I Never Heard A Man Sing Like This Before. Video Poem by Norman Ball.

This video poem was contributed for the project documentary You Tube Poets to be edited by Sara L Russell by Norman Ball a writer & poet in USA of Scottish descent, more of his works can be found at this PLT site. Contributions of you tube video poems are welcome for the project, samples can be found on our PoetryLifeTimes Face Book page or at this Poetry Life & Times site, for more info contact robin@artvilla.com, all links are on the post below.
 

 
 
 
Norman Ball FBP
 

 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 
 
 
 
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Key of Mist. Guadalupe Grande.Translated.Amparo Arróspide.Robin Ouzman Hislop
 
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A Review by Norman Ball of All the Babble of the Souk, Collected Poems. Robin Ouzman Hislop.


All the Babble of the Souk
By Robin Ouzman Hislop
Aquillrelle, 2015
 
Norman Ball, writer, author of Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments
Before I get to the book itself, I’d like to offer up a confession. Robin and I have, over the years, engaged in some fascinating discussions on such far-flung topics as Big Bang contrarianism, the mystery of consciousness, theories of memes, multiverses, Popper falsifiability and vitalism, just to name a few; in short, the usual water cooler chatter. Or maybe not. Robin’s a whole lot smarter than me. Nonetheless it’s a lot of fun trying to keep up. If you’ll forgive a mixed metaphor, we’re odd ducks of a feather.
 
For one thing, Hislop is not averse to the occasional Latinate or ism getting tossed into a stanza. Of course poetical exploration of High Concept puts one at odds with the prevailing penchant for concrete image and tactile adhesives. There are many in poetry today who insist that, if you can’t say something nice about a spatula, a garden hose or a lamppost, you have no business trafficking in periphrasis. Everything must be grounded in the real, they say—as if such a thing as the real really existed. If I may say, oh prevailing sentiment in poetry, get real.
 
So, perhaps All the Babble of the Souk is not for everyone. But then, what of any value ever is? Poetry marches under a Big Spatula and we all can’t be flipping fried eggs and hash. Besides, in the hands of a deftly abstract mind, abstraction is not exactly a kick in the head. Nor will it break the yokes and spoil your breakfast. What is a speculative poetic excursion, after all, but high imagination and eccentricity commiserating via language? Let the arbiters of bric a brac catalog the quotidian like good flea marketeers. Such people are born to rummage about in the attic and log their heirlooms on eBay. Hislop doesn’t trammel their kiosks. He has Big Thoughts to mull.
 
Fresh off a personally intense eye-mind exploration , I found myself greatly predisposed to ‘Maps’, a four-piece series of poetic aphorisms that offers some dazzling insights into how we demarcate our space, time and existence, and especially how these elements are conveyed, if not even defined, by our senses:

      Time links the auditory, the visual cortices on the retina which maps a fission between the unseen form of sound, the unheard sound of seeing


This notion of time having a real job to do immediately put me in mind of John Archibald Wheeler: “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” Hislop may be onto something even more subtle: Does time keep chaos at bay, allowing time for our disparate senses to marry their qualia into a coherent universe? Perhaps those with Synesthesia are more evolved creators of worlds, their gaps between sound and vision less discontinuous.
 
‘Maps’ delivered me to a speculation I wouldn’t have reached otherwise. And I find that’s a critical function of Hislop’s poetry. It gathers, then points away. More important than the resolved landing place is how it offers a hospitable ‘symposium’, couching philosophical fields of inquiry within poetic metaphor from which the reader’s own speculative arcs can then rise and take tangential flight; speculations feeding speculations. What does resolution ever resolve anyway? Conclusions are overrated. The concrete of the concretists doesn’t exist in a world:

      Imposed as
      an impression
      seeking an ineffable concrete
      in an abstraction
      which defies location.—from ‘Red Butterflies’


Tumbling down rabbit holes beats rabbit stew any old day, especially when the universe may have us fixed for the next tasty, sentient bunny-in-line. In this sense I would call Hislop’s poetry inviting, intelligent, and refreshingly non-binding.
 
In ‘From Here to Silence, three’, he sets up a free will versus determinism tug-of-war stalked by Nietzschean recurrence and Leonard Susskind’s holographic 2D picture-show. You got a problem with that, Rod McKuen?

      Say we are not sui generis
      (the cause of yourself)
      we are homeostatic holographs
      dimensions in spectral parallel membranes
      our near eternal process to err
      along such a line we pass time in, time out
      but could we not cheat the butterfly effect?


The stanza ends on the plaintive hope, reminiscent of Kafka that our cycle of error could end if freewill achieved grace but for an instant. Let us hope that moment arrives as I’m so tired of breaking my shoelace the day before Thanksgiving forever.
 
Am I losing the yucksters in all the heavy universe lifting? Not so fast. Hislop can be funny too. ‘At a Slant’ has a droll quality that still draws a snicker if for no other reason than that we’re stuck, all together (‘but it’s the same for all of us!’):

      The con of life
       
      the weirdness of its melodramatic sham
      how good we are at yesterday, tomorrow
      always better than before
      like,
      being had – in the process by it.

The juxtaposed tenses of being had cement the interminable predicament we share. No exit. But at least we perfect our yesterdays until such time as we resume them anew, becoming rank amateurs all over again. But amateurs with a difference, with a modicum of acquired wisdom and an almost imperceptibly elevated rank. Okay, so it’s bleak, black humor. But there are shafts of light. One day, though maybe yet a half-eternity away, some butterfly will escape the dark matter of our descending shoe. (Butterflies pervade Hislop’s poetry.) We’ll be released to the next pristine universe armed with a butterfly-brain’s worth of hard-earned prescience. So yes, each successive Big Bang is not an unadulterated singularity. Some kernel of hard-earned wisdom gets borne through. Each new universe is a tooth on a slowly revolving gear that turns towards…perfection? In short, something barely better.
Since Hislop asks, that’s what—I think, I hope—may be ‘next’:

      Pack, the near infinite
      (in—the moment before you munch)
      take a bit of the biscuit
      before the Big Crunch
      it’s an eternal packet
      & having all, what’s next?—from ‘Lucky Hat Day’

All the Babble of the Souk will have you pondering your predicament in a whole new imaginative light. Reflect well my friend, as mindless impulsivity, and materialist inanity, is precisely what dangles this eternity over the interminable abyss. Therein may lie our paper-thin chance for freedom: by insect increment, one pardoned butterfly per eon at a time.

—Norman Ball
 
Editor’s note: for more of this Poet/Writer’s scintillating script please do not fail to overlook the hyper-text link eye-mind exploration included in the above review.
 
 
Norman Ball FBP
 
 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 
 
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The Cult of Lam. A Video Poem. Sonnet by Norman Ball

 
 
Norman Ball FBP
 

 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 
 
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Slither. Sonnet Poem by Norman Ball & Review of Serpentrope.

slither
 
“The common end of all narrative, nay of all, Poems is to convert a series into a Whole… to make… a circular motion — the snake with its Tail in its Mouth.” — Samuel Coleridge, Collected Letters IV (1815)
 
Accomplicing that plot device, surprise,
the day shone royal blue. Our Sunday walk
assumed pedestrian guise until her lies
constricted near Unending Books. In mock-
submissive tone, she sighed: “Please let me be
right here, outside our favorite used-book store.
It’s where we met. All circles close a door.
That’s symmetry — the poetess in me.”
I pondered the reflection of my self
on Austen, half-price-off; then for a song, 
the poets, ancient children, on a shelf
set up on crumpled velvet. All along,
this princess had availed a serpent-guide.
I was the frog to her formaldehyde.

 
 
Norman Ball FBP
 

 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 

 
(first appeared in Angle, Volume 3, Issue 2, Autumn/Winter 2014)
 
Norman Ball ‘Serpentrope’
White Violet Press, 2013
 
If I told you that most of the poems in Norman Ball’s Serpentrope are metered and rhymed, with four-fifths of them sonnets, you’d probably get the wrong idea. So we’ll consider that a bit later. Instead, let’s begin with the eclectic nature of the book.
 
I believe Serpentrope is the only poetry book published to date that contains poems on the topics of: Civil War battle fatigue; formal poetry in its relation to a famous wardrobe malfunction; and Aleister Crowley’s Cult Of Lam. The poems often display a love of detail—historic and current—as in this excerpt from ‘Observations of a Civil War Surgeon As Night Falls’:
 
Cattail and catgut duel within the marsh that dads
the Susquehanna east of York. Two minstrels,
facing off, interpret harsh conditions with guitars.
The river’s fork
 
accompanies with stiff, percussive reeds.

 
Ball’s poems stem from an obvious intelligence, and that seems appropriate. Often they mimic the way that neurophysiologists characterize our thinking process: as the firing up of nodes of meaning that excite other nodes in a sort of spreading activation, until a whole pattern of nodes—perhaps previously unconnected—fires together, leading to new connections and novel insights. None of this, according to the theory, is sentential. Sentences come later. This mental commotion underlying conscious thought is echoed in Ball’s poetry in passages such as this from the poem ‘Formal Spat ‘:
 
… One dares
not ride a colleague’s time-worn rhyme. Left-hand feet
may dangle. Diction may rankle, stubborn
with vague intent. Relax. Sonnets can’t meet
the rent with a metered stick…

 
Or this, from ‘It Was A Totter From The Start’:
 
The duty steeped itself in stand-up time, a
rope to drag the day upon itself
with busying to coax the febrile mind
from thought, to book, to browse, to empty shelf.

 
Many of Ball’s poems employ puns, allusions, and apparently unrelated content. The result is that they often excite neurons in our minds that, at least for me, are firing together for the first time. This type of mental fireworks can be fatiguing, and it may be that the best way to read Serpentrope is to limit oneself to two or three poems a day.
 
I may have mentioned that Ball’s poems take on a wide variety of subjects. Serpentrope includes poems centered on: the cartoon character Dilbert rendered in a Hilbertian sonnet; dropping poems by airplane on Afghan villagers in wartime; and ballerinas with bulimia. And often the poems render their subjects in witty, punning, allusive lines. Like these in an excerpt from the poem about Dilbert, the cartoon engineer working in a cubicle in a large corporation:
 
… Dilbert stirs this pot with lead
balloons. His poker-face is barely drawn
by nine. Outside the box, Big Bosses rake
trapped miners over coals while overhead
a phosphor-fingered entity has sawn
animal spirits squarely down to size —
three taut frames. Dilbert’s zeppelin subsides.

 
Of course, like real-world explosions, explosions of meaning can do damage if not controlled, and Ball is an explosives expert. These poems are nearly all contained in meter and rhyme, and now that you have a feel for the content, it can more fully be revealed that most of them are in sonnet form. The interplay between the subject matter, the allusions, and the forms adds another dimension to the experience of reading Ball’s work — a dimension that I believe elevates the wild content by the mere fact of being under such control.
 
Given the eclectic nature of Serpentrope (I should mention that it contains poems on the subjects of: belly fat; the fate of a member of the band REO Speedwagon; and the turbulent life of the prophet Isaiah), it should be noted that the book also contains some recurring themes.
 
The most explicit is that of the snake Ouroboros, a topic treated in several of the poems and the subject of an essay included as an appendix to the book. The image of the snake with its tail in its mouth, sometimes curled protectively around the earth and sometimes a part of it, has, according to Ball’s essay, fascinated him for years. In the poem ‘Ouroboros,’ Ball portrays the snake in a menacing way:
 
…The proper name’s Hell-
 
that cool, wrapped bitch— trite circle. Let her clasp
sweet tail in teeth. All gray divides sell
 
foot-in-mouth diversions. I will have my foe just-so.
Discrete obsession. Damn
all demons who arrive. The golden calf,
zirconia stalking horse, is lamb
 
I dressed for slaughter…

 
But it is not always so. Sometimes the snake is a hoop snake rolling along, and sometimes it is a snake completing a cosmic circle.
 
Another theme in the book is that of human relations. Serpentrope does not contain a love poem as I understand them, but there are multiple renderings of soured or difficult relations between couples. The concluding lines from the poem ‘Endure’ are one example:
 
… We gratify
what synapses are lit. Hullabaloo
is all that floats above—mere atmosphere.
What anchors? That’s a fixity less clear.

 
The reader of Serpentrope will soon see that Ball is no sentimentalist. Poetry itself forms another theme in the book. There are multiple poems on the topic of poetry, a theme that first appears in the inscription that begins the book:
 
Teach a man to write poetry
and he will starve forever.

 
Ball begins the poem ‘Twickenham Stadium’ by stating ‘I’m not so much a poet as a wit,’ and then proceeds to compare himself and his work to the career of the American baseball player Harmon Killebrew, a Hall of Famer who, nonetheless, had some years with low numbers of runs batted in. Poets writing poems about poetry can be trying, but Ball pulls it off—in this case, with extended comparisons between his work and baseball. Let’s consider two techniques that I particularly admire in Ball’s work. The first is the clever enjambment, and the second is the killer concluding couplet. One of my favorite poems in the book is the sonnet ‘At the Funeral of a Former High School Crush,’ which begins with the wonderful enjambment
 
I memorized her purple halter top to bottom…
 
The poem then describes time shared together in physics class, and concludes with this couplet that brings us back to the funeral of the title:
 
They found her with her head arrayed in glass
flung forward like a weightless, prescient gas.

 
I love that couplet. And many others in Ball’s book. One more example. In the poem ‘Slither,’ that begins with a quote from Coleridge referencing Ouroboros, the narrator learns that a walk with his lover is actually her way of finding a suitable place to terminate their relationship. She has chosen the bookstore where they met to end things in Ouroboran fashion, and the poem itself concludes:
 
… All along,
this princess had availed a serpent-guide.
I was the frog to her formaldehyde.

 
Serpentrope is a book of formal poems that really doesn’t feel like one. It treats a wide variety of topics (I should mention that Serpentrope contains poems on: the antediluvian apostasies of G. H. Pember; the difficulties in Ireland; and the nature of testimony in the aftermath of the mortgage meltdowns). There are wonderful gems, couplets, and full poems that sparkle and explode. Serpentrope is a virtuoso performance by a poet of wide-ranging intelligence whose careful use of form adds considerable impact to his work.
 
–David Davis

 
 
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Tilting Ponds.Poem from Serpentrope by Norman Ball

serpentrope1

 

ISBN-10: 0615900798 ISBN-13: 978-0615900797


Unique and highly imaginative, Norman Ball’s poetry is also frequently apocalyptic. Drawing on Jungian archetypes, his poetry continually circles back on particular symbols as it contextualizes everyday dilemmas while formulating windows into the broader world of the numinous. Spellbinding.
—Jeff Holt, Poet, The Harvest.
 
A prolific songwriter, literary essayist, political commentator and playwright, here comes Ball the poet refracting, at his best, Auden’s ‘ironic points of light’…as for that patented Ball humor does it traverse genres? I’m pleased to report it more than survives the stanza.
—Douglas Milton, Editor, Anthony Burgess International Journal
 
The price we have paid for being over-intellectualized by the Modernist movement is somewhat allayed by the formal poetry that predominates in this collection; thank goodness there are poets like Mr. Ball helping to recover the magical in the most important art form humankind has striven to perfect.
—Patrick Quinn, President, Robert Graves Society
 
Surprises abound in this marvelous collection of poetry. We find depth, wit and astute observation all wrapped up in classical metrics made profoundly fresh.
—Rowena Silver, Co-Editor, Epicenter magazine
 
Norman Ball goes where few have ever gone before—into the largely unexplored realms of poetic financial satire. Yes Virginia, there is such a thing. And he brings back a great many pithy and humorous treasures for readers from his travels there.
—Michael Silverstein, The Wall Street Poet
 
Norman Ball’s ambitious poetry turns on wordplay—for wit, for sonic joy, and for serious surprises. Both his formal and free verse thrive in the territory of e.e. cummings, where he takes on challenges too daunting for most contemporary poets. —A. M. Juster, Poet, The Satires of Horace  


Serpentrope is a small volume of collected poems by Norman Ball, written almost all in formal and classical metrics and for the most part in sonnet form. In an article at the back titled Ouroboros: Why Now? the author cites it as a trope for an emergent archetype of the millennium, – as the turning of an age, our time now is critical. The poems are given a contemporary context, often in current affairs of the last decade in the USA. The style is light, dexterous and pithy, many times coloured by a dark humour akin to the sinister and characterised by a deft turning of phrase. This appears acutely in the sonnets and their final couplets, where it is as if it’s the maw of Ouroborus itself swallowing its own tail. – Editor Poetry Life & Times Robin Ouzman Hislop

 
 
TILTING PONDS

 

The marriage of the swans has been annulled

with an absence of ceremony, she lies graceless and stiff,

a brick by her crushed skull;

an orange meteor hurled by a petulant boy-Zeus.
 

I know him as he runs back to his empty motive,

this orphan of unattended grief,

desperate for a mother’s dead reflection.

A universe of dying nest is all the nurture he allows.

 

Now too, the widower is beside himself

attended by the sag of his reflection,

The banks salve the water’s edge.

My bread of solace floats untouched.

 

There is only one to feed now.

But he leans away without appetite.

The world lies wet to boys and swans

and the mirrored edge of endless tilting ponds. 
 
 
Norman Ball FBP
 
 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 
 
robin2705
Robin Ouzman Hislop (UK) Co-editor of the 12 year running on line monthly poetry journal Poetry Life and Times. He has made many appearances over the last years in the quarterly journals Canadian Zen Haiku, including In the Spotlight Winter 2010; Sonnetto Poesia. Previously published in international magazines, recent publications include Voices without Borders Volume 1 (USA), Cold Mountain Review, Appalachian University N Carolina, The Poetic Bond Series, available at http://www.thepoeticbond.com a recently published Anthology of Sonnets: Phoenix Rise from the Ashes. He has recently completed a volume of poetry All the Babble of the Souk.
 
 
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The Mohican.Poem.Norman Ball

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NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.

***

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Prose Sonnet Essay.A Ton of Feathers: Behind Enemy Lines with the Sonnet.Norman Ball

 

A Ton of Feathers: Behind Enemy Lines with the Sonnet

(originally appeared at Pop Matters)

One of her feather’d creatures broke away.’—from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 143

An appreciator of great poetry, I don’t strenuously identify with being a poet myself, though I enjoy tooling about in the genre, purple pen in hand. An essayist at heart, I’m better at converging on dense and prickly concepts with dense and prickly prose. How am I doing so far?

I suppose I prefer ground-control precision to imagistic flight. Such tendencies are often driven by individual temperament, the vagaries of native talent and whether or not one was breast- fed beyond age two <burp>. I honestly can’t say my tactics vary greatly from sonnet to essay. Therein may lie an inherent limitation in my poetry. Then too, it may not be so far off the mark either as the sonnet structure observes a distinct logical progression. There is within the form an argument, a volta(a turn or ‘twist’), a counter-argument and then a resolution, the latter often occurring in the final couplet.

Without doubt, the sonnet offers rich terrain for rhetorical hijinks and abbreviated exposition. You might rightly ask then, why entrust such a tightly-wound machine to muddle-headed poets? I won’t get into all the structural variations and sonnet rhyme schemes here —the Petrarchan, Shakespearian, Spenserian, Protozoan, Heidi Montagian, etc.—as that would require a fearsome erudition exceeding my rude powers. Perhaps if we start with lines today, we can build to whole college syllabi tomorrow. For the moment, I’m fresh out of paper-mill certificates.

Alas, poetry’s ruby red lips are not starved for company as tired thinking and expression is a sprawling hammock stretched wide across our culture. Cliché can afflict poetic intent as surely as it haunts language and image. In my recent spate of sonnet-writing I’m aware of having grown terribly fond of the enjambment technique. For all you auto mechanics out there perusing this essay at lunch, enjambment is a fancy French word for straddling. Yes that’s right, sort of a broken Citroën, but with words and a marginally superior maintenance record.

Wikipedia gets fancier still, calling enjambment the “breaking of a syntactic unit” in a line of poetry. The alternative to enjambment is the traditional end-stop of which I have grown supremely tired. End-stopping is essentially matching syntax to lineation. Immediately, I picture fourteen bumper-stickers carefully lined, one beneath the other, as though taped to a kiosk at a sloganeers’ convention. Yes, VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS alright, but I want spillage. I want integrative flow. Otherwise I’m in a box with a limited supply of oxygen. Why not either fly through the friggin’ sonnet impervious to its rigid dimensions or make a game of tagging its dog-eared perimeters with inventiveness and sly purpose? Harrumph. My admonition to sonneteers would thus be, ‘by all means, conduct me through your squared-off little world but, by the coolest paradox, make that world simultaneously vanish beneath my feet’.

Enjambment abets this sleight-of-hand. Think of sentences being snapped like twigs at odd points in the hopes something more interesting gurgles out—much as sap might ooze from a damaged branch. I liken this to the backtracking of a Hegelian dialectic (essentially the yielding of a third thing from the collision of two prior things) where the synthesized result, the unitary sentence, is retraced perhaps to some pre-reflective state of fetal irresolution. Verily, I am the crux of a million weird imaginings. Fearsome long sentences often house goopy entrails, friendly ghosts, coy feints and ill-considered half-measures. All I’m saying is why not have a look and give peace a chance? Syntax can also play at subterfuge. By rifling a sentence’s constituent parts, we reveal previously withheld compartments of meaning. Or, as the Kabbalists used to say (before Madonna dragged the Divine Chariot through one too many renditions of “Hanky Panky”) what’s poetry anyway but a broken vessel? Here then is to breaking some dishes and may the better shards win.

At the system level, this dialectical notion is well-observed. In that vast sonnet clearinghouse in the cloud, Sonnet Central, Nelson Miller refers to these precious little songs in their totality as being:

“…fundamentally dialectical constructs which allow the poet to examine the nature and ramifications of two usually contrastive ideas, emotions, states of mind, beliefs, actions, events, images, etc., by juxtaposing the two against each other, and possibly resolving or just revealing the tensions created and operative between the two.” –from ‘Basic Sonnet Forms’, by Nelson Miller, Cayuse Press Writers Exchange Board

Enjambment might also be akin to a mini-cut-up method—that randomized technique of word assembly popularized in literature by Brion Gysin and Williams Burroughs; call these fractured clauses then my tiny naked lunches. We risk trivializing the technique therefore by characterizing it primarily as the manhandling of independent clauses in a bid merely to service page width. I’m not saying enjambment foes discount the technique altogether. I merely wish to raise consciousness for the curiously broken branch.

That said, I find the denser or more complex the sonnet, the harsher the enjambment effect can be to the reader’s ear. Moreover density seems to breed enjambment as expansive and serpentine speculations, certainly mine, have been known to suck the oxygen out of entire rooms, never mind the diminutive parameters of the poor little old sonnet. Some essayists, it has been alleged, do go on a bit.

I am guilty of sitting on my sonnets like overstuffed suitcases. (Sometimes that’s the only way to snap them shut.) The fact my sonnets are rather dense more often than not may suggest I am a terminal essayist and not a poet after all. I stand ready to accept this verdict. Under practically all circumstances, concision is a challenge in the sonnet form. One could argue density offers sufficient sense and meaning challenges without adding insult to migraine via ‘nonlinear’ syntactical presentations. Perhaps the musicality and horizontal flow suffers for these jagged, atonal edges. Enjambment introduces hiccups where one might prefer uninterrupted melody. That’s certainly a valid aesthetic judgment on par with, say, an individual’s tastes in musical styles.

Part 2

A tasteless palette relishes sour verdicts. In his excoriating 2010 Huffington Post essay ‘The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers’, Anis Shivani, already no great fan of Sharon Olds’ “pseudo-confession[alism]” and “gory imaginings”, takes her poetry further to task for “disruptive enjambments–ending on prepositions” which in Shivani’s opinion only, “add to the exhibitionist content of the poems.” Rarely enamored with Shivani’s gratuitously confrontational tone, I am nonetheless sympathetic here to his charge.

In Olds’ 27-line poem (though not a sonnet) “After Making Love in Winter” for example, five lines end with the articles ‘a’ or ‘the’, three end with prepositions (of, like, before) and two end with the conjunction ‘and’. I feel myself being jarred with no jellybean reward at the bottom of the jar. In fact the intended effect recalls old Ms. Harshford’s prohibition in 8th grade English Composition never to end a sentence with a preposition. Sonnet experimentation notwithstanding, it is a rule I have carried to poetic lineation as well and have, without exception, managed to live with. Methinks enjambment that succeeds in pointing mostly to itself has ventured one trapdoor too far. That said I would never kick a stanza out of bed for making a mess of convention. But I want meaningful intent and purpose behind all the willful infractions—or else I’m calling Ms. Harshford.

We have yet to consider situational dynamics. So if you’re situated comfortably, let’s do it right now. Some topics simply lend themselves better to enjambment than do others. For example, our frenetic, post-modern postal world seems better served by razor-sharp edges and capricious trapdoors. A garden ode to tiger lilies? Not so much. We inhabit an era of collapsed attention spans, vapid emoticons, wafer-screens, dashed-off emails and brusque tweets. Authentic communication suffers in the digitized-ADHD cacophony. As our mediating syntaxes break down, one might argue ‘why spare the sonnet a break too?’ I suspect the world, for all its official protest, grudgingly admires something with the moxie to stand, on the one hand, against willful inarticulateness and on the other, against Rod McKuen. Let the stress fractures of enjambment be concession enough to the current ethos of dislocation. I wish to note that, should the sonnet get relegated to Wordsworthian appendix in the post-911 age, at least it showed the stomach to weather on as an appendix. I call that guts.

In the final days, order will indulge the creeping advance of chaos. Perhaps the fractured line is an accommodation, or a memorial, to sustained reflection. Do I belabor the enjambment technique? Nah, I wouldn’t belabor anything. My overall consternation with the sonnet form is longstanding and broadly based to which this ten-year-old essay attests. Exasperation is built into the fabric of the enterprise. I find writing them is not unlike a golf game, that is, a never-ending series of adjustments and corrections. Enjambment may be my version of a bad slice. I enjoy the little surprises the travelling eye encounters falling from line to line. Perhaps I’ve fallen into an enjambment trap. Where’s my sand wedge?

Finally, I’d like to shade the page briefly with what I liken to the long game of enjambment, the white space. Perhaps a longer pause, breath-mark or interruption helps acquit the sonnet’s meaning or sonic effect. Perhaps too, irregular spaces between (or even within) lines (beyond the line-space often but not always accorded between sestets (six-line clumps) quatrains (4-line clumps) and ending couplets are desired. As I say, ‘blank page’ is yet another spatial device that can augment the sonnet’s overall impact.

On one poetry workshop I sometimes frequent, a workshop member helpfully ‘disentangled’ a sentence-laden sonnet of mine, yielding a more naturalized sequence of sprawling prose. Immediately I appreciated his rather astute insight. There, in amongst the tangled reeds of my sonnet, appeared a disheveled, mud-caked paragraph. This relaxed prose form, he suggested, allowed my poetry to breathe, where before I had been rather cruelly breaking its butterfly wings against a medieval wheel of fits and starts. My loyalties were misplaced. The worship of form had crippled the primacy of unfettered impartation. He had a point. Interrogating my motivations, I realized I had indeed been sitting down to ‘write sonnets’ more than poetry per se. Committing this inversion may be the equivalent of Kafka’s aphorism, a cage gone in search of a bird. Form and content must spring forth with the simultaneity of spontaneous combustion. One cannot be seen to be clumsily seeking the other.

Quite apart from poetic intent, might the sonnet be an implicitly ‘enjambed’ form as it seems to straddle and incorporate features of both prose and poetry? The notion of nonce forms comes to mind. (Nonce is yet another fancy word for ‘I’ll do it once, but don’t ever ask me again’ i.e. an un-received, one-off or purely invented form. Believe it or not there’s even an on-line journal that specializes in this nichiest of niches.) What my colleague was implicitly pointing me towards might best be called a ‘prose-sonnet’. At least that’s what I’m calling it now. Such a sonnet would scan correctly yet be presented in paragraphed ‘disguise’. The tuning fork in my gut tells me the inherent music of a good, strong sonnet should survive the wholesale abandonment of its conventional visual-structure. Lineation may be overrated. After all the prose-poem is already a well-established poetry sub-genre. The prose- sonnet amounts to nothing more than presenting an obdurate and venerable syntactic unit, the sonnet, in an altered visual format—a mere flesh wound, one would think. What is the sonnet after all, a machinery of lines or the ghost behind the grid?

Part 3

Vision can countermand sound. Listening to poets read their sonnets, I’m often troubled at how so many invariably stress the end-rhymes in a manner that tends to rob the rhymes of their subtle beauty and understated power. I like a voice to nonchalantly fall through a sonnet, in effect obscuring the lineation from overt aural reception. End-stops should not ‘sound’ like stop-signs or worse, steep ravines. Sonnets should be read like finely-tuned paragraphs and in a natural, conversational tone as opposed to a sing-songy, pat-the-kiddies-on-the-head Mother Goose twang. Look Mommy, no hands rhymes with pro bands! Aren’t lines starting to feel more and more like enemy combatants? Down with barricades! Up with lugubrious incantation!

In the end, this inquiry seems to turn on the significance of sentences or clauses as unitary grammatical constructs of arbitrary length versus formal poetic lines as sound and meter -driven units of relative (i.e. complete or incomplete) meaning, but determinate length. Beautiful sentences notwithstanding, sentences are aligned more with meaning, whereas poetry lines are more sensuous beasts altogether; for the latter, sound and even space contribute to the effect. In a sense, enjambment allows unitary meaning to ‘fall though the machine’, creating additional sound and meaning variants as it clatters against the silo’s walls. To the extent a sentence or clause is fully expressed in a poetic line, no such variants are exploited. This is hardly an argument against ‘non-enjambed lines’ in all cases. No doubt, like any poetic technique, enjambment can be overused.

I should add there are countless poets pushing the sonnet envelope in novel ways. In Mark Jarman’s “Unholy Sonnet 13”, God seems to be ‘stirring’ in more ways than one, thanks in large part to enjambment:

Because I’m older and I think God stirs

In details that keep bringing back that time,

The late e.e. cummings played wild and loose with the sonnet form. In this instance, the title itself is enjambed (please pardon Mr. cummings’ broken cap-locks key) “i like my body when it is with your”.

Here’s yet another modern twist on an Elizabethan codpiece. Oddly enough, Twitter allows a 140-character maximum per tweet. The traditional sonnet permits 140 syllables (14 lines, 10 syllables). Am I onto the Twitter Sonnet? Is this number cosmologically significant? Withoutdelving Ouija boards or consulting Pythagorean mystics, it’s interesting to find the same number bracketing two conventions of human expression. Hah! The sonnet’s been around since the 13th century. Let’s see how long Twitter hangs on. I weary of the tweet already.

Below is the work-shopped sonnet previously described, one that sought to grapple with my conflicted affections for pop music. (In case it isn’t iconic enough, the phrase ‘secret chords’ in line 13 is a hat-tip to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” lyric.) The sonnet is presented in lineated form first and conforms to the English (Shakespearian) sonnet rhyme scheme, that is, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG with five feet (i.e. ten syllables) per line. The iambic pentameter (the five ‘ta-DA’ sounds per line) is a little irregular and instead of three four-line sections (quatrains), I sort of ‘keep a fifth line’ in the second quatrain because I like the effect of hanging ‘here and now’ out there like a good little existential predicament and a sore thumb all at once. In line four, ‘sing’ gazes out across a sea of white space. I fancy this imparting the sense of a lone singer warbling out into the void.

If I’ve gone hard on perfunctory end-stops, I meant no disrespect to the existential necessity of line (and paper’s) end and the inevitable onset of eclipsing whiteness. There’s no doubt the deployment of breaks and the ensuing spaces-between can help carry poetic effect. Below this traditional lineation format, the same sonnet appears again in a form not unlike what you’d find in the classified section of a newspaper. (Note to young people: Though help may be wanted, poetry doesn’t pay.)

Pop Music

Striking at a moment too sharp for stale

repetition, this tart sound is nothing

to turn down. Yet reprisal is a pale

echo–one arrival is allowed. Sing

if you like, arched against time’s faltering

reserve, baby. We hum along to death’s

down beat: where are they now? Better to bring

considered notes to sudden stage. Our breath’s

an expiring allotment. Here and now

is the chance to alter prior arrangement

as habit informs the grand piano

haunting the front parlor. Let sound foment

those secret chords ripe ears suspect are there.

Ephemera makes light of moment’s air.

Pop Music

Striking at a moment too sharp for stale repetition, this tart sound is nothing to turn down. Yet reprisal is a pale echo–one arrival is allowed. Sing if you like, arched against time’s faltering reserve, baby. We hum along to death’s down beat: where are they now? Better to bring considered notes to sudden stage. Our breath’s an expiring allotment. Here and now is the chance to alter prior arrangement as habit informs the grand piano haunting the front parlor. Let sound foment those secret chords ripe ears suspect are there. Ephemera makes light of moment’s air.

******

I leave you with more questions than answers. Here are but a few. Is aesthetic enjoyment varyingly enhanced or diminished by overt visual cues (e.g. end-rhyme, enjambment, white space, etc.)? Which mode of death-by-avalanche is the more painful: a ton of feathery sound- waves or a ton of collapsed scaffold? Most important for this inquiry, is there a place in great literature for the prose-sonnet nonce form and if so will the U.S. Patent Office honor my claim? Perhaps it’s time we stopped fetishizing the protocols of line and page’s edge. Somewhere beyond and within the apparatus lies the sonnet’s resilient soul, a wellspring less beholden to typeset conventions than many have imagined.

normball

 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 
 

Near and Far.The Teratogen Sonnet Series. Poem. Video. Norman Ball

 

“The death camps were not built in the Gobi Desert. And when barbarism challenged, the humanities, the arts, philosophic thought proved not only largely impotent but often collaborative with despotism and massacre,”

–George Steiner, from ‘A New Literacy’, The Kenyon Review, 24:1, Winter 2007, 10-24

 

Teratogen 1: Sex on the Brain

 

“Thy nakedness shall be uncovered,

yea, thy shame shall be seen…”—Isaiah 47:3

 

This mission is a sin. What kind of spaz-

tic draws vigor from pornographic veins

or penis-headed parodies of ass?

 

But you’re no baby, Baby. Holy weans

alive, I could not diaper your fine mess.

You soil all metaphor. I’ll author blame:

My labs, my country tis of thee. My shame

is writ uncovered on your face. No less

you’d scare Sears’ portrait guy.

 

And yet I’m drawn

to parse the prick that promenades your head.

They told us, Horus, Set, the Golden Dawn:

 

a Third Eye—neither naked, neither dead

of shameless form would, near the end, arrive

commending those whose fear brought it alive.

 

Teratogen 2: Cabbage Patch Moll

 

“Hence world picture, when understood

essentially, does not mean a picture of the

world but the world conceived and grasped

as picture.” –Martin Heidegger

 

You vandalize distress at no small cost

through nylon skein and cabbage patch

disguise. This manhunt though is long since lost.

All have been found. First paparazzi snatched

 

unguarded moments. Then we watched gray puffs

televise precision. Your face

is pixelated aftermath that stuffs

everything in the close-up. Common place

 

covers all bases. Where’s the intimate

to hide? The convict is a partial judge

on all subjects of visual merit. Split

my screen and your forehead suggests a smudge-

print. We share the mounting headcount’s ripe bruise.

For I no longer feel eyewitness news.

 

Teratogen 3: Thumbelina, Dance

 

“…advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.” –from Project for a New American Century (PNAC) Manifesto, 2000

 

We vet foot bills. Are pissed-on borders worth

a mongrel birth? doG gone us Pentagon.

Hotdog Girl rolls so we might rule the earth?

 

Our barking men of outrage are all gone.

Lassie’s come home to her unleashing hour.

Stream? I cannot stream out into the streets.

Fluoride neutered all my upright power.

I’ll litter no more dog-days in these sheets.

 

Poor pup, you play dead well. No, we’ll not lift

you up. One burp and you could well explode

across complicit shoulders. To the swift

life opens up. As for an honest road

with cars to chase, let’s first define your legs.

Right now you are a thumb. How motion begs.

 

Teratogen 4: Waterboy

 

“No, you people are drinkin’ the wrong water.”

–from The Water Boy, the movie (1998)

 

 Suffer this baby floating on the earth

amphibious. Grace alone can mend

fluidic pustules. Please make haste. No berth

so wide of God, nor time-belabored End-

 

time should deflate ascent. Prospects look grim

for god-speed. Though we tire of boils and sore

feet.

 

Oh procrastinating seraphim,

whitewash no more. These mutants wash ashore.

Our amniotic seas now euthanize.

 

Please hear, oh Lord, water-boy’s gurgled cries.

His isotopic lungs cannot advance

beyond collapse. How does he stand a chance

of reaching Heaven, waterlogged on Earth?

The New Disorder liquefies at birth.

 

Teratogen 5: Burpee Girl

 

“Satan said: ‘I am not the one to prostrate

myself to a human being, whom You created

from sounding clay of altered black smooth

mud.” –Quran 15:30-35

 

Christian soldier, you battle your mortgage

with Abd al-Chuckee puppet-strings away,

sculpted like a Mujaheedin porridge

from amber waves of O, so gamma ray.

 

Our acronym-cadavers cyphered this.

The Pentagon got wind of ill-wind skies.

Re-baseline victory. All vectors miss

these eyesores too contained to leak out cries.

 

Children, don’t play! The cradle robs the grave

before the grave has time to rob your wild

unripened stares. Uranium defiled

His altered mud. God’s breath we, breathless, waive.

 

Dead verse tomatoes horror. Who’ll baptize

the Burpee Girl with ovulating eyes?

 

Teratogen 6: Improvised Existential Denouement (IED)

 

Up close you could be anybody’s child-

care scandal. Hamburger Hill limps beside

your fresh pink meat. While no one looked, life filed

your backstroke down to blisters. They will hide

your books in study hall. Who will arrest

 

this mutant form now terrorizing cells?

Without a clear and sewn-up threat the West

cannot hold the line. Deformity spells

 

doom. No tight-knit group of key advisors

props up your bloated puppet-string regime.

Sit up. Exude malevolence. Your sores

must find themselves else war will lose its steam

 

pressed irony. Don’t make us make Big Macs.

Cater our events. Weather our attacks.

 

Teratogen 7: Baby Skeletor (Brought to You by ‘Masters of the Universe’)

 

“Skeletor’s face accidentally got splashed with acid and he sacrificed his face to

survive.” –from ‘Masters of the Universe’, a Mattel media franchise

 

Before ill-winds impinged on faultless weather,

I had a barrow glazed with rain for you.

I’d wheel you to the bus-stop, but why lever

a father’s guilt atop your unhinged glue?

 

I’m loath to hold you up for God to see,

nor shower you with blue comforts. Why not flee

my too-short arms, your wails so out of key?

You scream small monster none the least at me.

 

I’ll prop you up at school if you insist.

But stand-up kids are cruel. They will resist

the womb’s last weapon, shrunken in their midst.

The universe won’t stoop. You are the grist

for chemistry swept under bazaar rug,

a Hazmat spill, the morning-after drug.
 
This series first appeared in The New Formalist, then Cinemension. Teratogen sonnets 5 and 7 will appear in ‘The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes: Anthology of sonnets of the early third millennium Friesen Press, Victoria, B.C., Canada, 2013.
 
normgarage2
 
NORMAN BALL (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book “Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments” is available here. Two essay collections, “How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable?” and “The Frantic Force” are spoken of here and here. His recent collection of poetry “Serpentrope” is published from White Violet Press. He can be reached at returntoone@hotmail.com.
 
 
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