The Blank Verse Mystery, Part 005

by Paul Guernsey Player, Copyright © 2018/06/30

On summer break back home I write these lines.
The spring before was spent in reading Emerson,
Thoreau, philosophers of New England back
before the Civil War, before our country
ripped itself apart, when Lincoln’s land
was still the land of Sawyer, and of Finn,
when paddle wheels still ruled the River wide,
and Tom and Huck were just a glint in one
rough pilot’s eye, when Trancendentalism
found the beauty of the whole to be revealed
in every part, regardless of how small.

Always in My Thoughts

Soft and fresh as winter wheat
on undulating fields
in springtime’s early thaw,
you’re always in my thoughts.

The breeze that blows when young boys play:
the ball, aloft, as all eyes wait
for its return to Earth.

The River flowing green and deep
beyond all sounding.

A perfect stone found lying
in an open field
that draws you in and holds you
safe and warm and lovely.

And this I write, just on a dare from Dr.
P’s half joking offer of an extra-
credit paper we might write in place
of the whole course: to write an essay on
what BEING is. I got so far as this:


that which is: reality.
continuation which may
change in form, but is everlastingly

What is? What is real?
What lasts and is formless?
What model represents
structureless being?


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Cruel Defeat

You will suffer cruel defeat
when next our cursed paths do meet.
Consider it your just reward
for challenging this mighty hoard.

You get nothin’! You get nothin’!
You get nothin’! Nothin’! NOTHIN’!
You get nothin’! You get nothin’!
You get nothin’! Nothin’! NOTHIN’!

And when the game is up you’ll find
you never caught up from behind.
You hadn’t even tried to score,
for on defense you always were.

You get nothin’! You get nothin’!
You get nothin’! Nothin’! NOTHIN’!
You get nothin’! You get nothin’!
You get nothin’! Nothin’! NOTHIN’!

You think you’re such nifty fellows,
heading home on busses yellow,
singing songs of victory,
because today ends us in misery.

Wait till next time! Wait till next time!
Wait Till Next Time! Next Time! NEXT TIME!
You’ll get nothin’! You’ll get nothin’!
Nothin’! Nothin’! Nothin’! NOTHIN’!

A prophetic Victory Chant by Paul Guernsey Player © 2018/06/29

The Blank Verse Mystery, Part 004

by Paul Guernsey Player, Copyright © 2018/06/29

The members-only darkroom in the basement’s
never used, so with my member roommate’s
borrowed key, I sneak into the room
and print the week’s exposures free.
From cellulose with silver ores, to paper
dripping on the lines, in darkened reddish
glow, I pray the images are true.
So long ago it was when iris blades
were opened to the sun, the captured light
is now revealed with darkness as a shrowd.
The negative into the tray, the tray
into the lamp, flick on the enlarger’s
bulb and focus in upon the grain.
Endarken room, extract a sheet of virgin
Kodak stock, or Ilford if I think
the shot is fine enough for that expense.

A portrait of a friend’s sweet smiling face;
A cheerleader tossed high into the air,
her toothy birthday grin invites the crowd;
Our tallest housemate picking apples sweet,
one in the mouth worth two in either hand;
A barge upon the river, making way.

Four good shots of thirty-six exposed,
a good haul, for the day. Not bad.
I rinse the trays, and stow my gear before
escaping to the dimly lighted hall.


Hello, are you a member of the club?


No, I’m not, but Tim, my roommate is.
It’s my enlarger in the lab. The old one’s
pretty shot. I thought that it would be ok,
a sort of fair exchange, my chemicals
and tools for just the use of your wide sinks?


It’s not OK, and you’re not welcome here.
Unless you want to pay your dues and be
a real part of the group. Until you do,
you’re not to use that key. So, understood?


Yes, sir. No, I won’t come back again.
I did not think of it as petty theft.

I sulk and climb the staircase to my room,
my photographs in hand, but somehow now
the magic time is lost. My face is hot,
and now’s past due for history research,
and all the Science I don’t understand
plus all the Science that I truly do.

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The Blank Verse Mystery, Part 003

by Paul Guernsey Player, Copyright © 2018/06/28

The weekends are for such fun airy play
but through the week the afternoons are broken
by our runs. Cross-country runs, out through
the rye and up and down the blacktop roads
that climb up to the emerald green bluff.

Somewhere up the Greatest River Road
between quaint Elsah, fair and Grafton old,
down from rustic Pere Marquette State Park,
we run. We run with strength and speed. We run
beyond the limits of our legs and hearts and lungs.
We run below the bluffs, we sail along
the River’s edge; with tail wind sweet we run.
Yes, TJ could run, but not like this,
nor I, with football’s churning crushing stride.
But on this day, we run as Hermes’ sons,
or is it as a Pelbar Cycle* wind,
or had we touched the face of God Divine,
or heard the flaming Piasa** whose call
was thought extinct with her bright people’s tribe?

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*The Pelbar Cycle, book series written 1981-1985, by Paul O. Williams (1935–2009), American science fiction writer and haiku poet. Williams was professor emeritus of English at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois; The series includes the running bands of nomadic Shumai Axemen.

**Piasa – The Piasa Bird (pronounced Pie-a-saw), is a local legend in the Alton area. Its foundings go back to 1673 when Father Jacques Marquette, in recording his famous journey down the Mississippi River with Louis Joliet, described the “Piasa” as a birdlike monster painted high on the bluffs along the Mississippi River, where the city of Alton, Illinois now stands.
According to the diary, the Piasa “was as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs.” The creature was given its name by the Illini Indians, “The Piasa”, meaning a bird that devours men.

Shepherd’s Pie

Mash, smash, sautee, boil!
None can match my kitchen toil!
Out to the garden, snip, snip, snip,
reaping harvest from wet soil.

Mince the herbs for which I ran
with onion, carrots, garlic while
I spread the ground beef and the lamb
into the covered baking pan.

Salt the water for the spuds,
and when done mash with buttered milk.
Layer veggies with goat cheese;
top with small round frozen peas!

Smooth the mash all round the top,
hear the lid’s soft clanking sound.
Into the oven now, just so…
should be ‘nough to go around.

Hope you all enjoyed the show.
My shepherd’s pie, just watch it go!

by Paul Guernsey Player, Copyright © 2018/06/27

Check here for the recipe.

The Blank Verse Mystery, Part 002

by Paul Guernsey Player, Copyright © 2018/06/27

At fifteen yards the disk spins flat and slow.
TJ and I step back a pace or two
with every catch until our spinning toy
enspans the walk encircled grassy plain.
At fifty yards, a sizzle’s heard upon release,
each torso fully coils back and springs
to full extension, arm and flicking wrist.
It flies. My soul is cast into the crisp fall air
without a single doubt that waiting on
the other side ’tis caught in open palm
by friend and roommate, trusting Timothy,
who turns and spins in one smooth fluid dance,
releasing back to me his sacred trust.
One green lawn above the fruited plain,
one disk, aloft above the larger spinning Earth,
our Home, our Rock, our Sun, our Lives, our Joys.

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The Blank Verse Mystery, Part 001

by Paul Guernsey Player, Copyright © 2018/06/25

ACT 1*


What would you then dear cousin have me do?
Your roomie has me around her finger tied
in knots no silver marlinspike can loose.
Her sun streaked curls incite my fingers there to roam,
her slender frame and springly stride conspire
to lead me round the lighted stage in circles
like a well coifed springer hound.

Just shut your mouth and listen to yourself.
Go out and find a frisbee you can toss
across the green in bronze bare shouldered
spleandor like the stunning man you are.
I will not hear another word. Now go!

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* I can’t say today this  will end up as a play. My original idea this afternoon was for a verse novel or verse short story, and one of those seems a more likely form. But for now, I include ACT and SCENE for dramatic effect. This is the first installment of my first attempt at Verse Novel or Verse Short Story. I do not know if it will be any good, but it sounds like fun and I will endeavor to create something worth reading. I will post updates as individual blog entries which I will then thread and weave together on The Blank Verse Mystery page for the [ story | novel | play ].

Nor can I say that the whole work will be in blank verse. I very well may break out into prose, jumping back and forth. I may write whole sections in renku linked verse. Who knows? It is going to be a learning process. The main page may grow or shrink as I applying my editing skills. I may split the story into separate pages for each chapter, depending on how prolific [or verbose] I get.

Let me know what you think. Let’s see how this goes.

The New Poetry, Taking it to the Ivory Tower

[To be inserted soon into my definition of poetry]

Separating poetry from verse was not just a natural organic adaptation of established forms to fit the needs of the day. Certain Poets with Intention and Malice Aforethought sought the redefinition of Poetry to remove Verse from its canon[1] and thus to set in motion the genre of Poetry’s quick and brutal demise. [Leave it to the French, hein?]

The Shame is Real

Joyce Kilmer, author of the “Trees”, speaks of the shame brought to “the rhymer’s honest trade” in his To Certain Poets. The shame is real, and though it took over 100 years, the Separation Movement has brought down the Mighty Oak. As USA Today observes, “Trees” no longer works as poetry in an educational setting. It is no longer a “trans-generational glue” [note the special ridicule given to the verse’s meter]:

“Trees’ demise began in the late 1960s. It had something to alienate everyone — feminization of nature, sing-song cadence, metaphors that had the tree’s mouth pressing down while her head’s up in the air, hosting robins.”

And look at how poetry readings are depicted now in pop culture. This is not flattering.

Another shameful example, from :

“There are a few definitions of verse which are relevant to literature. Originally, a verse referred to a single line of a poem. It has also come to mean any grouping of words in a poem, for example a stanza or, indeed, an entire poem. When used to refer to a poem, verse can be a bit of a derogatory term, as it signifies a work which is not quite good enough aesthetically to be classified as a poem.”

Wow. See where Kilmer was going, yet? This appears to have been going on for a long time.

Naming Names

Kilmer leaves unnamed the Certain Poets he castigates for the shame they brought to “the rhymer’s honest trade”. But I can think of one or two: Whitman and Mallarmé [2]. Whitman is the real powerhouse here, never asking permission from The Accademy to forge his own style [Leave it to the American, right?]. As he said in his 1872 address to a joint session of congress, “Democracy was not invented to watch my Free Verse suffer and die while Oxford University discusses this separation in a committee!” He had likely also seen enough of war and wanted no more part of it it, thank you.

So, I admire Mallarmé for his courageous attempt to come to grips with Free Verse and how the divorce of poetry from verse would ultimately bring doom, or at least shame to poets everywhere. In the winter of 1894, Stéphane Mallarmé takes it to the Ivory Tower. Liesl Yamaguchi recounts the event:

“I do indeed bring news,” [Mallarmé] declared to the crowd assembled at Oxford’s Taylorian Institution on the first of March: “Verse has been tampered with.” A fissure had emerged within the ancient unity long known indifferently as verse or as poetry, and Mallarmé, tracing it, had deduced the magnitude of its implications with astonishing prescience. Standing before the fault line that would bring untold reconfigurations, he marked the moment. He pointed. “That is where we are, right now,” he observed. “The Separation.”

“There is no such thing as prose. There is the alphabet, and then there are verses which are more or less closely knit, more or less diffuse. So long as there is a straining toward style, there is versification.” – Mallarmé, 1891

Great news. Poetry is not verse, but Prose is! Except that the definition of verse just got stretched beyond the point of recognition. We have New Poetry, to go along with New Math, but how do you teach it? And if, like the New Math, you can’t teach it, where will our future poets learn their craft, and eventually their art? Engineering students (and engineers) benefit from clear definitions of terms. So do poetry students and, yes, even poets.

I will not attempt to summarize Yamaguchi’s brilliantly detailed explication of Mallarmé’s attempted definition of verse in the New Poetry. It is the most technically detailed definition I have yet encountered. Tortured, twisted and utterly unworkable, but a valient attempt. Yamaguchi gives it as much justice as it deserves, just enough rope with which to hang itself, and after the vaporous fogs of the lecture had begun to drift back across the Atlantic, this scene was unfolding somewhere in the vast stretches of America’s heartland:

[DARTH POE cuts off Walt’s writing hand. Walt attempts to escape by climbing out onto a grassy knoll.]
DARTH POE: There is no escape! Don’t make me destroy you. Walt, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your versification! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the Poetry.
WALT GRASSWALKER: [angrily] I’ll never join you!
DARTH POE: If only you knew the power of the Verse Side! Emerson never told you what happened to your father.
WALT GRASSWALKER: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
DARTH POE: No. I am your father!
WALT GRASSWALKER [shocked] No… No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
DARTH POE: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
DARTH POE: Walt, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the Poetry as father and son! Come with me. It is the only way.

Unfortunately, we know how the movie ends. #MayTheVerseBeWithYou

Read Yamaguchi. Read Edward Hirsch’s equally tortured entry for poetry in his A Poet’s Glossary. In separating poetry from verse, observe the lengths to which one must go to then define poetry. It is not verse that gets lost in this attempt, but the poem, for having lost its singular defining trait, it becomes undefined, both everything and nothing.

The idea of verse being a sort of untidy step-child and sub-standard, lesser, not quite poetry is ludicrous and backward, since a poem does not exist in the absence of verse – in its traditional, rhythmic sense. Something does exist, and we call it prose.


A special tribute to enjambment is warranted, and now is as good a time as any. defines it here:

The running-over of a sentence or phrase from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation; the opposite of end-stopped. William Carlos Williams’s “Between Walls” is one sentence broken into 10 enjambed lines:

the back wings
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green

The key words in that definition are “a sentence or phrase”. Williams did not write verse. He wrote a sentence. It is prose, and prose is not made into poetry by the insertion of arbitrary line breaks. Lines in poetry, we poets sometimes call them verses, encapsulate an instance of a rhythmical unit. Sometimes the physical page (or the poet’s own arbitrarily set margin) is too narrow to contain the entire unit. Enjambment allows the poet to explicitly indicate to the reader where the rhythmic unit (or a unit of meaning) begins and ends, while staying within the margins. Prose Enjambment is an attempt to usurp this Natural Law with the purpose of turning a prose into a poem by making it appear visually like verse. If it reads like a sentence, however, with line breaks that indicate nothing, Nature is not fooled.

Nor are we amused. Frankly, we grow weary and annoyed [I’d go so far as to say that Kilmer was downright Angry]. We chafe at the implication that writing actual Verse has now become somehow less than poetry, especially given the types of devices used by The New Poetry [enjambment] to counterfeit the real thing. Poetry, when it attempts to abandon verse, itself becomes less than poetry. As it reverts itself to prose, it attempts to cast about itself the mantle of mysticism, for only a mystic could claim to define the New Poetry. By lack of a proper definition, Poetry becomes a pretender to the throne of art. Poetry is lost.


[1] canon – 3. the body of rules, principles, or standards accepted as axiomatic and universally binding in a field of study or art: *The neoclassical canon.* (Origin: “church law,” Old English canon, from Old French canon or directly from Late Latin canon “Church law,” in classical Latin, “measuring line, rule,” from Greek kanon “any straight rod or bar; rule; standard of excellence,” perhaps from kanna “reed” (see cane (n.)).)

[2] Mallarmé, Stéphane (1842-1898), Although he was recognized during his lifetime as one of France’s four major poets of the late 1800’s, much of his poetry was acknowledged to be difficult to understand because of its tortuous syntax, ambiguous expressions, and obscure imagery. Since his lifetime, critics have continued to disagree as to the precise interpretations of many of his later works.

Timeline of Poets mentioned above:

1803-1882 – Emerson, Ralph Waldo
1809-1849 – Poe, Edgar Allan
1819-1892 – Whitman, Walt
1842-1898 – Mallarmé, Stéphane
1874-1963 – Frost, Robert [included just for good measure]
1886-1918 – Kilmer, Joyce