March 2000 Café Society's Poetry News Update
Do you have any poetry news or comments for the Readers' Letters section? If so, mail me on the email link at the bottom of this page. Competitions and calls for submissions can be announced here free.


Janet Buck

Janet Buck has a Ph.D. in English and teaches writing and literature at the college level.

Her poetry, poetics, and fiction have appeared in A Writer's Choice, The Melic Review, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Kimera, 2River View, Southern Ocean Review, Urban Spaghetti, Perihelion, Mind Fire, San Francisco Salvo, Apples & Oranges, Ceteris Paribus, In Motion, Pogonip, Peshekee Review, Thunder Sandwich, The Suisun Valley Review, The Red Booth Review, The Poetry Kit, Miserere, Niederngasse, Lynx: Poetry from Bath, The Horsethief's Journal, salon D'Art, Pif, The Dragonfly Review, Morpo, Recursive Angel, Big Bridge, and hundreds of journals world-wide.

In 1998 and 1999, she has won numerous creative writing awards and has been a featured poet for Seeker Magazine, Poetry Today Online, Vortex, Conspire, Poetry Cafe, Dead Letters, the storyteller, Poetry Heaven, Athens City Times, Poetik License, 3:00 AM e-zine, Poetry Super Highway, Carved in Sand, and Beachfire Gathering - a publication of Chiron Press. Two of Buck's poems have been nominated for this year's Pushca rt Prize in Poetry and she is a recent recipient of The H.G. Wells Award for Literary Excellence.

In December 1999, Newton's Baby Press released her first print collection of poetry entitled Calamity's Quilt. Janet is one of ten poets to be featured at the "One Heart, One World" Exhibit at the United Nations Exhibit Hall in New York City in April, 2000. Her poem "Acrylic Thighs" will be translated into five languages and paired with original artwork. The tour will travel to France, Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, and Japan.

Janet's first e-book of poetry, entitled Reefs We Live, is now available at Word Wrangler Publishing. In April 2000, Word Wrangler will release Buck's first e-book of humor entitled Desideratum's Doggie Dish. It contains what critics have called a "biting, hilarious, and original look at the roles of men and women, the foibles of bureaucracy, and the hubris of academia."

Poetry L & T: When did you first start writing poetry, Janet, and why?

Janet Buck: I dabbled a little in my early twenties and then again in my thirties, but writing was an irregular past time because my head and hair were caught in the windy helicopter blades of more "academic" pursuits, getting an M.A. and a Ph.D., and teaching; I never submitted anything for publication.

About three years ago, a very close friend of mine was going through the horrific procedure of having two hip replacements only eleven weeks apart. When I visited her in the hospital, I came home feeling horrendously helpless, watching the incessant dripping of blood bags and morphine pumps, the painful struggle to regain mobility--all of the things that are part and parcel of a major surgery, things I knew better than the back of my own hand. We talked a lot during that time and as I tried to help her work through the agony, it occurred to me that knowledge and discussion of my disability might lift her spirits just a tad; if nothing else, she would feel less alone if she knew someone understood the traumas plaguing her. I wrote a poem called "Phantom Pain," a piece that examines the grieving elements of my amputation and the plethora of my congenital deformities.

One afternoon on the phone, I read it to her with the following preface: "This is for your eyes only; no one will EVER see this summary of self-absorption and shame and hidden anger." I was terribly afraid that my work was too "confessional," boringly so; I worried that it had no intrinsic value in terms of that noble quest of understanding and transcending universal grief. A pool-side pity party was not my idea of a good poem. My friend's reply was a forceful one: "You little brat," she chided. "Think of all the amputees in the world and their parents and loved ones who are struggling with this coping process. You're being selfish by refusing to send them out." As a "thank you" for my "support" in her time of crisis, she gave me a subscription to Poets & Writers, so I reluctantly submitted a few poems. They were accepted immediately by the publisher of an anthology called Alternatives: Roads Less Traveled. Once I bought a computer, jointed an amputee information list, posted a few of my poems, got back some very intense and heart-felt appreciation, I was hooked.

The deeper I dug, the more honest I became; exposure and encouragement flowered from there. Don't get me wrong: like every other beginning writer, I had a veritable Red Sea of rejection letters and tidal waves of disappointment ten feet high, walking back from the mail box with a sense of defeat much more often than not. Something I can't quite explain just drove me on. I haven't had a television on in three years; suddenly I had purpose and a clear one in terms of spending what energy I had left after a day of teaching. I settled into a routine of writing every day, sending off at least fifteen poems a week, and just never looked back. Emotion and grief, even humor and literary theory, became pennies in a piggy bank I just had to break.

Poetry L & T: Who are your favorite classic and modern writers?

Janet Buck:I am drawn to poets and writers who are capable of both emotional candor and humility, to those who know themselves but do not claim possession of truth, writers who observe the flux of our lives and our struggles, let them loose, but do not trap them in rhetoric: Alice Walker, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, Mark Twain, James Thurber, Rita Dove, Marianne Moore, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Elisha Porat, John Updike, Wendell Berry, and Kate Chopin.

Poetry L & T:As a college instructor, which are the most important poets you encourage your students to read?

Janet Buck: While I think that knowledge about tradition is a shaping and rounding force for writers, to me, "importance" is relevant only as it applies to a reader's life and goals. As a person with a disability, I have looked for direction and example in the canons of those writers who break our molds of normalcy. One student may need the shoulder of Plath, another of Shakespeare, another of Dante, another of Keats, another of Thoreau or Emerson or Faulkner, or Balzac, or Langston Hughes. The list is endless, of course, its limits set by a reader and writer's own determined field of vision, something which should be expanded and refined each passing day.

Poetry L & T:I would like to know a little more about your e-book, "Reefs We Live."

Janet Buck:"Reefs We Live" is my first e-book of poetry, released in 1999 by Word Wrangler Publishing. It is 60 pages of poetry revolving around disability, social consciousness, love lost and found, catharsis, and grief. Some of the poems have been previously published in such journals as The Southern Ocean Review, Bluff Magazine, Serpentine, The Horsethief's Journal, Niedergasse, Conspire, Riding the Meridian, The Free Cuisinart, Feminista!, etc. The poems are illustrated by a very talented young artist named Cindy Duhe.

Poetry L & T:I notice from your bio that your work appears in numerous ezines. Do you feel that the Internet is generally useful for poets?

Janet Buck:Thomas Fortenberry, who wrote the foreword to my first print collection entitled Calamity's Quilt, mentioned the fact that as a writer I "grew up on the Internet." It was a very accurate assessment of my progress as a poet. The Internet has many advantages over the print world: access, cost-effectiveness, expanded channels of communication, and that essential element of conversation among writers and publishers. In terms of encouragement, a burgeoning writer on the Internet can receive almost instant gratification. The turn around time for submission is much quicker and more efficient than it is in the print sector. There will always be that warm and wonderful feeling of holding a book in print, curling up on the couch with the words. But the opportunities, I feel, far outweigh the losses. Writer's groups, message boards, and newsletters foster healthy relationships between poets, editors and publishers; they are both practical and rewarding. I am currently involved in two Internet writing groups: Athens Poetry Circle and Ensemble. We have poets from Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Israel. The camaraderie, mutual support, encouragement, and respect are crucial to and appreciated by everyone involved. When I bought a computer three years ago, I had absolutely no concept of the enormous effect it would have on my career. A writer who refuses to join the art community of cyber-space is shooting his future in the foot. As a child, I grew up expressing myself in the form of personal letters; in the seventies and eighties, we all became too reliant upon the telephone and lost the "art" of letter writing; the Internet has brought it back to life.

As a separate issue, we have the vast possibilities of "hyper-text," what I often refer to as "Immersive Art." It can combine sound, music, graphics, photography, animation, etc. and use those tools to expand the poignancy of artistic expression. Born Magazine is a ground breaker in this field, so you might want to pay them a visit at These symbols of "progress" have been met with both enthusiasm and excitement; there is also, of course, some degree of cynicism and resistance; I feel that very soon that mentality will be eliminated as cyber-space is indeed an exciting playground for art.

Poetry L & T:Have there been any major influences, or life events, which changed your way of writing?

Janet Buck:This is one of those questions that requires a new ink cartridge if you wish to print out the answer in its entirety:-). My disability has not "changed" my way of writing; it has probably in many ways determined the shape of my vision. No one signs up for a string of surgeries or swims the English Channel of strife to have just one conference with priorities; the result, however, is gratitude's rainbow shedding light on other existential elements. The suffer strokes are like "chipmunks running up my tennis shoe." Here, the "feel" is an uncontrollable rush, a scampering replete with sharp teeth, striped fur, and surprise. The fact of one shoe is a personal barb, yet the visit of the primal urge to make sense of pain is not. So, my physical struggles have become a spring board (I hope) to a more complete sensitivity. Experiencing one kind of grief gives one practice for fathoming another.

Poetry L & T: You write very powerfully on tragic life events such as death and amputation. Have you found that writing about these things is a good way of working toward recovery?

Janet Buck:I grew up in a mold of silence. My father is an incredibly sensitive and courageous man, but he is not vocal in terms of expressing grief. In many ways, I have used his eyes as a bathroom scale, felt as if I needed to chase the pony of approval through skipping over my disability and never felt safe processing the particulars of personal grief. There are times when "recovery" can only be achieved by following trauma's tributaries through dreadful veins back to the heart of who you are. The distance of a paper mask has given me that gift.

Poetry L & T: I really enjoyed reading your poem "Orchards of a Quiet Moon." It made me wonder who the poem is about, can you tell me a little more about this person?

Janet Buck: Actually, the character in "Orchards of a Quiet Moon" is a combination of the mind-sets of many special people in my life. The poem was "sparked" one day as I was driving to the YMCA to swim my daily laps. There in the cold fog of a park, on a blanket, lay a man reading and writing and occasionally rolling over to stare up at the sky. He was apparently homeless, or I wrongly assumed it because of his tattered clothes. The rest of us were caught in the plugged-up toilet of traffic time, bumper-to-bumper, our obligations for the day ahead pounding in our minds. I have known some very special teachers in my life, people who loved books and sensations and details, the warm hugs of frail admission, people who stopped to pick flowers and plant them. The man in the poem is a collection of those influences, something I suppose I, as a writer, always strive to emulate.

Poetry L & T: You have won many awards for your poetry. Would you recommend entering competitions as a good way for poets to push themselves to improve their work?

Janet Buck:Put simply, yes. While it can be costly both financially and in terms of time, that recognition, that sense of appreciation (no matter how infrequently it may arrive) keeps a writer's blood pounding in terms of mission. One rarely knows what poem, what style, what combination will strike a set of judges as the "best" of the lot. I sent off a poem called "Acrylic Thighs" to an artistic venue in Japan. My poem was chosen as one of ten from around the globe to be translated into five languages and put on exhibit at the United Nations Exhibit Hall in New York City; it will be paired with original artwork, go on tour to France, Brazil, Vietnam, Australia, and Japan, and be featured the Paralympics in Syndey this summer. Frankly, I did that on a whim. The announcement in a newsletter made it sound like a VERY long shot...but I thought, "Oh, what the heck! Those who don't dream sit still too long and their butts start to hurt. Why not give it a chance." That whim has become a milestone in my career and opened many other doors of opportunity. I would caution all aspiring writers to stay clear of organizations that cram thousands of poems in a collection and then try to sell you a book for $60 or more. They are often capitalizing on a writer's dream of seeing himself in print, rather than assembling a group of talented and profound poets.

Poetry L & T:What are the most common errors or bad habits that you see in the work of inexperienced poets?

Janet Buck:Clichés, forced rhyme and meter, a lack of concrete images, and didacticism. When I first began writing, those were all part of a weak stage that I had to work myself out of slowly. While "accessibility" is important, no one wants to read over-sentimentality or come face to face with a writer preaching his moral vision.

Poetry L & T: Do you feel that there are any media influences (for example popular music lyrics) that can be a bad influence for poets?

Janet Buck: The "right stuff" of art comes from a very eclectic collection of sources. Aspiring writers should realize, I think, that a country song (and I love country music) is not a poem, nor is it a paradigm to follow. I have, however, written many pieces about the experience of letting a truly inspiring film clash or blend with an element of my own life. I have written and published poems based on Scent of a Woman, One True Thing, City of Angels, Horse Whisperer, A Time to Kill, the piano, The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic, even the semi-light comedy of Curly Sue. But these films were food for thought, not models or outlines of a poem.

Poetry L & T: Finally, Janet, what advice would you give for any of your students who wish to become successful, published poets?

Janet Buck:Be determined! Write every single day. Develop a pattern of collecting images and words (I call it the "keyword plunge"). Take notes on life. Believe in the matter cliques of your own vision. Assemble them. Revise. Regroup. Read your poetry to others. Let it sit for a while; gain some distance. But don't be afraid to send it off. Listen carefully to those who comment on your work in a constructive manner, but try not to consider rejection as a dismissal of the fabric of your life or a kick in emotion's groin. It is very difficult to separate the Siamese Twins of rejection and disappointment, but it must be done. When someone offers suggestions, I always listen, because their complaints are usually a reflection of my own problems in terms of making a piece "accessible." They may not offer a viable solution or one I concur with, but they will get me to consider other avenues and strategies. There is really no room for egotism and heavy doses of self-defense in a writer's career. We are responsible for reaching our readers; I feel most editors are also aspiring to that end.

Poetry L & T:Thank you for the interview, Janet.

Janet Buck:Thank you, Sara, for inviting me.

Janet Buck's Poems

Orchards of a Quiet Moon
© Janet I. Buck

His body seemed
an arbitrary sketch on grass.
He hugged himself
with morning dew.
A busy pen
saved memories
of darkness beaten
by the light
like topaz suns
in popcorn balls
that feel at home
in winter's fog.

He had that dense
and thoughtful pose.
A careful Buddha
spooning ketchup
from a plate
in tiny spouts
to use again.
His fleur-de-lis
contained in pupils,
iris bulbs that make
their sprouts deep
under ground
where worms
have passed
a season's shift.

Clothes were old
and dry bologna
right beside our caviar.
He was dressed
in other things.
A word trapeze
(he knew its ropes).
Cattle calls from busy owls
to orchards of a quiet moon.

The Flat Soufflé
© Janet I. Buck

A sudden stroke and motion lost
like puppies felled by semi-trucks.
Your whole left side in atrophy.
Coliseum bricks to sand.
Money isn't there to build
a tower from the shattered dream.
A bed sore on a stagnant heal
started as a simple match.
Fate struck it once and set it down;
the nursing home ignored its flame.
A cruel aberration lives
to rub its salt in open wounds where knives
were called to meet gangrene.
Your stump is dregs of submarines
brushing paint on razor reefs.
I'd like to promise happy codas,
promenades, not flat soufflés
of suffer's eggs, not anorexic whale bellies
batting down some stormy shore.

Festering myths of medicine
have offered sour miracles
and promises they could not keep.
My fathom bench is useless nipples
on a breast but all I have to offer you.
There will be bytes of burning chilies
torturing the days ahead.
The presence of another fall
will always be some albatross.
Youth in plaster peeling off
from ceilings made of blistered glass.
You can't rely on paper masks,
and tissues of a tear will tear.
You'll touch those eyes like pepper flakes;
people stare injustice down.
They aren't afraid for you.
It's only the signal of mortal crops
that shaves their pages, turns their heads.

You can't revise the bones they stole;
you can't demand reversal here.
You'll hate a chair, despise a crutch.
My words are merely Vaseline
on poison bites from scorpions.
Like lilies after Easter Mass,
those stalks are headed for the trash.
The flood-fill key must come from you--
tapping some artesian well
for oats and bran of groping sane.
Shady veils of courage shrouds
are all you have to push away:
threats of tombs, caves of graves,
vacuums of depression's womb.

Crushed Slippers
© Janet I. Buck

A present foot in useless tombs.
Crooked, sharp and broken blades
of someone's painted rocking horse.
A saw meets flesh re-quilted into
shameful posit of a stump.
Air weighs more than seeded clouds.
I wake up after surgery -
think I'm somehow lighter now.
I'll know I'm there when I can bite
a bathroom mirror in honest two -
go my way in summer shorts.
There sit slippers, pumps, and thongs.
Bazookas of a bitter cartridge -
bubble gum in holes of flutes.

Empty growing deeper things
in ways a world can't understand
but lives with watching anyway.
Hollow turns to peat moss
fragments in a barn, a dry straw nest
of missingness calling to a raging flame.
I'll realize the penetration of the light -
see what it reveals of me.
I'll sleep when snoring lumpy naked
fails to wake my peace of mind.
When dregs become a sexy breast
I let you fondle tenderly.

I'll know I'm there when where is wearing
open sides of evening gowns,
not wet chips of winter wood.
All we lose in life is fine -
a yardstick sizing what we own.
Glued unicorns in photo slots
and not just anger's diary.
A locust eating local ghosts
and building easels from their wings.
The foliage of one tragedy:
remiges from fate and will
in battles of a pen's platoon.

The Early Grave
© Janet I. Buck

Death always moves our furniture
in ways we try but cant put back.
Its divets scorch the calm within.
Branding irons on busy cattle
hiking hooves away from thirst.
Couch was soft and now its hard.
Porch swings lose their bolts and screws.
Blood in perfect mashed potatoes
soiled all the white youd earned.

Moss around a summer fountain
turning to spots of black gangrene.
His passing slapped like
rapes and murders rolled in one.
Attic bats of memories
were tweezers taken to a daisy.
Plentys crumbled cornbread stuffing
littered on a grieving floor.

A housecoat minus husband homes--
places for your food to go.
Your cupboards full of unspread jam.
A kitchen without a reason to cook.
Sunsets slip before a lens
can zoom and snap their belly fire.
You were left with stalking tongues
of wishing you had traveled more,
held the infant of your love
before its cradle vomited.

The Sipping Song
© Janet I. Buck

Silver bells of clinking glass
ran the show of family life.
No scrapbooks of deep voyages.
Stuff a sob and take a sip.
Steak tartare on broken plates
of wrinkled faces staring
at the backs of storms.
Facing all those onus clouds,
the common oxygen of grief.
Dismissed in lieu of lighter ether.
Bottles were stone pillars here
in tithers of a secrets wind.

Sober stuff like poetry
was hurricanes and leaking gas.
Surgeries without the anesthetic gift.
Pain a slug upon a path
of primrose petals planted
with obscuring purpose,
taming ice with salt and tread.
Stuff a sob and take a sip.
Alliterations sweet denial
in closets of its very best.
This suffocating sorting thing
was not invited to the house.
All that honest pubic hair--
dogs that jump on unmade beds.

Crocodile Penniless
© Janet I. Buck

"That translucent alabaster of our memories..."

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Caught off guard, stomped down ghosts
resurface now like crabs
emerge from winter sand.
A son youve loved but never seen
is prickled hair on tender nerves.
His quaking chin, receiver pressed
against red cheek, all that possibility
becomes some rose about to bloom.
Explaining doesnt change the facts.
Seventeen without a ring.
Pregnant. Sorry. Happy. Sad.
Shaken up like ketchup bottles
bearing lids that fate unscrewed.

Ring around the shackle shame
in halos of a parchment moon.
Memories are mimes and mines.
A baby shower was never planned.
Anger is a rabid dog.
Tears seem frail monuments.
Right now it hurts so much you die-
like Plath or Proust
fishing in some prison camp.
Crocodile penniless
in terms of naked confidence.
Mandolins of void redressed -
this time ready for the light.

Birthday parties. Mickey Mouse.
Cinderella at the Louvre.
Kittens scratching at a screen
for bird seeds of a heritage.
The business card of love is there;
just press it in his open palm.
Impotence and ankle bracelets-
capricious shadows of our past-
the hosts of all our viruses.

Unleashing locks and leaving scars.
This sort of reach a painful stretch
no yoga teacher, scented prayer
can lift and box, avenge and trap.
Flues of past turn flutes
of living muddy streams.
Matches draw out ticks of wishing,
lynching lice that came with birth.


Dear Poets,

This issue features an interview with Janet Buck, a poet and college tutor who has been widely published on the Internet.

She has some very good, constructive advice on how to improve poetry writing skills.

In the Featured Poets section this month, three poets new to Poetry Life & Times are Ward Kelley, Ric Masten and Andrew Belsey, who writes many four-line poems. Also featured is regular contributor Jan Sand.

There is a new Capricorn International Poetry Competition which closes at the end of March. The organizer, Deborah Tutton, tells me that poets outside the UK usually send international money orders for the entry fee. Full details below this newsletter.

Any comments on this issue or back issues can be emailed to me on the link at the bottom of the page. Please indicate whether you would like such comments to be included in the Letters section.

Best Regards,



Theme: An Original Poem or Short Story
No restriction to style, content or length.



Plus five additional runners-up prizes of publication in the poetry category.
All winners will have their work published in an anthology and receive a complimentary copy.

ENTRY FEE: £3.00 per poem or short story, £1.00 4th poem and/or story and beyond.
No limit to number of entries as long as each is accompanied by the correct entry fee.

Poems and stories should be titled but not bear the author's name - name and address should be on a separate sheet of paper with a list of titles. Entries should be typed or handwritten (provided they are legible). Send entries (with sae if a list of winners is required) to:

The Capricorn International Poetry and Short Story Competition,
17 West Lea Road, Weston, Bath BA1 3RL.

No entry form required. Please keep copies as entries can only be returned with s.a.e.
Cheques should be made payable to The Capricorn International Poetry and Short Story Competition.
Winners will be notified by 30 June 2000.

Featured poets this month include Ward Kelley, Ric Masten, Andrew Belsey and Jan Sand. Many thanks to all contributors.

Ward Kelley

is a 49 year old business executive with 3,600 people in the division reporting to him. In a sense, he maintains that the daimon that propels his occupation also propels his poetry. He tells me: "Gertrude Stein once said, "If Mr. Robert Frost is at all good as a poet, it is because he is a farmer -- really in his mind a farmer, I mean."

"Am I a businessman who writes poetry, or a very minor poet successful at business? Who knows? But my daimon propelled me into such a good financial position that I could now quit my business dealings and comfortably write poetry the rest of my life . . . yet I am afraid to quit for fear my daimon will leave me, or my greed will taunt me for decades."

Formerly Ward managed distribution centers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Arizona and Illinois. He now lives with his wife outside of Indianapolis and is currently toiling with much determination on their second crop of children, having adopted four wonderful girls and fostered several others.

Ward is new to publishing his work, but he has been fortunate enough to enjoy some initial successes, and has published 398 pieces since late '96. Current successes are: being nominated for the 1999 Pushcart; completing an interview with Israeli poet Elisha Porat (1996 winner of the Prime Minister Prize for Literature); being accepted by Rattle for the second time; Sunstone, Porcupine Literary Magazine; the Ezines Pif, 2River View, Oblique and Offcourse; and by print magazines Potpourri and Skylark -- each for the third time. He was also selected as the Featured Poet by the Ezine Seeker, and the Canadian Ezine, Pyrowords.

The Astrophysicist's Partner Speaks

Two novels, "Divine Murder" and "Keenly Alive, Tony,"
are represented by The Sternig & Byrne Literary Agency

Of the 398 published pieces, some have found their way into:

The GSU Review
The Listening Eye
The Lucid Stone
Mad Poets Review
The Old Red Kimono
Porcupine Literary Magazine
River King
Sulphur River Review

Emily's Fly
© Ward Kelley

I once thought it would be a fly
that buzzed at the point of death,
but this was not as precise as I
now suspect . . .

you would think I would know,
and not have to resort to boorish
suspicion. But the passage itself
does not make one an expert

on the membrane mechanism;
indeed life can be as mysterious
on this side as death appears
to the breathing ones over there.

So I suspect it is in the foliations
of the mind as they creased
a corresponding corrugation
on the lap of death that produces

the buzz, as when a fly, misguided,
lands on the ear, but in life I never
heard an electrical buzz . . . yet I
now see how the brain conspires

with currents of electrical matter,
thoughts beyond the science of my
particular century, although I do
suspect we were closer to death,

a more poetic subject to those
of us in the sizzling.

Artist's note:
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), New England poet, is one of the country's greatest poets. Spending nearly all of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts, the last half in relative seclusion, Emily came to be known as eccentric. Besides rare contacts with people outside her immediate family, she wore only white dresses and sometimes referred to herself as a wayward nun. Regarding her poems - only eleven of 1,775 poems were published during her lifetime - she advocated the "propounded word." Her word for herself as a poet was "gnome," and the poems themselves she called, "bulletins from Immortality." Her last communication was written the day before her death, a short letter sent to young relatives: "Little cousins, - Called back. Emily."

© Ward Kelley

Bobbing in a frigid sea, heads and heads,
brief survivors of a shipwreck, some up,
some underneath, we reach for contact,
the bluish skin of our hands stretched
to its limit, and still the cold suffocates
more and more of our dear body's heat.

Are we dead yet? How does one tell?
Perhaps the only confirmation of life,
or death, is profound exclamation, for
if you are not yet dead then you are
obligated to discover a better way to
roar at your fellow survivors . . .

and if you are not yet alive . . .
so too are you obligated to appeal
to your fellow astounded travelers.

And then, some few of us odd journeyers
forget to which group we should adhere,
and make sound from living ear to dead ear . . .

and yet I find no fear.

Precocity of the Dead
© Ward Kelley

The dead ones sometimes appear
Cagneyesque in that occasionally
they complain about a bad rap.

"Who invented these ghouls and devils,"
they interpose, "who came up
with ghosts or the sinister dead?"

I must admit they have a point,
for whenever I describe them to
myself, I always avoid such terms

as cute or insecure or even precocious,
however precise. Indeed once you become
used to the very concept of dead ones

popping in for a chat now and then,
they appear anything but sinister.
"We always seem to be out of step

with popular lore," they complain,
"but must you call us cute? Although
we might at least find angelic acceptable."

At last I see, even dead, we all tend
to describe ourselves more favorably
than others might observe us to be.

[email protected]

portrait of Ric
by Reed Farrington

was born in Carmel, California, in 1929. He has toured extensively over the last thirty years, reading his poetry in well over 400 colleges and universities in North America, Canada, and England. He is a well-known conference theme speaker and is a regular on many television and radio talk shows. He lives with his poet/wood carver wife Billie Barbara in the Big Sur mountains of California. He has 13 books to his credit. (see

© Ric Masten

never could
look up words in the dictionary

in a high school assignment
writing an autobiography
I described my self as a unique person
scribbled in the margin
the teachers correction fairly chortled
"unique" not "eunuch"
how could he have known
that one day I would actually become
a misspelling

backed against the wall
by advanced prostate cancer
I chose the operation
over the enormous ongoing
expense of chemical castration
"No big deal." I thought at the time
what’s the difference
they both add up to the same thing

but in the movies these days
during the hot gratuitous sex scene
I yawn… bored...
wishing they’d quit dicking around
and get on with the plot
and the buxom cuties on TV
that titillate around the products
certainly don’t sell me

I realize now that
although it would probably kill them
the guys who went chemical
still have an option
I don’t

philosophically I’m the same person
but biologically
I ‘m like the picture puzzle
our family traditionally puts together
over the holidays
the French impressionist rendition
of a flower shop's interior
in all it’s bright colorful confusion

this season I didn’t work the puzzle
quite as enthusiastically...
and for good reason
this year I know pieces are missing
where the orchids used to be

"So?" says I to myself
"You’re still here to smell the roses."

© Ric Masten

trolling the California mental health scene
with a two-day seminar: Depression Syndrome —
An Astrological Vegetarian Holistic Approach

the catch was for the most part native
to the Pacific coast — flounders — groupers
left in the wake of Prop. 13
what you might expect
except for two migrating Easterners

a deep water psychiatrist
who took copious notes in a perfect hand
his eyes had a bugged look
but under pressure his gaze never wavered
and a female child psychologist
a spiny thing in a tailored tweed suit
who retreated into a hard cover book
whenever approached

even before orientation was over
they had found each other
and like sharks formed a silent alliance
a disturbing presence
that had the rest of us running like grunion
darting around — intellectualizing
unable to risk and grow knowing
that there was something alien
in the water sizing us up — rolling its eyes
exchanging looks that ranged from pain to pity

a couple of cold fish in the house of Aquarius

the next day however
the sea-world analogy began to come apart
for the psychologist it happened at coffee break
when mildly amused by something she smiled
and in that brief softening
i could see that she was quite pretty

the psychiatrist?
he kept that pencil going until just before noon
when he startled the room with a Robert Penn Warren
type poem about wanting to grow up
and be like his youngest son

after lunch they didn’t return
somewhat relieved and at the same time disappointed
the rest of us came together
for a warm California closing: ohmmmmmmmm

what happened to them?
only they know
perhaps they went on
to spend the afternoon together in San Francisco

two lonely people
three thousand miles from the ocean
living out the kind of sophisticated story
you only find in the New Yorker

© Ric Masten

the continuing story
of a traveling salesman continues
this time we find him running
out of an airport gift shop
with a cap pistol and a doll
a surprise for the kids
but like oxfords hastily bought
a size too small
(the kids I remembered were not kids at all)

"I think I've been gone longer than I thought."
cried old Saint Nick as ever ho-ho-ho-ing
as ever coming and going
giving the children puppies for Christmas...
never there when the dog died

but it's okay Dad — it's all right
they say there is no such thing as a bad parent
they say even people who batter their offspring
are doing the best they know how to do

and you can tell that
to the boxes that were never opened
you can tell that to the shoes that pinch

[email protected]

Andrew Belsey was born in 1942 in Hilton on the edge of the East Anglian fenlands. He has lived in Kent, London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Leamington Spa, Cambridge and Cardiff, where he teaches philosophy at Cardiff University. He has been writing poetry since the 1960s. His poems and concrete poems have been published in various small magazines and anthologies, and in a booklet, Anaximander (Outposts Publications, 1974). More recently the poems have started to appear in Internet magazines, including Snakeskin and A Writer's Choice Literary Journal. He especially enjoys the challenge of writing four-line poems with strict rhymes and metre.

© Andrew Belsey

Did Archimedes feel the blow that brought
The first and grand and wondrous start to nought,
Confirmed the facile new imperial pride,
And gave two thousand years of death to thought?

Another Disappointment
© Andrew Belsey

I put the pistol to my head
And pull the trigger quick:
Life will be better when I'm dead -
But all I hear is "click."

© Andrew Belsey

Look on my face and touch the thorny crown,
My name is Done-to-Death and Might-Have-Been,
Lose-All-You-Have and Always-Do-You-Down,
And Quake-Before-the-Thing-that-You-Have-Seen.

Cuchulain Sulks on his Wedding Night
© Andrew Belsey

She damps the bride-bed with despairing tears,
Bleeds from void where once her heart had roots,
Struck by electric bolts of future fears,
And visions of the tramp of empty boots.

Etiquette and Ethics
© Andrew Belsey

You might go bonkers if I gave you flowers
And yell it's not the PC thing these days:
I've thought about the etiquette for hours
But find I'm wandering in a moral maze.

Kendal in the Wind
© Andrew Belsey

You wander whistling round the lakes
Attracted by those minty cakes,
You wonder why you ever sinned
When you're in Kendal in the wind.

Double Declutch
© Andrew Belsey

That sweet place your bosom cleaves
Makes my fingers into thieves
As they trespass far too much
Trying to steal just one more touch.

Fallen Angel
© Andrew Belsey

They say that there's a world out there
With sunny skies and pleasant air
But I am here because I fell
All the way from paradise to hell.

[email protected]

Self-portrait by Jan Sand

JAN SAND, poet and illustrator from New York, is a regular contributor to Poetry Life & Times. and the newsgroup alt.arts.poetry.comments. A great deal of his work is about animals, or science fiction.

To see more of Jan's poems, visit the November '98 issue of Poetry Life & Times, and scroll down past the Editor's Letter.

© Jan Sand

Is dust depersonified
Or has personality
Warped the bonds of molecules
Into the intents,
Speculations and desires
Of those multitudes
Now been and gone?

That swirl of sunlit motes.
Is it just random tornado
Or Julius Caesar in delightful joy
At minuet with Marilyn Monroe?

© Jan Sand

The world is in my fingertips,
The world is in my eyes.
The sounds in bells and cockleshells,
The smells of hot french fries
Exist, along with lips fresh kissed,
In skin and bone and nerve.
I am the world, the world is me.
We mingle inextricably
So that my parts all serve
To anchor to infinity,
To then, to now, to what might be
As I slide through my curve
Delighting in my nose, my toes,
My left and my right knee.

© Jan Sand

It floats above the museum floor
On wooden blocks. A black onyx shadow
On a placid polished marble sea,
Its reflection a submerged twin beneath the surface.
Children's curious hands slide along its heavy bulk
Probing the tiny precise owls, the suns, the gods
Incised into its perfect black skin, its secret message
As inscrutable as the message sent out to the galaxy
By our scientists to an alien culture in the stars.
This time ship has long lost its royal passenger,
Now unwrapped, disassembled and analyzed.
It beckons, now, hungry to fill its hollowness.
"Come," it whispers. " Come inside, close the lid
And we will sail down the centuries
To eternity"

© Jan Sand

Schrodinger would have the cat
Dead or alive, or maybe both.
It must be, he postulated, this or that
But, finally, he was loathe
To conclude, in interlude, to be definite.
The cat, to take his thought along its track,
Should have variations towards the infinite,
Spiral out to infinity and double back,
So that the feline entity could polymorph;
Become a bumblebee, a rose, a dinosaur, an elf,
A traffic cop, an ice cream pop, a Snow White dwarf
A purple cow, or, perhaps, Schrodinger himself

[email protected]

Back Issues of POETRY LIFE & TIMES:

September 1998

October 1998

November 1998

December 1998

January 1999

February 1999

March 1999

April 1999

May 1999

June 1999

July 1999

August 1999

September 1999

October 1999

November 1999

December 1999

January 2000

February 2000

Mail me on: [email protected] with any poems, comments for the letters page, news about your poetry site, or forthcoming poetry events.

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