Do you remember when a piece of art
Held truth or meaning in its oil or stone—
And beauty even?  Paintings would impart
Aesthetic truth and not just some sweet tone
Of glowing like a Rothko, luminous
But void like Close Encounters of the Third
Kind’s shimmer.  Artefacts were numinous
Like stained glass windows, like Brâncuși’s Bird
In Space, and Magritte’s The Empire of Light.
The saints had haloes.  Angels held wide wings.
A guide could point out truth.  Then we had blight
Of dribbled paint and such vacuous things.
___An artist blobs gesso on canvas.  He
___Thinks that it’s a painting.  Stooopidity.


The Inbuilt Dictionary of YaHOO

The inbuilt dictionary of YaHOO
Is ignorant of words like “villanelle”—
Deserves the rudest blasts from a kazoo.

This negligence says much about those who
Run techy firms.  Their practice stinks to hell.
The inbuilt dictionary of YaHOO

Is ignorant as Google’s founders, two
Dolts who chose that name.  This pair couldn’t spell,
Deserves the rudest blasts from a kazoo:

They spelled “googol” “google.”  We should tattoo
These thickhead guys, “Our brains had turned to gel.”
The inbuilt dictionary of YaHOO

Provides us with stupidity in lieu
Of knowledge.  It’s like a brain with one cell—
Deserves the rudest blasts from a kazoo.

These Silicon V guys are like a crew
Of ignorami who can’t spell “Nobel.”
The inbuilt dictionary of YaHOO
Deserves the rudest blasts from a kazoo.


The New, Improved Yahoo Mail

They never tell you (do they?) till it’s far
Too late.  They tell you that this upgrade will
Be marvellous, that it will be 5-star,
Be quicker, much more clever, and will fill
Those cybergaps you never even knew
Existed, gaps you never would have dreamed,
Etc. And then (out of the blue!)
When you’re upgraded, you learn that they’ve reamed
Out all your favorite features from the old
And better version of the program thus
Improved. You find that you’ve been sold
A Bill Gates bill of goods:  you’re Shafted Plus.
___And if you try avoiding their slick fix,
___They force you to accept their dirty tricks.


Phillip Whidden is a poet published in America, England, Scotland (and elsewhere) in book form, online, and in journals.  He has also had an article on Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” published in The New Edinburgh Review. www.phillipwhidden.com

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19 Responses

    • Phillip Whidden

      Well, goodness me, everyone loves a bit of praise for his or her poem—and you really hit the spot, James Sale. Thanks for your careful noting of what you found to be strengths. I am just man enough to take criticism of a more negative kind, too, so if some time you have a nudging comment, give it. I’m not a touchy poet. I actually take on board people’s suggestions and if I disagree with them after all, I think I do it nicely. So don’t refrain. Praise and pushback are both welcome. I wonder if other folk might choose a less positive word that “sinewy” for the syntax, for instance.

      • James Sale

        Hi Phillip – no, I wanted to praise the poem – you have achieved a lot in it, and there is a wonderful sense of compression which leads to that final detonation of the last line, as you just catch that rhyme! Great stuff.

      • Phillip Whidden

        Hi, James. So you continue to be positive. That is very good. I hope you get this reply. I am so new to this comments option here on this site that I might be doing it wrong.

        The final rhyme word in the poem is technically, technically, technically not an example of true rhyme–at least as I understand the strictest definition. However, it is a sort of rhyme and as the last word in the poem–that “rhyme” word–is meant to carry insult in it, then it is perhaps being even more insulting to do it with a failed rhyme.

        I only just this morning noticed that the version of “Deja” (diacritical mark) published on the website omits the italics of the original sent to the editors (for whom I have much respect and to whom I owe thanks). The titles of the main works of art mentioned in the sonnet were all in italics in my version of the poem. Of course, some might say that the title of the sculpture and of the painting should be in quotaion marks, not italics. My first question about this is, “Did this lack of formal indication that the titles were titles bother you?” If not, then maybe others will not have been thrown by this omission. Maybe you had only a moment’s difficulty in realizing that I was referring to titles–or no difficulty at all. Just now I am trying to decide whether I should tell the editors about this accidental “mistake” in the publication of the poem–or just accept it as something readers don’t care about. Your thoughts, please?

  1. William Ruleman

    I definitely agree with Mr. Sale here. And the message of this poem cannot be uttered enough. The 20th century completely overturned earlier views of what art should do–“bring the soul of man to God,” as Yeats said, through the pursuit of Truth and Beauty; it is time for us to re-establish those aims.

    • Phillip Whidden

      I don’t know if my comment to James Sale will be available to you, William Ruleman. Let me know if it isn’t. I love the quote from Yeats. Thanks for it. Probably the artistic world is a broad enough church to accept both traditional verse forms and more modern ones, but, yes, there seems to be an imbalance at the moment. Thanks for your comment.

    • Phillip Whidden

      I’m really glad you liked that poem. I love both Venice and Athens, though I have never had the pleasure of visiting Greece. I will look at that website and check out that article. You are being very helpful. Thanks.

  2. David Hollywood

    This is rational poetry, and took me a time to adapt to. Well done, a break from the ordinary ……… and thoughtful!

  3. Phillip Whidden

    David Hollywood, I sometimes worry that my poetry is too logical, rational, full of too much “sense” and not emotive enough, so it’s good to have praise for a poem that is more MIND than otherwise. I do not think for even a moment that all my poems that are rational will be successes for readers who want poetry to have that POETRY THING in it. I join them in wanting the guts to receive a poem, not just the brain to deal with it. I’d be interested to know what you meant by “the ordinary”… so that I can try to avoid it. Decades ago a colleague where I was teaching told me her husband had read another poet’s poem and was disgusted that it tried to get at his emotions. I thought, “But…that is the main point of poetry.” Just ask disapproving ole Plato. Thanks for your comment.

  4. David Hollywood

    Dear Philip, I believe your poetry is wonderful, albeit I have a preference for romantic style deliveries, but I try to appreciate as best as I can what is a good presentation, and of course it takes abstract courage to write and deliver certain styles and yours contains that pluck of bravery. ‘Deja’ appealed to me personally because of its requirement for me to feel the subject matter through emotional challenges, whereas ‘The Inbuilt Dictionary of YaHOO’ AND ‘The New, Improved Yahoo Mail’ exposes my old fashioned attachment to sentiment rather than the rational. So the problem is me; for not being broad enough. Amongst its many traits I believe poetry illustrates the prospective edges of language conceptions, and maybe even intellectual capacity, as well exposing emotional vulnerabilities, and therefore I have to select or else feel where my preferences reside, and of course I would not have been a favourite of Plato, as you have already identified because in his ‘Academy’ no was allowed to read or write poetry due to his belief it weakens resolve, and resultantly he would have regarded me as a wimp. Thank you Philip for your reply to mine and I look forward to more or your works.

    • Phillip Whidden

      Thanks for your comment and thoughts—and the honesty of them.

      Plato was just ignorant, wasn’t he? I think it is very unwise for a philosopher to be ignorant. If he had cast about him, he might have found brave warriors (for instance) who wrote poetry. Horace mocks himself for being a coward, but does not imply that all poets are wimps. Certainly if Plato, had lived into the time of the First World War and had known men like Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, Alan Seeger (and goodness knows how many more) who were courageous soldiers and POETS, Plato would have made less of a fool of himself.

      Because of the multiple meanings that the word “romantic” has, I’m a bit uncertain what kind of poetry is the poetry is that you say you prefer. If you mean poetry a la John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Coleridge and the young Wordsworth, etc., then I need to know that before we can continue our discussion fruitfully. If you mean poetry about love (especially what we call romantic love), then it would be helpful if I knew that. I once read that George Bernard Shaw brutally dismissed Romanticism as treacle spilled on the linen cloth of the tea table (or something like that). I have never been able to confirm that quotation. Whether it is correct or not that he said that, perhaps anyone thinking at all carefully would seem some truth in it. I presume he was making the distinction between Romanticism and Classicism.

      I hope you will be encouraged to know that I do write poetry that causes emotional reactions in readers. For what it’s worth, a lot of people seem to have a very limited idea of what “emotion” is. They seem to think it means the sentimental side of love (as distinct from other aspects of love, such as jealous anger, for instance, which is very much tied up with romantic love for many) or sadness. If a poem makes someone laugh or smile happily or even ironically, then quite obviously that reader has responded with an emotion. I could go on and on about emotions that poems can inspire that are well beyond the sentiments a teenage girl feels for Justin Bieber.

      So…the two other of my poems that you cite as not being quite within your preferred range of poetry are obviously designed to cause emotion: sneering anger. I bet that a lot of readers will be lifted up (emotionally) to see that someone else (me) is sneeringly angry at the sorts of people we are supposed to worship nowadays (the digital geniuses) and who turn out, like Plato, not to be perfectly knowledgeable and wise. So those readers will have reacted with an emotion to the emotional attack in the poems. It is created by cold thinking heated to fierce fieriness by anger.

      For thousands of years “classic” poets have been using poetry to attack stupidities around them, sometimes with mild-mannered humor and sometimes with vitriolic humor. Both of those are emotional in and of themselves and cause emotional reactions in readers because the rational thinking is so sharp and pointed. One of the medieval kings of England put a poet to death writing rude couplet about him. The punishment of being drawn and quartered was invented for this poet because of this one brief poem. Clearly the king exploded with emotion because of the mental acuity of the poem.

      (No, I have not missed the point that you are referring to a romantic style of presentation in poetry. I’m probably way out in left field here in answer to you. You probably don’t need to be convinced about what I am saying.)

      As you can see, I draw a strong line between a poem having emotion or emotional language in it and a poem, on the other hand, which causes emotion of whatever sort in the reader.

      In the desert
      I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
      Who, squatting upon the ground,
      Held his heart in his hands,
      And ate of it.
      I said: “Is it good, friend?”
      “It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
      “But I like it
      Because it is bitter,
      And because it is my heart.”
      Stephen Crane

  5. James Sale

    Hi Phillip – no – as a personal view – I was not bothered by the minor inaccuracies; I try to be as accurate as I can in all my writing, but I do not get fretty when either I or an editor makes a mistake. In fact, an editor of a print magazine I review for has just picked up a mistake she wants me to avoid in future: using capitals for titles when I should use italics! I am happy to oblige. I’d rather be prolific – like Shakespeare (I wish) – and make mistakes than spend inordinate amounts of time attempting perfection. As a management consultant one of my favourite aphorisms is: ‘perfection is the enemy of progress’. But that said, there are some poems which genuinely do require absolute accuracy, and even the comma needs to be in the right place; but I am sure you’ll know when that moment is in your own work.

    • Phillip Whidden

      In my artistic endeavors I’ve tried to be a perfectionist. Of course this sets me up for ridicule when they are imperfect.

      Minor details? You probably know the story about Oscar Wilde and the lowly comma. The tale goes that at a dinner party he was asked by an interlocutor about Oscar’s job as the editor of an eminent magazine for women. “Exactly what do you do as editor?” was the question.

      Wilde replied, “I spent the morning taking a comma out of a sonnet.”

      “And what did you do in the afternoon?”

      “I put the comma back in.”

      Of course I do not know if I’ve reported the conversation completely accurately.

      • Phillip Whidden

        I’m glad I entertain you.

        Today in Oxford I got a terribly, terribly academic book, “Plato on Poetry,” by Penelope Murray. It’s so academic that it doesn’t even give his words in English–only in Greek. That is well beyond my ken. But what I love about it already is that it is so full of interesting facts and thinking. For instance it says that the ancient Greeks had no word for what we subsume in the word “art.”

  6. David Hollywood

    Dear Philip,
    Apologies for the delay in responding, but my world goes off at an angle sometimes.
    My own view is that Plato was an advancement upon his own time because he had no universal influences to previously call upon (apart from Socrates skepticism and maybe the views of half a dozen regional philosopher’s appearing across a couple of centuries prior to his own time) in terms of local inspiration, and consequently might be excused for being globally and historically less aware, yet consciously ambitious for the requirements of a full citizen (albeit a male one only) as a result of a developed intention within a limited landscape. But that is the circumstance of the age! Considering the battle’s of Marathon, Salamis and Platea and the citizens who had been involved he maybe should have paid homage and cognisance to the heroes of those events and realised there had to be within those actions a poetic sentiment that reflected Homeric tradition, but then maybe he was too close to the occasions to realise it, and therefore naively idealistic about what is male prowess.

    Considering my preference for romantic poetry, it is embracing of nostalgia and the imagery and words of all those poets you have identified: Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Wordsworth, De La Mare, Blake, Burns, Dickinson Clare and several others who reflect the sense of who and where I prefer to be, rather than being here now. That’s O.K. for me because I like it, whereas I might be criticised for being naïve!
    With regard to sentiment, I love it and have expectations of wanting to be affected, and if Shaw or others have contrary thoughts about it, then fine, because they can sit on the shelf while I continue with my own preferences. I am too conceited to like what I don’t enjoy. However, my versions of romantic poetry relate to the whole world around us and is consequently not confined to romance alone.

    Maybe a poem I wrote many years ago ‘Melancholy Love and Trust’ sums it up better:

    What has happened to worn chairs and wooden tables?
    With a carafe of wine and old oranges,
    In a garden together with friends,
    Who greet you with their welcome,
    And support of each other.

    It belongs to some other time!

    Imagine a walk through a thin wood,
    To the edge of a rise,
    To discover the finest of views in the morning,
    Finding dew in the middle of your thoughts,
    And the sun has already started to warm.

    At the end I should love the world to be elegant!

    To know my friendship was anticipated,
    Enough to say ‘good day’,
    Fine manners and virtue’d behaviour,
    With the best of company,
    And only that which is true and noble.

    And nothing of these times!

    I also agree with you about the embracing potential of romance to demonstrate all of the more saddened and tragic reflections regarding our existence, so resultantly when it comes to romance I am well catered for.

    Hard rationality is valid and an aspect we should acknowledge and be aware of as affecting our lives, and therefore always be a thought driven sentiment that is known, and felt. But for me, I don’t have to like it just because it is there.

    Stemming from what you have written, I am of the view we are in agreement, and thank you for your thoughts. I have a weakness based upon what my heart prefers as opposed to my head.

    • Phillip Whidden

      I liked your poem, especially where the details

      What has happened to worn chairs and wooden tables?
      With a carafe of wine and old oranges,

      are very focused and even more so when a focused detail is treated, suddenly, with a completely unexpected juxtaposition as in

      Finding dew in the middle of your thoughts,

      I rather suspect that you are more gentlemanly than I have often been. My father and brothers taught me to be rather aggressive in my thinking.

      I base my comments on your gentlemanliness on the messages you have sent me and especially this most recent one. I rather love the way your mind moves around to make sure you do not give offense or become to insistent.

      You knew already that I made a silly remark about Plato not waiting around long enough to become acquainted is WWI poets. Your reaction to it is generous.

      Thanks for examples of poets you do like. That clarifies your tastes much more for me. I’m rather scornful of sentimentality but sentiment ain’t a bad thing, per se. I like a drip of it, not a gush.

      You’ve been so kind about my poetry that I here paste in the sonnet I wrote today reacting to the lack of a word for “art” in the Greek language in ancient times. I haven’t sent it to any publisher of course, since it is so fresh (one might say raw), being so new. I am guessing that only lone line, at most, might appeal to your taste.

      Oracular, or Delphi at its Worst*

      In Homer’s time no word existed for
      Art. Praxitiles and Sappho had no term
      For it. The Greeks had not even the spore
      Of such a word, so Plato spoke no firm
      Ideals about that thing which we call art.
      He had too much, perhaps, to say about
      The worth of poetry. It hit the heart
      Too truly for his liking, made him pout
      That it was not as clear as thinking in
      Philosophy, and made him fearful of
      Its purpose and effects—far too like skin.
      Some lines might sing like snake tongues touching love.
      Verse might be beautiful as wine dark eyes
      Or toxic in appeal to those not wise.

      * “The Greeks had no word to denote those activities that we now subsume under the term ‘art’.” ~ Penelope Murray, Plato on Poetry, p. 1

      July 12, 2017


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