Seven skulls sit side-by-side
atop the wall of Erringtide.
Their salted sockets watch the wide
expanse of waves within which hide
the devils Marax, sixes each
who’d seek to storm the sandy beach
and scale the ramparts, rend a breach,
the Prince of Erringtide to reach.

The skulls, they whistle low and still
with landborne winds across their sill
while readied for the war, they will
enjoy the breeze of peace until
their vigil finds the day has come
when they must raise their voices dumb
and all of Erringtide shall thrum
with bowstrings and the devil drum.

Keep watch, O heads of ancient lore
protect the Prince’s pristine shore.
The seas are near and ever more
would seek to wage a devil’s war.
Defend with all your ken of grave
the Prince to whom the old king gave
you charge. Now watch in every wave
from which will come the need to save.



Joe Spring lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. For more information please visit

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140 Responses

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    The unfortunate choice of rhyme scheme results in the effect of being forced, in this case. “Thrum” is one of the more egregious examples.

    If the poem is an allegory, the reader would never know it. Allegories are best anchored in real culture.

    It personally, again, I repeat, personally, sense that this piece is not the work of a grown-up or person of substance. I do not expect anyone else to share this opinion, as mediocrity is all too often the object of praise in this venue.

    I now speak generally.

    First. A man of substance will produce works of substance.

    Second. The endless proliferation of castle fantasy poems, along with tedious leaf-and-sap poems, which we see more and more in today’s formalist movement, reveal an effeminate taste for 19th century romanticism shackled to an impoverished imagination.

    Crashing waves start to look like girlish gushes of feeling.

    Finally, as a disclaimer, I do not support the modernist relativism of the today’s formalist movement by which “a poem has the freedom to be whatever it wants” and its necessary corollary that “all poems are good poems.” For me, there is only true poetry and fake poetry, and a poet’s right to mediocrity is exercised far too often with impunity. So we do not have to go round and round on the subject as by now my position is well known.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Mr. MacKenzie,

      The first thing I noticed was in line 7, where “rent” should have been “rend.” I see that this has been corrected. Also, the images, which apparently were intended to be stark and overpowering, were merely overplayed & flaccid, a constant feature of what you call “castle fantasy.” The last stanza was particularly incondite, “forced,” as you wrote, by the clumsy choice of rhyme scheme.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Why, Mr. Anderson, shame on you for “acting like a political commissar who is sniffing around for unorthodoxy at every level of composition.” Don’t you know that literary taste is relative in our new subjectivist universe, and that, as anti-pope Bergoglio says, “Who am I to judge?”

        Why, “if a person has given himself to a life of piety and virtue, he has no call to make a stink when other people live a a freer and easier and less constricted life,” such as the gays and liberals lead.

        Who was St. John the Baptist to call out Herod for having sex with his brother’s wife when Herod was just living a freer and easier and less constricted life. Poetry should never, ever rise above Herod’s standards, now should it.

        Can’t you see that the poor man is “working in our tradition [with which he hasn’t the faintest familiarity], and trying his best to produce an [conceptually unedifying] addition to it”?

        As Greta Thunberg says, “How dare you!” Have you forgotten the words of the Bard?

        “Who shall scape whipping! Who shall scape whipping! Who shall scape whipping!”

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Joseph M, that argumentation won’t hold water.

        I have never said that literary tastes are purely relative, or that one may not judge a poem. My entire polemical career in literary studies has been to argue that we are living in an age of “the corruption of taste,” and this this explains the current degradation of all the arts.

        My only argument is that the SCP is a website for all levels of ability, and if its goal is to encourage the growth of interest in genuine poetry, we can ill afford to blast every new poet who shows up here with a broadside cannonade.

        I have been a teacher for 52 years. Every good teacher knows that you encourage a student’s enthusiasm for a new subject or a new field of study; you don’t immediately smack him down for his unfamiliarity with all its details and rules.

        By the way, bringing in John the Baptist and Greta Thunberg is truly laughable.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        The teacher who has only groveling praise to offer his students is a very false teacher, indeed.

        This is a public literary forum, not an academic “safe place” and anyone who presents his work here is subject to the same conditions as everyone else.

        No one has ever denied that the online SCP is also for amateurs.

        But, guess what! This is the Society of Classical Poets, not the Society for the Encouragement of Mediocrity.

  2. Joe Tessitore

    Count me among the mediocre.
    I love this poem.

    If mediocrity is all to often the object of praise in this venue, then what does that say about this venue’s poet of the year?

      • Joe Tessitore

        “Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit,”
        “He who is silent, when he ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree.”
        Latin proverb

        You failed to respond to my if/then proposition and so it stands.

      • Mike Bryant

        JCM… How could anyone be jealous? The Lord writes your poetry. 1 Corinthians 1:27 Has never been more apt.

      • Joe Tessitore

        Joseph Charles,

        You believe I’m jealous?

        The image The Dottore paints of you swinging a battle-axe at all around you is spot-on and evokes only concern.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe T.,

      I think that what Mr. MacKenzie meant to say was that this poem was less than mediocre. Joe, you are not mediocre; you are authentic, unpretentious and a treasure. You don’t need to love this poem; if you do, them perhaps you simply have bad taste. This minor flaw can be overcome by continuing education.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        I never called the poem or its author or anyone else mediocre.

        My exact words were, “I do not expect anyone else to share this opinion, as mediocrity is all too often the object of praise in this venue.”

        Dr. Salemi has just made this statement prophetic.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I do not praise mediocrity. I simply acknowledge that poets whose skills are in need of improvement need love and encouragement rather than supercilious abuse peppered with Latin quotes.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    There’s a lot to like in this poem. I particularly like the image “salted sockets watch the wide //expanse of waves”. The smooth use of enjambment is impressive. It’s pretty difficult to sustain monorhyme for four lines of each stanza. This is smoothly done and creates a toe-tapping musicality that begs for the poem to be read aloud.

    I say, one man’s “mediocre” is another man’s “masterpiece”. I am not here to judge. I only know that for me, this poem is not mediocre. It is full of rhythm and imagination and reading it has made my morning brighter. Thank you, Mr. Spring.

    I stand alongside Mr. Tessitore as another poet who deals in mediocrity.

    • C.B. Anderson


      You are too kind. I can’t imagine you ever writing such an atrocity. Although it’s true that de gustibus non est disputandum, there are time-honored standards by which this “poem” is an utter failure. That’s just my opinion, which is the only opinion I am competent to render.

    • Sally Cook

      Hello Susan —
      Not sure where this fits in; I came late to this gab fest’ I’ve something to say, and thought you might not mind my saying it to you,
      As you know, among other things, I’m a portrait painter who must necesarily .understand my subject.
      In this way, I’ve gathered some knowledge of people in general. And if there is one thing I know for sure it is that people reveal themselves in their work.
      Here we have a poem that is not perfect, but has something to say. This site is for helping people to be better at what they do. It is not intended to be a place where mediocrity is praised. Mike, your esteemed husband has said that God writes the poems, and I would modify that to mean that God allows us to write them.
      As I know him, times he is not vengeful, although he can be. But guess what? We are made in .His image, and —
      He is smarter than we are by far.
      People tend to forget that.
      Further, he has a sense of humor !
      To all poets who have had some success to date and mistaken it for authority, please consider this: the great Victorian humorists were often childlike; sometimes even childish. They gloried in their innocence.
      Who in his right mind writes lyrics about a policeman’s lot, or an owl and a pussycat,?for Heaven’s sake?
      Come on, people, show some mercy.!

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Dear Sally,
        Thank you very much for your input. I know exactly where you’re coming from. It’s a shame this discussion has got so out out of hand and I only hope we can return to some sort of peace soon. The point you make about the great Victorian humorists is spot on. I hesitate to mention this amid such a serious and heated debate, but The Owl and the Pussycat is one of my faves. LOL I’m sure someone is going to leap on me and tear me down for that, but hey, the fact that everyone has their own unique take on poetry is what makes this site so interesting. Thank you for your take, Sally – it’s much appreciated.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Sally and Susan — you are both as right as rain! And you’re both excellent writers.

        This entire idiotic dispute came about because of the irritable pique of one person. Why can’t good poems be playful, funny, teasing, alluring, sexy, hysterical, obscene, and yes, even non-serious and childlike at times? Where do we get this pompous and overblown notion that every “great”poem has to be draped in robes of religious solemnity? We’re writing poems here, not celebrating a Pontifical High Mass.

        This is a website for amateurs as well as experts. And an amateur, as the original French suggests, is someone who loves. If we are united in love for formalist poems, do our different levels of skill force us to be nasty to each other? I hope not.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        So we should all do a group hug and sing kumbaya because Dr. Salemi, who has a earned a reputation for belligerence over the years because of his contributions, has suddenly morphed into Mother Theresa for the mere purpose of putting down a real poet, knowing that he can always appeal to the very thing he has consistently condemned in a hundred other places: false charity and empty decorum.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Joseph M., be reasonable. Why in the world would I try to destroy you or take you down? I have gone on record both in hard print and on-line about what an excellent poet you are, and how your level of erudition is admirable. I have written a powerfully positive review of your last book of sonnets. I have told you in several private communications that I find your poetic work to be exceptionally good. And I have no reason at all to change those opinions in any way — even though you have suddenly decided, over the last two days, that what I write is worthless.

        As I have said, the issue in this debate is NOT first principles, but prudential choices. It’s how we treat new poets who come here looking for advice and guidance. For some unknown reason, during the last week you exploded with venom and supercilious contempt for three separate poets and their submitted poems. Everyone here noticed it, and some of us felt that you had gone too far. This flame-war started because you refused to budge an inch in your stubbornness, and thereby evoked more anger from others.

        Then, when I try to point out your unreasonableness, you accuse me of “singing kumbaya,” and of trying to destroy you personally as a poet? Really, Joseph M., it makes no sense. I have no motive to destroy you or even fight against you. If anyone told me three days ago that our friendship would have degenerated into this spitting catfight, I would have laughed in disbelief. Yes, I hate false charity and empty decorum, and have spoken out against them. But the only thing that people are objecting about here is your absolute rigidity and narrowness and failure to show the slightest courtesy to newcomers who, after all, just want to be a part of our community. That is what we are supposed to be, as St, Augustine said: “a group of rational human beings that is brought together by shared agreement in the things it loves.”

        You went out of your way to be rude and offensive, and it was completely unnecessary. Was there no other way to comment on the poems of Hartley, Wenham, and Spring except to be snotty and supercilious and patronizing? Am I Mother Theresa for saying that?

        Disputes, like wars, just happen. I’m sorry for the entire mess, and and the wreckage that it has left. But when a war is provoked, it has to be fought.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    The crux of this conversation lies in the mission of this site. This is it:

    The Society’s mission is to preserve humankind’s artistic traditions; to reestablish poetry as one of the most widely appreciated forms of literature, communication, and entertainment; to increase appreciation of centuries of rhyming or metered poetry; to support poets who apply classical techniques in modern poetry through publication and performance opportunities and awards; and to advance language arts in education and culture.

    The most relevant line here is; “to support poets who apply classical techniques in modern poetry through publication and performance opportunities and awards…” The fact that this poem has been chosen by The Society for publication already puts it in the category the mission outlines. From the moment it’s published shouldn’t it be the job of fellow poets to encourage, suggest, and ultimately guide if they have more knowledge in this field of literature?

    Mr. Joseph Charles McKenzie, a personal attack on a poet’s character is surely not in keeping with the site’s mission. To state; “this piece is not the work of a grown-up or person of substance” is condescending and judgmental. You have no idea who Mr. Spring is. To suggest directions for poetry is appropriate. To tell Mr. Spring who he is as a person has absolutely nothing to do with poetry… has it?

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      To clarify, I am wish to say nothing about the author’s good character, only that his poem gives me, PERSONALLY speaking, the impression that it is not the work of an adult. The author may be a brilliant man in his eighties for all I know. I am speaking only of the effect which the piece has on me as a reader. My apologies if this was ill phrased.

      Artistic traditions are not preserved, but rather destroyed, by the incessant showering of praise on mediocre works in this forum, to the very undoing the Society’s noble mission.

      As this is an entirely open forum, readers are free to decide for themselves whether a poem serves the general mission of promoting classical techniques.

      Otherwise, we appear as one of may, countless self-congratulatory cliques whose real, unstated purpose, is to give and receive caresses in a disgusting display of neediness and desperation.

      As long as mediocrity has its defenders in this venue, then it is only just and fair and reasonable that excellence also have its champions.

      For, the very purpose of technique in any art is excellence.

    • C.B. Anderson


      Mission schmission, Applying classical techniques is not the same thing as subverting or perverting them. Mr. MacKenzie simply noted that the work in question was deficient in many aspects. And that, to me, does imply and entail a kind of moral failure. If the author’s name were Joe Summer, I wouldn’t feel any different about this. Easier it would be to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, than it would ever be to turn doggerel into good poetry.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        CB, “Moral failure”?! I didn’t know we were in church. I thought we were on a poetry site dedicated to rhythm, meter, rhyme, and freedom. Perhaps the word “support” in the mission statement is just a cruel joke to lure would-be poets in, so the editors and members of the site can insult them at their whim. Count me out!!

      • C.B. Anderson

        Susan, by “moral failure” I do not mean anything remotely like skipping church. I mean failing to live up to what it means, in a constitutive sense, to be a human being. Not knowing, for instance, the Pythagorean theorem, the first amendment to the Constitution, or Newton’s laws of motion is a moral failure. High school students may be given a pass, but from adults much more is expected.

    • Sally Cook

      Susan, Joe and anyone else who cares to read this – To me, this is indeed the crux of the matter; the meat of the poem.
      One of the first things I learned about artistic types is this: A good person can be a bad painter, poet, musician; an absolute bastard can produce good work All of these categories are essentially crafts with rules which people may break, but only at the right moments. How many times I was taught something — grammar, anatomy, perspective – only to be told, once I had mastered a sufficient amount of it, “Now, forget it !|
      For a long time I did not understand, but followed this edict and soon realized it had become impossible for me NOT to draw a hand – a notoriously difficult thing to do. SO ! They had taught me something after all.
      Susan, The Owl and The Pussycat is right up there on my list of favorites, having .had it taught to me by my grandmother, who was an early performer at Chautauqua Institute..This lady was the one who, when other children were receiving plastic toys for birthdays, could always come up with some obscure word, neatly parsed, scribbled, with definition, on a scrap of paper. “Happy Birthday, dear !” she would coo.
      Expecting a Barbie doll. how I hated birthdays ! But by the time I was seven I was having head-to-head arguments with her over the pronunciation of a word. How I wish she were here to thank.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Sally, you have such a valid point here. Your experience in the field of art enthralls me. I too have experienced the ever evolving take on literature – the rights and wrongs, the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and on this page now, what one must and must not like. It boggles the mind.

        It’s an honor to share a love of The Owl and the Pussycat with you. My grandmother used to quote it to me and I can still hear her voice every time I read this precious poem. Your grandmother was obviously a huge influence in your life, as was mine. She sounds like a remarkable woman who is begging for a poem to capture her character (if you haven’t already written one).

        Thank you for bringing your joy and beauty to a page desperate for some sunshine. 🙂

  5. Peter Hartley

    This poem is excellent and I especially liked its fine rhythm. I only wish I knew the story behind it: but I don’t, and I suppose that is part of the poem’s charm for me. But you could just tell me if it is a real place or a bit of imagination, and if Erringtide is just that, an “erring tide”. Like an earlier commenter I too liked the “salted sockets”.

    Conscia mens recti, as Mr Mackenzie might say, a man imbued with piety and charity, who trots out more Latin than the Vatican; who deeply deplores the demise of muscular Christianity as evidenced by the wimpish excuses that pass for poetry on this site; who tries to maintain a prurient interest in Mel Gibson’s sex life but admits that he can’t keep up with it; a man who probably bears the stigmata; full of piety, expressed in a barrage of Latin. Why say “from the beginning” when you can sound as though you’ve just arrived home fresh from a papal enclave, heading the curia or ironing out the papal bullary, and just say you’ve been there ab initio. Pietistic indeed, and as mad as a box of frogs.

    I’m very sorry that you have had such an inauspicious introduction to the society, if this is your first submission, and I hope you will not have been put off forever by the experience. It would be patronising in me to say your work looks promising. It doesn’t. It is already very good.

      • Joe Tessitore

        Sounds to me like he’s struck a chord.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Bitter, Mr. MacKenzie? How bitter were you when you wrote the following unprovoked and uncivil comments?

        1) To Mr. Spring – “this piece is not the work of a grown-up or person of substance…”

        2) To Mr. Wenham – “Finally, it leads one to question the author’s culture, if any…”

        These boorish comments were made to two men whom you do not know, and have never met.

        What happened to your manners? Were you too busy “directing your mind upwards, in the way that the Psalms of David do”?

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        So having an upwardly-directed mind requires grovelling praise of stupidity, Dr. Salemi?

        Again, you sound bitter. Your comment is number 105 n this thread. You inserted it here on April 23, because I called you out on your puerile last-wordism which, according to an email I just received, is making you look like the forum troll you really are.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Oh for heaven’s sake, MacKenzie — is that the best you can do? Complain about where in the thread I post a comment? I post them where I think they are appropriate. If you want me to post one at the end, to conform your theory of “last-wordism” in elderly men, I’ll do so to oblige you.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Why do you continues so fervently to pursue me, Joe, and now long are you going to go on, and on, and on?

        Why are you so desperately caressing everyone else on the thread in your pathetic quest to recuit allies?

        Can’t take it when your belligerent ego finally gets called out by someone who dares to stand up to you, or expose the liberalism underlying your arguments?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Me? A LIBERAL?

        Joe Tessitore is right — you really ARE unhinged.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter’s most certainly NOT “off the rails”. An editor that doesn’t respect the mission statement is “off the rails”… but that’s just my PERSONAL view.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    This melancholy fall into another flame-war calls to mind two quotes from Shakespeare:

    “Use every many according to his deserts, and who should scape whipping?”
    (In other words, we all have our faults).


    “Dost thou think that because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

    This is a website open to all persons, of all different levels of skill and ability. The only criterion for being a part of the SCP is that you write (or at least attempt to write) in the formalist tradition. Going after individual poets because their work does not appeal to one’s personal tastes or proclivities or religious views is bad form, and counter-productive to what the site hopes to do — namely, encourage people to write formal poetry again!

    I really don’t see why Spring’s “The Watchskulls” or Wenham’s “Puzzle Box” had to be subjected to such acidulous critique as they endured. It came across as sour and uncharitable and nit-picking. Were there things in both poems that I might have changed? Were there elements in each that struck me as off-key, or needing improvement? Of course — but I wasn’t the poet writing them, and I didn’t make the aesthetic choices that those poets did.

    But it seems clear, from the evidence of the poems themselves, that both Spring and Wenham were working in our tradition, and trying their best to produce an addition to it. The result may have not been stellar, but they are a damned sight better than the free-verse garbage that pollutes other on-line poetry websites. Attacking them and belittling them is absolutely pointless. Such work (even if only journeymen’s work) needs to be encouraged. You don’t get masters unless you treat apprentices right.

    I don’t call for unrestrained congratulation of any poem published here. There are plenty of persons who have felt the lash of my criticisms. But acting like a political commissar who is sniffing around for unorthodoxy at every level of composition, and insisting that every poem be judged by whether it follows a particular line of thinking, is not really in accord with what the SCP is trying to do.

    And about my second Shakespeare quote: “Dost thou think that because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” I mention that one because if a person has given himself to a life of piety and virtue, he has no call to make a stink when other people live a a freer and easier and less constricted life. And that is from Shakespeare, a recusant Roman Catholic speaking out against tight-assed Puritanism,

      • Mike Bryant

        Another AMEN for the good Dr. Salemi who has forgotten more than you’ll ever know.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Oh please guys — do we need this circular firing squad? The real enemy is OUT THERE, not in here.

        When you’re in the trenches, fighting off a savage enemy attack, do you ask if the soldier next to you is a Catholic or a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist? All you care about is that he’s there with you, firing bullets in the same direction that you are.

        This intramural combat is INSANE.

  7. Paul Oratofsky

    I find the poem brilliantly done. Not easy to have so many lines with the same rhyme, and I find it almost flawlessly achieved here. The subject is irrelevant to me. You weave the language well and deftly around each turn, and, from what my ear hears, succeed in every one.

    I don’t find this mediocre at all. And it’s just the right length. Your crafting of the language to follow this structure you’ve laid out is so smoothly and evenly done. I find this extraordinary.

    And there’s proper poetic tension – how it builds slowly but steadily in the first stanza, and is carried along and continues to build evenly throughout the course of the whole poem.

    I don’t know how you severe critics of this poem don’t see all this. I think you’re being blinded by the sun.

    There are other successes I see that are hard for me to articulate now. I’d need more time – about your just right enjambments, and how interesting the phrases flow into each other, and are surprising. They take interesting and surprising turns.

    My one reservation is the very last word. The entire poem builds up so well to a crescendo that it needs a stronger ending, I feel. Just that word “save” feels too weak to end on.

    But each time I reread it, I’m struck by how well crafted it is. Great job, Joe.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Oh yes, like each and every poem that appears as long as it has rhyme and meter, a masterpiece!

      Why, with masterpieces, the crisis is over. Classical poetry has triumphed!

      Who’d a thought the cure for modernism was a rhyming dictionary and ametronome all along! Silly us…

      Let’s all give each other a big group hug, as simple publication on this site makes one an automatic Shakespeare complete with a chorus of flatterers!

      • C.B. Anderson

        Mr. MacKenzie,

        I say, let the arrant conciliators have their day, and let us not worry overmuch. Those among us who are steadfast in our desire for high standards of execution have clearly been routed by a horde of sheep-like creatures, and the fact they come from within our ranks only stings the worse. Joseph Salemi is correct that this infighting is counterproductive, but just imagine what fun the true enemy will make of such a poorly executed poem as this.

    • Joe Spring

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. I appreciate the attention you’ve given to thinking about the poem. And you’ve given me something to think on regarding the last lines.
      Some initial thoughts here: “save” is such a familiar word, which indeed has the potential of weakening its sense, as you point out. It truly ought to be the most powerful and important word, if we consider the alternative, i.e. To be in danger and not to be saved from it. I’ll keep thinking on it.

      Thanks also for your appreciation of the language play, which I also enjoy as central to weaving a good image. It may not be to everyone’s enjoyment, but I delight in alliteration and prosody.

  8. Leo Zoutewelle

    Dr. Salemi’s comment was, to me, beautifully stated and I fully agree with him. I am as poet a rank amateur in my eighties and just getting started in poetry. I would like to add that the viciousness of some of the comments was painful to read and sad, found in the middle of the wonderful efforts to keep the work of the Society growing. I should be very sorry if differences of opinion were to result in the departure of any member in a pique and I would sorely miss the wonderful poetry of Mr. MacKenzie if he did!

  9. James A. Tweedie

    Interesting conversation. I will only add that although Rossetti wrote a lovely sonnet about sonnets, she also wrote poems, including, perhaps her most well-known, that wouldn’t pass muster by any number of SCP critics. Same with Blake, who wrote some awful poems. Even great poets are “mediocre” at times. I join with others who enjoyed this poem and who think it is well-crafted and successful. As for the word, “thrum,” I find it fits well the poem’s theme, reflecting the musical twang of the bow in ways comparable to the word’s frequent application of the same word to the drone and skirl bagpipes.

    • Jan Darling

      Ladies and Gentle(?)men: I feel diminished after reading some of these acid comments and accusations of mediocrity. I enjoyed the poem greatly. As I read it, I could smell salt in the air and hear the wind whistling through empty eye sockets. For me – the choice of rhyme pattern was perfect. Tight, limiting, perfect for a statement of eternal vigilance. I wish I had read the poem earlier, before the appearance of so many dismissive comments. Joe Spring – I regret that you found yourself in someone else’s winter of discontent. I wish you success.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Jan, you couldn’t have said it any better. I’m with you all the way. I naively supposed this site was here to promote and encourage classic poetry with a modern edge and the voice of liberty. It appears I was wrong. I sincerely hope someone out there will change my mind. This bold and beautiful site has one hell of a magnificent mission pulled down by nit-picking authoritarians.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Jan, darling, no one ever accused you of lacking imagination.

  10. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Here is my final “Syllabus of Errors” gleaned from this most edifying conversation.


    Error 1:
    Poetry should be never be judged by the highest standards, but by the lowest:

    “The result may have not been stellar, but they are a damned sight better than the free-verse garbage that pollutes other on-line poetry websites.”

    Error 2:
    Honest opinions about a poem published in a public forum is sanctimonious and melancholic if expressed by a devout Catholic, but otherwise acceptable if expressed by a lax or non-Catholic:

    “This melancholy fall into another flame-war calls to mind two quotes from Shakespeare… “Dost thou think that thou art virtuous…”

    Error 3:
    Literary opinions about poetry must categorically exclude considerations of taste, personal proclivities, religious views, historical practice, literary history, political context, transcendent qualities, morals, or objective aesthetic standards, but must always be limited to the counting of beats and placement of rhymes alone.

    “Going after individual poets because their work does not appeal to one’s personal tastes or proclivities or religious views is bad form, and counter-productive.”

    Error 4:
    Charity consists in uncritical praise and criticism is acidulous nit-picking.

    “It came across as sour and uncharitable and nit-picking.”

    Error 5:
    Only the author of a given literary work has the right to criticize that work.

    “Were there elements that struck me as off-key, or needing improvement? Of course — but I wasn’t the poet writing them…”

    Error 7:
    What Shakespeare put into the mouth of Toby Belch, the vile con artist, flatterer, and drunkard of “Twelfth Night,” is a summary of Shakespeare’s Catholic doctrine and not, as Shakespeare intended, the expression of a lax Christian attempting to justify, and draw others into, his own vice.

    “Dost thou think that because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Oh, and…

      Error 6:
      Literary or aesthetic judgment excludes all objective criteria which have no place in our relativist universe, as all judgments of human reason are merely subjective constructs of the mind with no formal representation in reality.

    • Mike Bryant

      I am astonished and appalled that someone of your apparent character and education has gotten everything… everything so utterly wrong. You were insulting and now you are still insulting and oblivious as well. I’m a plumber. I know when someone has been insulted and no amount of justification or obfuscation will convince me, or any other thinking person, otherwise. I think you may have a few demons to exorcise.

      • C.B. Anderson

        I beg to differ, Mike. You do NOT know when someone has been insulted. Only THAT person knows. OK. We understand you do not like “justification or obfuscation,” but how about evidence and personal conviction? Don’t tell me you are a plumber; plumbers sometimes make more money than physicians these days. And does your expertise regarding exorcism come from your experience with unclogging drains?

      • Mike Bryant

        CB, I’m not the only one on this page who knows that Mr. Spring, and those commenting favorably on his poem were insulted. In fact you’ve just insulted me.
        You have backed yourself into an indefensible position. The fact that you are so oblivious is incomprehensible.
        I wish that my sewer equipment COULD clear whatever it is that is keeping you from seeing how rude you are.

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I agree with every fine word of your perspicacious observation. But, be warned – my poetry errs on the side of mediocrity, so what do I know 😉

    • C.B. Anderson

      And now, Mike, you are just being silly. When I need a physician I call a physician; when I need a plumber I call a plumber. I judge both by the competence they exhibit in dealing with the problem at hand. Sometimes a plumber is worth ten physicians; in fact, good sanitation has done more for public health than all the efforts of every doctor who ever wielded a caduceus. If you cannot understand how some of us do not realize how great Spring’s poem is, it’s because we know that it isn’t very good. What you call rude, we call truthful. Please don’t tell me that you can’t handle the truth. I’m sure that your equipment is up to any emergent necessity, and I hope that someday you will comprehend the rank obliviousness of which you have accused me. Get your emotions under control.

  12. Joseph S. Salemi

    All of this is getting out of hand. For some unknown reason Joseph MacKenzie seems intent upon swinging a battle-axe at all around him, wounding as many persons as possible. It started with his comments on Hartley’s innocuous and pious sonnet about St. John Southworth, went on to Wenham’s playful sonnet, and then to Spring’s poem about the Watchskulls.

    Since he produces a Syllabus Errorum focused on my statements, I might as well produce a shorter one on his, but I’ll call this one a Syllabus Facetiarum, or “a syllabus of what surely must be silly jokes.”

    Silly Joke Number 1 – A poem dealing with a saint’s martyrdom should only handle the subject in the way that I see fit, and touch upon things that I judge to be important — and if it doesn’t, the poem falls dead flat.

    “What I find missing in the poem is any mention of the martyr’s victory — no crown, no palm, no signifier of triumph. And St. John himself would have told you that the most important thing about him is his priesthood, which should have opened the poem to that larger universe of meaning… For me, this poem falls dead flat.”

    Silly Joke Number 2 – In order for a poem to be “great,” it has to be in some way religious, and in strict accord with Catholic theology.

    “The greatest, most enduring achievements in human arts and letters are ‘weighted with theology’. ”

    NOTE – Four great poems by Roman Catholics, not weighted with theology:

    Chaucer -“The Miller’s Tale” (about sexual molestation, adultery, farting, and severe anal punishment)
    Shakespeare – “Venus and Adonis” (about seduction, sex and violent death)
    Pope – “The Rape of the Lock” (about fanciful spirits and playful self-indulgence)
    Dowson – “Non sum qualis eram bonae…” (about sleeping with a prostitute)

    Silly Joke Number 3 – Sonnet writing has to follow my model, in subject, treatment, and what is included.

    “It is not simply the two verses, but in fact the rest lacks spirituality, in my humble opinion. I would have taken the sonnet in a hundred different directions.”

    Silly Joke Number 4 – Apodictic ipse-dixit statements are valid literary criticism.

    “Free verse is chopped-up prose. Bad verse is chopped-up verse.”
    “This is not a sonnet. The path is false.”

    Let me conclude by saying that the opinions attributed to me by MacKenzie in his Syllabus of Errors” are basically distortions of what I wrote and meant. But I will object to his misunderstanding of the words of Sir Toby Belch. Yes, they are from the mouth of a drunkard. But they are a direct slap at Malvolio, the pompous and arrogant Puritan buffoon who, like so many religious hypocrites today, is driven by internal fury to complain about the pleasures of other persons, and to try and abolish them. Shakespeare could see very well where England was heading when annoying and judgmental Puritan “Precisians” were grasping for power.

    Dost thou think, Master MacKenzie, that because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      So, anyone who departs from your liberal groupthink, Dr. Salemi, is either “swinging a battle axe,” “wounding as many people as possible,” or is in a “flame-war”? Why not argue on the level of reason, instead of all this emotional rhetoric?

      And now you attack Chaucer and Shakespeare, the very same way liberal academics have for decades, because the mirror they hold to their world sometimes and necessarily reflects its immorality? Shall we take a look at some of your own poems published in this very site and interpret them as unjustly?

      So, the Bible is not Catholic because it contains passages that depict immorality?

      You can throw all the rocks you want at me, I really don’t care (although it’s a bit sad to me to see you disintegrate in public before our eyes). Know that I will continue to defend readers’ right to discuss, and judge, and estimate poetry on their OWN terms, not yours, not anyone else’s, not mine, without fear of being attacked as trouble makers.

      I might suggest you stop kidding yourself, Dr. Salemi. Your meaning was clear and I have not distorted your words. Those who share your subjectivist-relativist ideas endorsed your words because they read them exactly the same way I did.

      For readers, please know the reason I am not concerned about this. You see, I have known several men who are traditional Catholics, but only when they have a Missal in their hand at Mass. But the minute their fingers touch a computer keyboard, they can’t wait to throw bricks at other traditional Catholics in the blogosphere. Simply realize that many Catholics have come back to their faith late in years, but only after having imbibed liberal doctrine from the mid-1960s onwards. They are really liberals with a veneer of Catholicism, and woe to anyone who happens to espose that fact.

      Statements like “if a person has given himself to a life of piety and virtue, he has no call to make a stink when other people live a freer and easier and less constricted life.” How can this fail to remind one of Jorge Bergolgio’s “Who am I to judge” when asked about sexual deviancy?

      History is full of people who were definitely called to make a stink when other people live what Dr. Salemi calls “a less constricted life.” St. John the Baptist called out Herod for his relations with his brother’s wife. By the way, I was not calling out anyone for their immoral lives, was I? I was simply stating what I felt were the problems of a poem. And for that, Dr. Salemi has tried to paint me in public as a Savonarola.

      And what Catholic interprets the life of virtue and piety as “constricted” in the first place? Did Jesus say “be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect” in order to make life ugly, drear, and constricted?

      As a side note for readers, many of us have been here before with certain “traditional” Catholic types who eventually reveal their deep-seated antipathy for other Catholics. We often talk amongst ourselves of how they hate Catholics even more than the Novus Ordo does.

      But the happy outcome of this discussion is we can now see how very much one’s personal beliefs play, in how we interpret the great Catholic masters, like Chaucer and Shakespeare, in how we write satire, in how we think about poetry in general. Our beliefs, on a literary level, are absolutely determinative, and that is why I will always defend a reader’s right to have recourse to them.

      Which is why I do not hold a grudge against our good Dr. Salemi. I am grateful that he has helped me finally to understand where he is really coming from.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Your words are more than unfair, Joseph M. They are irrational.

        I have fought “liberal groupthink” all my life. I am a hated pariah in both academia and po-biz circles because of my outspoken hard-right and Roman Catholic views.

        I certainly never attacked Chaucer and Shakespeare. I was PRAISING THEM for the poems that I mentioned! Can you be that unperceptive? Can you possibly be so naive as to think that “The Miller’s Tale” and “Venus and Adonis” were written as moral warnings against sin and indecency? That Chaucer and Shakespeare were Franciscan friars on a mission of preaching? That is beyond comical.

        Who said that the Bible is not Catholic? Where have I ever said that?

        I’m not throwing any rocks at you that you have not generated by your obsessive insistence that every poem has to fit into a very narrow agenda of religious orthodoxy. I’ll never forget my disbelief two years ago when you objected to Joaquin Miller’s powerful poem “Columbus” on the absolutely absurd grounds that it did not mention anything Catholic. And in your recent post, I notice that you did not refer to the poems of Alexander Pope or Ernest Dowson that I mentioned, two other Catholic poets whom I brought up. Do you find it more difficult to reconfigure those two poems as calls to piety?

        Your fourth paragraph is completely off the wall, as they used to say in the 1960s. When have I ever attempted to squelch “readers’ rights to discuss, and judge, and estimate poetry on their OWN terms”? I simply suggested that hitting new and inexperienced poets in the face with withering criticism on their first appearance here at the SCP was impolite, uncharitable, and counterproductive.

        My “subjectivist-relativist ideas”? Oh please stop it. I am as hard-core a reactionary in philosophical maters as you are. The issue here in this debate is not on first principles, but on prudential approaches. As for the specter of Bergoglio, the Evil Clown, I have published two articles attacking the man and everything he stands for, and have mocked him openly here at the SCP in discussion threads. Linking me with him is a desperation move on your part.

        I spoke of a life of virtue and piety as being “constricted” in that it cuts one off from a number of pleasures and opportunities that non-religious persons take for granted. Certainly such a life has its own rewards, and its ultimate reward In Paradise. But no one can deny that a genuine religious commitment does restrict one’s activities. You take this ordinary truism as a way to disparage my Catholicism? Then you presume to question my bona fides as a traditionalist Roman Catholic? And to suggest that I hate other Catholics? That’s the final straw, my friend.

        You brought the man’s name up, so I’ll take the suggestion up. Yes, you are a Savonarola. You are judgmental, petty, enraged at anything not religious, puritanical, unwilling to take fraternal correction, and a self-righteous troublemaker. And I bid you remember — Girolamo Savonarola, despite his ostentatious Franciscan piety, was rightly burned at the stake.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Contumelia argumentum non constat. Redde rationes, si potes.

  13. Joe Spring

    Many of you have shared in the small enjoyment of my story, for which I am grateful. Thank you to all who have offered constructive criticism here.

    To those for whom my poem is reprehensible, your caustic comments towards me and other people here are far from winsome. Whatever your qualifications, to speak like that to anyone immediately discounts the value of your input.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I would not have bothered at all with your poem, Mr. Spring, if it were truly a loss. I do not comment at all when a poem is truly just fluff.

      I sense an allegory there waiting to come out with clarity (“these skulls mean this”), and there is place for fantasy (put your stamp on it). For me, these things must direct my mind upward, in the way the Psalms of David do, perhaps because I sang those every day for so many years of my life.

      My very humblest apologies if I have treated your work unjustly.

      All good wishes!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe Spring,

      The animadversions were not directed at you, but at the poem. If you have any spine at all, you will value the “caustic” criticisms far more than you will respect the opinions of those who feel it necessary to carry your water. It’s not the duty of a critic to be “winsome.” If you discount the value of qualified criticism, then you are lost, a total goner. But yes, by all means keep it going, because you have the wherewithal to produce poems of merit.

      • Joe Spring

        To JCM and CB, I appreciate the attempt at some decorum, but the reality is that in your broader frustrations with mediocrity and the quality of classical poetry, both of you have indeed insulted me (not my poem) and offered very little of anything constructive about the poem. Your knee-jerk reactions as if this were my magnum opus or a candidate for the poem of the year are frankly out of place.

        Essentially you don’t like the rhyme scheme, are tired of the genre, and don’t like the imagery. Those are helpful aspects of critique, and something the poet can think on (whether in agreement or disagreement). Don’t presume that the poet doesn’t have the spine to take this, because this is precisely the right sort of feedback that builds to better poetry.

        But you have taken it upon yourself to go beyond the duty of a critic, and speak to my character, on the basis of a single datapoint. In this you have made a mistake, if you can believe it. I can accept that a critic concludes that a work is an atrocity. Fine. It is less clear that a critic should become a judge of moral (!) failure. Would you have a man of substance never write anything but theses?

        (I’ll comment separately on the question of allegory and imagery which I know are yet of interest.)

  14. The Society

    Regarding the quality of the poetry published by the SCP, it has risen higher and higher over the last eight years thanks to many of you, including Mr. MacKenzie, Mr. Salemi, Mr. Anderson, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant, and every poet on this thread of conversation. For every poem published, there are many more that do not make the cut. Thank you all.
    -Evan Mantyk, Editor

  15. Dave Whippman

    It’s amazing that a totally apolitical poem should spark such a heated debate! Anyway, I quite liked the piece. It has the flavour of a fantasy tale, Conan or the like, and I am quite fond of that genre. Just my personal opinion.

  16. Joseph S. Salemi

    Actually, Mr. Whippman, the furor that erupted here was not over any political issue, but over the purely prudential question of how best to criticize newly posted poems. And you’re right — Spring’s poem was totally apolitical.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Whew! I hope that storm is over. And I hope that most readers will understand that reading a not-so-good poem is often more instructive than reading an excellent poem, because it is easier to avoid mistakes than it is to write a poem for the ages.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Not quite, Mr. Anderson. If you think a fresh set of comments that deal in condescension, gaslighting, and excuses for rudeness cut it, they don’t. Aside from all the insults you’ve hurled about on this page, including telling Mr. Tessitore that his poor taste in poetry “can be overcome with continuing education” to name but one, you have now told every commenter who has enjoyed Mr. Spring’s poem that just like Mr. Tessitore, they know absolutely nothing about poetry; they are merely carrying water for a sub-standard poet. How bloody insulting.

        You will make any newcomer not only bothered about posting their poetry for fear of personal attack, you will also deter those who wish to comment. I love this site. I’ve met some wonderful people on it and read some beautiful poems – yes, including Mr. Spring’s effort. It’s a shame that your all too frequent scathing put downs suck the joy out of the art. Constructive criticism – YES. Gratuitous rudeness and character assassination – NO.

    • Jan Darling

      Dear Susan, Dear Sally – thank God for your good intentions and generous hearts. I have been astonished by the nit-picking and undisguised pique in this thread. Poor Mr Spring, whose poem created images of eternal vigilance for me. Perhaps we could return to offering a critique (which invites constructive assessment) rather than just criticism which invites exactly what this thread displays – disapproval and itemisation of faults.

      • Sally Cook

        Dear Jan –
        You may recall my saying that creative persons reveal themselves in their work?
        These comments are perfect examples.
        There us far more going on here than the critique of one poem.
        It is easy to find abuse; why should anyone want to go looking for it?
        I fear we may never hear from Mr. Spring again.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Jan, thank you. Your ideas make perfect sense, but we seem to be as far from perfect sense as we are from a much needed chink of light from the sun in this dark debate. I fear the esteemed Dr. Salemi may be fighting a losing battle. I’m certain he’s dealing with someone who is, in Mr. Hartley’s fine words, “as mad as a box of frogs”.

  17. Jan Darling

    Dear Mr Spring
    Please do not leave us. Some of us would like to read more of your work. I would love to know the genesis of your poem – is Marax Morax by a different name? Do you refer to the seven devils (Lucifer et al), trustees of the seven deadly sins?

    • Joe Spring

      Hi Jan, Susan,

      I’m still here. Some have asked questions about the imagery, so I’ll offer some background here.

      The poem is a fiction, and not an attempt at allegory. The good vs evil is quite plain, though as Mr Mantyk first suggested when I submitted the poem, the imagery of skulls is not immediately on the side of good. Incidentally, Mr Mantyk also raised the question of 7 deadly sins. I don’t care much for the 7 deadly sins as a concept, but rather intended the number 7 as a traditional indicator of goodness, compared with the sixes being a corruption thereof.

      While not allegorical, as I said, I have drawn on some familiar imagery. The sea is often associated with chaos in Christian/Israelite tradition (i.e. not because I’m making a Christian poem but because that is my arsenal of imagery). Morax (Marax is a different spelling, yes) is used here create a character or characters of evil nature. The skulls are perhaps new imagery, in that they are animated and have experienced death, but they serve the King (i.e. on the side of good).

      By the way, the King/Prince imagery is not intended as God the Father and Jesus, though perhaps that is where some of the confusion (religious bent, allegorical assumptions) entered the discussion above. Rather it’s just a fiction, a story.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the imagery of the salted sockets, and I did enjoy creating the flow of the wind across the sill, and the impending sense that there would some day be a humming, thrumming battle in which the alarm/war drums beat and the sounds of bowstrings fill the air. But for now it’s peace, and vigilance. Because in the story, the threat is real and there will inevitably come the day when these watchmen will be needed to save the Prince.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Mr. Spring,
        I am heartened to hear you’re still here and applaud your measured response to the mistreatment you’ve had to bear. Thank you too for offering an analysis of your poem. It’s extremely engaging and has me appreciating its content even more. It is a fine poem, indeed. The atmosphere you create is spot on and you are obviously a master of your craft.

        I very much look forward to reading more of your work. Mr. Spring, you are an inspiration in every sense of the word.

      • Mike Bryant

        AND YET MORE INSULTS, put the battle axe down, JCM, the war is over.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Mr. Bryant,

        Wit is a very common mode of expression. If you don’t appreciate it, then simply ignore it like an adult, otherwise, you need to stop generating hysterics on this thread through your constant policing of others comments.

        For, you have just shown that it is really you who are wielding the battle axe and creating contention.

        Lighten up!

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Mr. Joseph Charles Mackenzie, I’ve read and studied many 17th century English works and I’m not looking to read any more on this site. What I am looking for is 21st century creations with a fresh vision and the ability to engage and inspire me. Mr. Spring’s poem is just what I’m looking for. You don’t have to agree with me, but that’s my choice not yours. I’m not trying to anger anyone with my view. It’s MY view and I stand by it. I don’t expect to be insulted as a result.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        I will say this as politely as I possibly can and with all due respect. Mr. Spring’s analysis of his poem, in my very humble and very personal opinion, does not rescue it for me, for the simple reason that I believe Mr. Mantyk was trying to suggest what I was also trying to suggest, namely, that the poem does not succeed as a simple “attempt at allegory,” to use Mr. Spring’s own words.

        In other words, I wonder how the piece would have turned out, Mr. Spring, if Mr. Mantyk’s very subtle suggestion had been applied.

        So, I still get a sense of incompleteness.

  18. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    But yes, to respond to Ms. Bryant, I think Mr. Spring should continue to deal with imagery in the way that he has (the seven skulls are potentially quite strong) and think about creating more fantasy worlds as it seems to be a natural aptitude for him. It would be interesting to see a Joe Spring poem that is much more extended in this manner.

  19. Joe Spring

    JCM please note the words “not an” before the quoted words “attempt at allegory”. So don’t be surprised that it fails at allegory.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Your frantic attempt at back-pedaling won’t work, Mr. MacKenzie. The arrogance and the insults have already done their damage.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        When Mr. MacKenzie resorts to personal abuse, you can tell that he’s run out of arguments.

        By the way, he loved my “epic hate-screed” so much that he gave it a glowing blurb. How times can change…

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Yes, Dr. Salemi, being called out for you indulgent taste of bashing others would naturally seem like abuse to you: it’s such a new experience isn’t it, one that your victims for years are well familiar with.

        And I can imagine how upsetting it must be for you, now that only the dimmest still respond to your desperate caresses—as we see on an increasing number of other threads.

        The good news is that the SPC no longer has a Pope to unleash anathema’s against anyone who dares think and comment as he pleases. Must be sad to see your statue toppled in the public square, but you’ll get over it, Doc, when your wailing subsides.

  20. Joe Tessitore

    Pay him no mind.

    He’s been sheltering in place far to long and his wife will kick his ass if he even thinks about swinging his battle-ax in her direction.

    So much safer to do so with strangers while hiding behind his laptop.

      • Joe Tessitore

        Are you thinking that “swinging his battle-axe” is the same metaphor that I’m thinking?

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        And what metaphor might that be, you for whom “thinking” is such a rare and unusual activity?

        My real purpose here is to demonstrate to our readers how very small and petty you and your gutter-buddy, Dr. Salemi, really are.

        Since “last-wordism” is the hallmark of immaturity, I thought I would show to what extent you two are afflicted by this old age disease.

  21. Joseph S. Salemi

    Another not-so-veiled insult. Mr. MacKenzie blithely assumes that Mr. Spring doesn’t know the Divine Comedy. Superbia moderationem nescit.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Back from your nap, Dr. Salemi? In fact, I threw that in just to see if you would further shed what remains of your professorial dignity—and you fell for it.

      Have you ever thought of cracking a book, or are you just going to hang out here for the remainder of your days? Cause I’m on board for the demonstration.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I crack open books every day, because I’m still an active teacher with six classes to cover: Greek and Latin Roots, Classical Mythology, two sections of Ancient Comedy, and two sections of post-medieval Western Civ. So I still have my “professorial dignity,” I believe.

        By the way, if you’re so keen on insulting persons because of their age, how about insulting Kip Anderson? He’s about my age, I believe. And some of the ladies here are in their golden years too. It’s OK — none of us are snowflakes.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Why should I insult you, Professor, when by your own last-wordism and breathless anticipation of every word I write, you not only insult yourself but also the dignity of your great age?

      • Mike Bryant

        Dr. Salemi, The charge of last wording is bogus. Here is a relevant definition from Conservapedia:
        “Last wordism is a liberal tactic used in an informal debate or discussion, resorting in the belief that victory can be achieved by having the “last word.” A statement can be identified as last wordism if it adds no new information or substance to an argument. It is intended to achieve its effect through recency[1] rather than through relevance.
        Last wordism often betrays the weaknesses of “less intellectually robust presentations.””

        The messages are flying, Dr. Salemi, and you are being demonized by a very clever enemy.
        This necessary argument will not be over unless it becomes official policy of this site to allow personal attacks on the morality of the poet on the page. I may be wrong since I’m only a Plumber. The librarian takes the day.

        With respect,
        Mike Bryant

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Dear Mike Bryant —

        Thank you for the information, and for your supportive comments. If “the messages are flying” that attack me I don’t mind, as long as they are made public here for me to answer and refute. If they are being done by persons in private, as part of some orchestrated scheme to demonize me, I can’t do anything about that — except to say bluntly that such persons are cowards, and wouldn’t dare to face me in open print.

        I’m deeply grateful to you and to Susan, and to many other here who have spoken up in favor of sanity and calm rationality. God bless you and all of them.

  22. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    What’s wrong, Joe, can’t take the heat when someone stands up to your pettiness? Your very first post on this thread is a vile insult not only against me, but against my credentials.

    You’ll stay in the game. Like the old Doc, you can’t control yourself. Come on, get back here, come and keeping showing us who you really are!

  23. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Dear Dr. Salemi,
    Thank you very much for taking up for the integrity of this site and for fighting a seemingly futile battle for members to post poetry and speak freely without being attacked personally. I am with you every step of the way.
    With much gratitude, Susan

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        This has nothing to do with flattery or sycophancy. It has everything to do with respect and gratitude. It’s called common courtesy. You ought to try it sometime – it’s very liberating for the soul.

      • Jan Darling

        Dear God! You seem to have taken Charity and fled from this place. Please return – and bring Humility with you, please.

  24. Mike Bryant

    Dr. Salemi,
    I also thank you for standing up for truth against insanity.
    Mike Bryant

  25. Joseph S. Salemi

    If there is any Pope around here, it is Mr. Evan Mantyk. The SCP is his website. I’m just a member, and I occasionally comment on poems that are posted. I have no inquisitional authority to dictate content or style. I just give a suggestion on improvement here and there, which the poet in question is free to heed or ignore. I have never been verbally nasty to anyone here, with the exception of one or two idiots who have resolved to bait me endlessly.

    But notice MacKenzie’s choice of imagery to illustrate his accusations — I have a “Papacy” here, and I run an “Inquisition.” A curious rhetorical decision for a self-styled traditionalist Roman Catholic! Are the words “Papacy” and “Inquisition” pejorative for him? Do we have a Protestant in priestly vestments here?

  26. Wilbur Dee Case

    “The Watchskulls of Erringtide” by South African Mr. Spring is not a perfect poem, and he says so much on this strand; but it does do some remarkable things.

    1. The masculine-ending, iambic tetrameter quatrains propel the poem with rugged energy.

    2. “Thrum” is not egregious; it fits in neatly with the beating meter.

    3. Despite its supposed non-allegorical nature, it certainly touches allegorical-like depths. What I like about it is it reminds me of German Romantic poems, like those of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), for example. In that respect, Mr. MacKenzie is exactly right. However, the reason I like such attempts, like those of Mr. Spring and Mr. Gosselin, as ineffective as they may be, is they alert us to one of English poetry’s lacks.

    4. What I like about Mr. MacKenzie’s literary attacks (which have happened far more frequently with the poems Mr. Mantyk chooses of mine) is that such attacks clear the air with frank discussion, even when Mr. Mackenzie stumbles literarily.

    5. I don’t think the imagery was overplayed or flaccid, anymore than, say, some of the imagery in poems of Keats. One of Mr. Gosselin’s insights is his point about how classical the Romantic poet Keats was.

    6. I agree with Mr. Salemi that SCP is a site for all levels of ability. He does an excellent job encouraging those he thinks need encouraging. That he consistently disparages my own poetry, tells me he does not think I need encouragement—a fine compliment indeed. [I did appreciate Mr. MacKenzie’s description of Mr. Salemi’s critque as “suddenly morphed”.]

    7. Mr. Spring’s rhymed quatrains show some dexterity in rhyme, if not that found in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”.

    8. I agree with Ms. Bryant concerning the musicality of the poem, which “begs to be read aloud”, though this may be the point from which Mr. Anderson departs. For him the imagery seems mediocre. In fact, though I may not like Mr. Spring’s poetry generally, especially the free verse, I find the diction and the imagery exciting in this work.

    9. Mr. Salemi mentioned Mr. MacKenzie’s disparagement of poems by Hartley, Wenham and Spring. He also disparaged “Such Things”, offering no shred of evidence. That shows a lack of critical acumen on Mr. MacKenzie’s part.

    10. Though I may not agree with Ms. Bryant in her definition of classical poetry, she does accurately bring up the mission of SCP, at least as far as Mr. Mantyk (and many others) is concerned.

    11. Mr. MacKenzie is correct in stating that artistic traditions are “destroyed by the incessant showering of praise” of poems on this site, in which I would include Mr. Mackenzie’s own work as well. But that’s okay, even though he personally, like Mr. Salemi, cannot stand critiques of his works, nor do I agree with Mr. Anderson’s definition of doggerel. I have noted on this site that poets who dislike other people’s works call them doggerel, never truly explaining precisely what they mean. Flawed, yes, is “The Watchskulls of Erringtide”, but dpggerel, no.

    12. Ms. Cook is correct to note that an “absolute bastard can produce good work”, from ancient times to the present. I think Mr. Salemi gave an excellent example in his comment on British Postmodernist Phillip Larkin.

    13. Unlike Mr. Hartley, however, I do think the poem could be tweaked. Which invention could not? However, I do think Mr. Spring should follow the impulse that gave rise to his poem. For what it’s worth, I do prefer the clash of decent writers, like that of polemical Mr. Salemi and principled Mr. MacKenzie. Mr. Salemi, even when he is slamming others, usually brings up literary examples.

    14. I enjoyed Mr. Oratovsky’s “Welcome to the asylum”. I personally am not a fan of enjambment; and when I use it I always twinge. But I don’t mind the short sentences in longer lines; that is one of my favourite techniques displayed brilliantly in Shakespeare’s plays, as, for example, when Macbeth returns from murdering King Duncan.

    15. I do agree with Mr. Oratovsky about the last word, which I think could still be used (as I have before used “save”, as well, in such a position); but for me, it is the last lines that flag, as if the poet could not quite pull off the profound feeling I get from “The Watchskulls of Erringtide”, certainly one of the best poem of South African New Millennial literature I have read. Polished, it could be brilliant, though I am not quite sure how that could be done. How does one capture such intensity when it comes to a poet and his or her poem. [I see in a later comment Mr. Spring agrees with this thought.]

    16. As Mr. MacKenzie is aware, there are no Shakespeares on this site. We have some decent poetry @ SCP, including Mr. MacKenzie’s sonnets; but no one approaches Shakespeare here. Nor should that concern us—too much. No one in the 17th, 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries did either. Still, there are so many poetic avenues down which we can go.

    17. I am unfamiliar with the sonnet on sonnets that she (Christina Rossetti?) wrote that Mr. Tweedie gives as an example; I am, however, familiar with the one which Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote. I do think he is correct about Blake; however, what I like about Blake is what he attempted in his grandiose projects, even though he failed miserably in them. I do like “The Owl and the Pussycat”; but it is “The Tyger” that appeals more viscerally to me. That, by the way is why I deeply like “The Watchskulls of Erringtide”.

    18. Ms. Darling’s comment, “tight, limiting, perfect for a statement of eternal vigilance” is on target; though, unlike either her or Mr. Zoutewelle, I enjoy the comments on this strand; they show the excitement people feel about poetry @ SCP.

    19. What I like about Mr. Mackenzie’s “Syllabus of Errors”, with which we can agree, disagree, or discount, is he puts them forth; so. too, Mr. Salemi’s “Silly Jokes”.

    20. Mediocrity, like doggerel, is a term too easily bandied about, stating little about an actual work. I do think that there is an important question here on this strand. How far should we criticize each other’s works. As a more practiced, but unpublished, writer, I am in the camp that says go full throttle, and I definitely include Mr. Phillips too. Though some may not, I generally appreciate the chance to argue points out about my poetry.

    21. I disagree partially with Mr. MacKenzie that satire is the most difficult style of writing; yet to reach a level, like that attained by Swift, requires enormous pain, difficult to sustain over the span of an entire lifetime.

  27. Mike Bryant

    Mr. Wise, Dr. Salemi has already exhaustively documented the personal attacks. This is not about literary criticism.

    • Mike Bryant

      Also, Mr Wise, I know that you “prefer the clash of decent writers” like Dr. Salemi and Mr. McKenzie. Sorry you must be burdened with my meager input.

      • Wilbur Dee Case

        With hundreds of charichords across various sites, one can be slow in one’s comments.

        1. Mr. Salemi has not exhaustively documented the personal attacks—especially his own.

        2. This is about literary criticism, one of the deepest flaws I find @ SCP.

        3. And no, one is not “burdened” by anyone’s “meager input”.

  28. Gregory Spicer

    Half Writs

    Out of one mouth side they say this
    And out the other they say that
    To have us think that heaven’s bliss
    Is something more than tit for tat,
    Which I’ll allow it just may be
    If you can get past all the lies
    And moral inconsistency
    The stodgy poet sanctifies
    To have on hand for his next fight,
    Or constitutional crisis,
    Much like the vitriolic might
    Of warlords working for ISIS,
    Who also show their lack of wits
    When quoting from those holy writs.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Spicer’s back — the little schmuck
      Whose sonnets are a load of muck.

      • Gregory Spicer

        Call me what you will sirrah, but it’s positively hilarious to watch the much self vaunted SCP blow itself apart at the seams.

        Golly, has Evan scheduled you folks for the Jerry Springer Show yet?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I notice that you’re still lurking here, wishing that you were in.

  29. Sally Cook

    .To JCM and all others on this site –
    when a watch is wound too tightly, it will sometimes break. A similar thing can happen to a.person. Why cannot we have an end to this acerbic foolishnss? What good can it possibly do the site, or anyone responding to it?
    Mr. MacKenzie, in the past you graciously complimented my poems. No doubt you have forgotten this. I did not, but saved it because I believed what was said about you, and thought .your work was a chosen direction.
    What I’ve seen here in the past few days has caused me to question its entire scope.
    I now believe you are out of control. Please know that Dr. Joseph S Salemi has counseled me over the years, causing my work and my belief in true friendship to greatly improve. I respect and admire him more than I can say. We can all thank God that such a n exceptional human being has deigned to give us a hand up. Don’t bother insulting me; I still have your original kind comments to console me. There is something very dark happening with you, and I am very sorry to see it.

    • Jan Darling

      Dear Sally
      Thank you for saying what my despondent heart could not express. I hope that JCM will soon find his way back to the light and grace us with some kinder words.

  30. Paul Oratofsky

    My diagnosis is that he is heavily programmed and [therefore] insensitive to the feelings, tastes, and sensibilities of others. Disturbance has many shapes, some less pleasant than others. To try to engage or connect with someone like that is futile, frustrating, can be painful, and is valueless. Like asking a dog to please stop barking.

    To not give specifics for a literary criticism, but just proclaim “I like it” or “I don’t like” or “it’s good” or “it’s bad” offers no one anything. Trying to find what in a poem works or doesn’t work, and then trying to articulate it are valuable exercises – for then applying to your own work.

  31. Roy Dow

    i find it amusing to read all the comments
    so many who know so much more than us all
    pompous, nonsensical, judgemental torrents
    sensitive natures, may bolster the orle

    IT’S THIS, or IT”S THAT, as matter of ‘fact
    but the poet just don’t give a damn
    you’re onstage with a broom, give yourself lot’s of room
    simply loud, and a bit of a ham

    when i say what i may, which is often the way
    with an air and a care that free
    when it’s out, then it’s done, birthing baby was fun
    of attention, it’s centre is me


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