Yearning for Castles and Gargoyles

Among the towers never made of ivory,
protruding lewdly over walls of mottled stone,
misshapen forms, insatiably unsavory
look down on us. Who takes such agony to hone
these brash, extended, fixed grotesques of form
and function meant to stop the rotting from within?
They’re carved deliberately divergent from the norm,
and gush with water, yet my twisted brothers grin.
I want to vomit too. What sort of age obscures
rock transformed into iconic witticism
and says it’s only form? What’s left that still endures
modern canon, literary criticism,
and prose? I lean out from these walls, my tongue uncurled,
like all forgotten fabricators of the world.



The Deep Water and the Craft

“He wanted Sunny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water.” —James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues

A kayak slips out on the bay, a tiny craft,
a test of will against the weather–one slow pull
and then another, shoreline slipping slowly aft,
and sliding out to deeper water, headwinds full.
There is a joy to struggle, challenging the times’
prevailing winds, but also doubt. The water’s black.
The rain goes gray; the caps go white. The wind-noise climbs.
There is a time to turn an evening’s venture back.
Sooner than expected winds begin attacking
side and gunwale, cockpit, pilot–and his mettle,
then the kayak comes around; and smoothly tracking,
all the fresh adrenaline begins to settle.
An unbound gleefulness wells-up as the strokes keep
with the wind-chop and the ground swells and the great deep.




Daniel Kemper is a systems engineer living in California.

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11 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    Very impressive; I especially like “yearning for castles…” Thank you, Daniel.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    Daniel, these are both gorgeous sonnets! I’ll just comment on the first one, which I absolutely love. The imagery, and its significance, are both exquisite, particularly where you describe the water coming out of the gargoyles’ mouths, which is “meant to stop the rotting from within”, and then, “I want to vomit, too.” Ivory/unsavory is a lovely slant rhyme; “protruding lewdly” and “insatiably unsavory” are magically musical phrases; and the mention of “all the forgotten fabricators of the world” is deeply meaningful.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Cynthia, good morning from California!

      Your post made my day! Thank you. Not just your delight in the poem, but that you got and took the time to address details I pondered carefully as I composed. “Forgotten fabricators” was, in the first draft, Shelley’s “unacknowledged legistators”. I hope I kept enough of an echo. I sacrificed a bit of clean or at least simple form to be a little like the castles that are slightly crumbled.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    The sentiment of the first poem is admirable, but the hexameter is very bumpy and awkward.

    Also, in line 11, what does “and says it only form” mean? Is this a typo?

    • Daniel Kemper

      Greetings Dr. Salemi,

      Thank you for reading and sending a bit of feedback. I thought you might enjoy the poem’s spirited address! Metrically, I did intend some decay from perfectly unvaried meter. This is not to deny your experience with some awkwardness, but since I feel I haven’t fully established my chops here, I want to state my goals. That’s also why I paired it with a poem in which the meter is far more precise. Hopefully, since both poems address the same topic in a larger sense, that helps it come through as well. The idea was to show my choices (maybe/maybe not the best choices in the final analysis) were controlled and deliberate.

      For example, L10 & L12 are headless and that might not have been the best choice. Perhaps “a rock” and “the modern canon” might play better. -? The grammar and the sonic play do, I admit, make this song of sorts a bit tricky to learn how to sing. Anyway, the design was to enhance the ‘misshapen forms’ and implicitly, partly-crumbled castles with such a meter.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    I like a good alexandrine sonnet and have written several myself, but as Dr. Salemi points out, some of the meter needs to be unkinked. There are always solutions to these problems, if an attentive author takes the time to find them.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Misss-terrr Anderson… [he said in Matrix-like voice] hee hee just goofing off a bit this morning.

      Hey, thanks for the read. I hope you have an opportunity to spend a little more time with the two poems. As I mentioned to Dr. Salemi, both are a study in form and meter; the former, how slightly “misshapen form(s)”/decaying meter/etc might enhance the crumbling castle content. A little bit of intertextual play there too, with “form”. In the latter, the study is how precise turns of meter might reflect turns of subject. Anyone familiar with Sonny’s Blues knows the breadth and depth with which I’m addressing “the craft”. Form-as-content if you will. I don’t think I’ve established my chops enough yet for readers to expect all I try to do and as I’ve said, that’s partly why I decided to pair these two. I understand that you might disagree with the artistic choices, but they’re not things to be ‘fixed’ and certainly not a sign of insufficient time put in.

      Off to the next poem, with your experience in mind. Clearly there were lackings in this that I can improve upon with your feedback.

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    “Yearning for Castles and Gargoyles” had me hooked with its title and held me in its twisted-grin thrall until its wonderful surprise of a closing line. The vivid images you conjure remind me of the graveyard scene in Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”, whereby water gushed forth from the slack mouth of a grotesque gargoyle ruining the fresh grave of a beautiful waif. Thank you, Daniel.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi Susan,
      I’m late on everything these past few days, having a hectic windup of the harvest season. (Now I can’t use THAT excuse any more 🙂 ) Thank you so much for your read and wonderful feedback: [^ hooked…and held me in its twisted grin thrall] seems likely to be a line I will steal from you. It was particularly pleasing to hear that the landing stuck it with you. I look forward to catching up on your poems and other’s great stuff out there~


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