantly, you can see the withered flowers he lays at your feet, and the ring being cast off your finger, straight onto his head. The words 'A diamond short, a decade late' are carved into the door frame, perhaps with your fingernails, scratching letter after letter over the long-drawn-out years of waiting for him...

Having painted him all day, the voice of Late Lover came to me at night. The next morning I wrote his poem down in a single breath, and never made any corrections, never replaced a word or adjusted the rhythm--because it came to me completely ready".

I inserted Uvi's words about her poem and painting for the express purpose of validating the premise behind critical reviews, that the poem or painting or novel or art piece must stand on its own, without explanation, history, or inspiration. The "objective correlative" of art must come from the work, not the artist; when it comes only from the work, we, as critics, can capture the "subjective correlative", that is, the perspective of the aesthete, the common point of view as universalized by critique. This is in no way a criticism of these words; I chose to read them after reading the poem and seeing the painting, for that's the structure of the webpage where they are posted. It is, in a sense, an unforeseen influence. I bring this up here because the next two poems also carry the burden of an influence, in that I have heard the lyrics in song long before I have appreciated them as poetry. That said, here is my POV on the poem, Late Lover, hopefully, without too much outside influence (and I did choose this poem because it was the best of the lot and the one I wanted to share with my readers, and because I love that painting).

There is an old story that goes something like this: He married her for her cute little laugh; many years later, he strangled her to death for her cute little laugh. Late Lover addresses the sentiment of this story in poetic terms. It rhymes, giving it a jovial sense, foreshadowing the shocking ending ("Take your fingers off my throat--"), and carries a brisk tone that reflects passing time passing much too quickly. "Late" in this sense refers to getting old, but also to making bad choices, as in too late to change one's mind. Thus we have the contradictions of the situation: "I fled from you across the land/But now I ask you for your hand". The oxymoron ("impotent a little") is Uvi P at her wittiest as we saw earlier with the line repeated twice in inverted form: "A decade late, a diamond short" and "A diamond short, a decade late". This is unfulfilled love, but love on a grand scale, worthy of poetry, even if it is on the sardonic side. "You loved me once" confirms this love, but then it is retracted, "or so I thought". All is not as it seems. Jovial on the outside, sinister on the inside, Late Lover is more about the dark side of love, where the cute little laugh that once brought a smile now brings tightening fingers around the throat. A very clever conceit. 

Drew Arnott is up next.

Drew yesterday.

Drew Arnott today.

Co-founder of the Progressive New Wave band Strange Advance, Drew Arnott manned the keyboards and wrote songs for the group. I have plucked the lyrics from two of his songs as a sampling of how poetry can be found in music.

To the poems.

Worlds Away
By Drew Arnott

Worlds away with memories
Of killing time and dreams
Think of me, it was so cold we burned
And as they leave, they cross my mind

No time, I think it's over
This life inside I steal as mine
Look in your eyes, you're worlds away
And life is locked inside you

Then, you sleep and city walls
They dissolve to dreams
Children cry, they're losing everything

From heart to heart
The beat slow fades
The sun explodes the night time
For all we know
There's nothing changed

Look in your eyes you're worlds away
Where art is love is science
A million miles, a thousand minds
Now worlds away

Oh no, don't say goodbye
When you can love only one thing
And they want you to know
It's you, it's you
Worlds away
Don't say goodbye.

All lyrics are subject to US Copyright Laws and are property of their respective authors, artists and labels. All song lyrics provided strictly for educational purposes

We Run
by Drew Arnott
You're on your own and meet a friend
Who doesn't kill but wounds for life
The sun blinds you through the trees
While watching clues fall from the skies
And she smiles
At the point of the knife
You never see anyone
How the strong will survive
At the end of their gun
We Run
Frozen smiles for men returned
They never even left this place
She kissed me softly on the cheek
And a shadow cut across her face
At the point of the knife
You never see anyone
How the strong will survive
At the end of their gun
We Run
I walked for miles and miles to the sea
(We burned the fire from the sun)
I know you never tried to deceive
(Who can touch us when We Run)
At the point of the knife
You never see anyone
How the strong will survive
At the end of their gun.

All lyrics are subject to US Copyright Laws and are property of their respective authors, artists and labels. All song lyrics provided strictly for educational purposes.

As I mentioned in my note for Late Lover, my opinion of the above poems by Drew Arnott are influenced by my love of the music, its ethereal space opera sound. But as with the former poem, I must consider these poems not as songs but as stand-alone poems as if I had never heard the music. I must play the neutral critic if I am to give my reader a look into the words themselves without my turning into a raging fan-boy. So here goes.

Worlds Away tells a story of love's last gasps, just as Late Lover depicts love turning sour, nay, turning to murder. The narrator observes his girlfriend; she is lost in reverie, "worlds away" in her memory, even as she sleeps with him. She is there and not there. He feels his dreams of being with her slipping away. Her icy demeanor is so "cold, we burned". Her eyes do not see him there; there is sadness in his words as he describes her: "Look in your eyes, you're worlds away/And life is locked inside you". But he has some hope that all remains the same between them, but the rising sun says otherwise: "The sun explodes the night time/For all we know/There's nothing changed". There is no denying that indeed things have changed. She's gone, even though she is with him; her leaving is but a formality. His pleas fall on deaf ears: "Oh no, don't say goodbye/When you can love only one thing/And they want you to know/It's you, it's you/Worlds away/Don't say goodbye". This poem imbues love with its alienating effect when it falls short of being fulfilled. Both parties must love equally; here it is a one-sided relationship, one last night before the break-up. It captures the loneliness inherent in such relationships, and makes the narrator's pathetic pleas for her not to say good-bye all the more tragic. 

We Run describes a more sinister type of love: the self-destructive type when one chooses a partner who is bad for you. In metaphor, the bad girl of the poem bears a knife that serves not to kill but to wound. She hurts men; she breaks their heart. The narrator sees the girl he loves; he is blind to the "knife", to her destructive side: "And she smiles/At the point of the knife/You never see anyone". He only sees what he feels: her kisses, caresses, and affection. "She kissed me softly on the cheek/And a shadow cut across her face". The dualism of the girl is seen here in light and shadow on her face (think Colonel Kurtz in the shadows in Apocalypse Now). But still he loves her. Here the metaphor of running is explained and the title of the poem becomes clear. To run is to advance the relationship quickly, as if doing so will leave the bad girl behind and the good loving, kissing girl will keep up with him. With these words, we now understand his denial: "I know you never tried to deceive/(Who can touch us when We Run?)". She never deceived him; he deceived himself. How many of us have run into a bad relationship by running away from it? We all run.

Let's turn to Vincenzo Bilof now.

Vincenzo Bilof

From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof is the recipient of SNM Horror Magazine's Literary Achievement award in 2011. A member of the Horror Writers Association, Vincenzo is the author of the zombie novels "Nightmare of the Dead" and "Necropolis Now;" both are available from Severed Press. His recent book, which happens to include aliens, "Gravity Comics Massacre," is available from Bizarro Pulp Press.
When he's not chasing his kids around the house or watching bad horror films, he reads and reviews horror fiction, though his tastes are more literary. He likes to think Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Baudelaire would be proud of his work. His current writing projects include the new serial, "Japanese Werewolf Apocalypse;" and "The Horror Show," a horror story written as a series of poems that will be available by James Ward Kirk Press in the summer of 2013. You can check out his blog here:

Coming soon.


Casual Ruinations
"Tell those damn liars who have declared that aint aint a word and neither does it require
Listen to this, I mean, wait, I know it sounds redundant but there…
okay, your lips are either snarling or smiling,
so should I laugh or cry?
Sure, it matters.
As I was saying.
The word is rather rebellious because the language-owners have ignored
that the word has a common usage and common understanding.
Fits the lexicon and it's there for you to deny."
(Maybe I should say
call it a curse word for the unwashed, they can have it
like the blood on this counter mirrored in yellow light,
like mustard and ketchup could never stain oblivious.)
"Eggs and ham would be nice, Lorraine."
I hide from emerald eyes,
pretend to watch the dusty men
the toothless men
rape cell phones with fingers
souls sucked into screens.
"Commit yourself to 
 a code you’re afraid
to violate." A plate shatters and eyes stick to fragments from
vein-laden skulls.
In my nightmares I have seen the dead flesh of heroes melted hot
over a rusty grille.
"Sizzle baby sizzle."
This counter finger-painted in shades of blood or memory.
My nightmares lived so much reality.
Everything I see reminds me of something horrible I’ve seen before
like I’ve lived another life or my memory is damaged. Am I speaking to you now?
               "Could be damaged."
               What sane man would choose the life of a drifter
               haunted by dreams, "could get cash from doctors
               Volunteer lab rat maybe there’s a cure"
               Laugh that up, no cure for the difference;
               you are what you eat; you’re a man now stand up.
               Could be damaged
"Don’t recall ever having job skills,
go to school young man you’re smart,
the jobs will just come to you, it’s true,
could be damaged."
Messages in code printed upon a napkin.
"Do you save your poems to a computer?"
she asked, or asks.
I can't remember waking up to one or another.
"Is this a part of your process?"

The Questions a Madwoman Might Ask
The doctor will help save the world by curing madness. "Cure madness to cure evil." Cold rooms and light upon spectacles to render eyes invisible. A charitable woman. The entropy of poverty. Policemen nodding their heads at the chalk outlines of children. Light peering through the holes in windows where bullets have flown. "I can cure evil by falling in love."
The doctor nodded his head and nearly grinned. A slumbering poet who murdered his family holds the enzymes in his brain that can save the poor before they're forced to fight another war; there will be life after death. "I need you."
Don't render unto me the nightmares of a martyr. The thieves and idolaters peer at me over their soup bowls and consume my flesh without my name. The poet doesn't know his own soul. "It's not about the money."
It's not about the money. Let me show you pictures of his wife and child. The salesman attempts to play the harp with broken fingers. "I want to see the dead."
Maggots writhe upon vomit-encrusted blankets and you speak of madness and its cure. Salvation comes in many colors, a rainbow of amber, red, white, and glass. Mouths drowning in the rainbow, livers reliant upon pain and sorrow to feed the disease. And you call it madness. "He loved them dearly."
Narcoleptic afflictions reflected in misplaced organs. Edgar Allan Poe was buried alive. We believe in archetypes, the designs of exposed ribcages and eyelids forever closed. A woman and a child not bound would have screamed for ages. Life betrays love and love betrays the sanctuary of Mondays and Tuesdays. I'm familiar with his swirling eyes and I have swallowed the oasis. A thousand messiahs would be proud of me. The doctor has given him money to live and I am the catharsis, the expendable victim of philanthropy soaked in greed.
I am like an addict staring over the edge of a cliff where everything I need has fallen over that edge and into a clouded valley
there is something
I think something.

A uniquely sustained piece of conceptual writing that has been tried before but not with the success Vincenzo Bilof achieves here. In A World of Words by Rafael Lopez, the author creates another planet with life and culture; we see this culture through the poetry of this world, written by the poets of this planet. Even now Rafael seeks to extend the world in his writing, rather than the poetry that we see the world with. James Joyce similarly created (rather re-created) an old world from literature, that of Ulysses, and gave us a surreal experience in this newly formed world. But Joyce is some heavy reading and one must flow with the stream of consciousness writing to appreciate the prose. So has Vincenzo brought us The Horror Show. It is a novel. It is an anthology of poetry. It is prose. It is stream of consciousness nightmare. I selected two "works" from the book; a poem and a structured piece of writing that is something between a series of paragraphs degenerating into prose, then what appears to be a stanza. Keep in mind that although there are chapters in this book, they are not conventional. We saw this concept carried out seamlessly in William Cook's Moment of Freedom, but without the structure of a novel; his was poetry. Bilof's pretends to be a story in poem form, a poem in story form, and something in between. Let's look at our selections from the book more closely.

Casual Ruminations is a poem that brings attention to language. It is as if we stopped hearing words and only heard sounds. Something is being said, but the idiom is lost. Right off we are told "that ain't ain't a word and neither does it require/Apostrophe". This is a self-referential maze of words, not unlike saying "I am saying nothing"; the meaning implies that you mean nothing by what you say but need to say "nothing" the word to make this point. Straight out, we are placed on notice that such mazes await. We proceed with caution and fascination. The narrator completes his thought by pointing out that the maze we are in is a maze: "The word is rather rebellious because the language-owners have ignored/that the word has a common usage and common understanding./Fits the lexicon and it's there for you to deny." "Deny" and "ignored" alongside "common usage and understanding" creates a conflicting parallel. We accept that we need language to deny language; we communicate our lack of communication with words that we can ignore. Then we slip into a collage of grotesque images painted beautifully with our words of denial. Then the direct question arises: ""Do you save your poems to a computer?"/she asked, or asks." "Asked/asks": a conflict of tenses. We are in another maze, but the question remains: Is this poem something you wrote and saved on your computer? The answer is yes, for the question itself is the poem. By referencing one's self, the line between word and meaning becomes blurred, but Bilof pulls it together by clarifying the line then blurring it again. We are reading about reading as he writes about writing, and the mazes are captivating and intriguing without losing the reader. However, one must be willing to slip into the "ruminations"; it is well worth the experience getting lost in the work.

The Questions a Madwoman Might Ask is as close to a regular chapter as this novel gets. The reader may feel safe reading the paragraphs hoping that the writer has come to his senses. But it is a ruse. The stream of consciousness writing starts slowly and builds momentum till the paragraphs began to shape themselves into stanzas, and we're back in the maze of language discussing language, in the conceptual story-line that challenges the readers' expectations. Almost as if addressing the reader, Bilof's narrator pulls him into the narrative with subtlety and the cunning of language: "A slumbering poet who murdered his family holds the enzymes in his brain that can save the poor before they're forced to fight another war; there will be life after death. "I need you." The "you" catches one off guard; we go from third person, to plural pronoun (they), to it (life after death), when we are slammed by "I need YOU" (my caps). The reader is pulled in different directions through various points of view, thanks to Bilof's use of language to mount his surreal story. We move from poem to prose narrative, and without warning, we move back again to where we started. The final words "There is something/I think something" deliberately undermine the paragraph structure we felt safe in earlier, only to find ourselves with the "is/think" conundrum: Is this real or the narrator's thoughts? Don't expect easy answers. This is a must read for fans of conceptual writing. At once nightmarish and playful, it will creep you out when you feel most safe, and you can't say that for many books today, horror or otherwise. . 

Michael H. Hanson wrote a tribute to Richard Matheson, who passed away recently. F. Paul Wilson said it best: There is no writer today that does not stand on Matheson's shoulders. It will be many more generations before his influence on good story-telling fades even just a bit. Here is Mike’s poem to Richard Matheson.

Richard Matheson

You Are Legend
by Michael H. Hanson
Your duel has ended, and you won,
distributor of great stories
you travel now where all dreams come
where ghosts and strange wing-walkers flee.
Far beyond twenty thousand feet
you stalk the skies on this dark night
your co-pilot a Zuni doll
friendly invader this last flight.
Our world is shrinking now you’re gone
little kids lost that’s how we feel,
your words echo and stir in time
with the enduring punch of steel.
The box is closed, terrors mildew,
the master of our world is mute.
(Richard Matheson, 1926-2013)

Thank you, poets, for your contribution this month. As usual, we have a diverse selection representing the wide range of wordsmiths today. The Servante of Darkness invites your poetry submissions each month. Till next we meet, keep the typewriter warm. 


  1. Wow, I finally found a chance to read and relish this! Bravo to everyone! What a superb collection of combined talent, done justice by Anthony's very skilled and discerning observations. I am a great admirer of Phibby's touching verse and Uvi's various gifts! Also of Michael H. Hanson's poetic mastery. As a Matheson fan myself, I enjoyed every loaded line. What a thrill to find my son Rafael's book as one of the referenced titles tied in for Vincenzo's superlative book! And the song lyrics fit perfectly. This was a wonderful experience. Thank you all for sharing your words and art! :D

  2. I should point out that I was recently granted the honor of penning a foreword for Vincenzo's book. So many connections here, and so many fabulous people I admire! :D