Some Forays Into Verse

Whenever I have doubts about my skills as a writer I try my hand at poetry and see those doubts confirmed. I have read and studied poetry, I count poets among my friends and acquaintances. I have even edited two collections of poems. Yet I have only the flimsiest sense of how (or even why) to write poetry. Below are some attempts that I’m only a little embarrassed to share.

First, something I have been fiddling with since early July . . .

A Poem (Still In Progress) in Three Acts
Three Tries At One Poem (Still In Progress)

What do we say
when so much needs saying
and so many, already,
are saying so much?

What do we do
when so much needs doing
and doing so much
seems so much to do?

How should we act
when so many are acting
and none of our actions
act quite as they should?

Who said the sayings
we’re all always saying
when we say what needs saying
and say what we say.

Why do we go on
with so much ongoing
and going and going
on, on, on and on?

What does why how
when howing is whatting
and whereing is whoing
why who how to what?

What can words do
when they’re doomed to be buried
in a tomb of pages
on some groaning shelf?

We are all always writing
with the thin ink of action:
What we do and do not do
is forever done.

Do something, do nothing:
each moment you live
becomes permanent past
until nothing is left.

When I was young
they said, “He’s an Old Soul,”
but now that I’m older
it’s just: “What an asshole.”

*     *     *

During his full (but all too brief) life my dear friend Chuck Belcher (who published under the name Thomas Beltzer) tried his hand at just about every literary form. He wrote two novels, numerous short stories, many songs, dozens of essays, and was a prolific correspondent. He also wrote two books of poetry. My personal favorite of his books is Our Daily Grind, a collection of Pirouettes, a poetic form Chuck created. He describes the Pirouette in a short introduction: “Each poem has ten lines; each line has six syllables; the middle line repeats, and the action of the poem turns there—set up and delivery, like a sonnet. The poor man’s sonnet. I invented [the Pirouette] because I could write them while I was walking the six blocks from the bus stop home, counting out the syllables on my fingers, memorizing each line, then writing them down on scraps of paper when I needed a rest.”

To this I would add that, at least in Chuck’s hands, the Pirouette is an extension of the blues (Chuck recorded a blues album). My favorite of Chuck’s Pirouttes is probably “Candlelight”:


“Just like the good old days,”
I tell my wide-eyed kids,
“Abraham Lincoln ate
this way and that is why

we dine by candlelight.”
We dine by candlelight

because the lights were cut.
My wife don’t say nothin’.
If my piece wasn’t hocked,
I’d rob a liquor store.

I decided to write a Pirouette at some point during my year-long stint as Technical Writer. (“Well, technically I’m a writer” I used to tell my friends).


I studied Lit in school
so I can sit all day
and gaze into a screen
trying to look busy

to get my eight hours.
To get my eight hours

I sell my words for wage,
writing out instructions
that no one even reads
that hold no part of me.

When I sent my Pirouette to Chuck he called me to say how much he liked it. “What I like most about it,” he said, “is that you captured that ‘I’m fucked’ sensibility that made me come up with the Pirouette in the first place.”

*     *     *
The form of poetry I most enjoy writing is haiku. Even when I am working on a prose piece I find it useful to cast key descriptions as haiku in order to find the essential language of an image. The English version of this Japanese form is well known by now: three lines totaling 17 syllables (five, seven, five) though American haiku poet JW Hackett  cautions that even this simple form is only an approximate guideline.

Three Haiku

A small butterfly
Its wings like stained glass windows
Folds into a leaf

*     *     *

An autumn afternoon:
This boy rakes fire into piles
Beneath the gray sky

*     *     *

Party of strangers:
This lovely woman blinks and
Mentions her husband.