Having taught literature at the college level for two decades, I decided it was time to create some of my own. This puts me in the unusual position of being a middle-aged apprentice, a theme that shows up in my work. While I enjoy free verse, my heart is with traditional forms. The play of English phrasing and syntax across a sturdy pentameter framework is, for me, one of life’s great pleasures. My poems have appeared in The Lyric, The New Verse News, and Voices on the Wind.
I fell in love with poetry for its sound,
excelled at school because I understood
the authors who made English sound so good.
The further I advanced, the more profound
grew my awareness of prickly social themes
I’d overlooked, like gender, race, and class.
I saw how meaning grows from a morass
of signs and symbols, metaphors and memes.
Yet tasting my labors’ fruit, the PhD,
felt wrong—as if scholarship broke some rule
of my being. I’d lost the harmony
that poets teach. Whatever ridicule
it costs me now, I’ll face, should they agree
to take this freshman in their beauty school.
Some nights I can feel the acid creep-
ing up my pipe: a lava-like constric-
tion in my sternum, cutting off all sleep.
I slink downstairs for milk and science fiction.
Propped against the sofa in my bath-
robe, while cursing the tomatoes I have eaten,
I try hard to swallow back the wrath
Job must have felt. That humans should be cre-
tins, stuck in bodies not of our own making,
galls us as we age. It seems unfair
that happiness depends on fluids snak-
ing through the bowels, far from our aware-
ness. Some nights we’re like babies, fast asleep.
And some nights we can feel the acid creep.
In Defense of Formal Poetry
“This sonnet stuff is fake,” my class complains:
emotion crammed unnaturally into schemes
to show how skilled the poet is at games
but not what’s in his heart—his fears and dreams.
Cornered by skeptics, how can I explain
that meter is the pulse of breath and blood
beneath one’s conscious ecstasy and pain,
and helps to make these feelings understood?
Or that emotion, given form, is like a flood
held back by counter-pressures of design:
it pounds the sluice gates harder—better heard
for being obstructed by a wall of rhyme.
The form’s not fake, it’s just a poet’s way
to amplify what he finds hard to say.
©2015 David Southward