My Poetry

Carol A. Stephen

I was asked to create a page for my poetry. Here you’ll find many of the poems I’ve posted on my blog over the last year. Hope you enjoy the selections! And if you want to read my brief exploration of sound in poetry, which I posted at the end of August, you’ll find that here:

https://quillfyre.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/using-sound-elements-in-poetry-a-little-bacon-and-egg-music/

Sept. 2, 2012: I’m posting this poem in response to a challenge on dVersePoets about rebellion. Since the prompt is quite broad, this poem seems to work for it. Comes from my first chapbook.

OUT OF LOVE WITH THE FROG
after Claudia Coutu Radmore

American Bullfrog Rana catesbeiana Side 1800px

American Bullfrog Rana catesbeiana Side 1800px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure the exact day
I fell out of love with the frog
Rana catesbeiana…
was it the toothless mandible,
the way his eyes retracted
through roof of mouth
the fenestrated skull with its rows
of tiny teeth on maxilla?

I became prey, my every motion
a spur to devour me,
first my thoughts, then my character,
leaving me thoughtless and merciless.

Each strike his eyes would close,
then lunge, mouth open,
mucous tongue upon me
jaws continuing forward
clenching, grasping me in tiny teeth.
As we sank into swamp,
the frog tried to break my defences,
hold me under until I asphyxiated.
Obstinate as always, I broke free.

Originally published in Above the Hum of Yellow Jackets, Bondi Press, 2011

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Aug. 17, 2012:  For the Thursday Treat prompt at imaginary garden with real toads:

Saint Patrick‘s sister voices her opinion

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What can one say about a brother?

Everyone knows
they are not saints.
Patrick was no different,
although time and its passing
have made him so.

The truth of it?
There were no snakes
on the island.
How would they have come?

Patrick would not
have driven them out,
he would have sat down
to tea and crumpets, a peat fire,
perhaps a wee whiskey
and blarneyed the snakes
into swimming to France.
Yes, so he would!

A poet, a charmer,
but no saint.
He was Irish, after all.
And that’s the truth of it.

*********

Aug. 15, 2012:   So the prompt for Open Link night over at dVerse suggests city poems, the unexpected.http://dversepoets.com/2012/08/14/openlinknight-week-57/

And I am thinking about my visit to London. I’d travelled a lot by then, seen a lot of cities,

British Museum

British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but this was the one where my father was a child, where his ancestors had settled upon emigrating from Belgium (and before that the Netherlands). I had visited the British

Museum, overwhelmed by the antiquities stacked up like so many boxes of inventoried goods. I’d never even heard of the Museum of London. But as soon as I entered, something was different. Well, here’s the poem, written years and years later, and the memories of that visit still so vivid.

Roman mosaic found in London, Museum of London
Roman mosaic found in London, Museum of London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s how strongly I was struck by this place.

I enter the Museum of London
expecting the usual mummies

Greek gods cast in marble,
friezes that capture a moment
centuries ago. But here is a
clear glass pillar, its core is
geology’s construct revealing
layer on layer; sediment
marks eras, detritus trapped
in soil, grave markers for past
lives of the city.

Chill bathes my arms in wonder
so strong I catch my breath.
Here are roots of family and
history: this place, this city where
ancestors walked. Connection.
My shoulders soften into the
sense of yes, of coming home.

Twenty-five years have passed
yet I still see the diorama
of a Roman villa, plates on table,
banners of kings and princes,
red glow, crackle of the Great
Fire of 1666, the frightening
sound of air-raid sirens:
World War II in a bunker
under the streets.

This is not a place of dusty
bones and broken bits of
bygone days. Here the old
city lives within new, here

above the graves of ancients
are papers scripted in flowing
hand, great-great grandfather
David’s petition of naturalisation
to George Grey, baronet
whose family name graces
packages of tea.

David died here:
I hear his voice,
I can almost touch his face.

Carol A. Stephen

Related articles

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Posted Aug. 14, 2012: This came in response to a post on dVerse, Poets Pub, from Stuart McPherson, and to the referenced sculptures on exhibit by Paladino in Villa Fiorentino, Sorrento, Italy.

I also watched this interesting video with haunting music by Brian Eno and featuring the sculptures of Palladino at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-q_DNIDGJU

Sleeper, Dreaming

(reflecting on I Dormienti by Mimmo Palladino)

She places her ear close to the sound of the earth
where cool green water pools upon stone, caught
in a memory, when air she breathed was fresh with
the breezes soft against her cheek, when the hot winds
that now weigh down her body were but passing
moments of brief summer.

She has become clay, she has become stone herself
as she sleeps, her cheek pressed to the ground. She
dreams of winter and the immaculate white of new-
fallen snow. She remembers the joy of making snow
angels. Her mouth remembers the taste of ice-crystals,
the quench of cold water in her throat.

Carol A. Stephen
August 14, 2012

**************

From a post on July 18, 2012:

A poem celebrating the knowledge that comes with age and experience of the world, and ancient wisdom.

2005 Powwow

Wisdom Of Thumbs And Soil

Our elders walk in the way of the wise,
they know but wait to be asked
questions by those who have
forgotten their thumbs. The young
cannot sign, are left to wander in
cold wearing the skirts of summer, their
feet frozen in January snows, blue toes
poking through sandals, eyes not yet
mirrors of what and who has passed.

Zulu woman making pot at reconstructed traditi...

Our elders are skilled in the craft
of beads and skins, knives curving
along the hides, knuckles curved
white under the tension of the leather,
fingertips delicate as they knot threads

to bind beads to a silken cord.  

Withering hands spin in the shadow
of grief, as the mind grows and the body fades.
Those who begin to question hear
the dead whispering stories in the roots
of trees. Those coming after will
rest among the roots of ancestors,
will take from the soil knowledge of
seed and root and branch. This tree
bears the seed of all trees yet to come,
as it was born of all trees that
have come before.  

Tree

Carol A. Stephen
October 14, 2011

some of the phrases in this poem based
on Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom teachings

**********

In April, I participated in the NaPoWriMo challenge, with many of those poems appearing on my blog. Here are some of those poems, collected in one place:

April 30, 2012:  NaPoWriMo :And now, the final prompt. Artist and writer Joe Brainard is probably best remembered for his 1970 poem/memoir I Remember. The book consists of multiple statements beginning with the phrase “I remember,” including:

I remember my first erections. I thought I had some terrible disease or something.
I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.
I remember when my father would say “Keep your hands out from under the covers” as he said goodnight. But he said it in a nice way.
I remember when I thought that if you did anything bad, policemen would put you in jail.

Today’s prompt asks you to write a poem incorporating at least three “I remember” statements. This invocation of memory seems a fitting way to end our month together.

Good luck, and happy writing

So here is my attempt:

I  Remember Being Ten  

English: Youths playing the Red Rover game.

Playing Red Rover game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember the first taste of plums, bitter black
skin shielding  the sweetness in the flesh.

I remember winters in childhood, the temperature  sub zero,
the toboggan swift over snow, slam of spine against hard impact.

I remember the flash and flicker of black and white test patterns that filled
the television screen, dartboard geometrics, Indian head in full dress

I remember street games, the call and response, Red Rover, dibs and eeny
meeny counts, the sewer grate chosen as  first base, impatient warnings: CAR!

I remember Granny:  whispered warnings against opening the door to strangers,
Scotch mints in her pocket, her conspiratorial shush, finger firm against lips,

her sensible Oxford shoes.

***********

April 26, 2012: NaPoWriMo, the prompt reads:

“Our prompt for today, however, is not likely to induce smiles. For today, I challenge you to write an elegy. Classically, an elegy is a poem written in response to someone’s death, a poem of mourning and remembrance. Your elegy can be about a specific person, a group of people, a pet, a plant, even an idea. Or, like Anne Sexton, you could try your hand at an anti-elegy. Happy (I think?) writing!

Elegy for the Fragments

Today I mourn for the years
spent on a love one-sided
a love all give, and give again
for eyes closed too long against
reality everyone else could see.

I mourn for the fragments
worn away from the self, worn
down to chafe and inflammation
worn to irritation under skin
worn to grit under the tongue.

Today I give thanks for sight
for insight into the other of me
she who repeats somewhere
below conscious thought
the need for letting go.

Today there is the lightness
of air, the upward flight of birds
one feather falling, a freedom
in the spirit, this window
this new and opening door.

***********

April 25, 2012: NaPoWriMo On April 25, 2012 said: “Yesterday’s challenge was a bit of a brain-burner, so I’ve made today’s a bit easier. Back on Day Ten, I challenged you to start a poem with a line from another poem. Today, let’s go a bit further in our theft and write centos — poems made up entirely of lines from other poems. You could write a new sonnet out of lines from Shakespeare, or just troll about in an anthology for likely lines. Try to create a cento of at least ten lines. For inspiration, here’s an example. Happy writing!

Here is my attempt, with the poets noted below the cento:

Hungry Static, a cento

My breasts are withered gourds
my skin all over      stiffens
from stone to bronze, from bronze to steel

ospreys would fall like valkyries
for one carved instant as they flew
in sky milk and those soft murmurings

endlessly repeating something we cannot hear
a deeper note is sounding, heard in the mines
I hear a thousand miles of hungry static

and the old clear water eating rocks
outside, the articulate wind annotates this; I read carefully
I have spoken to it in a foreign tongue

I didn’t mean to mention the price of snowsuits.

Lines from:
(Dorothy Livesay) (EJ Pratt) (Earle Birney) (Al Purdy) (F.R. Scott) (Leonard Cohen)
(Gwendolyn MacEwen) (Bronwen Wallace)

***********

April 24, 2012:   NaPoWriMo says: “Today’s prompt is a bit of a doozy . . . so if you feel like you don’t have it in you, feel free, as always, to take a pass! Today’s challenge is a lipogram/Beautiful Outlaw/Beautiful In-Law. A lipogram is a poem that explicitly refrains from using certain letters. The most classic letter to swear off, at least for English speakers, is “e.” A Beautiful Outlaw is a variation on a lipogram, wherein you refrain from using any of the letters in a certain name. For example, if you chose the name Sarah, then you could not use s, a, r, or h. A Beautiful In-Law is another variant, wherein you only use the letters in a certain name (better pick a long name!)
You might think that any lipogram would end up having to be short, but some people have been successful at virtuoso performances in this vein — check out this excerpt from Christian Bök’s Eunoia, in which he uses no vowels except i. It goes on for nine pages!”

I guess the weather has got me down a bit, still cold although the sun,as it sets, is at its brightest so far today.  Still, the day made me think of storms and cold.

So for the prompt, I chose not to use the letter “i”.  Here’s my effort.

That Sort of a Day

A vacant acorn husk
spawns dream of tree, the oak
drops seed on ground to feed

Acorn hoarded by Acorn Woodpecker

woodpeckers and jays as they watch for the soak
of groundwater under trees that tease
yellows and reds to dance under

the faffer of breeze, scuddy weather
set free today the greys and blues of sky.

A storm comes on, then gone before
wet drops reach the lawn.
Today the best place to be

a warm bed or curled upon
the sofa where a fat furry cat
warms the soles of cold feet.

***********

April 23, 2012: NaPoWriMo The prompt said:
” Today, I challenge you to write an ekphrastic poem — that is, a poem that responds to or is otherwise inspired by a work of art. Probably the most famous ekphrastic poem in English is Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, but there is no lack of modern ekphrastic work. Take Auden’s Musee de Beaux Arts or Robert Lowell’s For the Union Dead. So go forth and find a painting, sculpture, photograph, or even a piece of music, and use it to inform your poem for today. Art creates art — it’s so efficient!”

I used a favourite photo I took a couple of years ago at a writing retreat at Bridgewater, a place for artists and writers about two hours from home.

Where Have All the Poets Gone? Photo credit: C. Stephen

A Contemplation of Poets

On hot summer days even the sun
floats on the river for relief
hard bright light fading trees
to a blur that only remembers soft green.

Shade offers daylilies reprieve
from heat, yet their petals
curl and fade, prepare to fall.
Only the bright chairs

appear untouched by heat and fade
their colours brilliant even
in the shade. They wait. Poets
not seen but somewhere
near and always contemplating.

***********

April 22, 2012: The prompt for today said “I’d like you to write a poem about a plant. Flowers, of course, have been the subject of poems since time immemorial, and continue to be a source of much inspiration. But perhaps you could write about a tree, or a shrub, or grass. Maybe even a fictional or mythological plant. I could really see some good poems about the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary! (In fact, a few poems were written about it, back between 1550 and 1800. I say it’s time for a renaissance!)” 

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I read about that and it was interesting, another of those stories where everyone has a version and they are not necessarily the same, but not different either. So here’s my poem:

Of Mythical Tales of Watersheep and Barnacle Geese

Were watersheep born on the stem of a plant,
or Barnacle geese born of wood drifted slant,
or maybe both spawned from some strange fleshy fruit?
Perhaps they were mythical creatures to boot,
the stories embellished for use on fast day,
so men could still savour their meals on Friday.

English: Barnacle Geese. Facsimile of an Engra...

Barnacle Geese. Facsimile of Engraving on Wood, from “Cosmographie Universelle” of Munster, folio, Basle, 1552. Project Gutenberg text 10940 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These men of the cloth and of pious belief
could eat meat those days in such a relief,
that these were the fruits of the water, the sea,
and so could be eaten most sensitively

on fish days and fast days and days in between,
they’d not have to worry the meat might be seen.
If meat is a fruit, it could be tomato,
or if it’s veggie, it could be potato,
and then there’s no sin that must be repented
no penance to do, and nothing resented.

It all sounds quite silly, I think you’ll agree,
just another old wives’ tale if you ask me.

Here, also, real Barnacle Geese, looking perfectly

normal.

Two Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

Two Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

***********

April 16, 2012: The prompt for Day 16 is to choose one of three pictures and write a poem based on it.  Here’s what I wrote based on this photo, chosen from the NaPoWriMo prompt.

When I Remember You

your face in shadow, this
double image, your face
two faces one forward, one
away. My fingers would reach

to touch your cheek, touch
only the ocean breeze, the light always
behind you, your features in-
distinct. Always at dusk, even

your silhouette a blur of black on
purple sky. And I, never quite
knowing if you turned
toward me or away.

***********

April 14, 2012

This is a variation of something I wrote for the Poetry for the End of the World Contest. That particular poem was NOT the one that was a finalist.

14 line Doomsday Sonnet of Whimper and Bang

This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.
    – T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men 

Tsesig


A whimper of hail, fire, blood, horses.
The white. the red. the black. the pale.
A meditational shatter of rapture, its undimmed variations.
Carpe diem. Read Nostradamus. Revelations. Mayan quarterly.
Aquarius pours knowledge into a virtual jug. quench.
The Age of Pisces ends. bang. Mayan wisdom. 3114 B.C.
(The Spanish churched them into catholics & whimper)
Hotel rooms in the Maya region? No room at the inn.

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

Whimpering world_end a smash of asteroid. A perturbation of orbit and bang.
Hadron Collider creates microscopic black holes.
Hypothetical. strangelets. an instant swallow.
The speeding universe inhales every 25,000 years.
Thinking end of world? message: the world will/will not end.
This would mean nothing. Or the Green Party could win a majority.

***********

April 12, 2012: The 12th prompt is to “translate” a poem from another language, only on the basis of sound. I chose a German poem, Translating, by Uljana Wolf. . While I did study some German that was, oh, something like 45 years ago, so most of it is long gone. I tried to find a totally foreign language, but Arabic was beyond my abilities. Since I live in Canada where French is the other official language, I am reasonably familiar with the Latin based languages. And in fact I have studied those too, although many years ago as well. Wherever I encountered a word that I knew, I made an effort to go strictly by sound.

Upsetting

Found in a mine in stasis
answers in the slag locked leaves
answers clean green work
still hope springs and the young

thus we give answers
and yet strike without
these cursive stamps, strike
with clear outcomes

found in a mine over the wire
smuggled, fluted
it smacks us in the nose,
as we gaze, why bother them?

months and months
a fluid agent
a random mudhole
at random
this site

***********

April  9, 2012: Today’s prompt is to write in another persona.  This one is in the voice of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor’s Lament  (Henri has not come)

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort o...

Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort of Henry II of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My steps take me
again to the place of wailing
behind castle stones
where  walls weep dark tears.
Henri has not come,
though I will him so.

Pride may kill this love,
its heartbeats falter
as a small bird
quivers when held
even between gentle hands.
Henri has not come.

I shelter in this place of shadows,
keen softly at the sharp stings
of  loss and sorrow.
Henri has not come,
and Fate forbids I go.

Fate stains the dark stones
of a thousand years, yet
they stand, precarious.
A soft breath and they may
fall away.

I cannot tell Henri’s heart
from the fallen stones.
My heart lies shattered, a thousand
and a thousand shards
glint in the wet gleam
of bitter tears
and still—
Henri comes not.

Carol A Stephen
as Eleanor of Aquitaine, during her time kept prisoner by her husband, Henry II

***********

April 7, 2012: Today the prompt is to write a poem where everything is a particular colour or that colour predominates. Hope this is not too prosaic…

Layers of Saturation

The days close windows, shutter
sky in purple cloud, sending the sun
somewhere south and west.

When moon rises, she’s wrapped herself
in the purple midnight we call black,
yet purple even so.

Light from white stars filters
the line of purple through layers of night,
layers of amaranth, their haloes shimmer violet

rain descending, sending a mist
of red-blue tears. At sunrise,
beneath the trees, purple crocuses.

***********


Sharing a few of the poems posted in January 2012 as part of the River of  Stones Challenge on Writing Our Way Home

Messages from the Sun

how the light of sun
sends me messages.

how the upward arc of its rays
tweaks the corners of my mouth
after so many days of frowning.

the soft lips of cloud arc in a small smile
mirroring my own, found this morning
in the mismatched sock pile.

January 28 2012

***********

TV Medicine Men

every day a new malady,
television doctors scaring us,
the list of symptoms long.

These days I spend more time
looking in the mirror for the first sign.
Yesterday, the first feathers.

January 27 2012

 

Conch Shell 2

Conch Shell 2 (Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotography)

on listening to the sea

on the window sill
a large pink conch sleeps
until I raise it to my ear to hear
the shush of the sea as it breathes
molecules of shell, fine filaments of krill
and tiny silver fish that slide through surf
a million tiny butter knives winking

January 25, 2012

***********

Winter Garden Penitents                

in the hard-pour of January rain
hollow reeds of black-eyed susans
stiffen and crack under the ice-weight
as it wraps itself around each slender stem.

Spiny heads covered by crystal caps,
they bow with every crack, and each cry
is a prayer of contrition, a hymn they sing
to the white-haired goddesses of winter,
watching, remote, inside their crystal-cold cathedrals.

January 12, 2012

***********

Claywork 

finicky fingers hate
to be sticky.
cautious, they hesitate
to work the clay.

but the brick is cool
and moist, waiting
to be poked and prodded,
pounded and flattened.

hands, suddenly eager, begin
to mold pieces into a plate
to hold penguins as they cuddle
and cluster in one corner

do they fear the kiln’s fire
or are they just a little
too far from home?

Carol A. Stephen
January 11, 2012

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6 thoughts on “My Poetry

  1. Pingback: Quick Announcement: My Blog has a new Poetry Page! | Quillfyre

  2. Hi Carol!!! I made it to your blog to find a ‘Thursday’s Treasure’ for one of the next upcoming weeks and well…I don’t know which one to choose!!! There’s so many ‘Treasures’ on this page. Sooo, I will leave it up to you on what you would like to send to me if you would like to of course. Please send them to my e-mail…which I think you can get to by my ‘gravatar’ profile. :-D

    Thanks and look forward to see what you send me! Also, if you want to add a short bio, then that would be fantastic! Thanks!

    • Gee, you’ve got me stumped. Did you want one of the ones there on my site? Happy to choose from those if you wish! Although I think my favourite at the moment is Sleeper, Dreaming… let me know what you think of that one. It is posted in August, and I don’t think there have been many since then on that page…

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