Welcome to my Poems Page
Brian Bilston got famous through writing cleverly rhyming, socially relevant and witty poems on Twitter. Then he published his first collection, You Took the Last Bus Home. Bilston writes poetry…just ‘cause. He just does. Sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they don’t. Other times they are long, sometimes a mere few words. Poetry, he feels, is still the medium that connects the poet with other people, and vice versa.
I also write poetry, sometimes serious stuff, which I fiddle with for days. Other times just basic “domestic poetry” – I think that’s what people would call it. I used to be embarrassed by my attempts, but having rediscovered the joys of writing poetry through Bilston’s work, I am now officially unembarrassed. I used to scribble them all over the place, Facebook, iPad Notes, etc. So I’m gathering all the loose rhymes here. They are the random thoughts of me, a middle-aged Bear of Little Brain.
About the header: The teddy bear in the picture is my dear old bear. He was given to my twin brother when we were born. He got the bear and I got a doll. When my brother died in 1994, I found and kept his bear. I take good care of the old bear, since it is the only thing of my brother that I have. He has no value, a cheap toy was all my parents could afford. And he has no name, it is just “Bear”. But as you can see, he has been loved so much his fur is quite worn off. His nose also has a chip out of it, but I mended that in the photo. A bear has his dignity, after all. Bear might not be worth a cent, but to me he is invaluable and irreplaceable.
Some more poetry
Here’s a link to a page of my poems about my paintings, or my paintings with poems to go with them, called Poems about Paintings From A Bear of Little Brain.
Just click on either of the links or on the pictures below to read the poems.
Feb. 2017 – I did this translation of the lyrics of the Finnish folk song, Goldwing and the Troll, in 2017 for a review of Johanna Sinisalo’s novel, Troll – and I found it again just now.
June 2022 – My version of the famous speech by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in William Shakespeare’s play.
May 2022 – A poem about a tulip in the form of a lento.
45. Tai Khoen
April 2022 – A translation of a verse from a famous Afrikaans poem.
April 2022 – A poem about the inspiration for a music composition.
March 2022 – A poem about getting freaked out by the noises in the house when you’re not used to being alone.
42. Rain will Fall
Feb. 2022 – Just that: a poem about rain and how vexing it is that people constantly moan about how much it rains, when they are actually living here, where it rains a lot.
41. Words in Flight
Oct. 2021 – When you are waiting for someone to say something that you really, really want to to hear, even the softest whisper will do. A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, doesn’t it? And a declaration, even if mumbled or mentioned nonchalantly, is still a Declaration with a capital D. If you are waiting for it.
June 2021 – I was baking and heard the birds through the open window, and thought, these things mean it’s Spring.
The poem is four sets of triplets. But rather than the same end rhyme for every line of the triplet, I used the same three end rhymes for all four triplets. So, in stead of A-A-A times twelve, it’s A-B-C times four. And of course each line of the triplets have the same number of syllables: 6-6-4. And that was quite complicated enough, thank you.
April 2021 – This is a mono-rhyme poem, about a red tree root I stumbled over while on a walk.
Feb. 2021 – About the colours of Winter, inspired by the words of a fellow blogger.
Someone on the internet started this back in Jan. 2020 as a challenge with only the first two lines. I could not resist completing the rest. You’ve got to sing this out loud. Remember to clap in the right places.
Verse 1 So no-one told you life was gonna be this way 👏👏👏👏👏 Your job’s remote, not woke, You’re fighting off the plague 🎼🎼🎼🎼🎼 And now you’re always wearing facial gear And antiseptic gloves for weeks, months Or even a year, but.... Refrain I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (When my fever starts to fall) I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (From behind the garden wall) I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (When I’m done in the loo)🤭 (da-da-da-da-doo-doo-dah-dah-daaah) Verse 2 You’re still in bed by eight and pyjamas until three 👏👏👏👏👏 You’ve eaten all your stores of cereal and tea. Working from home they say is so laid back. The only problem is that you might well get the sack, but.... Refrain I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (But I’m in such a state) I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (But I must self-isolate) I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (Will you be there for me too?)🤪 (da-da-da-da-doo-doo-dah-dah-daaah) Bridge No-one’s allowed to see me, Please try not to breathe me. I’m the only one who knows What it’s like to have COVID toes! Got pills to cure this cough with Like all the rest of you with The same symptoms I’ve got; The wheezing, sneezing and the snot! Yeah... Guitar solo Verse 1 repeat And now you’re always wearing facial gear And antiseptic gloves for weeks, months Or even a year, but.... Refrain I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (Yes, it’s me ’neath the mask) I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (Let us make this Zoom last) I’ll be there for you 🎼🎼🎼 (‘Cause you’re in-fec-tious too!)😇❤ Repeat refrain
(The original “I’ll Be There for You” was performed by the Rembrandts, 1995. Songwriters: Michael Jay Skloff / David L Crane / Marta Fran Kauffman / Allee Willis / Philip Ronald Solem / Danny C Wilde; I’ll Be There for You lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group)
To live in Canada is to experience for real things that other people see as romantic, sentimental or the very essence of Festive Season cheer. Some folks can only dream of those things – we are smack in the middle of it.
Every year, this time, people send cards to friends and family, even if they haven’t spoken for the entire year. For those who have connections to people all over the world, it’s usually the contrast between lives and lifestyles – and the distance between – that stand out.
34. The Right Time
I am starting to think that death, after a long life, comes at the right time. This poem is about what makes it the right time.
33. City on Heat
Translating poems from the original language is a process which partially requires that you recreate the poem. It’s not only a matter of doing a literal translation, but, since it is poetry, matching the form and the rhyme scheme, find equivalents for the images and metaphors, and also matching the overall tone. Making sure that all the subtle implied meanings of the poet are retained is another challenge.
When Afrikaans poet, novelist and playwright, Hennie Aucamp, died in 2014 almost none of his works had been translated. They remain, to this day, inaccessible to those who cannot understand Afrikaans. Here is my attempt at recreating one of his poems, Stad op Hitte, meaning either “city which is on heat”, like an animal, or “hot city”. I had tremendous problems matching his rhyme scheme, Alternate Rhyme, meaning ABAB in three quatrains and a couplet, which makes it, ironically, considering the subject, a Shakespearean Sonnet. As a result, it is not quite as crude as the original.
The poem is a comment on the increasing political tension in Cape Town, South Africa, but also on the increase in sexual violence in the city, and the increase in overall temperature in the weather. Right now, when it is summer in Canada, and very hot, it seems appropriate. And, since most of my readers cannot understand Afrikaans, I only include my translation, below. The original can be found here.
CITY ON HEAT Smoke roils round the mountain to the bay - The Cape is aflame: its summer style - and if today the southeastern blows this way Cape Town can be an ashen pile. Its people devoured by an inner blaze: whores stand three-deep in plain sight; race is the frontier again these days: the black again repels the white. Sex is romance-less, clinical, dissected - it’s pushing in, without appealing - and if a partner gets infected the survivor is coldly unfeeling. Oh, where shall we flee from this burning place, the hottest city of a fiery race?”
32. Dumb Ways with Clients
When you work in the back offices of consulting engineering firms you get to see all the nonsense that goes on in order to a) get the contract for a project b) actually finish the project and c) get paid for the work on the project. People make the dumbest mistakes when dealing with clients, and this poem is about those Dumb Ways with Clients. It’s a parody on a song used in an Australian public service announcement campaign by Metro Trains in Melbourne, that became tremendously popular, called Dumb Ways to Die. I took inspiration from the parodies that Brian Bilston creates in his novel, Diary of a Somebody.
DUMB WAYS WITH CLIENTS (TO THE TUNE OF “DUMB WAYS TO DIE” BY TANGERINE KITTY) Tell your clients you can do Anything they want you to Make it up as you go along Put the thing into a dance-and-song Dumb ways with clients So many dumb ways with clients Dumb ways with cli-i-ents So many dumb ways with clients Just pretend you know the field What the ore is and what the yield If you don’t just make a crazy guess A little more or a whole lot less Dumb ways with clients So many dumb ways with clients Dumb ways with cli-i-ents So many dumb ways with clients Invoice them much too late In a way they totally hate Add on expenses here and there Make like the team has come from Mars somewhere Dumb ways with clients So many dumb ways with clients Dumb ways with cli-i-ents So many dumb ways with clients When they get used to your face Make a hasty exit out of the place Make the job someone else’s gig Never mind if the client blows a lid… Take on any company whatever their reason See if you give a damn when it smells of treason Tell them lies that your mother would gasp at Smile when you tell them the report will be all right And the building will be up in time for winter It may not rhyme but these are quite possibly The dumbest ways with clients - So many dumb ways with clients.
July 2019 – To be honest, not every day is lovely and people are not lovely all the time, and the closer together we live the worse it gets. Living in a neighbourhood of recently arrived immigrants – which we ourselves were once – demands quite a bit of forbearance.
The rhyme scheme of this poem is purposely repetitive, like someone’s repetitive thoughts and like an event that keeps recurring – ABBB, ACCC, ADDD, AEEE, AFFF and GGGG. It only changes when I realize I’m barking up the wrong tree.
30. Morning Moan
May 2019 – Some people say that the scourge of dog poop bags that festoon every green patch around here is like a new kind of national flower. It’s no longer the maple leaf, Acer saccharum, it’s Canemstercusæ lapides saccules (or something like that). I was standing waiting for the bus the other morning when I realized everywhere I look people have managed to screw up the environment with litter. It’s like people’s detritus has become a weird fixture in the scenery. So that’s what this poem is about.
March 2019 – My S.O. is a man of many virtues and talents, but we both admit that the one thing he cannot do is sing. It is something I have to put up with. So, here, below, is my ode to living in hubby’s version of La-La Land.
March 2019 – I had Burt Bacharach’s tune that was used in the Austin Powers and Casino Royale movies, The Look of Love, in my head like an “ear-worm” (a.k.a. “Stuck Song Syndrome”) for days. It is no fun to go to sleep with it, dream of it, and wake up with it. In my defence, I had flu and my brain was not working right. So, to chase out the horrible song, I wrote other words for it: The Germs of Love. It’s all about the fact that when you live together, you pass your germs from one person to another, ad infinitum. Go ahead, right-click, read the poem and hum along – the instrumental version is below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when it gets stuck in your head.
By the way, much of my yen to do this comes from listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s brilliant satirical lyrics of famous songs.
26. Office Blues
Feb. 2019 – This is self-explanatory. If you are working, you know how this feels.
25. Mining Lullaby
Nov. 2018 – Long ago, when I and just about all my friends worked in an inherently dangerous industry, deep-level, hard rock Mining, I was totally aware of the dangers, yet I actually felt quite secure. I did not go underground myself of course, but I felt like I understood what was going on. They say the fear of the unknown is the worst fear of all. And that is one thing I did not suffer from. I wrote this with something like “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, by Robert W. Service, in mind – the same sort of straight-forward, traditional A-B-C-B rhyme scheme in quatrains.
24. Come Home
Nov. 2018 – For people who are migrating, stuck between nationalities, and in the process of becoming a citizen of one country while extricating themselves from another, travelling can be stressful. Paperwork, so innocuous at first glance, can be as threatening as a pair of handcuffs. This poem is about a moment, not long ago, when I was wondering if my Significant Other would ever be able to come home, due to a paperwork snafu. I shudder to think of the amount of trouble illegal immigrants and refugees have to face.
23. Bulbs for Spring
Oct. 2018 – I inherited my Mother’s love of gardening, though not her Green Thumbs. As a result, I plant tulip bulbs every year in October, before it starts to freeze, and hope that they will come up in Spring. Knowing me, I would have planted them too deep or too shallow or upside down or something. But I remain optimistic and hopeful. This is a poem about that.
Aug. 11, 2018 – I have lately gone back to working in the corporate environment, where, all day long, I respond to emails, and these days, Skype messages. One has to be so polite and make sure that one is “reachable” at all times – you know, for the convenience of one’s colleagues. While wondering whether to end my email on a “regards”, “warmest regards”, “cheers” or “best wishes”, to indicate the correct level of formality and mood, I also decided to compose an out-of-office response with the most politically correct language ever. So there you go – lovely passive-aggressive Canadian-ness. Sorry.
Aug. 10, 2018 – Tomorrow it will be that time of the year when we go to the Abbotsford Air Show. It’s always very impressive and beautiful, especially to a Bear of Little Brain like me, who knows nothing about aeroplanes and aeronautics. Usually I just sit on the chair at the side of the runway and quietly melt into a pool of goo from the heat, and get scorched eyeballs from looking right up at the planes.
20. Summer Meltdown
July 17, 2018 – When I wrote this, I was feeling seriously overheated. So it’s a bit rude. Summer is not my favourite time of the year. I wish it would get over so that I can stop feeling like a boiled-in-the-bag bear.
19. Cyber Pet
17 May 2018 – Watching the vacuum cleaner do its thing this morning, I thought to myself, I’m talking to this thing like he’s a pet. Uh-oh, I said “he”…I’m losing it.
Mother’s Day, 2018 – My mother is one of the smartest women I know. She made me a reader. In this photo I and my twin brother (in matching pullovers) are listening with complete attention to her reading a story in the public library. We were not yet six. This one is for her.
May 2018 – Sung to the tune of “Yesterday”, by the Beatles. This is how I feel about this particular (very darn tricky) part of my current job.
May 2018 – I like words, all sorts of words. But sometimes people just use BIG words to impress others, and actually use them wrongly. Grrrr….
April 2018 – Suddenly, the days went from snowy winter to blazing summer. The kids come out of hibernation and take to the streets, screaming with pent-up energy. Clothes come off, exposing bodies best left to the darkness of indoors. The houses here are built to retain heat and are like large ovens, boiling the occupants in baths of sweat. Remember Goldilocks? She said the bears’ porridge was either too hot or too cold. I’m Goldilocks. I moan about shovelling snow and I moan when it’s hot. But I do love the snow.
14. Do not go gently
March 2018 – English poet Jenny Joseph wrote the poem “Warning”. It is known for the opening lines: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.” Jenny Joseph died at 85 years old on Jan. 8, 2018. I borrowed the opening lines from “Warning” for this poem, since some days I feel I don’t want to be a nice, invisible middle-aged person any more. Though honestly, Jenny Joseph said it just perfectly.
March 2018 – These verses were written in a flurry of relief for having finished the arduous process of citizenship. When I handed back my Permanent Resident card and got the fancy citizenship certificate instead, I wonder – how is it different now? What is new about being Canadian? I call it an ode-let, because it might be an ode, a lyric poem, but it isn’t grand. Was darn difficult to work in the French, but I had to, Canada being mostly bilingual.The rhyme scheme is ABCB DDEEB/FGHG IIJJG/HIJI KKLLI/ and so on. Note the repetition of the end rhymes in lines 2, 4 and 9 of each verse. When I wrote it, I was actually singing “A Bicycle Made for Two” (a.k.a. “Daisy, Daisy”) to myself, and, at a pinch, you could do that too…
My poem in English and Afrikaans
Here is my attempt to write a poem in English with a few Afrikaans words and phrases thrown in. This is because my Grandmother, whom the poem is about and whom I definitely resemble, would never ever have spoken to me, her “Little Martha”, in English, and I had to keep her words like I remember them. The poem is in rhyming couplets, AA, BB, CC, etc., including the lines ending in Afrikaans words. In this one, I think – for once in my life – I got some lines just right. Every time I read them, I get the same sad feeling of lives and places disappearing: “And see in her face, so like my own, the sober stare, the heavy bone, the bloodline that forever ties us with looks and places, times and vistas.”
Translation: “Gee dan vir Ouma die skottel, Marthatjie” – “Please give Grandma the basin, Little Martha”
“Stoep” – porch
11. Love soup
Just a love poem…
10. Laid off
You’d think that getting laid off means that you’d have all that time to do the things you really enjoy. Nope. that’s not how it works. You end up waiting and waiting. Here the idea was to match the few words with the empty feeling inside me. Every three lines have 5, 2 and 2 syllables.
Yep, getting old means getting creaky all over. But that’s no excuse to stop living.
This was my fan mail to Berke Breathed, the author of the Bloom County comic strips. I am such a devotee! B.t.w. “Milquetoast” is a cockroach who wears a top-hat and whispers his requests for food into people’s ears as they sleep.
This is a complicated rhyme scheme – heaven knows why I even started it. Basically it is AAAB and the final line in every verse rhymes with B, except for the last couplet. Of course, the thing about the Canadian pronunciation of “out” like “oot” and “about” like “aboot” is a bit of a dig by yours truly – no-one I know ever says that. It’s a Canadian archetype that doesn’t exist. Nor do they use “hey” or “eh” a lot – some of them do use “right” as an interjection quite frequently. But that might be like the proliferation of “like”.
6. Winter Chore
I suspect I had a song’s refrain in my head when I wrote this – “Hit the Road Jack”?
I wake up every morning to see the chair with the seat embroidered by the person who would have been my sister-in-law, had she lived. The chair was inherited from the person who would have been my mother-in-law, had she lived. So, this is for Pat Kavanagh, and Olive O’Brien. The rhyme scheme is the most difficult ever – all the end words rhyme with “white”, except for the final lines of each verse that rhyme with each other – “chair” and “declare”. This AAAA scheme is a monorhyme, common in Latin and Arabic. Leonard Cohen was a genius at this rhyme scheme. I thought the austerity and formalism of the rhyme schemes suited the serious, sad emotion I feel when I look at that chair.
Note: “Azulite” is a mineral consisting of translucent pale blue smithsonite – looks like moonstone.
“Braai” is the South African word for “barbecue”. South Africans love a braai – it’s a meal as well as a ritual. But someone has to deal with the leftovers, and leftovers are particularly gruesome if they are of a barbecued duck.
3. Winter comforts❤️
One of the nicest things about the deep snow in winter, and the long dark days, is having someone to share it with.
For some reason, this simple little poem was a hit with a bunch of women friends on Facebook. I think they recognized the emotion.
A long time ago, no-one knows when, someone, no-one knows who (but it wasn’t Ogden Nash), wrote a little rhyme which is now a classic meme. It goes like this: “The spring is sprung, the grass is riz./ I wonder where the boidie is./They say the boidie’s on the wing./But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid.” So this is my variation. “Ris’” would be “risen”.
Back to the list of books of poetry by a Bear of Little Brain.