A Poet’s Lament

– for Charles Southerland, whose brilliant prose style I so painfully tried to imitate and incorporate

Nobody cried when poetry died a long, slow death – a final breath, maybe even a last word that no one heard. She’d run her course, so with no remorse the culture moved on – all interest gone and with a heart of stone – no listening ears; no glistening tears. With nothing to say she just faded away – dead – no more to be read – one lone vulture overhead.

Well, I can’t forget (at least not yet) and I’m at it still. Hell, I probably will be until I die too. I don’t know why and I don’t try to work it through. It’s what I do. So, whether I like it or not, mine will be the words that time forgot.

I’ll never make a dime from a rhyme. There is no fame and there’s no acclaim and my name will never be known. I’m on my own. I write every night – for myself? not quite – and close the book and put it on the shelf and shut the light – and go to bed – no more to be read – one lone bare bulb overhead.



To Pay the Piper

I’ve given up the right to think
and so I wander toward the brink
with countless others, poised to leap
into the roiling, briny deep.

Ideologues of every stripe,
we long to hear the magic pipe
of Hamelin Town’s most famous son—
to lead us on our final run.

And so it does—enchanting notes!
A mindless herd, we cast our votes.
To blatant hype and lilting lies,
we rush headlong to our demise.

From left and right, the great divide—
we take the plunge from either side.



Joe Tessitore is a retired New York City resident and poet.

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19 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Joe, I’m not sure which I liked better, the poem or the rhyme-laden prose preface. But I don’t quite get the connection to Charles Southerland.

  2. James Sale

    It is true to say that Charles Sutherland wrote some powerful and excellent prose; his image of killing a pygmy python still lingers in my mind. I like the runaway rhymes in these pieces especially the first; and I remember when Michael Jackson died some hysterical girl wailing that ‘music had died’, as if she weren’t aware that JS Bach had died quite a while before. So cheer up Joe: poetry hasn’t died. It is seemingly being overwhelmed by post-modernism and claptrap, but the darkest hour is always before the dawn. And the SCP is building up a fabulous alternative to negativity. I see you are in New York – I hope to meet you at Bryant Park or the Princeton Club for some real poetry in NY on the 17th June.

  3. Monty

    Regarding the word “wander”, Joe, in line 2 of “…the Piper”; given the metrical excellence in the other 13 lines . . could you not’ve just tapped “wander” into a thesaurus, where you would’ve found “drift” or “traipse”? Or you could even’ve turned “toward” into “t’ward”?

    I know some will say it’s trivial (it’s not!), and that I’m just being picky; but I promise you that I’m sat here with genuine perplexity that one could take the effort to attain such strict meter over 13 lines in such a well-written poem . . and yet carelessly and needlessly allow one line’s meter to deviate.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Let me remind you, Monty, that the standard pronunciation of “toward” is exactly as if the word were spelled “tord.” There is no “to-ward,” not in English anyway. So Joe is vindicated, and you are confuted. Joe Salemi wrote the same thing in another comment some time ago.

      • Monty

        That was surely geographically remiss of you, CB, to use the term “standard pronunciation” . . when you so obviously should’ve said ‘standard US-English pronunciation’. This side of the pond, it’s decidedly two syllables: with the stress on the 2nd. With regards to intonation, we say ‘toward’ in the exact same way we say ‘reward’. Many internet dictionaries these days have audible examples of words . . try any one of ’em . . and you’ll find that I didn’t need to be “reminded” of anything..

        But, as astonished as I am that you’re telling me that you pronounce it as “tord” over there . . if that truly IS the case, then Joe.. accept my apology; maybe I jumped the gun a bit in not first asking how that word’s pronounced over there . . . in which case, I leave you only with my original description above – well-written. And, seemingly, with some feeling.

        But, CB, I’m sruggling with this ‘tord’ thing. If you’d have said that you say it as ‘tward’ over there, I could’ve got my head round that, ‘cos ‘toward’ – said quickly – sounds as ‘tward’. It could also be used as one syllable in poetry, so long as one used an apostrophe thus: t’ward (and if Joe had wrote t’ward in his piece above, I would’ve continued reading without sensing any deviation). But, to lose the ‘w’ altogether to get ‘tord’: surely you don’t completely discard the ‘w’ sound, do you? I’m dumfounded, for the following reason: If ‘toward’ can be said as ‘tord’ (sounding as ‘toured’), then it would follow that ‘reward’ can be said as ‘rord’ (sounding as ‘roared’) . . can you see why I’m struggling?

        Regarding your last sentence; I don’t know what you’re getting at when you say that someone “wrote the same thing some time ago”. Wrote WHAT “same thing”? That ‘toward’ is said over there as ‘tord’? It goes without saying that I obviously never saw that comment (whenever it was), or I would’ve read ‘toward’ as ‘tord’ in the poem above.

  4. Mark Stone


    I very much enjoyed the first poem. The best part is: “one lone bare bulb overhead.” I think this is an example of what poets call “show, don’t tell.” So, as an exercise, my wife and I each shared what we think the phrase “shows.” My wife says the lone bare bulb shows that the narrator is sad and depressed, is living in desolation, and believes that it’s not worth lighting up his room because doing so would not light up his life. I think the lone bare bulb shows that the narrator is an abject failure as a writer and is living in misery and squalor. At any rate, thank you for this colorful and evocative image.

    Although I don’t agree that everyone on both sides of the political spectrum is part of a “mindless herd,” the second poem is excellent in terms of rhyme, meter, sonics, imagery and clarity of the message. By the way, I also pronounce “toward” as one syllable, although I pronounce it as “tword.”

    • Mark Stone

      Joe, Just to be clear, our comments about the narrator in the first poem are not intended to apply to you personally!

      • Joe Tessitore

        Thank you all very much.

        Mark, I was thrilled that you and your wife read so deeply into my poem.
        No one ever has before, and I was certainly not offended by the fact that you did.

  5. C.B. Anderson

    Monty, I didn’t mean to jump on you — that was untoward of me — but yes , “tord” is standard US pronunciation, though other pronunciations are recognized, because dictionaries try to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. But your point about pronunciations following spelling is not quite right. For one thing, there are “fossile” letters, such as the “t” in often or the “b” in “debt.” And any English vowel can have the sound of a schwa. Unlike in many other languages, where to be able to spell a word is to be able to pronounce it, in English you just have to know what a word sounds like. Imagine the confusion of a person learning English in trying get both “thought” and “draught” right. There must be hundreds of examples, at least, of such irregularities in English, which is why English rhymes can be so interesting. How about “choir/fire/buyer?”

    • Monty

      Yeah, it was – as anyone could see – a surprisingly terse reply, but I can assure you that I wasn’t bothered by it. I was secure in the knowledge that ‘toward’ has two syllables on this side of the pond, thus nothing said from that side could’ve ruffled me. (As an aside, when we over here say ‘toward’, we slightly stress the 2nd syllable; but, quirkily, when we say the 3-syllable word ‘untoward’, all 3 syllables are stressed equally)

      So, you seem assured that ‘tord’ is “the standard US pronunciation”, and you go on to say that “other pronunciations are recognised” (obviously meaning recognised in US-English usage). Well, I now have two reasons to challenge that ‘tord’ is “standard”: a/ I’ve since noticed that Mr Stone declares in his comment below that he says “tword”.. b/ Whilst writing this, I’m currently watching a golf-tournament on the telly (the USPGA from Bethpage, NY); and a few minutes ago, an american commentator said: “The wind will take the ball t’wards the green” – not only using the ‘w’ sound, but even slightly pronouncing the ‘o’ sound in ‘toward’, making it sound – if not quite like 2 syllables – then certainly like one-and-a-half syllables! Thus, as opposed to being ‘standard’, maybe ‘tord’ is only dialectual . . regardless of whether dictionaries are prescriptive or descriptive (whatever that means)!

      You then say: “But your (my) point about pronunciations following spelling is not quite right”. You should look again at my above comments; I never once uttered those words. And anyone who did would be foolish to do so in the face of – as you say – hundreds of irregularities.

      As for “choir/fire/buyer: I feel that ‘choir’ and ‘fire’ are acceptable rhymes, although I probably wouldn’t use them as such myself, ‘cos I prefer my own rhymes to rhyme ‘on the page’ as well as ‘in sound’. But ‘buyer’ – in British-English – doesn’t rhyme with either ‘choir’ or ‘fire’, for the simple reason that ‘buyer’ has 2 syllables; hence it rhymes with other 2-syllable words such as ‘higher’, ‘prior’, ‘drier’

      I’d rather not repeat a question which I’ve already asked above; but my genuine and aching curiosity demands that I ask again:
      If, as you say, you dispense with the ‘w’ in ‘toward’.. to produce ‘tord’ . . do you also dispense with the ‘w’ in ‘reward’.. to produce ‘rord’?

      • Monty

        . . . and just to re-enforce my point: I’m sure we’ll both agree that the English word ‘to’ has 1 syllable: and the English word ‘ward’ also has 1 syllable.. 1 + 1 = 2 . . how can it be any other way?
        Also, we’ll both agree that ‘buy’ has 1 syllable, so if one adds ‘er’ on to ‘buy’ – hence producing an extra sound after ‘buy’ . . how on earth can ‘buyer’ remain as 1 syllable? It’s impossible! For one to try to claim that ‘buyer’ has 1 syllable, they’re saying that there’s NO difference in sound between ‘buy’ and ‘buyer’.
        It can never be . . .

  6. Joe Tessitore

    Dear Monty,

    I think you’re correct in saying that it’s an alternate side of the pond issue – we do pronounce “toward” as one syllable. Think of it as a “pronunciation contraction”, if you will.

    In a similar vein, you often use the idiosyncratic and debatable contraction “‘cos”.
    There is no “o” in “because”, and a more appropriate form of this contraction would be “‘cause”.
    No one takes issue with you, because we all know what you’re getting at.

    If we here in the States were to use “to’rd”, I doubt that anyone on either side of the pond would know what we were getting at.

  7. Monty

    I’m glad to hear that, Joe: I can get my head round ‘tward’ as a one-syllable sound (after all, it sounds just like ‘toward’ said quickly); thus I can now see why it’s an acceptable pronunciation of ‘toward’. But I simply couldn’t get my head round ‘tord’. Not only ‘cos it sounded alien, but also for its potential for further implications: such as ‘does reward become rord?’ So, I’m relieved to hear that you’ve dismissed ‘tord’ from either side of the pond.

    I concede that my use of “‘cos” is a tad presumptuous – one might even say selfish – as it presumes that the reader will immediately grasp its meaning; but if I may offer two forms of defence for my continued use:
    a/ You say that ‘cos doesn’t represent ‘because’, as there’s no ‘o’ in the latter; and yet it’s accepted that ‘ain’t’ represents ‘is not’ – even though there’s no ‘a’ in the latter.
    b/ Until mobile-phones arrived – hence text-messages – I’d never wrote anything except the odd postcard. Once texting became the norm – and given that I would generally only be texting people within my own circles – I started to write certain words as I say them in speech. If that meant adjusting the spelling, or replacing a letter with an apostrophe, that’s what I done – and henceforth always wrote the word in the same way. Add to this the fact that I speak what we refer to over here as ‘common’ . . really common and really slangy. I grew up in what you refer to over there as ‘the projects’, we as ‘inner-city council-estates’; in which, we had our own way of speaking (what you might call street-speak, which even some other Brits couldn’t always follow completely; to this day, I can bump into other Brits in France or Asia, and some can’t completely understand my phrasing). As a result of such ‘speak’, I’ve never said the word ‘because’ in my life; it was always ‘cos’ (more precisely, pronounced ‘cohz’). My whole circle of chums would never say ‘because’; even my mum (I never had a dad) would never have said ‘because’; it was always: “Why not, mum?”.. “Coz I said so, that’s why.”

    So I grew up with ‘cos’ . . and there was never anything to deter it. School didn’t really exist for me or my chums (whenever we DID decide to go, we never listened to teachers, and didn’t interact with the more orthodox pupils), so school wasn’t able to modify my way of speaking; and I never worked for the whole time I lived in Britain (I left there when I was 37), thus my ‘speak’ couldn’t be modified by consistently interacting with work-colleagues . . . hence all aspects of my life were conducted only with those who spoke like me; I socialised only with such people, business was conducted only with such people; thus anyone with whom I exchanged text-messages would relate to ‘cos’ more than they would ‘because’. So I began consistently writing as I speak. And began to enjoy the word-play challenge of re-spelling words to sound just as I said them. This never presented a problem until . . .

    . . . a cuppla years back, when I became affiliated with SCP. I realised then that I was gonna have to write ‘properly’ when conversing with strangers; so I had to rein-in all my misspelt words, all my slang . . and stick to the rules. And on the whole – whenever writing on these pages – I HAVE stuck to the rules. But the odd ‘cos’ will always pop up. I can sometimes be so engrossed in what I’m actually writing . . that I obliviously write ‘cos’; it’s that natural to me. To give a few examples of the challenges I face when writing on these pages . . . in my normal speech, any word which ends in ‘ing’, I’ve never in my life sounded the ‘g’; thus ‘saying’ is ‘sayin”.. ‘shilling’ is ‘shillin” . . also, any word which begins with ‘h’, in speech I’ve never sounded the ‘h’; thus ‘happen’ is ”appen’.. ‘hotel’ is ”otel’ (when writing this way, I assiduously always add an apostrophe to indicate the missing ‘h’, in the way that Kipling did in many of his poems, e.g. I have is I ‘ave.. I had is I ‘ad.. hurry up is ‘urry up).

    If I was writing a comment at SCP, it might read:

    I have had a look at the ticket; I haven’t got to be there until 10 o’clock. But I want to give myself plenty of time; so I am going to leave at 9 o’clock (in case there is any traffic).. and if I get there a bit early, I can sit and have a coffee while I’m waiting. If you are still thinking of coming, give me a call tonight.

    But a text-message to a chum would read:

    I’ve ‘ad a look at th’ticket; I ain’t gotta be there till ten. But I wanna gi’ meself plenty o’ time; so I’m gonna leave at 9 (‘case there’s traffic).. an’ if I get there a bit early, I can sit an’ ‘ave a coffee while I’m waitin’. If yer still finkin’ of comin’, gimme a call t’night.

    That is how I’ve always spoke; and always will. That is how I’ve always texted/emailed chums; and always will. Thus you might imagine how vigilant I have to be when writing on these pages . . . ‘cos’ is the least of my worries!

    • Joe Tessitore

      The vigilance it takes to write on these pages is probably a good thing – I’m sure it makes better grammarians of all of us.

      How did you get so powerfully drawn to poetry?

      • Monty

        I was drawn to poetry by an unimaginably circuitous route.

  8. Frank De Canio

    Joe, I didn’t think this was a site for criticizing poems, albeit with right intentions. So let me put my 2 cents in it. I’m a pedant for metrical regularity. I count iambics in my sleep, no kidding. I DID look up the word for ideologues since I didn’t like the accent on the first syllable which is what my sound dictionary gave me. But when I looked up the word, 2 pronunciation possibilities had the accent on the first syllable and the last on the second. So the word ca be read, but probably not, as idDEEologues. To me a wrong beat is like a hiccup. Hence I would write either Hamelin’s most famous son, or Hamelin Town’s famous son (which I like less since there could be 3 syllables in Hamelin that would be subsumed if Town was eliminated) for metrical regularity which once established in a a poem is expected. In any case, you write great stuff! I love it.

    • Joe Tessitore

      Thanks Frank. I appreciate your input and your support.

      I count beats as well, often on my fingers, and my wife always knows what I’ doing when she sees them flicking.

      It might be in the various ways we read – at this point, I wouldn’t submit a poem unless I thought it was up to speed.


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