VI. Fitting Frames

A Haven
Amid chaotic times of volatility,
Unnerving fluctuations, fault lines breaking free,
Our saner selves seek structure.
Assurance found in form as words fall into place,
Just as in the beginning light broke forth in space
Dividing dark from daylight.
The discipline of metered, numbered syllable,
The comfort of a tether countering the pull
Of fickle fads of fashion.
The deeds of man lack pattern; motives are confused,
In certainty of stanzas, meaning is suffused
Within the weighty wording.
So, as things fall apart and yield to entropy,
Take order to disorder, life to poetry
Imparting peace and purpose.

—Connie S. Tettenborn

Ripples in the Fabric


April 3,1992: George Smoot of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory announces discovery of ‘ripples in the fabric of space-time’ that created galaxies and empty space. —Washington Post, May 3, 1992


Of ripples in the fabric of space-time

we are alerted: in a place once blank

they spring from meter and inherit rhyme.


How like the growing nautilus’s climb

is our galactic spiral, as a bank

of ripples in the fabric of space-time


where human words may radiate sublime

reflections, reasoned acts: what careless prank

could spring from meter and inherit rhyme?


Must we, like some inchoate mollusk, slime

back into an abandoned shell that sank

from ripples in the fabric of space-time?


Or else, emerging from that paradigm,

can we escape this sluggish holding-tank

and ripple through the fabric of space-time,

springing from meter, inheriting rhyme?

                                             —Claudia Gary





Form gives shape to what we tell,

        poets of the past declared;

and so I write a villanelle.


Free verse tends to puff and swell:

        meaning sharpens when ensnared.

Form adds grace to what we tell.


A poem is a citadel,

        as structured as the poet cared,

thus I write a villanelle.


In shifting dreams we mostly dwell,

        in shapeless images unshared.

Form lends sense to what we tell.


Rhyming words peal like a bell,

        sounding sweeter when they’re paired;

 and so I write a villanelle.


Writing badly or writing well,

        I count out the rhymes and dare.

Form gives shape to what I tell,

and still, I wrote a villanelle.
                                                                            —Sheila Golburgh Johnson

[5967] FORM
And what is form?
The shape of a wind
that comes and goes
leaving a soul trail. 

Beauty that comes
and goes.
Externals that entice
to play destiny’s dice. 

To form an opinion
today this way
tomorrow another,
river waters that flow.
Plato’s shadows 
in  shapes by the fire.
Nothing here is eternal
and only God remains.
The contour of nature
in valleys and mountains.
Figures in formations
filled-in by our imagination.
Then fashion, in models
and schemes with contours;
molds and chimeras
that come and go in style.
Form is the vase and the face
looking one or another way.
In black over white
or vice versa.
We build a frame
give it an outline of ours.
In it our very own thought
that makes the phenomenon.
Then we can follow the book,
good form as in conform.
How much decorum
is but the patina of convention?
The ceremonies are important,
since it is externals that move us.
And we can judge only
by what our eyes can see.
I will bring into existence
a something that has form.
It is my very own creation
and it forms me as I form it.

—Hayim Abramson





Out on a tightrope

balance depends

on footing—eyes


ahead—always in motion

to not fall through

the distance below. Not given


to seeing the length of the wire,

not knowing

where exactly it takes me,


I steady my anxious

thoughts, take my pencil,

write down what I can.


And knowing I walk in a sleep

where distinctions are veiled

by distance, I trust


the ground of my being,

keep to the feel of stepping

into my own next step.

                                          —Reizel Polak





The letters tell their story without words,

and by their forms the Names float up like clouds.

The crowns upon them slit the klaf* like swords,

the spaces pouring graces,

as parchment quill embraces,

and I am moving ever floating towards.


The fiery black on fiery whiteness falls

across the parchment throbbing and alive.

Now sure and strong, now trembling and unsure,

the inner power waning,

the circumstance explaining,

that I am watching, yet I see no more.


The words below the line produce the light,

and bold interpretations come to mind.

Though splendid incantations fill the night,

the rapid shallow breathing

as if the soul is leaving,

and I pursue my spirit in its flight.

—Chaim Tabasky


Write from the soul!
A poet friend says,
Write from the soul!
She highlights
words, phrases, lines that speak
to her soul.
I am not sure she means soul.
Should we strive then
to silence the ”brain-that-sweats”?
Seek not to toil
between feeling
and expressing.
Yet feeling needs form,
a fitting frame
for the wrestling soul.
Meaning summons meaning,
inner ears hear
sound ripple upon sound.

—Michael E. Stone

intricate, delicate, ornate,
latticework, stonework, embroidery,
ornament, adornment, embellishment,
styles of art, of carving, of writing.
simple, clean, pure,
line, curve, angle,
chairs, tools, and vision,
different wave lengths
strike the inner eye differently,
reach perception’s pleasure
by different routes.


—Michael E. Stone


various kinds of breathing
Poems, like breaths, like leaves, like lives
go on, whatever one believes
as stars, as mountains come and go
(though nothing lasts as long as snow)—
like water in streams and sound in songs...
and songs in a braid are thick and strong
as a rope of hair on a back at night
(though nothing lasts as long as light).

—JB Mulligan

Essay vs. Free Verse
I talked to a poet about his free verse,
   and of his opinion and could he explain.
“Sir, tell me?” I asked him, “What difference occurs
   between a good essay and a poem of free verse?”
He paused as he thought about what he should say,
   and then his demeanor revealed some dismay,
as he pondered an answer to give the right way, 
   in response to the question I asked him that day.
“I’ll tell you,” he said, with a frown on his face,
   as he looked to his feet for some added advice.
“The careful selection of words shall I say
   that renders a poem above the essay.
They both carry thoughts about this world and life
   using similes, metaphors and stories alike,
but the poem is better, much better you see
   because it’s a poem where the verses are free.”
 ”But that is no answer,” I said in response.
   “You can’t possibly know how the essay was made.
Perhaps the words flowed from the seat-of-the-pants
   or maybe were chosen by whim or by chance.
 But that doesn’t mean that the essay is less
   than the poem that boasts of its fancy free verse,
so I’ll ask once again for an answer from you 
   for a better description comparing the two.” 
His eyes shifted slowly from left foot to right
   seeking answers, any answers and further insight
in response to my question, but none could he find,
   as no thoughts of importance would come to his mind.
Then he turned and he left me in silence that day,
   no solutions to cause an opinion to sway,
so I’m left with my question, for better or worse.
   Should I call it an essay or should I call it free verse?
—Gerald E. Greene
Per/Verse  (triolet)
“When you feel brain-dead or blue, write a verse
or two. Even a line can make things fine,”
our workshop leader assured. But it’s worse
if you feel brain-dead or blue, write a verse
or two, and find you’ve mined lodes of perverse
images that rasp the nerves, wrench the mind.
Then you’ll feel deathly blue, and not a verse
or two, even a line, can make things fine.
 —George Held 
Some pronounce it poim.
Like it has an oy inside it.
The way an oyster
has an oy inside it. The way
all poems ought to have
a little oy veh
and a little oyez! oyez!
inside them.
Others pronounce it po-um.
Like it has an um inside it.
A thoughtful pause.
A caesura. A possum
that got run over,
its esses elided.
Me, I always say pome.
Like an apple or pomme
I want to bite into
because it has an om inside it,
a mystic and sacred
syllable I can’t wait to reach
and I have no patience
for all the diphthongs.
                                                                —Paul Hostovsky
Whoever must write a sestina                           
Be warned: the result might not repay               
The labor. First, have something charged                       
To say, and be prepared to sustain                    
It over thirty-nine iambic lines                         
Without detracting from your style.                              
Some poets resort to contorting style                             
To squeeze a sentence into a sestina
Or stuff in more sense than a line
Can bear, but such discord won’t repay
The effort, much less sustain
The form. So choose something charged
And vital to you, lest you be charged
With baldly exploiting traditional style.
Select teleutons mainly to sustain
Your drift with ease, for the sestina’s
Devilishly hard to make pay
Off in imperishable lines.                                             
O to write some publishable lines
In a prescribed form that’s charged
With names like Bishop yet did not repay
Her efforts despite her enviable style,                     
For she gave up on the sestina
After just two tries: it did not sustain
Her interest; nor did other fixed forms sustain
Her talent, so she wrote free-verse lines,
Dropping the villanelle, like the sestina,
After only one try, lest she be charged
With being too “academic.” Her perfect style
Made her free-verse poems (figuratively) pay.                           
If you’re the sort whose product must repay
Your efforts as you labor to sustain
Your composition and master your style
And turn out good, even memorable lines,
Make sure to keep your language charged,
Your line-ends stressed, to bolster your sestina.             
You’ll find, I hope, your time repaid in these lines;
For sustained invention there is no charge,
No tax on style for ending on unstressed “a,” “sestina.”
 —George Held
One Ambition
All I ever really wanted
was to whistle with my fingers—
I knew I would never
be the one up on stage

blowing everybody away
with beauty, brilliance, virtuosity…
But to be the lightning
inside the thunderous applause,
to have the audacity
and the manual dexterity
to make a siren screeching
through a dark auditorium,
to be the killer hawk
in all that parroting, pattering rain,
to be, finally, the very best at praise--
now that was something
I thought that if I gave my life to
I might attain.
                —Paul Hostovsky



Dear Seurat,


Did I know you at fourteen

in algebra class when

I drew millions of circles

to stave off boredom?


Surely, I knew you at twenty-five

but did I think of you, even

consider your influence, when

again, to ward off something,

this time depression, so deep

I sat for hours, for days, weeks,

months, drawing circles.


No entertainment nor social

engagement wooed me from the orbs.

Only the circular motion soothed

my troubled soul. You showed colors

as they really were, juxtaposed to create

a harmony that eluded me

except for the serenity of circles.


My dark period passed. I emerged

from my cocoon to a cacophony

of sounds, sights, society, still intact,

eager to join, except when I picked up

pen I could no longer linger over circles.


What was the point?

—Joan Gerstein




The Small Blue Box


The blue tin box that once held cigars

Mother used for wool, needles and cotton

For mending four children’s grubby socks and clothes

With nimble fingers and love mother mended and sewed.


We loved the blue box with the flowers

Its enamel pockmarked and chipped

Too dangerous for small hands and prying fingers

It was out of bounds for us.


It came with us to the ghetto

And survived concentration camps

Broken, battered but alive.


Grown children left home, grandchildren came along

With tears in their eyes and tears in their clothes

Grandma took out her magic mending-box again

Wiped away their tears and made everything right.


Now the blue box, lovingly preserved

Occupies a place of honor in my home

Telling tales of Divine Providence to generations

A mute witness to wondrous miracles and

Human perseverance in mending lives.

—Esther Halpern






Set on my desk

it glows iridescent as a

peacock’s tail: turquoise,

 ocher, sea-glow green and

purple, shades that change with

every shift of light. I could make a 

metaphor of this precious glass egg,

a gift from a beloved. I could say the

symbolism of an oval without an end,

  the mystery of a womb, a seed,

 the light tricks that change

what I see. But sometimes

a paperweight is simply

a paperweight, so

let us let it be.

I thank you

for it


                                                 —Sheila Golburgh Johnson





Like Jonas by the fish was I received by it,

swung and swept in its dark waters,

driven to the deeps by it and beyond many rocks.

Without any touching of its teeth, I tumbled into it

and with no more struggle than a mote of dust

entering the door of a cathedral, so huge were its jaws.

How heel over head was I hurled down

the broad road of its throat, stopped inside

its chest wide as a hall, and like Jonas I stood up

asking where the beast was and, finding it nowhere,

there in grease and sorrow I build my bower.

                                                —Constance Rowell Mastores



Catalogue for a small show of words


1.  Word for the image of new fallen snow on a leafless tree.


2.  Word for the scent of jasmine dangling in the air.


3.  Word for the sound of crystal shattering on a tile floor.


4.  Word for the feeling of love in your throat in a dream.


5.  Word for learning of a friend’s suicide. 

—I. Batsheva

Adam gave names,
his part of creation.
Without names, nothing is.
The blue sky tinged
yellow over the hills,
dawn’s remnant breaking,
then Israel was named,
the angel not.
Names are power,
names create,
order, distinguish.
Names open the gates.
God calls the stars by name,
He knows their number.
God’s Name holds the world,
its 72 letters.
His speech made it --
22 letters.
He will be one with his Name.
 —Michael E. Stone
Diamond of Silence
Mr. Winegardner fought in two wars,
one West, one East,
and when he returned home,
he never said one word.
Our baseball diamond had no home,
a brick for first, a shed for second,
and a clothesline pole for third,
mumbling with bitter bumblebees.
It was Mr. Winegardner’s yard.
He watched us play but never said one word,
cocked back on a wooden poker chair,
whiskey bottle at his feet.
One day he broke that old shed down
with a sledge hammer, yanked out the
pole, bashed it to bits and burned it.
The bees whirled off like discarded planets.
He painted lines in smooth and straight,
placed three bases, soft and safe as pillows,
then home, molded and packed a pitcher’s mound,
then returned to his chair and whiskey.
On that silent diamond we played baseball
the only way to play baseball---for eternity,
for golden summers and the blue within
the blue, no need to even keep score.
Nights he stretched out on the mound,
watching the moon displace the darkness.
Still he said nothing.  Perhaps the silence
had forgotten what it once longed to say.
Sean Lause



The Oak Table


My neighbor tells about the time as a child

when a tornado headed towards their farmhouse

and his mother took him and his 2 sisters

and they all huddled under the Oak dining table.

Chandelier, then roofbeam, then walls

all crashed down on top of and around them.

He heard cows screaming and bawling and

a noise like a freight train, it’s always

a freight train,

coming right through the dining room.

Then the dust was so thick they choked

and gagged and

when it cleared they crawled out

from under.

There was nothing left but that Oak table

amidst a pile of rubble that was once

the farmhouse.


This table, he said, hands on the table

we were seated at drinking beer.

Some things endure, he said.  This table

outlived Grandma and Momma and

it will outlive you and me too.

This groove here, he pointed, that’s where

the roofbeam hit.


You go all the way back down the line,

to the loggers, the craftsman who

built things to last, or

the farm woman who had an eye for

what was solid and enduring, but

the line of a man’s fate runs straight

and is drawn in the dust

by such small choices.

If they are thoughtful, careful,

the line cuts in one direction, hasty

or careless, it cuts in another, he said.

The barn collapsed, he finishes;

all the cows were killed.

                                                —Red Hawk


—Doug MacDonald

5 On Form


1) The First Line Is the Hardest


What’s new? I work a day-job, and compose

a sonnet every weekday.  It is not

that difficult. There is a kind of spot

you have to let the mind find, a pause

where the gravities can come to equipoise,

a wide white silence, a minute black dot

which any number of elephants of thought

can balance on.  From there on in it flows,


or at least the problem has been framed:

mind’s journeymen then make the pieces fit.

And what’s the good of all that? you may say.

Call it something like a balance-sheet

for soul’s accounts.  A pastime for the condemned.

It keeps the little men in white away.


2) Pas de Deux


A formal poem is a pas de deux

Where the one partner, with all he requires

Is form; the other is the poet, you,

With your perceptions, memories, and desires;

Where each learns her capacity, and fires

The other on and on to ever-varied

Displays; but all is spoiled if either tires

Or lets himself be overwhelmed or carried.


And yet there are those lovely leans and lifts

Where mate on mate all will-lessly reclines

Or the balance of their strength more subtly shifts,

Those pauses eye to eye, where each divines

The other not as something in the way

But deepest self, and what one wanted most to say.


3) [Untitled]


To write in forms you have to wait

In empty rooms for words to come,

To stare where gapes the open gate.

To write in forms, you have to wait.

The nerve is taut. The clock says Late.

Still you must listen and be dumb.

To write in forms, you have to wait

In empty rooms for words to come.


4) Devotion’s Prose


The sonnet is a form that mystics made,

Worshippers of the Light’s unfading rose.

Its cadences were their devotions’ prose,

The currency in which they used to trade

Their ecstasies, of which time has mislaid

The cypher, discontinuing the praise

That round the mortal image ranged the rays

Of the great Sun; strange that such fame should fade!


Yet in the form itself there still abides

A kind of centering virtue that gives hope,

As if the world in its enormity

Is but the aura of a soul; the sides

Of all contention balance round a shape

That cannot change, nor forfeit dignity.


5) [Untitled]


A sonnet is the original sound-bite

A thought-compressor, handy and compact,

For meditations concrete or abstract.

It takes you fifty seconds to recite,

Speaking slowly; and within that tight

Compass, there is room to state a fact,

Anticipate how others would react,

Explain how you would see it, in the light


Of other circumstance which you relate,

And lastly give a learned opinion, backed

By literary precedent.  That is

One possibility.  Or you may state

Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis,

And wait until the couplet to retract.

—Esther Cameron




Sonnet After Billy Collins


First let’s discuss the number of lines:

Fourteen. You can tie them together with twine

As if they are objects instead of mere words,

Tiny nuggets of bread thrown down for the birds.

A poem, after all, is a physical thing

You can bundle in boxes with scissors and string.

Though it follows parameters set long ago

As to rhyme, pacing, content and rhythmical flow,

Let’s remember its limits, keep it in its place;

It’s just ink on paper that might be erased.

Despite the beguiling surprise of its turn,

Pyrotechnics that sparkle with wit as they burn,

and no matter what legends and spells it evokes,

it would only take seconds to go up in smoke.

                                                                —Catherine Wald