Poetry Appreciation Class


Pup Tent Music
The tent’s dark reigned till he turned on the light
and leapt about all sunnily and glad.
They’d had sex again: this time it had been his.
‘I was wonderful,’ he said. ‘I am fantastic.’
She answered, ‘You can trip the light, Fantastic.’


A. Read the assigned poem out loud in your own laughable accent and again in a highfalutin voice like your teacher’s.

B. Laugh at the clumsiness of your fellow pupils. Try to pick a fight with the smallest one.

C. Return to your seat and write out your answers to the following questions:

1. What does the title largely mean? Does it have everything to do with dogs liking music? Anything? Nothing at all? Do you like cats? Does the poet like cats, but is trying to suppress it?

2. Explain the solar and lunar allusions conjured by the poem’s use of the words ‘reigned’ and ‘sunnily’. (Extra credit for precipitation puns.)

3. Parse each line looking for rhythmic hiccoughs and spelling errors. Mark the former with green pencil and the latter with red. Count the marks and divide the number of green marks by the number of red marks. (For extra credit explain why the number of red marks cannot equal zero.)

4. Explain why you enjoyed this poem especially if you did not.

5. Does your mother know you are a connoisseur of smut? To avoid the school board having to tell her, explain line three in a nice way.

6. What is the poetaster trying to tell us in the last line of the poem? Is what ‘she’ answers a constructionally idiosyncratic idiom, in that it is impossible to construct a meaningful literal-scene from the formal structure? Is this a wink to Procul Harum more than to Shakespeare’s The Tempest?

Your score for this assignment counts for one-third of your term grade for English.


Sal Volatile

God wants us all to travel as a family.
That’s why our laptop notebook’s DVD
lets you watch films and see facsimiles
of the scenery we’ve driven out to see
without glancing from the backseat’s cuir bouilli
or in a dictionary. All outdoors,
unedited, depresses or, worse, bores
you children who are force fed on sensation.
I cannot cavil at your whines and snores
because we are the same, our generation.

© ‘Lessons for My Babies’ Alan Reynolds

Note to self: Alan, why don’t you comment on this poem?

  1. because it is boring to title a poem ‘Sal Volatile’ (a solution of ammonium carbonate in alcohol or ammonia water, used in smelling salts). Maybe ‘Sal Mineo’?
  2. because the reference to watching DVDs on a trip is ridiculous, even though Patrick Bedard wrote in CAR & DRIVER about the Lexus GX470, ‘Mom and Dad up front go first-class, cosseted by leather and beautifully finished woodwork, while the kids get optionally DVD’d into back-seat bliss during those tedious interstate hauls to Grandma’s house.’
  3. because no one believes cuir boulli means ANYTHING, even though Bob Hurley not only confirms that it is real – it is hardened leather medieval armour – but also gives a method for making it.
  4. all of the above.

Gargoyle at Calle Molina 17

The gargoyle on our front door’s name is Giles.
I mean the gargoyle’s name. The front door has no
name itself, far as Lucinda knows
and she’s the expert here, say friend and foe,
about strange creatures’ names. What she has read
confirms my observation: Giles just hangs.
He never moves a muscle. He just hangs
his tongue out in that way he thinks beguiles
the girl gargoyles, who turn away and red,
and act as if collectively they know
Giles looks the part but secretly is faux.
His tongue, for one, is longer than his nose
and that, among his kind, Lucinda knows,
means we’ve a loser latched to where Giles hangs
which makes her count like James Brown two, tree, foe
and knock the front door silly with old Giles
or try to twist his tail to make the no-
tarial tables she says Giles has read
rotate his innards till he’s copper red
from stub of tail to sooty snout-like nose.
The thing you’d think a gargoyle has to know,
who’s passed his way, he doesn’t — ’cause he hangs
the wrong way up to notice. Poor old Giles!
She’d melt him for the metal but he’s faux
and possibly mâché, a paper foe
for stopping demons. What Lucinda’s read
to me about non-starter gargoyle Giles
would fill ten comic books: his cony nose
and fairly flat-arched long left foot that hangs
across his right so long the crease is red
with rust. She says she thinks, or’s read,
in a book by some lost soul yclept Defoe,
that demons fear confronting iron that hangs,
and Giles ís hung: it makes his eyes go red
while tears track rills of oxide down his nose.
Inverted he’s a sight that doth beguile.

Oh, gargoyle moms, before you hatch more Giles,
ensure that no foe hangs around who knows
that Giles ain’t hung the way Lucinda’s read.

Dynamics Imaged

O haggis, hunkered halfway up the hill,
uneven legs in fore-and-aft matched pairs,
each to the other skewed like stick in plaice
before the batter’s up in golden ducks,
attend right-thinking running, circle up
or down the slope until the golden mean
of altitude, corrected for spare crags,
prevails, and you proceed goat-like to graze
at ease and restfully, your haggis rules
OK, exemplifying strange attractors,
repelling border colleens, collies, kilts,
and robber burns on ceremonial night.
And, haggis, try to live as if you’ve got
the grit required to stomach Mandelbrot.

IF the weather is nice where you are, please by all means go out and play. But if, as here, the sea is too cold and petrol prices are STILL too high for happy Sunday motoring, perhaps you could help me with these footnotes.

FOOTNOTES (so far, so good, so what <s>):

1. ‘haggis’ — A delicate, delicious smallish creature hunted in the Highlands for its meet and for the hill of it. Pulled more successfully than birds by Dawkins shellfish jeans to the extent that its right legs (called Bermudas) are shorter than its left (called Levis).

2. ‘hunkered’ — Squatted down close to the ground, but not as in a squat. Unclear as to why this footnote is needed at all, except that one would have to renumber the rest (except one, ‘1’) were it taken out.

3. ‘skewed like stick in plaice’ — An impossible situation, like the impossible animal that exists (footnote 1), since a stick that is IN a plaice (large edible flat-bodied fish Pleuronectes platessa in European seas) can NOT be skewed (neither parallel nor intersecting) to said plaice. Cf. Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 7, Macbeth’s castle:
MACBETH: If we should fail?

But screw your courage to the
And we’ll not fail.

4. ‘before the batter’s up in golden ducks’ — Before all the batter (for the plaice) has been used up playing with our food, making little golden-fried ducks. Alternatively, for those who find the first explanation not cricket, before the batsman’s or batswoman’s turn is up by being out with a nil score (from a ‘duck’s egg,’ shaped like a zero). There is of course a third and very important possibility relating back to the skew framework of the poet’s mind [sick? sic?] of batter as a transitive verb for building a wall or similar so as to form an upwardly receding slope ‘The Haggis Hunting Ground,’ but by now this footnote itself is getting battered beyond all redemption.

5. ‘attend right-thinking running’ — Admonishing the haggis to pay attention to conventional ideas of morality, propriety, and decorum whilst ALSO running to the right (otherwise it would turn its short legs to the downside of the hill and fall into the hunters’ sacks) and whilst ALSO concentrating to avoid coming too close to the perpendicular (and falling into the hunters’ sacks).

6. ‘circle up / or down the slope until the golden mean / of altitude’ —Advising the haggis (so that it may avoid falling into the hunters’ sacks) to find and keep to that aesthetically pleasing and just-right height (which the haggis computes on the trot, the ratio of the whole line to the larger part being exactly the same as the ratio of the larger part to the smaller part) where its leg-length challenge matches the mountain’s slope-flat challenge.

7. ‘haggis rules / OK’ — Reminiscent of the wonder which led one seeker of truth to The Linguist List, Eastern Michigan University dash Wayne State University to ask, on Saturday, 11 September at 09:22:06, ‘I’ve seen several British spray-painted slogans of the form “X rules OK” on walls and other outdoor surfaces. Can someone explain the syntax to me?’ He didn’t seem to get an answer.

8. ‘exemplifying strange attractors, / repelling’ — Attractors and repellers are, of course, WHAT THE WHOLE POEM IS ABOUT <s>

9. ‘border colleens, collies, kilts,’ — Since this is simply about complexity and chaos, it follows that we mix up the Borders — Scots going to Ireland, Irish girls coming back to Scotland, etc.

10. ‘robber burns on ceremonial night.’ — In Dutch ‘robber’ means ‘seal’ which is a red herring of another colour. The line itself should have Robert Burns whirling in Dumfries, which is only fair seeing how many poor little haggis have been hunted down over the years to accompany the mashed turnip, mashed potato, and mashed whisky at Burns Suppers. O, Immortal Memory.

11. ‘the grit required to stomach Mandelbrot’ — Somewhat at ‘out of the mouth (stoma) of Benoit’ but not very. More at ‘Fractal, fractal on the wall.’ I rest my case of Jacques Denials.

Seven-Up Ages

Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’ monologue from AS YOU LIKE IT wrings well the rungs of lives’ ladders.

Here I attempted, birdlike, to make a deposit on each rung. Consciously choosing limerick form to lighten the Bard’s message, I ended up finding it all too sad for words. As did Shakespeare, perhaps.

Although the resulting limericks made me grin. Wryly.

To the bairn in the puked mules: You’re spraying
with no notion what your pa is saying:
You’ve no choice but Start,
so change diapers, gird heart
for the lead you’ll be ever less playing.

To the lad lusting after his teacher
while avoiding the lash of the preacher:
Your learning will swell
should you stay past the bell
and cosy up to your muse, should you reach her.

To the lover: Lad, be less remorseful!
Get a life. A cold shower. Be forceful.
Eyebrows serenaded
have been trimmed or they’ve faded.
They’re not marks of the brave or resourceful.

To the soldier: You seek reputation
in a bubble of blood that a nation
offers every so often
to winnow its soft men
and harden survivors they ration.

To the justice: You’ve just et a chicken
with a quickness that followers of Wiccan
would deplore had they store,
but they don’t, anymore.
Since you sentenced them all, they’ve been stricken.

To the old: In your dotage you’re trilling
and your edicts which we once found thrilling
are unseemly at best.
You’ve become a weak pest
with a whistle inheritors find chilling.

To the oldest: You hang there forgetting
yourself and the bed you are wetting.
Missing teeth, misting eyes,
a lost sense of surprise.
If you knew, you would find this upsetting.

© Alan Reynolds, 2016

Deuced Pas de Deux



‘I am alive today, and dancing in the wind
that cools the grass the sun is burning brown
The dunes demur, and gliding gulls rescind …’


‘His splayed legs, in shorts, displayed from calves to toes
are dead ringers for plucked turkey tom cadavers
as far, too far, as epidermis goes.’



stage direction

She makes a wish and writes it on a paper
and seals it inside a bottle with a kiss.

they dance, both singing:

‘We laze upon the littoral and think
we are thinking. Thoughts as thoughtless as the waves
advance and crest and surge onto the sand
in which despite their fecundity nothing grows …’

her variation:

‘A plucked turkey carcass, bled and oven bound
shows better skin tone than the hide that’s found …’

his variation:

‘The deadpan surly words mask how we flirt …’



The stake-fried chicken sizzles and goes out
for waffles.

[Shurly chicken-fried steak? Ed.]