EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

poems

  by
 

  BRUCE BENNETT
 
  ____________

 

These poems are examples from Bennett's continuing "lover's quarrel with the sonnet", and are part of the new manuscript Coming Back to Light.


T
HE SONNET ITCH

Sometimes I have this itch to simply write it:
a sonnet itch. It starts out fairly strong.
I know that it will do no good to fight it.
I’ve thought I could, and found out I was wrong.
It just persists until I am persuaded;
it’s easiest to let it have its way,
assert itself and write itself, unaided.
I have no choice, and not that much to say.
So what? I think, and so I give it leeway.
It forges on, and straightway does its thing.
I let it be in charge and feel that the way
is its way. I’m its servant, it’s the King.
And then, it’s done. The itch is scratched. I let it
think it has won. I leave it and forget it.

LOVER’S QUARREL

I’ve had a lover’s quarrel with the sonnet.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a form I use
quite happily. I’ve been relying on it
for decades, and not only to accuse
false lovers and abhorrent politicians,
but to explore God’s nature and my soul.
Succinctly, one can occupy positions,
and argue them, and then exchange that role
for others. What is wrong then? Why not take it
for what it is: a clean and comely way
to make a point? Because I cannot make it
much more than that. It’s true I have my say,
like this, but then, I’m where I was before.
It’s not the sonnet’s fault, but I want more!

PERFECT SONNET

He wrote one perfect sonnet. Then he stopped.
He wasn't going to duplicate that feat.
He knew that what he'd done could not be topped.
He saw no point in trying to repeat
a triumph that brought glory in its wake.
What could he do but fail? Why take a chance
and show himself not perfect for the sake
of further accolades that wouldn't enhance
the stature he'd achieved by that one coup?
No, no. He knew that he was wise to quit.
One's shots at Immortality are few.
He'd gotten lucky once, and that was it.
He'd gaze with admiration at his rhyme,
then wonder what he'd now do with his time.

NOBODY’S PERFECT
          Nobody’s perfect. Now and then, my pet,
          You’re almost human. You could make it yet.

               from Wendy Cope’s sonnet, “Faint Praise”

In Wendy Cope’s “Faint Praise,” she makes the case
Her current lover’s not quite up to snuff.
It’s clear she thinks that faint praise is enough,
And doesn’t even say it to his face.
Let’s hear it for faint praise. It’s not that bad,
And often is the most that one can get.
Consider this. Would you be less upset
With no praise? Surely not. One should be glad
To have one’s love give any praise at all,
even if it is scant and insincere.
Or, say there is no praise, you still can hear
That praise that could have been, which will forestall
That moment when it will be clear as day
That she’d prefer that you just go away.

 

             _____________________________________

 

These poems are part of a new manuscript Coming Back to Light, currently going the rounds.

 

ON BEING INFORMED THAT A
    
BOOK OF MINE WILL NO LONGER
          
BE HELD ON CONSIGNMENT

What new indignities can others heap
Upon a work that no one wants to keep?
Come, little book, and find your home with me.
We’ll weather this together. Then, they’ll see!

SO MANY WORDS

So many words, and all in vain,
I tell myself, since it is plain
no one will read them.
I deplore
the waste of it, then write some more.

THE POWER AND THE GLORY

Poetry is its own reward.
Ask any bard.
At times one scales the Heights of Heaven.
The rest is hard.

NOT QUITTING BUT WRITING

      (After Stevie Smith)

Nobody read him, the poet,
But still he kept writing:
I have much more to say than you think
And I’m going to keep fighting!

Poor Drudge, he was always a loser
And always unread.
He’ll have to quit soon he won’t have any choice they nattered
Because he’ll be dead.

They said it and said it but no no no they were wrong
He never quit fighting.
He had much more to say than they thought,
And still he kept writing.

 

REVOCATION OF EXILE*

Ovid's exile to the remotest margins
of the Roman empire revoked

Rome city council overturns banishment of ‘one of the greatest
poets’ more than 2,000 years after Augustus forced him to leave…
-- The Guardian, December 16, 2017
 

Ovid’s no longer banished. What a joy!
He’s been exonerated. That’s our boy!
However long it takes Paris or Rome
or New York City, poets can come home.

No longer must they rot on foreign turf,
or stare in anguish at a pounding surf.
Once more they’re citizens where they belong,
and can indulge in city life and song.

Once more they’re welcome home, although they’re dead.
So what? This time they will not face the dread
of banishment. They could write what they please—
if it were not too late, by centuries!

True poets everywhere, have heart and hope.
Though trials are many, you must learn to cope.
Wherever you’ve been exiled, just stay true.
At last your country may come home to you.

       *(previously published in Light, “Poems of the Week”)

BRIEF BIO

I list the names, the times when I was there,
and what I did, in order, up till now.
A few things I leave out, but who will care?
As if the whole thing matters, anyhow.
The gist is that I lived, did what I could
with what I had. What more can someone say?
And yes, it’s true, that most of it was good.
But who will do the reckoning anyway?
Not me, nor those I knew. Those not yet here
don’t matter, and besides, what will they know?
So while I still can speak, I’ll make this clear
in no uncertain terms before I go.
I loved my time, and strove to do my best.
And that does matter, more than all the rest.

 

_____________________________________

 

The following poems are from the “Coffee? Pencils?” section of Bruce Bennett’s new poetry manuscript that looks at writing and the writing life.
 

COFFEE? PENCILS?

Drink lots and lots of coffee.
Like, gallons. Let it flow!
Then you might write like Balzac.
You might. You never know.

Or sharpen lots of pencils.
That worked for Hemingway.
Some ritual could do it.
It might work. Who can say?

And then there’s Dylan Thomas.
A boathouse filled his need.
He crumpled lots of paper,
but he wrote poems, indeed!

What’s that? This isn’t helpful?
You need some master plan?
You want some firm instruction?
I’ve done the best I can.

There is no simple answer.
At least, not one in sight—
except, just face that paper
or screen, and start to write.
 


TO AN ANT ON MY KEYBOARD

I have seen you in time. You had best keep away
since my fingers are dancing. You’d better not stay.
You are small and in danger. I don’t plan to halt
in the heat of composing. It won’t be my fault.

No, it won’t be my fault, though I mean you no harm,
so I’m telling you now as I sound this alarm
which I pray you will heed, and at once disappear:
You’re in imminent danger. You must not be here.

So please, don’t take refuge on some random key.
You can never be safe there. It’s not up to me.
When the words rush and tumble, and my fingers fly,
if you’re on the wrong letter, you’re just going to die!

And though, yes, I’ll be sorry, I swear I won’t quit
till my poem is done. Once I’m finished with it,
I may view your small corpse with a trace of dismay,
but I’ll make it my moral:  Don’t get in my way!
 


GO FORTH, YOUNG MAN

Poetry is its own reward.
You’ve heard that said.
It possibly could lead to Fame.
When you are dead.

It’s hard work and it doesn’t pay.
I know, in spite
of this – which you do not believe –
you’ll go, and write.

I know, because I took that road
one day myself.
And look, I have a pile of books
high on that shelf.

Someday you may be just like me.
Ah, well, Godspeed.
But don’t think I will wish you well,
should you succeed.
 


A POISON JOKE

I was mad. I made a joke.
T'was a slashing truth I spoke.
My friend was outraged; shook his head.
“You cannot make such jokes,” he said.

He told another friend, and they
told others. And there came a day
I’d lost the only friends I’d had.
A toxic joke had made them mad.

Well, screw’em! Who needs friends like that?
I speak now to my dog and cat,
Who listen, and are glad I tell
My jokes to them. I feed them well,

And they are happy and content.
Though unaware of what is meant,
They hear me out with great delight
As I tell jokes, both day and night!


 

SPECTATOR SPORT

If there were Poetry Oscars,
he knew just where he’d sit
and scowl at the glittering pageant,
not being a part of it.

He’d watch the Big Names beaming,
clutching their Golden Prize,
thanking their First Grade teachers
for early assessing their size.

He’d watch the parade of extras
exult in their minute of Fame
and gloat in the glowing spotlight
that shed luster on their name.

If there were Poetry Oscars,
he’d hunch in his nosebleed seat
and murmur small imprecations,
which he would repeat and repeat.

Yet he would not be discouraged
as he sat up high in the dark,
because he’d be sure as the dickens
that he still would make his mark.

Because he knew – somehow, someday –
his hour at last would arrive,
and that worshipful throngs would marvel
that it didn’t come while he was alive!

 

A PLEA TO HARDY

Thomas Hardy, Thomas Hardy,
Is it just that I am old,
And have learned that Fame is tardy,
Fate is cruel, and Life is cold?

Is it just that I am tired
Of a World that turns its back,
And if anything’s admired,
I’m too conscious of its lack?

Is it that I’ve been defeated
In my cherished youthful aim?
That my energy’s depleted?
That I feel I’ve lost the game?

Thomas Hardy, Thomas Hardy,
Stand beside me. Make me strong.
May your dour spirit guide me.
Please, persuade me I am wrong!

 

_____________________________________

 

The following four poems (and five sonnets) are from Bruce Bennett's current poetry manuscript, Coming Back To Light.

 

DISCOVERY

I took a book of poems off the shelf—
my choice was Yeats—and I began to read.
I was a college freshman, by myself,
alone and lost, and desperately in need
of guidance. How does one become a poet?
What does one need to do? I didn’t know.
Was there a secret? Who or what would show it?
There wasn’t anywhere I wouldn’t go
to learn. And there, in silence, for an hour
I read and read. The answer had come clear.
One had to train oneself to get such power.
This was no accident. It all was here.
I’d do what was required. The die was cast.
I’d found what I was looking for, at last!
 


VIGIL

My Freshman year. We just had read Camus.
The question was: What if the world should end
tomorrow morning? How would we choose to spend
our final hours? What would each one do?

Some took it as a joke. I’d drink… I’d screw…
I’d kill that bastard who messed up my friend!....

Others would pray. One said he’d seek to mend
ties with his family. Silent, I knew
exactly how I’d pass that final night.
I’d take a pen, and go somewhere alone
where I could be completely on my own
and where, immersed in silence, I would write.
How long ago. How much has happened. How
little has changed. I’d say the same thing now.



TRUSTING MY TUTOR

I tendered him the poem I had submitted.
He read it quickly. Judgment too was quick.
“You have no sense of rhythm.” I’d committed
the error of creating. He was sick
of students thinking they could write like Masters,
those Greats he taught and hectored them to learn.
It was his mission to stave off disasters.
To be a poet one must duly earn
the right to don that Mantle. I slunk sullen
back to my room. I hid my poem away.
But in my heart I knew I was no felon;
knew he was wrong, yet didn’t know what to say.
A lifetime later I would tell him this:
“The young are young. There’s much that you might miss.”
 


MY YEAR IN PARIS

I thought I had to leave to be a writer;
to go to some place “special” and be free.
I’d cut my ties. My burden would be lighter.
I’d live alone, and it would just be me,
devoted, spending every waking hour
pursuing – and accomplishing – my dream.
I knew that I would come into my power.
My confidence was boundless! It didn’t seem
like I could fail. Once there, in isolation,
I spent long hours reading in my room.
The poems didn’t come. I felt the slow damnation
of those imprisoned, shackled to their gloom.
I’d hear the bustle in the streets below,
and ask myself, Why would I want to go?

I’d ask myself, Why would I want to go?
Just one more way to ask, Why am I here?
A question I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know
how I would ever make it through the year.
I did, though. I made friends. I took excursions.
I read a lot. I got myself in line.
I loved the City and its bright diversions.
By Spring that year my attitude was fine.
But writing stayed a bust. I was mistaken
to think I needed Exile, Somewhere Far,
The Myth of Other Writers. It has taken
my life till now to recognize: We are
somehow—however much we might be wrong—
en route to where we should be all along.

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

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