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My Poetry 101, not for everyone.
                                                             by  Jimmy Warner  Jan. 2008

                                        Keats' Urn - beauties and naked truth

Rev'd 04-14

My work is naughty at times, suggestive, out right nasty at times. Truth and beauty is not all ye need to know when Truth and Beauty go down on each other to seize the day. My take on poetry may be more irreverent than the trendier and loftier poets, but I do not wish to worship the same holy cows as my generation Ė their politics in particular. I praise no man or god above any other, neither religion, ethics nor ethnicity. I write for American culture by virtue of my language, and only vaguely out of patriotism, though I have none toward any other nation. I do not root for the downfall of anyone nor their corruption.
I may be a realist one day, a dreamer the next. I will seek the blemish in the rose or the pearl in the swill. I will sit on the fence when I sense everyone losing perspective Ė even take the devil's advocate position just to see who laughs. Comedy is the greatest truth. Every time my audience laughs I learn something. Beauty is even more illusive and private, where often obsessive images reveal a  magic you can see.

If this writing is to be instructive let me begin with topics, what to write about. There are no taboos, but some things turn most people off, and according to a youthful generation, turn some people on. I have not finished the laws of taste compendium, which I suspect will always have a surprise ending. Iím not crazy about cuss words, the seven bad words censored by network TV, or pejorative expressions unless this is your cultural milieu. As my significant other and cultural critic says: Itís OK to quote someone, even if you donít name them or feel the same way. To me, a topic is something you observe, are drawn to, are bowled over by, left holding as a result of, stuck with, sick of, in love with, dream of someday, want to speak up about, clear the air over, feel ashamed of, proud of, and just plain canít stay away from, or as Dylan Thomas said, makes you prickle Ė my favorite. Donít write for your audience, but observe their reactions carefully and donít keep repeating yourself if something doesnít work Ė look for other ways to make it work. What to write about is wide open. A poem can be about anything, abstract, dreary, joking, narrative, lyrical, lofty, lampooning, limerick, dismal, disparaging, lustful, passionate, extreme, nitpicking, fearful, argumentative, reverent, prophetic, visionary and inane.

                               Go where life takes you.

Rhyme: Unnecessary but useful. Some see it as serious, others as making fun. You can use it either way. It echoes qualities, or reduces and simplifies qualities. It can hammer home an idea or make you look foolish. Be careful.  A fool can also reveal truth without dire consequences. As for echoing, it was believed in antiquity that an echoing tomb preserved the souls of the dead. Ask yourself what you are preserving. Repeating lines can be as powerful as rhyme.

Unusual diction is the hallmark of an experimental poet, wordsmiths can be irritating to some, big words, intellectualizing on specialized subjects, just plain boring. You must prepare your audience for these presentations. Be up front, your distance will only put them to sleep. Fear? Take an aspirin or drink a beer Ė there is no respect for novices, only one-time virgins. It is possible to present any subject. You have to find your delivery style and be convincing. If they donít believe you and laugh, perhaps you have discovered something. Talk to your audience, stop and break it down. Ask for opinions, show hands, I sometimes pass around pictures. Comic asides can work as well.

Rhyme schemes, if it matters to you, give a quick lesson, otherwise it will be lost on them. I like to make up my own schemes and name them something exotic or mysterious,
22 lines, 7 syllables each, PI Modal (22/7 = PI) or call it PI a la mode.

Symbolism, allegory and metaphor will elude even a sophisticated, well-educated audience. People do not know all the gods and goddesses that were commonly studied in earlier centuries and on the tips of 19th century tongues. These are the holy cows of another generation which was eventually rejected. Of course, I use them all the time, like truth and beauty, interjecting them into modern situations, like a muse or misanthropic figure, maybe a sub-reference to a parallel hell. Your classical knowledge and expertise in form and literary history will hardly win you any prizes from the general public. Try if you will to explain it and you wonít likely be going home with anyone. Make fun of it, perhaps and the tide may turn, you have to set it up just like a joke, as Robert Frost once said. Poetry and humor share a format.

Symbolism, allegory and metaphor are forms of balloon making. Lead balloons donít float. Too many ideas in one launch will bring it crashing down. Three is a good number, but I have gotten away with fewer and as many as five Ė Mozart could sustain six for twenty minutes Ė but thatís music. Donít attempt a juggling act or three ring circus unless the whole tent is on board Ė a play or opera may be better suited. As my mentor, Shann Palmer says, ďDonít put too many entrees on the table.Ē

*What Is A Symbol? A symbol is a picture or representational object, plant, animal or person, sometimes a place that can be communicated in a word or phrase, like Capistrano, which suggests that there is more to the image than what can be seen. At face value it may have a literal message or interpretation, but on closer examination the picture may tell a more complete story and offer up many other swallow-like associations. This phenomenon is called correspondence, a connection between the picture and a reality that never seems out of date. Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined three types of symbols:

1.math or literal symbols used in everyday communication,

2. allegorical symbols found in antiquity and used for representational heroes in literature and theater; and finally,

3. organic Symbols, also found in antiquity, but because they are primal, timeless and never run out of new applications, they are considered to be growing, alive or animate.

An organic symbol is different from the hero of an allegory because it has an inexhaustible supply of relevance, meaning and philosophy which could be interpreted as helpful, inspirational or enlightening. It is the difference between an allegorical character who, for example, represents truth, honesty and integrity as identified by his drapery, insignia or what have you, and a numinous mythical figure, possibly religious or prophetic, who may be many characters wrapped into one and who comes with a philosophy which can be readily applied to a situation.

   Poetic symbols can have an organic quality, a living essence, (you allow them to  grow) which makes them easy to use as a mental nudge or reminder when looking for solutions to literary problems. They operate, for example, like the sun, always returning for a new day or like a famous or heroic person who has attributes, qualities, an agenda or a list of good deeds and bad. Poets can use mythology and astrology to illustrate that which was believed to originate in the stars and planets, (as above, so below) but which need only originate in the idea which you form in your mind after study and experience. The larger metaphor of the pictures in the stars can be applied to a poetic here and now.

These symbols go beyond the literal and do not end with a few philosophical summaries or scenarios of life. Like the lotus or rose there is an inexhaustible supply of petals, meanings, applications, and inspirations. It is possible to meditate on a single metaphor and never come to the end of its relevance. 

A metaphor has many moving parts, a (old: metaphier and a metaphorand), (new: tenor, vehicle and ground) as well as many sub-referenced particles which create a landscape of symbolism. It can become your own made up world or a new take on reality. The renewing lotus petals can also become sharks teeth, growing in row after row. One metaphor can lead you down a very long road or leave you tired and dusty.

Symbol, myth and metaphor as Joseph Campbell says contain truth but not in the form of 'what really happened'.

It's easy to come down on the near side of myth and excuse it away as 'never happened'. But there are devotees of myths of local color such as John Henry, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan who see the larger truth and are not mislead by the fantasy - mainly because the local sensibilities that created the myths in the first place are still respected, revered and perpetuated. They live there.

If you dismiss Odysseus as figment and 'no mermaids sang'  as Robt. Haas ( Time and Materials) did so, jokingly I hope, you must be willing to explore other examples of Odysseus in real life. There IS the myth and then there are other men LIKE him, heroes we do not want to forget though they may not have become great literature. Who has not known the leader of a gang, a bandleader, a captain or a CEO who has fallen for a Siren beckoning to him. His group of followers rally to prevent him from making a great mistake, keep him from going overboard or turning the ship about. You can put into metaphor every aspect of such a story and still relay truth. Metaphor preserves the beauty. By associating one idea with another you are showing without telling.

There may be dwindling patience for such writing in the belief that everything great and classical has already been written. Don't call yourself a scholar in that case, but let it be known you are lazy in your artistic expansion. I love nothing better than an accidental classicist who discovers new and original ways to render old ideas modern. I forget who said there were only seven themes in literature, but even HE did not bother to name them. The book is still open. Creation is something you do often, not something you plan for.

If you can make a symbol out of say a politician for instance, please do so. I'm sick of all the meaningless rhetoric about promise and experience and change and pie in the sky. Besides, Santa Claus is a far better symbol.

what to write about. There are no taboos, but some things
like birth, death, sex, religion, politics and money turn most people off, although occasionally turn some people on. Morality is another bug-a-boo, sobriety, obeying laws, all are part of that libretto of man's personal opera that no-one will ever ask you to sing (well, maybe some late night in the ER).
If I had not stolen this pencil I would not be writing this now.
On the other hand I enjoy watching others squirm and relish the laughter when I retreat to my seat on the fence. My all-time favorite didactic tomes revolve about the eternal trip to hell, the return trip optional. This is no doubt the greatest adventure man can undertake. My backpack is fortified with enough Campbell's super hero scenarios to get me through any hell, any wilderness of the soul and hopefully return or at best, come back weird. It was said of Charles Baudelaire that he chose to descend, liked it there and decided it was not worth the effort to come back.

My personal morality centers on the struggle and not the should oughta commandments we are so tired of hearing.
Ultimately the spiritual, cosmic connection, what-are-you- doing-here question boils down to the exploration of freedom, the nature of nature, and the antics of truth and beauty no matter how you encounter them, or where.

Symbolism: see my essay   Occult Symbolism and How it Works 

Photo by Eugene Brown

© Jimmy Warner, 2014

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