While sitting on a pinhead
__Stuck in an angel’s wing
Holding still a piece of thread
__I tap my head to think,
I tap again, to no avail,
__It seems I have forgot
The answer to the riddle,
__“If not, then what?”


A Single Blade of Grass

A single blade of grass can make
__A thousand miles green;
A twig a mighty stone can break—
__This I myself have seen.

What more the seed that holds the life
__That cannot be denied:
The will of God who sparks the light
__That all things hold inside.

Can steel in time the pattern break,
__Can we unchain the soul,
Can feeble minds their walls forsake,
__Will atoms let us go?

These cities raised on high by hand
__By seeds will crumble down,
And everything of man will fall
__When nature claims her own.


The Secret

Have you ever kept a secret
__Which no one knows but you;
Have you ever tried to hide it
__From the common, and the fools.

Have you ever held a bird’s wing
__Just fallen from the sky,
And heard the breezes singing
__And let the feather fly.

Have you ever kept a secret
__Which no one knows but you,
And felt the need to save it
__From the measurements of truth.

Have you ever seen the sun rise
__Below a golden moon,
And felt the kiss of day and night
__Which passes all too soon.



Drop a stone within a word,
__No bottom will you find,
No distant splash will be heard
__In the depths of mind.

The waves upon the ocean’s top
__Betray its rocky floor;
Though deep and broad its edges stop,
__A thought breaks on no shore.

The distant stars no eye can see,
__Nor time, a clock define,
Yet even these eternities
__Are sand specks in the mind.

Broader than the lap of God
__Wherein all glory fits,
Thought, forever bottomless,
__Devours all that exists.


Michael Curtis has 40 years of experience in architecture, sculpture, and painting. He has taught and lectured at universities, colleges, and museums including The Institute of Classical Architecture, The National Gallery of Art, et cetera. His pictures and statues are housed in over 400 private and public collections including The Library of Congress, The Supreme Court, et alibi; his verse has been published in over 20 journals. Mr. Curtis consults on scholarly, cultural, and artistic projects, currently: Curator, Plinth & Portal; Co-Director, The Anacostia Project; Vice-President, Liberty Fund, D.C.; Lead Designer on the 58 square mile city of AEGEA.

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23 Responses

  1. Joseph Tessitore

    I think this is one of those cases where the fine chiseling that Dr. Salemi speaks about would have made a world of difference.

    I believe that there is much here, lurking beneath the rough edges of imprecise meter and almost-rhyme.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Thumbs up, Joe. I don’t know why M.C. chooses to write what he writes, but I do know that it could have been written better.

  2. Mark Stone

    Michael, Hello. My general recommendation is to minimize the use of slant rhymes and eliminate all imperfect meter. My specific recommendations follow.

    Poem # 1. Here is what I would do to improve this poem. Have a consistent rhyme scheme (currently it is abab cded). Put a comma after “wing.” Put a period after “think.” Don’t use “have forgot,” since it is grammatically incorrect. Put periods after “avail” and “forgot.” Replace the comma after “riddle” with an “is,” to improve the meter. Add two syllables to the last line.

    Poem # 2. I don’t understand “What more the seed…” I would put question marks at the end of lines 9, 10 & 11. I like the sophisticated assonance and consonance in line 4.

    Poem # 3. If only one person knows information, is that really a “secret”? I think of a secret as something that one person tells another and asks that person not to pass on. There are five questions, but no question marks. I would delete the comma in line 4. “Wing” does not rhyme with “singing.”

    Poem # 4. I don’t understand line 1. In the second stanza, I would say that the ocean stops at the shore, rather than the edges stop at the shore. And since I pronounce “devours” with three syllables, I would change “devours” to “consumes” so it fits with the iambic meter.

    I have two goals with every poem I write. One is to make it as strong (in terms of clarity, colorful word choice and punctuation) as the inverted-pyramid base of the Ranier Tower, a skyscraper in Seattle designed by Minoru Yamasaki. The other is to make it as fluid (with consistent meter) as the river that flows under Fallingwater, the house in Pennsylvania designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

    The four poems have some interesting thoughts and elegant presentation in many places. These will be easier to appreciate once the stylistic imperfections are addressed. I hope my suggestions are helpful, and I look forward to reading more of your poems on SCP. Given the magnitude of your career accomplishments, which I reviewed on your website, I know that you have many valuable thoughts to share.

  3. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Michael Curtis,

    Thank you for sharing your poetry!

    I will respectfully disagree with the fine poets and fine commentator (I’m still eager to read the poetry that Mark Stone has marked in stone, or otherwise written) who commented on the poetry of Mr. Curtis. While I agree with the basic thrust of their comments, which I take to be the desire and necessity for perfection in form, and find this to be the issue in 90% of the poetry I read, at the end of the day, I would rank form beneath character: the quality of the ideas and insights being given to the reader by the poet. This is why well-written blank verse is perfectly fine without rhyme, alliteration, or other poetic techniques and a well-written poem may naturally depart from the meter after it has been established or break meter or rhyme for a particular effect.

    Generally, I find the character and form are matching or similar, so there is no issue and one need not speak of character, but here I believe there is a notable exception in the poetry of Mr. Curtis. The beauty here is precisely in the uncontrived nature of the words expressed, the luminosity of the ideas and imagery, and simply the message conveyed—all at the same time expressed within the universal quest for the perfection of form. This is perhaps a subtle point, but I think it becomes crystal clear from Mr. Stone’s examples of Ranier Tower and Fallingwater, which I find alien and cold, that the ultimate end of a purely form-based perspective eliminates a naturally human element from the human quest for perfection. I much prefer classical style architecture that is ennobling to the human spirit and exquisitely functional.

    Now, all of that being said, the stanza that worked best for me was the one with perfect rhyme and good meter:

    A single blade of grass can make
    A thousand miles green;
    A twig a mighty stone can break—
    This I myself have seen.

    When Mr. Curtis, a vanguard in the revival of classical arts, writes these words they are so charged with meaning as to shake the souls of men both now and in the future.

    Also, I note that the departing from meter in the final line of “Pinhead” was done perfectly and to perfect effect within the meaning of the poem.

    At any rate, I thank you all for reading and commenting, and sincerely hope you will continue to do so regardless of your taste in architecture.

    • Mark Stone

      Evan, I have been editing for a very long time, but have much less experience in writing poems. I read on a poetry website once that, after one writes a poem, one should put it in a drawer and not look at it for at least a month, and then take it out read it afresh. I have written some poems recently, which are now sitting in a drawer incubating. I’ve never submitted a poem anywhere for publication, and will begin doing so next year. Writing a good poem is much harder than critiquing, so I expect there will be a steep learning curve along the way. But I thank you for your encouraging words in this regard.

  4. Charles Southerland


    Your writing reminds me of some of the good work of Pound and of Dickinson. It just does.

  5. Michael Curtis

    Good gosh, four sincere little verses and more big opinions: well, seems you fellows are zealous in your prosody.

    Polish or passion; Carlo Dolci or Gericault; a sketch or a glaze: a glazed, sweet polished poem, perhaps; perhaps not, perhaps a passionate sketch, depends, I suppose, upon intent, upon character.

    And yes, perhaps we should always dress for dinner, white-tie and behaving-tail, although, sometimes, when barefoot among friends, a sketching in the grass is rather more pleasing than pencil-point composing. And here, I was sketching with friends upon the open field, or so I thought, instead I found myself bootless, untied, naturally singing just when the high-minded toastmasters were climbing upon one-another’s shoulders, boisterous, ambitious to be heard.

    Sincerely, wishing good words, perfectly composed, to each and all.

    • Mark Stone

      Michael, Commenting on a poem is a tricky business. One must try to balance candor with restraint, and try to be helpful without crossing the line into annoying. If I crossed that line for you with my comments, I apologize for that. I will continue to try to develop a sense how much is appropriate to say about a poem published on SCP. I have realized that poems are an extension of the poet, much like their children but to a lesser degree. As a result, I try never to criticize the essence of a poem, but instead to make suggestions around the edges on how a poem might be improved. I thank you for your wish for good words, and I return the same wish to you.

    • Joseph Tessitore

      We do take poetry seriously here and our criticisms were directed at your writing; not at you personally.

      “the high-minded toastmasters…climbing upon one-another’s shoulders, boisterous, ambitious to be heard” suggests a different approach.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Mr. Curtis,

      There is shameful ignorance being shown here by your detractors. And yet you have mastered a very specific genre.

      The Southerland-Tessitore pair, which is often joined by Amy Foreman, have been splattering their arrogant assessments on this and other threads throughout the SCP website for years and have gotten away with it.

      If I were in your place, producing these perfect little gems of yours which I myself lack the means fully to evaluate on a properly critical level (which is why I don’t, although I confess to enjoying your work here and elsewhere), I certainly would not give an atom of care to the ignorant comments of what I and many others refer to as the “Greeting Card Poets.”

      • Charles Southerland

        There you are, McSkirt–

        Mr. Curtis is not an idiot. And as you sheepishly admit, you are not a person with the means to fully evaluate a poem. This is not your only lack.

        As for greeting card verse, you might want to try your hand at it since you can’t seem to get published in journals of any value. Believe me, I’ve looked. Apparently, editors are missing the brilliance of your intellect. Ignorance, indeed.

      • Monty

        I wish I could find the words to be more tactful; but I can think of no other way to describe your above comments than, in some parts, misguided.. in other parts, lies.

        There is no “shameful ignorance” being shown by the author’s “detractors”; ignorance would be to ignore the poems. The above commenters have done the opposite to ignoring them; they’ve read them, and responded to them (so “shameful ignorance” is a lie). If their responses were not in accordance with your own views on the poems . . so be it. That doesn’t make them “detractors” (a lie), it just means they see poetry differently to you.

        You accuse three people of “splattering their arrogant assessments” (misguided): hopelessly oblivious to the fact that you should only speak for yourself, and hence should have worded it as ” . . splattering WHAT I FIND TO BE arrogant assessments”. There’s a world of difference between actual ‘arrogant assessments’ and ‘what you see as arrogant assessments’.

        Of the aforementioned three that you accuse: I’ve never seen a comment from Mr Southerland which wouldn’t improve the poem to which he’s responding. Yeah, he can be a bit blunt sometimes; but criticism can be blunt . . and sometimes has to be (give me ‘blunt criticism’ over ‘polite false praise’ anyday). So, they haven’t “gotten away” with anything (misguided): they just have views different to your own.
        As for including Ms Foreman in the same category . . another complete and utter lie! I rate her poems very highly; and as such, I’m always interested to read her comments on other people’s poetry . . and in my 15 months of being affiliated with SCP, I’ve never noticed her make anything but positive comments (she seems to adopt the same stance as myself: if she feels moved to comment on a poem, she will.. if it doesn’t move her, she’ll say nothing). She (as do others) might make suggestions as to how she feels a poem might be improved/enhanced; but that is all they are . . suggestions. To make suggestions ain’t criticism; and it certainly ain’t “arrogant assessments”. For you to label them as such IS arrogance.

        There are enough comments above to signify why the above poems are NOT “perfect little gems” (misguided). They’re thoughtful, reflective and seemingly keenly felt; but not “perfect” in other poetic senses. If you wanna read some “perfect little gems”, read some of Ms Foreman’s stuff: it not only displays a high class of wit and sarcasm (sadly lacking in so much other poetry), but is also “perfect” in every poetic sense. Go on, I dare you to read any one of her poems. Or do you not do wit and sarcasm; or even basic humour?

        Your closing lines are: ” . . what I and many others refer to as greeting-card poets.” Who are these ‘many others’? I suspect that to also be a lie. If someone speaks with conviction, they just say: ‘What I refer to as . . ‘ But when they feel the need to add a bit of weight to what they’re saying, or they feel the need for some support, they say: ‘What I and many others refer to as . . ‘ Well, I don’t believe you know of ANY ‘others’ who would refer to Ms Foreman’s stuff as ‘greeting-card poetry’; you’re speaking only for yourself.. nobody else. And if you sincerely see her work as such, then give me ‘greeting-card’ anyday over your own one-dimensional poetry which, although always well-written, is always based on the same (seemingly) fictional story from a cuppla thousand years ago . . with the odd ‘thee’ or ‘thou’ thrown in to give it some sort of authenticity.

        Be content to have your own opinions; and say them out loud . . that’s alright. What’s not alright is your predilection of trying to belittle those who have opposite opinions; and wording your comments in such a way as to try and sway other people into believing that your opinions are somehow more valid than those of others . . trying to gain a majority to support your belittling of a minority (misguided).

  6. Monty

    I told myself a cuppla weeks back that I ain’t getting involved in any more ‘syllable’ exchanges on these pages; and nothing’s changed.
    Thus, I’d be interested just to sit back and read the thoughts (if any) of others regarding Mr Stone’s above declaration that he uses the elastic-band effect on the word ‘devours’ . . by bestowing upon it 3 syllables.

    • Mark Stone

      Monty, Hi. It may be just me, but I pronounce “devours” as de-vow-ers. Three syllables.

  7. Joseph Tessitore

    I told myself that I wouldn’t get involved at all.
    My wife told me I shouldn’t get involved.
    Maybe the bottom line is that when you love poetry,
    sitting on the sidelines and watching it pass by just isn’t an option.

  8. Charles Southerland

    I got run over by a car by getting involved some years ago.

    Since the line that Monty and Mark single out containing the word “devour” is accentual trimeter, it doesn’t matter a whole lot if one counts it as 2 or 3 syllables. Either way, metrically it is fine. Only one syllable is stressed regardless.

    However, to be phonetically precise, it is 2 syllables. Colloquial speech in some areas make it 3 syllables.

    It is 2.

    If the “u” was a “w” it would be 3. It is self-explanatory. ‘Scour’ is one syllable. Power is 2. Hour is 1. Flower is 2. Sour is 1. Tower is 2.

    The difference between sound and syllable counting is deep and wide. There are rules. Schools teach us that. Some students are taught sight-reading, some schools teach phonetics. If one wishes to become a poet, I’d suggest the phonetics discipline.

    • C.B. Anderson


      Some good advice there. At the end of a line, it does not matter much how many syllables one bestows on “flower” or “hour.” In the middle of a line, however, the reader is compelled read the sound according to the line’s established meter. It seems that you would ask me to believe that “flour” & “flower” are pronounced differently, which is absurd. There is always a problem with “w,” “l” & ‘r.” These consonants are rather liquid and tend to stretch adjacent verbs to greater lengths, creating the semblance of distinct syllables. I assume that somewhere, at some time, someone has explored this problem at greater length. Until we find out, all readings of words thus afflicted must be considered valid.

      • Charles Southerland

        No, C.B., I’m not asking you to pronounce them differently. I’m saying there is a difference in syllabics between the two spellings and their usage in a particular line.

        One is a diphthong: flour, and as such, it is counted as a single syllable which can be used to manipulate a line for specific purposes, one of which is to draw out the vowel sound to a stress and a half. It does not pollute the meter of the iambic line. The mistake which even seasoned poets make is that they try to fit a diphthong in as two syllables, which diphthongs are clearly not. Grammatically, it’s done all the time, but that doesn’t excuse the mistake. Why do you think the Elizabethans and Victorian’s (and many others) elided certain words with apostrophes? I can tell you it wasn’t a matter of style. It was a matter of convenience to fit the meter. I am generally against the practice of elision but it has some use. The King’s English is pretty rigid and limited, so they/we find inventive ways to cheat. My suspicion is that Middle English was the perpetrator of these issues, although I’m not an expert in linguistics.

        The other: flower, is clearly a two-syllable word that cannot be mistaken for a diphthong. It’s use is much more limited in a line: long/short, and plugs in nicely for the iambic (foot) line.

        Certainly, there is a sophisticated difference between the two and their usage. I don’t see an issue at all. One usage is quantitative, the other usage and two-syllable spelling is, qualitative. The “our” and “ower” is functionally, all the difference.

  9. Joseph Tessitore

    I rarely miss a day on this page.

    It is a page where poets regularly strive for perfection and readers offer constructive criticism to help them in their pursuit of it.

    Mr. Curtis’ experience was no exception.

    For him to suggest that his experience was somehow unfriendly simply does not ring true.

  10. Brice U. Lawseed

    Near the Arlington National Cemetery
    for Michael Curtis

    It stands in bronze and granite in the traffic circle’s round,
    a sculpture of the General—Dwight Eisenhower’s mound.
    It stands upright, with hands akimbo, gazing outwardly,
    day after day, in rain and shine, and does so hourly.
    In uniform, the coat is draped upon the forearm’s slant.
    Atop the head, it squarely sits—the circular, flat hat.
    It stands in metal and in rock beside the changing trees,
    that flutter with each season’s breeze, that grow and lose their leaves.
    Near there where Holland Lane meets Eisenhower Avenue,
    the statue stands, at Time’s command, in Alexandria.


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