Keats and Severn in Spain

a delusion

While trekking through the Andalusian hills,
My friend was struck by flowers in a field,
And memorized the view beside the rills,
How colors flushed much brighter, and the yield:
Their thickness drawn of legionnaires, their plumes
Of feathered helmets at the Rubicon
Where Caesar blessed them off to war. The blooms
Swirled in the Moorish air, and then the wan
Appearance of my friend re-lit to blush
All day. He spoke and sang of Fannie’s hue
And how they would have rollicked in the crush
Of pastel blankets damped with morning’s dew.
And as we crossed the last clear rivulet,
His cough drew blood and swam—I prayed; “Not yet.”

 

Absolut

It all comes down to talking on the phone
When someone leaves; someone you love too much
Goes far away or down the street named Stone.
It doesn’t matter really, when you touch
The smart-screen numbers once, you might as well
Capitulate, become a beggar twice
As prone to hit redia­l. The carousel
Of ringtones in the end becomes your vice,
Your vise. And standing on the corner with
Your empty cup, and rags which hang too loose,
You have to change or starve or freeze, a fifth
Of vodka in your pocket with that noose
You think might hold; the bleakness of it all
When someone leaves and they won’t take your call.

 

Charles (Charlie) Southerland lives on his farm in North-Central Arkansas where he bales hay, mills lumber, hunts and fishes. When he has time, he writes poetry on just about every subject. He is published in Trinacria, The Rotary Dial, First Things, The Road Not Taken and other journals. He has been nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize and is a finalist in the 2015 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Contest. He likes to write sonnets, villanelles and sapphics.

 

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20 Responses

  1. Joseph Tessitore

    It’s good to see you back on the page.

    You couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate subject.

    Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    Touching, heartfelt tributes to a gifted poet; poems that bring to mind all those dear to us who no longer take our calls.

    Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    My heart was lacerated by the death of Leo.

    These two poems have added fresh wounds, and made me weep once more. But thank you, Charlie — these tributes to our departed friend and fellow poet are well deserved, and exquisite.

    Requiescat in pace Leo fortissimus.

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    Very nice, Charlie, technically perfect and full of hard-hitting images, the likes of which Leo was famous for. Though he was not always a lighthearted fellow, many of us will sorely miss his light, which has now passed from this world.

    Reply
  5. Bruce Dale Wise

    Leo Yankevich (1961-2018)

    From Pennsylvania, through many lands, o’er ocean miles,
    he went to study and to live in Poland, where he died.
    He left his wife and three sons in December’s winter chill.
    It would be vain to speak to unresponsive bones, and ill.
    For Fortune snapped his life away, it took him from our time,
    as it has taken parents and their parents from our side.
    All I can do is offer some regret, and take note of
    the metric and syllabic poetry he wrought with love.
    How can a slender tribute triumph? Time can only tell.
    And now I take my leave of him…forever and farewell.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      You’ve forced my hand, Bruce. Now I feel compelled to post a poem I submitted to TPR recently, which will never receive a response. This poem is the result of an e-conversation I had with Count Leo not too many months ago about the virtues of Polish sausage.

      Uncle Stanisaw

      I still can hear the sound of acorns popping
      Beneath the wheels of Father’s horse-drawn cart
      As we drove through the woods — four hooves a-clopping —
      Where Uncle Stan, his brother, plied his art.

      His smokehouse was a wreck of salvaged timbers,
      His living room a den of salted hides,
      But what his wide-eyed nephew best remembers
      Is how the flesh and edible insides

      Of animals were used to make outstanding
      Kielbasa. “Fatter than last year,” he’d say,
      “The hogs fed well and never stopped expanding,”
      Which meant we’d all eat well on Christmas Day.

      The sausage hung in coils and links from rafters
      Above the smoky room, and rendered fat
      Dripped to the floor in slick foreverafters —
      No proper Polak would find fault with that.

      His product was regarded as the best
      For miles around, a tribute to the beasts
      He fed and slaughtered. He was unimpressed
      By what a Jew might think of pork-rich feasts.

      So there! I really wanted to know what Leo might have thought of this, because I actually know nothing of how Polish landsmen operate.

      Reply
  6. Damian Robin

    Was just getting to know him. Sad for his going. Will read the poems when I’ve adjusted to this news.

    Reply
  7. Patricia A. Marsh

    “…the bleakness of it all
    When someone leaves and they won’t take your call.”

    Dear Charles,

    Your 2nd poem’s ending reminds me of a cinquain I wrote and Leo Yankevich edited by changing the punctuation before publishing it in the June 1, 2011 issue of The New Formalist, viz:

    Disconnected

    Love called
    and I answered
    with a pre-recorded
    message: “…busy right now…call back…”
    later
    ——————————————-

    Rest in peace, Leo. I’ll always be grateful for your friendship.

    Reply
  8. Alberdi Ucwese

    1. Mr. Southerland’s sonnet was an interesting take on Keats and Severn. What I like was the interspersing of the delusion with an allusion to ancient Rome. It brings back memories for me. When I was in Roma, in May 2010, I wrote a couple of sonnets (when I was still in my sonneteering mode) on Keats in Italia. It is interesting to me to see what writers focus on when they choose their topics. Mr. Southerland writes of the beauty of nature and love, which all rapidly departs in the last line and the last words. My first sonnet looks at the architecture, the artifacts, and some data. My second “sonnet”, with longer lines, is just a vividly remembered tourist scene, with thoughts on some Englishmen.

    2. Pale Loiterer
    “And I awoke and found me here
    On the cold hill’s side.”
    —John Keats

    The house where John Keats lived, or rather died,
    along the Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna,
    stands large and bulky, high and grand and wide,
    a bulwark ‘gainst the tide of time’s onslaught.
    The pink-stuccoed apartment presently
    serves as the Keats-Shelley Memorial,
    a small museum, lacking pageantry
    or great art; it’s no Escatorial.
    There lodged are letters, documents, and such,
    as copies of their publications made,
    and Keats’ death mask, with the Joseph Severn sketch,
    from memory, of Keats on his death bed.
    Yet this grim place was not Keats final home—
    the Protestant cemetery in Rome.

    3. The Spanish Steps

    One hundred thirty seven steps, or there about,
    the Spanish Steps, lead to Trinità dei Monti,
    where John Keats spent his last days in 1821,
    dying of tuberculosis, and gazing out
    his window on the rising stair below. No doubt,
    Doctor Clark and Joseph Severn, in that eon,
    hoped he’d improve in health, so he could carry on;
    but such was not to be, for he had left his fount, and they this mount.
    Today in May in the piazza at the base,
    tourists stare at Fontana della Barcaccia,
    face to face, where pots of pink and white azaleas
    do sit, or drape from nearby lamp posts freshly caped,
    away from all those palsied failures and ailments,
    to which they have succumbed, and now have long escaped.

    Reply
  9. Ludiew E. Sarceb

    One of my favorite poems of Mr. Yankevich is “Obituary”:

    Today I leaf through the obituaries
    and find out who has died among the famous—
    an actress, doctor, and philanthropist—
    the stories of their lives take up a page.

    But I recall my neighbour, Betty Amos,
    who, with beads wrapped round a gnarled fist,
    attempted to cure cancer with Hail Marys,
    never letting faith succumb to rage.

    There is no mention of her name at all,
    no words relating kindnesses and deeds,
    how she brought us apples in the fall,
    and fed the hungry pigeons pumpkin seeds.

    The specificity, the Postmodern cadence, and the artistic distance are remarkable. I also admire the non-capitalizing of the first lines (when grammatically or emphatically unneeded), the British spelling of neighbour, and the free verse quality of his lines.

    Despite his perverse attitude at times (in competition with the finer satirist, though poorer poet Mr. Burch, he offered me up as perhaps the “greatest poetaster” as he did, at different times, other writers, such as Mr. MacKenzie and Ms. Foreman), he was the only one of my contemporaries whose poetry I desired to write an essay on. It was the seriousness of his voice, as can be seen in the above poem, that brought me to his poetry—over a decade ago. I didn’t really like him, know him at all, as many here @ SCP have; but in one real sense, I shared his concern with syllabics in practice (like Mr. Southerland), Slavic and Germanic poetics, and an unwillingness to toss out the Modernists. Other than that, not surprisingly, we were on different paths.

    Reply
  10. E. V.

    If someone would like to share some poignant stories of Leo, exposing any kind and gentle aspects of his complicated personality, that would be a lovely tribute to someone who may have been misunderstood.

    Reply
  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    God dammit all, my friend Leo Yankevich was NOT “kind” and “gentle”! What is it with stupid Americans and their need to turn everything into a Smiley-Face version of Disneyland? Don’t pollute our grief for his loss with attempts to recast Leo as a child-friendly effeminate! You have NO IDEA how angry Leo would be if he could read the above post by E.V.

    Leo was tough, savage, and at times cruel. He could be as hard as nails, and as unfeeling as a glacier. He grew up in the cold and unforgiving milieu of the American Rust Belt, in a family that was hard-bitten and pugnacious. All his childhood he fought — and not the petty dust-ups of the schoolyard, but the bloody fighting of bare fists and groin kicks and two-by-fours in the face. He told me many stories (not “poignant,” God help us!) about how he beat opponents to a bloody pulp, and rubbed their maimed faces in the dirt so that they wouldn’t forget their beatings. He worked as an enforcer for loan-sharks, physically terrorizing up delinquent borrowers. He was not above serious theft and other criminality. He treated the world and those in it with the same measure of violence and brutality that had been visited upon him and his family.

    He had no fears. He was beaten up by the Communist police in Poland during the Solidarnosc rallies, many times. He put his flesh on the line to bear witness to his political beliefs. He didn’t take crap from anyone! He was exactly the kind of man you would want on your side in the trenches, or if you were faced with muggers in a dark ghetto alley.

    No one crossed Leo Yankevich without getting a triple requital of trouble right back in the face. He was a real man — not a pansified metrosexual millennial pseudo-male. Why do you think he couldn’t tolerate so many of the ball-less wonders who populate our po-biz world?

    But in addition to this ferocity, he was also a man of the deepest loyalties to his friends. Once you had proven yourself honest and loyal, he was on your side forever. If he promised you something, he did it. If you were attacked by an enemy, he went after that enemy and tore him to shreds. If you needed help or encouragement, he gave it to you unstintingly.

    For most of my life I had been nothing but a rather bookish and mousy academic. But Leo showed me how to be unafraid, and how to KICK BACK HARD AND SAVAGELY if anyone dared to offend me or patronize me. Do any of you know how precious a lesson like that is, and how necessary today in our world of gutless and epicene man-boys?

    I am still in deep grief over the loss of the Lion. But don’t anyone here dare to suggest that he “may have been misunderstood,” or that we can recast his image into that of “a basically nice person” in order to make his memory palatable to those among us who are spineless and timid.

    Good God, some of you people really get under my skin!

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe, why don’t you tell us how you REALLY feel? In the past year my exchanges with Leo via e-mail had a very collegial feeling to them, and I felt very privileged to engage with him in this way. He once advised me to avoid enjambment and rhyming abstract nouns, so I’m not sure why he published so many of my poems — dozens, in fact — because I enjamb a lot and rarely limit my end rhymes to concrete nouns.

      Reply
  12. Charles Southerland

    There are some misconceptions about Leo floating around. If a person was really interested to know him, about all you would have to do is read his work which was full of brutality and beauty. He was raised in very difficult circumstances and overcame most of it during the course of his life. We swapped some stories of our upbringing which made both of us howl. Leo was all about truth and loyalty. I found that to be refreshing. He has been very critical, privately, about my writing. We exchanged poems and other writing pretty often. I trusted him and he never gave me any reason not to trust him. I sent him a sonnet earlier last year that I thought was pretty good. He responded to it saying: the first twelve lines were excellent, but the couplet stunk up the whole poem. He would have done the same for anyone. All you had to do was ask.

    Most people don’t know how patriotic Leo was. I do. He was fiercely pro-American. Not only that, he was a nationalist in the best sense of the word. He was also a lover of his ancestral home of Poland where he fought hand-to-hand pitched battles with Communists in the streets. There are those out there who thought that he was a supremacist or a racist. He wasn’t. Had he been, I would not have wished to be around him. His career suffered for his “right wing” politics. Many of us in the writing world suffer because of our politics and/or religion. We know why. Leftists are everywhere, but they are concentrated in the art world where we choose to live. There are others out there who are wobbly and would turn on us or remain completely silent and watch while the Left would piss down our legs. Leo stood tall.

    Now that Leo is gone, some would lay claim to being his friend. That’s pretty convenient, since Leo can’t respond. He could be pretty crass at times, here. I know why and it doesn’t matter now. You had to know the guy. I am glad he left a trail. He was a brother to me. I loved him as a brother. If you want to know him, find his work anywhere you can and read it. His influence on poetics is inestimable.

    Thanks to all of you who commented.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Charlie,

      Yep, he did have some tales to tell. He once sent me a file titled “Farrell Memories.”

      Reply
  13. Sally Cook

    I met Leo Yankevich through Joe Salemi, and soon became aware of his excellent poems.
    If there was one thing Leo was; it was not nice. A firebrand, he was not afraid to write of the good Polish food offered in a local market, a starving animal, or even the whimsy of a garden fantasy. I was a beginner with principles, but not much experience. But I knew for sure that when I asked Leo a question, I had better be ready to stand straight in the hurricane that might ensue.
    I knew groups would never benefit me; they never had and I saw no reason why that would change. I was looking for the no nonsense guidance these two men could give me. When I began to be savaged by the far left free versers just for expressing my opinions, both of them helped me to understand what was going on, which of course still is, as evidenced by their continued savaging of any truly original opposing voice that manages to rise from the swampy po-biz wilderness.
    Some things never change. Today their bland and mediocre response has become so stratified you can almost judge the quality of a body of work by the attacks against it. Why should it be considered strange that independent thinkers produce better work? I’ve no idea, except to say that the awful Worm, Political Correctness, is certainly a strong motivating factor.
    Certainly Leo was bumptious, raging, often rude. Far better that than if he were a political weasel, engaged in the great game of lying to achieve sameness. I like to think his motivation was the result of years of frustration of pygmies jabbing ineffectually at his heels as he went about his business.
    I am going to miss Leo terribly. Though I never met the man, I knew him as well as most. He was what you seldom see today – a Man.
    After one particularly asinine attack on me, I asked him: Leo, what was your crime? His answer: I was too good.
    In your memory, Leo, I vow to strive to also be of that number.
    Here’s a poem for you:

    The Best Go First, The Rest Have Much To Learn
    Leo knew more than most of us could learn
    Or ever hope to know, and he was stern.
    He and his poems were one, he made words yearn
    To find a fragile page. I feared his rage,
    And only hoped he would not diss and spurn
    My efforts to rise upward from the fern
    And flower-filled bucolic, simple turn
    My life had taken from my early youth.

    I always knew two things – first, joy in art.
    So many miss this, anxious to seem smart.
    And then the largest and most crucial part–
    For poems to be art, they must show some truth.

    Make lies, dissimulate, and you will burn,
    And lose the blessed power to discern.

    Reply

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