philadelphia literary blog

Jack Tar’s Lady Parts by Charles Rammelkamp


By Lynette G. Esposito

This slim remarkable volume of forty-five pages of poetry published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company of North Carolina,  relies heavily on the readers’ response to suggestions from the contemporary mindset. For example, the title of the volume, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is suggestive but instead of being the suggestion it is the referral to the women in Charles Rammelkamp’s life and to women’s “sea” lives in history. This twist of what is expected and what is presented reveals itself in the poetic themes of courage, betrayal and resolution in the book’s three sections: Wives, Prostitutes, and Transvestites.

Rammelkamp details the trials of sailors’ wives in the first section Wives.  He not only paints a picture of history while employing short story techniques in each poem, he also unmasks the vulnerability and resilience of women on both a literal and metaphorical sea as seen in two companion poems: Saving the Horatio, May, 1815 and Loss on pages 10 and 11 respectively. In Saving the Horatio, May, 1815, the captain thanks the women on board for making a sail that can plug the hole in the ship caused by hitting rocks so it can get back to a safe port.  The men are bailing water while the women make the plug.  In lowering the sail, a man is lost and abandoned to the sea in a one for the many scenario.  In the companion poem, Loss, the viewpoint of the widow is explored and ends with the lament
                        and even though Captain Dillon praised the women
                        for saving the ship,
                        all the accolades and honors of the British Navy
                        could never console me for my loss.
In the second section, Prostitutes, Rammelkamp explores betrayal.  In the lead poem,  Fleet Marriage, 1750, on page19, the narrator details meeting a sailor just home from the sea.   In the opening line, she says Jack’s ship’d just come in and in the middle Jack gets restless and goes back to sea.  The last three-line stanza reveals the betrayal by Jack.
                        Jack said he loved me,
                        when he went.
                         I said, yeah, I know.
On page 24, Molly Poole Changes her Mind shows a woman able to take care of herself by working as a prostitute until she is beaten unconscious by a client who doesn’t pay. She gives up her day job and goes to the Female Penitentiary for Penitent Prostitutes at Stonehouse to be rehabbed.  In the course of the treatment, she trained to wash clothes, clean and say yes ma’am. After working to exhaustion, she changes her mind.  Society has betrayed the narrator and she makes clear how she feels in the last two lines of the poem.
                         Fuck that.  .After three weeks, I sneaked away one night,
                         went back to the ships to take up whoring again.
In the third section, Transvestites, women wear many masks to survive at sea. In the poem J.C. Dickinson, Surgeon’s Mate, and the Amazon, 1761 on page 27, an unnamed woman who was thought to be a man, is discovered on the toilet and her gender is revealed.  Because of her gender, she is off the boat. On page 42 in the poem Christopher Hughes Outed, the narrator posing as a man so she can work at sea confesses she is a woman.  The fellow sailors she confesses to promise to keep her secret.  The last stanza provides resolution.
                         After a couple of days,
                        the rumor died a quiet death.\
                       Once again we were all complaining
                        about the awful food—
                        and how we did not get enough of it.
The book is a pleasurable read of poetic vignettes which resurrect, in verse form,  harsh judgments on women as they try to earn their livelihood on and off the sea.  Rammelkamp uses history as his palette as he explores the plight of different types of women and their circumstances in history..  His approach is not judgmental which is a relief and the poems are clear and precise.
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Three Symphonies by Tony Conran

Tony Conran - Three Symphonies (Cover)

By Bryon Beynon

In 1968 the poet Basil Bunting wrote “with sleights learned from others and an ear open to melodic analogies I have set down words as a musician picks his score, not to be read in silence, but to trace in the air a pattern of sound that may sometimes, I hope, be pleasing.”

Reading the preface to Tony Conran’s Three Symphonies he says that for sometime he had been “haunted by the idea of a long poem in several disparate movements like a symphony in music”. There is a sense here of a bond between the two poets, wave-lengths not too dissimilar.

The word symphony derives from Greek, meaning a sounding together or concord of sound, and arguably is the most pure musical form that can be written. I believe that during his lifetime (he died in 2013), Conran’s Symphonies (the first, Day Movements, appeared as far back as 1967) worked towards this union or concord of sound, using the rhythm of words. Conran’s book contains symphonies 7 The Magi, 8 Fabrics (in one movement of sonnets), and 9 Everworlds (including “Requiem for Robert Graves”), all composed in the period 2004-2007. I remember that in December 2004 I published in a magazine (Roundyhouse) I co-edited, a sequence of seven sonnets from Symphony 8, which included Fabrics (which became the untitled sonnet 4), ‘Stone Age’, ‘Fleece’, ‘Washing the Fleece’, ‘Dye Plants’, ‘Penelope’ and ‘India’ with “Brahamani bulls humped like toast racks-all day /Odd villagers with an hour to spare would meet/ To shed the warp, let fly the scuttling weft.” The sonnets were a work in progress, and numbered sixteen when completed.

I first heard his poems being read aloud by his wife Lesley at the Poetry Society in London, when it was based at Earl’s Court. By coincidence, the following day I went along to Keats House in Hampstead, where Basil Bunting sat and read by a table in the Brawne Rooms. Conran also belongs to that same line of Modernists which includes Bunting, MacDiarmid and David Jones. 

Born in India in 1931, he spent most of his life in north Wales, settling in Bangor, where he taught at the university. Widely published, he was much admired for the passion behind his writing, as a poet, critic, dramatist and translator of Welsh-language poetry. His Penguin Book of Welsh Verse appeared in 1967, with translations from a selection of work from fourteen centuries of poetry from Taliesin and Aneirin, to Waldo Williams and Gwyn Thomas. Through his discovery of Welsh literature he went on to learn the rules of cynghanedd, and wrote poems in English which were based on Welsh metres. His books of essays The Cost of Strangeness and Frontiers in Anglo-Welsh poetry, are impressive, stimulating and important works, and his many volumes of poetry include Life Fund (1979), Blodeuwedd (1989), Castles (1993), The Shape of my Country (selected poems and extracts 2004), and What Brings You Here So Late? (2008).

In his informative and thought-provoking introduction to Three Symphonies the poet Jeremy Hooker, a fine critical writer on Anglo-Welsh matters, writes with detachment, insight, and warm sympathy, that Conran’s “ modernism acknowledges diverse influences including Eliot and Yeats, Robert Graves and Idris Davies……he used what he found in them creatively in making poetry of striking originality.” Add to this his knowledge of Welsh poetry dating back to the sixth century to the present day, a fusion of something new and powerful occurred. Hooker guides the reader as he notes “ the symphonies’ encyclopaedic form includes everything, from the Big Bang to the present state of the world.”  We are taken on a poetical, cultural, and political journey, an unsentimental celebration of “the gift of life”, an exploration of “the making of the world and all that it contains.”

We hear this in the poem ‘Life’ (from Symphony 7):

It has taken me time
Wherever life grew first –
In black smokers
Of the rifting seabeds
Where bubbling lavas
Geyser up
Into an airless murk;
Or by breakwaters
The soup of lagoons
Warmed by the Sun, but saved
From the deadly light
Under rock debris
Or buried in mud
-Wherever the thin whiskery
Haze of the protein
Crept like rottenness
Into sharp stone
Foul-smelling – but
There were no noses –
The secret changelings,
T he cloned effluvia
From whose myriads
Came our breathable air,
Our shielded home…..
Came, like locust swarms,
Eventually, us.

Conran also thought of his poetry “as a dance for the tongue and the vocal chords: ultimately, since tongue and vocal chords don’t occur in a vacuum, for the whole body, the whole mind.” In an interview in The New Welsh Review with Ian Gregson in 1988, he was asked about the influence of Robert Graves, in the sense of how poetry happens, how it gets written, Conran’s reply…… “I think that writing poetry does involve you in a different level of experience, a deep trance-like state. But it depends on the poem. Poems which have a strong rhythmic base and the rhythms takes you along into the darkness….the poem is a stranger to you like a baby”.

In the second movement of the final Symphony 9, there are several poems in memory and in praise of Robert Graves, including ‘Dejà Unvisited’, ‘The Erosion of Everworlds’, ‘Castle’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Oxford 1919’, ‘Disembarking’, ‘The Goddess Sings’, ‘To the Utmost’, and ‘The Peony’.

The second movement begins with:

Passage to Dejà
i.m. Robert Graves (1895-1985)
Dejà Unvisited
The hill haunted me. Dejà –
One of my everworlds
Whose magical fauna
Sometimes as friends of friends would come
Filling my room
With his last, dumb
Awarenesses, geologically
Slow, a poetry
Speechless as lichen.
My household could have been translated
And I’d only to look out
Through olive groves
To see twilight
Blur the long stairs
Up to the town,
The corner to his home…..
And behind me, did I half-hear
Her footsteps
Who ‘variously haunts’
This hill,
This island Earth ?

This is a life-affirming book, written with intensity and energy, poems of mystery and beauty, where the personality of the poet enters the vital sinew of each poem. He has, as T.S. Eliot said of the work of James Joyce and David Jones, “the Celtic ear for the music of words”.

Byron Beynon lives in West Wales.  His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, London Magazine, Cyphers, Poetry Ireland Review, The Sante Fe Literary Review, The Yellow Nib and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets).  He coordinated the Wales section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Collections include The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions), Nocturne In Blue (Lapwing Publications). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest).

Bloodline by Michael A. Griffith

By g emil reutter
Poet Michael A. Griffith writes in the opening poem of this collection, Polyglot:
To know true meanings and speak plain
as whales tell no lies in their arias
and bees are never false in their dance
To whisper a word to the wind
and make the hurricane stop.
In this 26 poem collection released by The Blue Nib, Griffith brings the commonplace to life through the use of stark, truthful language blended at times with extraordinary metaphor in settings of the ordinary, never false in his dance with words.
He writes of a strained relationship in the poem The Old Dingy. Griffith captures the divide between father and son, a stubbornness on both parts he equates to the quiet dark cold lake:
The distance between us in not so great,
but the space…
it stretches out like darkness,
like the lake his dinghy is on.
Dark, even at noon, wide, can’t see the other shore,
Quiet and cold, this space between father and son.
In the poem, Satan’s Toy Car, Griffith writes of the salesman who comes to visit his mother, capturing the sleazy nature of the man in the description of his car. his long red car./ A big city car./Shiny, real shiny in the sun./ New. The poem tells us how the salesman attempts to get rid of the child by presenting him with a toy car so that he can hit on the mother. After several attempts the mother slaps the salesmans face who departs. The child also departs later in the day with the toy car. Day later I fetched Satan’s toy car,/ buried it up at the church/ where it ain’t done no harm/ or no good ever since.
In the first four stanzas of Noona, he captures the hopelessness with imagery that brings you into life existence in a nursing home:
You called me “honey” amid your clutterspeak
You will forget what you said to me
or that we spoke once you turn and leave.
You will roam the halls,
look into darkened rooms
for someone you might see.
You will moan and wail and cry.
Wet will drip from your nose.
And the next time I see you, you could be calm.
You might be laughing,
Yet your eyes never seem dry.
Only remembering patches of a life before,
thoughts so full of holes,
like the ivory doily
on your cluttered night stand,
brought here with your family pictures and more.
Griffith covers a large swath of life in this short collection. Of birth and death, of politicians and creeps, of love and loss. An observer, his poems bring you into the real world he has lived and loved.
You can find the book here:
g emil reutter is a writer of stories and poems. He can be found at:

Playlist: A Poem by David Lehman

By Charles Rammelkamp
Reminiscent of his 2000 collection, The Daily Mirror, which is a kind of daily diary of poems, Playlist is also a collection of daily poems, these written from November 20, 2017, through January 15, 2018.  But more so than the previous collection, these poems are conceived of as a single work, a single poem in homage to and an elegy for his friend, the poet A. R. Ammons (“Archie”). As in the previous collection, but perhaps with a greater emphasis, more in the foreground – as indicated by the title – jazz and classical music form a sort of soundtrack to his thoughts and impressions. Movies, the weather, and poets are also recurring themes in both works.
Lehman explains his long acquaintance and collaboration with Ammons in a foreword. Indeed, the form of Playlist is itself an homage to his mentor, whose 1964 Tape for the Turn of the Year is also a long diary poem. Like Ammons, too, Lehman uses punctuation sparingly, basically just commas. This style mimics the free flow of jazz notes, a musical style to which both were devoted. Ammons taught at Cornell, in Ithaca, NY, and Lehman a hundred miles away in Clinton, where he is on the faculty at Hamilton College.  They met in 1974 and enjoyed a long, warm, collaborative friendship until Ammons’ death in 2001.
Several of Lehman’s verses directly address his friend, starting with the first, 11/20/2017, which begins:
Dear Archie, today
I drove past 606 Hanshaw Road
where you haven’t lived
since 1993…
Noting Archie had “left us // in February 2001, a week before / you would have turned seventy-five,” Lehman goes on:
I thought of your coil
of tape for the turn
of the year while I was driving
and listening to the radio
and deciding I would write
this poem to you, old friend.
Ten days later he writes, on 11/30/2017
Hey Archie,
I thought of dialing your phone number today
to see if I can still make you laugh…
He goes on to recall a joke they’d shared.  In 12/4/2017, there’s another joke, following a direct, loving poetic invocation:
Archie you must be my guide now
be to me what Virgil
was to Dante, what Rousseau
was to Shelley. I made you laugh
today we were talking about Lolita
the movie, with Shelley Winters
as the poor mother of the nymphet
and I said, “If Shelley Winters comes,
can spring be far behind?”
Archie, your guide was the wind
Mine is the voice
of Cecile McLorin Salvant, “Nothing
like you has ever been seen before”
Lehman refers to other female jazz vocalists throughout. On consecutive days, 11/24/2017 and 1/25/2017, it is Peggy Lee. Subtitled “Comes Love,” 11/25/17 begins:
I’d be a beggar or a knave for you
Peggy Lee, “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
and why Lee Wiley?
you’ll find my reasoning is logically sound
and if that isn’t love it’ll have to do
Ella Fitzgerald, June Hutton, Rosemary Clooney, Billie Holiday and others make appearances, as do movie stars. December 15, 16 and 17 are meditations on Alfred Hitchcock films and their stars. “I Live in Hitchcock’s America,” begins 12/17/17 . “Hitchcock’s America” is the title of an essay Lehman once wrote:
As one who has written on “Hitchcock’s America”
I keep waiting for a magazine editor to ask me to write
“Hitchcock’s Blondes”
who was the most beautiful of all
Stacey says Grace Kelly and I guess I agree though Ingrid Bergman…
The poem goes on to mention Kim Novak in Vertigo, Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Janet Leigh (Psycho) and Tippi Hedren (The Birds and Marnie).
Similarly, The Godfather is alluded to in several poems (11/26/17 and 12/26/17). “‘One O’Clock Jump’ with Count Basie now / that’ll grab your attention…” the latter begins before muting the sound to listen to dialogue from The Godfather, and we can hear Marlon Brando: “I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. / Blood is a big expense….”
On 1/8/18 and 1/10/18, there’s a focus on the stock market. “Jazz is the music of the stock market / As it zigs and zags…” in 1/8 and in 1/10: “and the Dow is now / in positive territory / erasing earlier losses”: ah, there’s the reason for the interest! That poem goes on: “The two most boring words / in the language are / ‘Russia investigation’”
Is it any wonder that the next day’s poem, 1/11/18, is subtitled “Fake News”?
On the last day, 1/15/18, Lehman laments he is
happy to be alive
sad to bring this
poem to an end,
propose a toast to Archie
and concludes sweetly
the music was great
from Ithaca to New York City
with you beside me.
On top of an impressive knowledge of music and movies, though never in the form of “lecture,” Playlist entertains and engages the reader and is a sweet accolade for a dear old friend.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is)