I Am One, Then

“In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of Hell” – Isaiah 38.10

I am one, then, who’s been to hell:
__Cut down in my old prime;
One day solid, sound as a bell,
__The next day quite out of time.

So down I went. So what’s to tell?
__The groans, the grey, the grime;
Blood stains, strained light, and that dark smell
__Inside, corruption’s slime.

Childhood long past, lost dingly-dell.
__Now greet my adult crime:
Scenes not chosen in which I fell;
__Soul shot for not one dime.

I am one, then, who’s been to hell
__And loitered there a time;
Yet, though I knew, and know I fell
__Still hope lives, hopes to climb.

Still, through deep darkness all is well;
__In blackness there’s the sign:
Look, look, the One whose Word’s a spell,
__Whose love saves me, is mine.



Love to Lose

When ‘v’ shifts to ‘s’ the change occurs:
The one we don’t want because this one hurts;
When ‘v’ shifts to ‘s’ it’s a backward motion –
True witchcraft that paralyses the heart.

When ‘v’ shifts to ‘s’ then something is wrong:
The misstep of live becoming our lies,
While bathing deep in a toxic ocean –
Drinking damnation to its bitter lees.

When ‘v’ shifts to ‘s’ they call out, ‘It’s real’:
Pragmatic people take comfort in loss;
When ‘v’ shifts to ‘s’ there is no potion
Or curative making reality less.

When ‘s’ shifts to ‘v’ – then sound has voice:
All’s in reverse so Lazarus heals;
When ‘s’ shifts to ‘v’ there’s then the option –
Togetherness comes and humans are whole.



James Sale, FRSA is a leading expert on motivation, and the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps worldwide. James has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has seven collections of poems published, including most recently, Inside the Whale, his metaphor for being in hospital and surviving cancer, which afflicted him in 2011. He can be found at www.jamessale.co.uk and contacted at james@motivational maps.com. He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and Second Prize in the Society’s 2015 Competition.


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4 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    Dear James Sale,
    I liked your poem “I Am One Then”, and admire the way it moves so nimbly across the page, giving hope at the end. You have filled it with language which you have wound around each stanza much like a growing vine.

    The idea of “Love To Lose” is certainly worthy of a poem, but to me, the non-rhyming aspect of it seems to be a bit forced. I read and re-read it, but still found myself questioning why you decreed it would not rhyme when, with your skills, it so easily might have. Was it just the challenge?
    In any case, your work is always worth reading, and thanks for these.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    The first poem takes us to a very dark place, and I’m not sure whether its ending lifted the reader out of that dark place.

    In “Love to Lose”, I had a hard time understanding what you were getting at. Maybe that’s my problem, or maybe you were expecting far too much of the reader. Or perhaps you went a bit too far into sheer abstraction. A good poem should never need an explanation.

  3. James Sale

    Hi Sally, Thanks for your kind comments, especially on my first poem, I Am One, Then, and apologies for the delay in replying: only, I have been away at my youngest son’s wedding and celebrating! I have a new daughter-in-law! I like your image of the growing vine, and I would agree in the sense that it is my intention to attempt to create a language that is highly wrought, but also at the same time accessible and clear. If you feel that I have achieved it in that particular poem, then that is high praise indeed and I am grateful to you for saying so.
    Regarding the second poem, I suspect that our view of the classic poem is slightly different, and you have a higher standard than perhaps I do! I think myself that whilst ‘perfect rhyme’ is admirable, brilliant and perfectly right and proper on many, if not most occasions, but there is still a place in classical poetry for ‘imperfect’ rhymes. Indeed, the most obvious type of imperfect rhyme was used extensively by Shakespeare and the Elizabethans generally: namely, the so-called ‘eye rhyme’ where we have words like prove/love, which are not perfect rhymes. Further, though, I consider Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting one of the greatest poems of the C20th. Here, of course, he uses the type of ‘imperfect rhyme’ that I am deploying: consonantal rhyme where the consonants ‘rhyme’ but not the vowels. At the end of the day I think we need to judge it in terms of its effectiveness rather than its prescriptiveness. However, for some purists I accept it simply won’t work, doesn’t sound right, and represents a major flaw. So please forgive me if you are one such – I deeply appreciate you as a fellow classic poet, and so it cannot be the case that you are necessarily wrong.
    But one last thought for you on this would be this: in my opinion, the second poem is anyway much ‘lighter’, both thematically and in terms of its style, than the first poem. The first poem, I hope, comes from my soul and inspiration; the second, is designed to be a technical tour de force (which clearly is not technically accomplished enough for you). But, I am sure you can see, that the whole idea of the title and the transliteration of the letters ‘s’ and ‘v’ has a light, playfulness about it which is entirely absent from the first poem; that does not justify it, but I am sure you can see what I mean. Put another way, I much prefer the first poem myself, and it is far more serious in intent than the other. Thanks again. Hope you can make New York next week – great to meet you.

  4. James Sale

    Thanks CB for your perceptions on the poem. You are absolutely right: good poems do not need explanations, and poets need not explain their poems either. At the same time, however, sometimes good poems sometimes do need glossaries or keys. You may have had the same experience as me: I have frequently in the past, especially in the past, read a great poem and completely missed something which when I found its ‘key’ transformed something ordinary into a masterpiece. That moment you get of sudden insight into how the poem works. For example, for me, Philip Larkin’s poem MCMXIV: I didn’t originally see how genuinely brilliant it was till a friend gave me the ‘key’ – that the poem doesn’t really contain a main verb and so enacts that timeless moment of innocence just before World War I kicks off. It is for this reason that commentary is important since it extends for others the internal workings of poetry and poems. Hope you can make it to New York and meet up with many of the SCP crew including me!


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