The Fiancé

inspired by Anthony Trollope’s “Can you forgive her?” (1864-1865)

Alice, he wants your money, honey.
Alice, he wants your cash.
He’d never ask you without it
don’t doubt it –
He’s wild; but that would be rash.

He’s no use for Alice in theory, dearie;
He’s no use for Alice in fact.
So don’t throw your heart in
it hasn’t a part in
The requisite terms of the pact.

Every man has a sweetheart, sweetheart,
Every man has a pet
This man is in love with himself
and your wealth
Is all that he’s anxious to get.



a reflection on communist terrorists in Africa

Mom dropped us off at school: Goodbye,
My darlings, see you soon
She didn’t say, daily I fear
Just wave, if I drive by at noon.

Your school has such a lovely name
She didn’t say, it’s on the list
Arbor: shady garden bower.
Of names released by terrorists.

Did you have bomb drill yesterday,
Roll-call standing in the field?
She didn’t say, the sniffer dogs
Found explosives well concealed.

Let’s cut your hair short, pixie-style.
She didn’t say, boys are safe.
Why don’t you wear your pants today?
She didn’t say, girls get raped.


Sheri-Ann O’Shea is a South African-born teacher, now living in Brisbane, Australia with her
husband and three lively boys.

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8 Responses

  1. E. V.

    Good Morning! Both poems powerfully communicate their message. I enjoyed reading them. On “Targetted”, I was wondering about the order of the paragraphs. Have your considered reversing the order (4th {last} stanza 1st, 3rd stanza 2nd, 2nd stanza 3rd, and 1st stanza 4th {last})? The poem works well either way, but I was just wondering about the dramatic impact if the order were reversed. What do you think? (Please don’t misinterpret my comment because I do like this poem … a lot!)

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    The poem based on Trollope is fine, with a sophisticated structure that is spoiled in the last cinquain.

    In the others, lines 3 and 4 have perfect rhymes. (‘without it”, “doubt it”, and “heart in, “part in”).

    But “himself” and “wealth” don’t rhyme at all, except for modernists who think that absurd near-rhymes or off-rhymes are cute. They aren’t.

    What strikes me as annoying is that this problem could have been very easily solved if the poet had used “pelf” instead of “wealth”. They mean the same thing! And I dread to think that “pelf” wasn’t used because of some modernist prejudice against worlds that are not in common usage, and therefore off-putting to poorly educated readers.

    We’re in the business of writing perfect poems. We’re not in the business of pandering to an audience.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Mr. Salemi’s provocative comment begs a multitude of questions. What would a perfect poem look like? Has there ever been a perfect poem? If Mr. Salemi suggests a perfect poem and I do not agree, is it still a perfect poem? I am not raising these question to start a fight, but a conversation. I am very interested in the subject and recently submitted a poem that raises the same questions. Rather than wait, I will add it here to further what I hope will be a fruitful and civil dialogue with as much input from as many folks as possible. Here is the poem (which is not, by the way, intended as a criticism of anyone, simply an observation):

      The Perfect Poem

      There is, I’m sure, in someone’s file drawer,
      A perfect poem, written on a whim,
      Perhaps, or, maybe as a simple hymn
      Of thanks and praise to God, and nothing more.
      Or, then again, the poem could express
      The burning passion of a lover’s heart,
      A terse description of a work of art,
      Or soul-torn angst amidst some cruel distress.
      All grammar, syntax, perfectly intact,
      Each foot a proper iamb, anapest,
      Or trochee, dactyl, spondee, at its best,
      Each comma in its place, each rhyme exact.
      In spite of flawless tittle, jot, and letter,
      There will be some who think they could do better.

  3. Charles Southerland

    Dear Joe-

    Are you against poems that establish slant rhymes throughout, and then use a perfect rhyme in the same poem,
    or poems that establish perfect rhymes then use a slant rhyme in the same poem? Do you consider both examples of Modernism?

    Any clarification would help me.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    To answer Charles first: If a poem were solely in slant rhymes, and then had a single perfect rhyme in it, I’d assume either that the poet had made a careless mistake and overlooked the perfect rhyme, or else that he was being ornery and deliberately provocative. Whichever it was, I’d say that he had spoiled his poem.

    Would either of those possibilities be examples of modernism? Good question. Let me put it this way: the entire drift of modernism as a movement is to cause trouble and generate stress. It’s a pernicious counter-cultural and anti-traditional habit of mind that expresses itself through deliberate ruptures in rational thought, symmetrical design, and aesthetic expectations. So yes, if the poet put in that perfect rhyme just to shake up his readers, he’s just being the typical modernist pain in the ass. But if a poet here at the SCP is writing in perfect rhymes and then puts in an unnecessary slant rhyme, I pretty much guess that it is simply a mistake, or a lapse of judgment, or a lack of skill. But who knows? Maybe there are some crypto-modernists here who like to wreck a perfectly fine formal poem by throwing in an unnecessary slant-rhyme. You’ll have to ask Ms. O’Shea.

    One of the most profound judgments on modernism in poetry was made by the critic Mark Signorelli in his essay “The Meaning of Modernism.” It’s too good not to quote:

    “There is nothing philosophically neutral about the form (or formlessness) of free verse; it embodies our own debased conception of freedom, the moral fulcrum on which the West has tilted toward ever-greater depravity. The vision that modernist poetry invites us to share in is primarily a vision of the liberated ego, the individual severed from all obligation to tradition, nature, or rationality. It is the manifested artistic expression of modern license.”

    So, in my view, anything in a formal poem that throws us off, that upsets the required decorum of the poem, that spits in our eye aesthetically, is either a mistake, or (much worse) a malicious attempt by some modernist interloper to screw around with our sensibilities.

    To answer Mr. Tweedie —

    For me, poems are essentially artifacts. They are things made out of words. Consider a beautiful Chinese ceramic vase. It does have a mundane purpose — say, to hold flowers, or to carry liquid. But in itself IT MUST BE PERFECT. It has to be moulded and shaped and glazed to be totally pleasing to the human eye, and its texture must be silken and smooth to the human touch. What sane human being would want a Chinese ceramic vase that was misshapen, or irregular, or twisted, or sloppily glazed? Do you want a vase made by a master Chinese potter, or something made by a disturbed five-year-old working at a grade-school wheel?

    We can all have disagreements over whether a particular poem is “perfect,” or whether it might be improved in some minor way. I understand that. But arguing over the relative merits of a Shakespeare sonnet and a Spenser sonnet isn’t earthshaking in its implications. But when our modernist enemies show us a piece of totally unappealing and meaningless garbage, and tell us that they have the right to value it on the same level or higher that some masterpiece from the past — well, Goddammit, it’s time that we called a spade a spade! Are we going to REALLY defend what we call “classical poetry” here, or are we going to fall into the relativistic trap of saying that “tastes differ”? Sure they differ — but some tastes are superior to others, no matter how democratic we think we ought to be.

    We live today in a world of corrupted taste. There are millions of miseducated morons who would gladly opt for the awful and ugly over the chaste and the beautiful. As I asked in a previous post somewhere here, how can any rational person think that the garbage art of Basquiat or Banksy or Keith Haring has aesthetic value? And yet this crap is sold for millions of dollars.

    What we need are persons who will say “This sucks!” when they see garbage art. And say it LOUDLY.

    Also, I hope Ms. O’Shea will turn “wealth” to “pelf” in her otherwise fine poem.

    • Charles Southerland

      Thanks, Joe-

      I appreciate the clarification more than you could ever possibly know. It confirms everything I believe.

    • James A. Tweedie

      I fully agree with Mr. Salemi’s reply. Art of any kind, if it is to be honestly considered to be art, is inspiration shaped and formed by disciplined craft and skill into that which makes the inspired thought or vision accessible to others as seamlessly, elegantly, eloquently, gracefully, and clearly as possible. It is the difference between dancing, which anyone can do, and dancing gracefully.

      If I read Mr. Salemi correctly, he is using the word “perfect” in the sense of a Platonic ideal, where every poetic form exists somewhere in a perfect form which we, as poets, attempt to reflect in our own work. In this sense, the one, truly perfect poem, exists only in a Platonic cave, but the closer we come to mirror that ideal in our poetry, the more “perfect” our poetry will be. Again, what we aim for we will never achieve. But to settle for anything less or to offer equal praise to every effort, is to reject the very essence of what the word “Art” has traditionally meant.

      My own view is somewhat more expansive than this, but this represents my attempt to understand Mr. Salemi’s use of the word “perfect.”

  5. James A. Tweedie

    Sheri-Ann, I would like to say that you two poems, with rapier wit and an original, creative style, captured two completely different ideas and presented them it a way that struck close to home. I raised three daughters and, although I never faced the threat of terrorists targeting them at school, there is a particular concern that parents have for daughters who, in any number of ways, are more vulnerable to various forms of violence and abuse than a son. As for your parody of Trollope, while I support Mr. Salemi’s inspired gift of the word, “pelf,” I enjoyed the humor, sarcasm, and disdain you managed to convey in such few words. As a woman writer, you were able to inject a bit of a bite into the verse was particularly satisfying.


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