Old Poems, Mostly Awful, and Thoughts about Poetry

Most of the poetry I see on the Internet, such as at WDC, can hardly be called poetry.  It’s sand in my eyes and wax in my ears.  Every tone-deaf grammar school child is told she can write poetry, but is hardly encouraged to read and find poetry she might like, and is given no idea that simply because something is broken into lines doesn’t necessarily make it poetic.  The poetry writing course I had at UC Irvine was also almost this bad.  Every poem read aloud was greeted by the teacher with “Good poem.  Good poem.”  Never a word was said about standards; there were no standards.  Honest, serious feedback was nowhere to be found, and that’s the general rule everywhere, as serious writers of all stripes know too well.  And so, poetry is hardly taken seriously anywhere except maybe in popular music.

I am in favor of loose standards, and indeed, the idea of poetic standards is almost an oxymoron.  But I don’t want to see or hear poetry that is tone deaf (some of us know it when we hear it) or with every line starting with “I really really love,” or ending in “-tion,” or which is a completely ungrammatical jumble of words like “entrails,” “semen,” and “fuck.”  Nor can I tolerate a poem that is an impenetrable fog of obscurity.  I mostly ignore the critics because I’ve never found one that shares my admittedly idiosyncratic tastes.

I’ve never spent much time writing poetry.  I read some (while in prison I read a lot, including the massive anthology The Top 500), but find few to like.  My taste generally prefers rhyme and rhythm, and the shorter poem the better.  Favorites:  The Rubáiyát (via Edward Fitzgerald), Poe, Wordsworth, Yeats, Coleridge, Housman, a few of Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Tennyson, bits and pieces here and there, and of course Shakespeare.  I cannot name a living poet that I’ve liked; among the recently dead I can name Gil Scott Heron and Leonard Cohen.

The following are my oldest extant poems.  The two from ’77 were written for a class at UC Irvine.  The quatrains and “Nature’s Way” are the only  ones I still like; the rest are more or less embarrassing.  But for what it’s worth, here they are.  I anticipate adding my newer poems later in a separate post.

Copyright 2001 by Alan Nicoll
All Rights Reserved.

The Rock
The rock, hammerlike,
pounds needles through my skull.
Passion plugs the holes;
the gold-eyed steel drips and is gone.
The wounds are healed at a touch.
She doesn’t see the rock returning
when she leaves.


My Room
The walls are cushioned with books.
Balls of air pop in the aquarium.
The nautilus shell stands vacant and dead on a shelf.
Two stones, sea-smoothed: she kissed one.
My typewriter stands silent;
Of what use is anything, when she is gone?


Three Miscellaneous Quatrains Inspired by
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

I wake to dawn’s bright kiss upon my eyes.
Is this the day I find a love? I rise.
Thus each day’s light I greet with unchanged hope,
And each day’s night with tears and hopeless sighs.

It’s centuries since Khayyam turned to dust,
And Cyrano is gone beneath the crust.
With wine or love as numbing drug we choose
To face the void; my choice is love – or lust!

Man’s death’s his greatest, undefeated foe,
As all forget, and all forever know.
O, stop my final breath with woman’s lips!
I’ll smile against her mouth, and gently go.


Nature’s Way

Oh, bury me alive among the pines
And plant a sapling on my back. Or make
A nest of me for mice, to feed a snake.
My blood should swell the veins of columbines.

Don’t put me in a box beneath the sod,
And no embalming fluid to salt the meat–
I must be food. Please grant this last conceit;
I’ll hoot hosannas to your twilight God.

The story of my life is told. I shine
As villain, not as hero. Jailed and maimed
I was, and by myself. Not pitied: blamed;
No eyes drop tears; no ears endure my whine.

Alive, none want my smile, my kiss, my voice;
But dead, a billion worms and germs rejoice.


A rose was never graced with such a color as we find
on this young lady’s forehead, or even her behind.
A cadillac is not so shiny as the sheen we see right here
on this young lady’s bosom and this spot below the ear.
But when we look at bodies dead, we really must beware:
to fall in love with brainless head is dumber than we dare.


Occasional Poem, August 4/16, 1998

Old mama, young boy
Growing up, growing old
We learn to value those we love,
We learn to love by being loved.
So many years between them,
How many years they will share.
Live again in the life of a young ‘un,
The common man’s immortality.

From Germany to Southern Cal
Is far in years and miles
But in between is poet Al
Make faces to bring smiles

Wars between and deaths too many
We learn to love by being loved.

Copyright 2001 by Alan Nicoll
All Rights Reserved.

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