Learning Experience

The world is filled with rules
For making things; and schools
Where ziggurats of thought,
Erected there, are taught.

The language that we use
Now hides within a ruse
Of passive terms and texts,
Protects and disconnects.

The work I do is not
Perfect and without blot,
As that of better students,
Who polish poems with prudence.

But ornaments I choose
Are flexible and loose—
They pull me through the air—
Come with me, if you dare.



How We Live Now

Forget great men, their truthful ways:
Award them three-day holidays.
The only news is jarring sound—
Peacekeepers moving troops around.

We cherish triviality
And monkeys do as well as we.
Dreaming of going to the stars,
We’re strapped and buckled in our cars

But focus on the here and now,
Complacent as some docile cow,
A bovine who’s more civilized
Than we. And still, we are surprised

To meet young people who’ve not read
A single book, yet been to bed
With countless others, in a race
To best their teachers’ fall from grace.

We’ve squeezed the real from everything,
And settled for a high, some bling.
Think of the joy the iPod brings!
Ten thousand songs, yet no one sings.



Where Poetry Lives

I find it unforgettable the way
My mother read aloud, made sure we’d hear
Shakespeare and other poets, from a day
When poetry was honored. Sharp and clear
Word pictures formed themselves that thrilled me so.
I keep within my memory the days
When she, on meeting those she used to know,
Sparked talk of poems in myriad sorts of ways.

Those poems they learned by heart in every school,
Recited in a joyful, laughing way
Beside the monument; the little pool
Seemed like a place where we might always stay;
Though you cannot rest in a chosen time,
And we did not, but yet it stayed with some,
The ones who loved the word, the magic clime
Of poetry, the arts, and I was one.



Drawing with Words

The liquid light that poured across that space
Crowned life with golden rays, and gave it grace.
Then later, filled with rosy firelight,
Left embers, glowing on the coldest night.

One chiming clock, one rich red velvet chair
Gave presence to this room; a strange affair.
Those patterns on the rug, which echoed lace,
I reproduced on every parchment space,
Where lines turned into words—a mystery,
I didn’t know the meanings for a while.
Till I began to find a writing style.



Some Advice from the Untalented

They smugly said I’d never make much money
From playing with my words and making art,
That it would be a waste to spread such honey
So any fool could tear the thing apart.
“Forget it! You have always been contrarian.
There’s money to be made and you’d be right
As an accountant, teacher, or librarian.
You’ve got your back, your feet are good, your sight
Is sure. Why waste it on this silly dream?
A decent mattress beats a lumpy bed
With linens coarse and scratchy; when you scream
You’ll muffle it in silken sheets instead.
They only pay an artist when he’s dead.”

I’m far too mean to die—I’ll wait, I said.



The Flame

Inspired by Jack Ahlers’ Tales of the Erie Road.

A flame of knowledge in the night
Burns past the dim room and stiff chair—
Better to see by than a light
Cold, unforgiving, unaware.

That flame remains. How can it burn
So bright and blue, so steady, sure—
Consuming everything in turn:
All anger, raw emotion, pure
Affection for a simple thing?
It burns away your strength, your youth,
A blossom, and the patterned wing
Of thought that brushes us with truth.

Yet it still burns, and always will,
In spite of life’s brief awkward chill.



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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23 Responses

  1. Leo zoutewelle

    I did not mean to say “could do it,”. But that you “Would do it.”!

  2. Joe Tessitore

    Think of the joy the iPod brings!
    Ten thousand songs, yet no one sings.

    The 21st century, captured in a couplet!

    Well done, Sally!

      • Sally Cook

        Dear James

        Computer is acting up, so I had to put my comment under your first one!

        As you have probably ascertained, I far from being a proponent of free verse. It’s a rare occasion when I see any sort of “poem” written that way which speaks to me in a coherent language. But to me, the reason women gravitate to it is plain as the nose on anyone’s face. Free verse is formless, spontaneous, emotional. None of these qualities are to be shunned; they simply never can bet the main push behind a good poem. They are, however, qualities which are traditionally associated with femininity.
        Tomorrow, when all women are neatly placed on soccer teams and in the boxing ring, they will still be writing the vapid free verse stuff we expect from talented amateurs. This is because most people, male and female, make emotional decisions which seem to exclude a rigorous pursuit of actual knowledge; preferring, like birds and insects to rely on instinct instead. The lights of true education are fading, and that is precisely why a website like this is so valuable.
        Still, I find the field of music to be less entrenched in today’s insanity than poetry and painting, True, both of those disciplines have pretty much gone off the deep end, but that may only be because so many now follow the thumping and screeching school of thought. Whereas four part harmony in vocal music is a part of the musician’s playbook; a traditional way to vocalize in the greatest range. But again – who cares? Thousands of years of musical knowledge and practice are on the dust heap, yet we worry about which of the thumpers and screchers are taking dope, getting tattoos, making hysterical political pronouncements.
        Frankly, I’d rather sing to my cat.

  3. David Watt

    The lines referred to by Joe and seconded by James are indeed wonderfully descriptive, and indicative of modern life. Each poem is very well executed.

  4. joespringza

    “Ten thousand songs, yet no one sings.”

    There’s a line that hits its note perfectly. Thank you, Sally.

  5. James Sale

    There is some brilliant work here; memorable, punchy and powerful. More importantly, the Muse speaks from the soul and there is that distilled sense of speaking that permeates Sally’s words and lines. I too especially like the iPod couplet. Why do poets, never mind the public, not sing?

    • Sally Cook

      In reference to your question, James, most above average poets whose work I encounter happen to be men. To me, that is simply a circumstance. Perhaps it is that the male usually does the crowing. Or even something much more simple, such as they might just be working harder at being better.

      In the late nineteenth century, when Emily Dickinson was trying to publish, there were lots of dim, obviously inferior female poets who found it easy to accomplish that. But then, Emily’s energies made her “different”, and we do value the conventional above all.

      Still , looking at the miserable strangulated mess of our attempts to “regulate” sexual relations in this century, it strikes me that the male viewpoint, when encountering talent in today’s woman, might justifiably be tinged with a bit of acrimony. Again, thanks to those who did not follow along in lockstep in commenting on my poems.

      Women, by denying the individuality of their sex, have driven so many men into a passive corner. Predictably, nobody likes it. As for me, this insanity has reached the point where I can no longer wear my dramatic pink beret without being taken for a politicized person wearing a hat named for a female body part. I keep my poor beret hhanging on a hat rack, and on occasion, when passing by, I say “No, not time yet.”

      “Hang in there ! ” I admonish it –so far, it has.

      James, thanks for the thoughtful compliments, but I must ask you — with things like thought and language control seemingly going on forever, why would anyone feel like singing?

      PS – I do it anyway.

      • James A. Tweedie

        Sally, How interesting. In the free verse world I find that, as far as my tastes and preferences are concerned, the best poetry is being written by women. I also note that the grandest choral music requires Sopranos and Altos as well as Tenors and Basses to capture and project the richest harmonies that the human voice can produce. Why should poetry be any different? In any case, I hope you never stop singing!

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Dear Sally —

        These poems are solid and substantial work, as usual. Congratulations for them — and also for your recent art show upstate. I’m looking forward to the coming exhibit in New York City.

        You’re absolutely right about Emily Dickinson — if she had changed her work into the sickly-sweet crap that so many “lady poets” were grinding out in the nineteenth century, she’d have had no trouble being published. She’d have been another Mrs. Hemans. But Dickinson stuck to her guns, and is now a major figure whereas those “lady poets” are now forgotten, and only receive attention from tedious feminist critics.

  6. Joe Tessitore

    We who see in meter and rhyme
    will sing until the end of time –
    gender notwithstanding.

  7. Sally

    This one is for you, Joe Salemi –
    Thank you for your greatly appreciated comments on my poems. It was a subject I thought might interest a number of poets. I had to put my reply to you at the end because the “Reply” sometimes gets left off, and this was one of those times. Yesterday the system was putting up two copies of each response I tried to send. I’ve heard from others that once your computer gets beyond a certain age it has a built-in obsolescence factor. I keep wanting to get a new one, and will, as soon as I get up the courage to face learning another new system.
    Strange, isn’t it that there were so many more fine 19th century female novelists than there were poets? Any comments?

  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Dear Sally —

    The novel has always been a middle class art form. Yes, there are fine novels of aristocratic life and experience, but for the most part the novel is a genre of relationships and human interaction, particularly in a family setting. This is naturally the domain of the feminine. Austen and the Brontes are the quintessence of novelistic art.

    • Joe Tessitore

      Forgive me for intruding – hopefully I do so with a relevant question.
      I just came across Felicia Hemans, quite by chance.
      “Casabianca” is the only poem of hers that I’ve read.
      I’m wondering what you both think of her.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Her stuff tends to be sentimental and declamatory. “Casabianca” is her most famous poem, and was a standard recitation piece for schoolchildren.

        She’s not a bad poet, but she is essentially conventional and uninteresting.

  9. Sally Cook

    Joe T –
    Why on earth should you feel you are intruding? Why not just jump in, as you decided to do, and make the conversation more interesting? Join in, but stretch your mind and say exactly what you think.

    You are bound to get answers you don’t like, and some others that might surprise you. But ideas will start to spark and catch fire, and that’s a good thing.

    Felicia Hemans is not a bad poet – it is just that she is not a Poet. Do you see the difference between someone who lets technique supersede magic every time and the quirky,
    gut-wrenching absolutely individual and unexpected go by the board in order to have a
    so-called “perfect” poem?

    There are lots of lessons to be learned from writing poetry, and every single one of us must learn them, and make our own mistakes in the process. We must all grow, and that’s how.

    Dickinson and Hemans were near contemporaries; Felecia took an easy oath — Emily took the hard road.

    As my mother often exclaimed, The boy stood on the hurning deck/Eating peanuts by the peck. She had a healthy respect for Poetry; not so much for perfection. I think you would have liked her l

  10. Charlie Bauer

    Dear Sally,

    These were just incredible. I’ll return the very fine compliment you gave to me: “You ma’am, are a poet!”

    Very best,



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