Nancy Antionette

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Surely this is the iconic visual-juxtapo of our Constipated Aqe.

The wealthy liberals in Nancy Pelosi’s District have borrowed a page from medieval city-state enclaves and installed bouldered perimeters to prevent serfs and vagrants from peopling their frontage.

Home Depot is confabbing with the SF Zoo on a pilot program for alligator-infested moats should the boulders prove little more than a magnet for noxious urine. You know what they say about urine. Everybody’s stinks.

Apparently a row of rocks wins the aesthetic war of vistas over loitering human flesh. Not to be slowed by drop-dead irony, fund-raising soirees continue unabated behind brownstone walls for the ‘progressive candidates so desperately needed in YOUR TOWN’.

What’s next? Hot wax cauldrons poured from rehabbed balconies?

Dear Shining City on a Hill,
do flush all histrionic swill.
The fecal matter stacks like cliffs
of shit-beholden megaliths
on San Francisco’s tony streets
renowned for porcelain elites
who preach the shine, then duck the sweep
of history and shovels. Keep

all rhetoric and lofty notes
for cocktail banter. Boulder-moats
are what we see –and lording flies.
Your tin-eared sentiments disguise

hypocrisy an aisle-wide
that spewing bullshit cannot hide.

Equality’s for Over There
Exempt is your chaste City Square.

Nancy Antionette

Pyramidic Perfidity


Interesting Zero Hedge article on European Central Banks’ revived interest in gold since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Why do we find gold at the bottom of Exeter’s inverted pyramid? This article reminds us that gold is, “the only asset refuge that has no counterparty risk.” There are no sweaty handshakes. Gold just is.

I would only adjust a smidgen to suggest gold repatriation (as opposed to keeping it offshore for rapid-response/liquidity purposes) eliminates the last possible counterparty risk i.e. London or NY could fail to relinquish custodianship. In strange geopolitical times possession may be worth more than 9/10 of the law. Also, I think I might take white diamonds over a German government bond ‘yielding’ -.35%. At least you’ll look ravishing at the next soiree.

What has Martin Armstrong said at least four times over the last couple of months regarding the repo crisis? Banks don’t trust their fellow banks. No one wants to discuss their toxic wastelands with competitors. Reasonable enough and sounds like heightened counterparty risk to me.

Fascinating too how thoroughly modern finance has invented more ‘inverted base’ asset classes since ole Exeter rendered his upside-down structure in 1966. Make what you will of that.

Note: I’m not advocating gold in the short-term nor am I in the investment advice biz. I’m not even sure Exeter’s Pyramid is teeteringly rock-solid in a ZIRP environment. Readers will know my end-game scenario (essentially neo-feudalism) is a bit different. I merely pass along.

Pyramidic Perfidity

When the Storehouse Becomes the Value

money nothing chicks free.png

“Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free” -Dire Straits

Dire straits indeed.

Money, in its right-sized social form, is an agnostic vehicle of resource distribution/allocation, meant to convey a wealth already arrived and simply awaiting a mode of distribution. Money arrives post facto to convey apriori wealth.

The monetary function becomes an incestuous monstrosity when money mimics the attributes of wealth, as it does when it serves to ‘make itself’ i.e. becomes a money-maker in its own right. The debt/wealth imbalance is money ‘getting ahead of itself’. $247T of global debt (on an $80T GDP) tells us money has lurched eons ahead of mankind’s collective powers of perspiration.

One fascinating feature of this debate is how, in the MSM, it gets needlessly complex-ificated in a hurry. Arithmetic made to look like Advanced Calculus!

The subtle message to regular peeps is to leave this debate to ‘da expoits’ whose livelihoods are provided –surprise suprise– by the very neoliberal think-tanks and university chairs that derive their funding from the debt-creators as opposed to the productive side of the economy. Why? Because the debt-creators have money to burn! They make it for nothing every day.

Whereas wealth producers must balance their creative faculties against devising ways to manage their debt load. This leads to a civilization whose vision is conducted not by its visionaries, but by coupon-clippers and green-eye-shades –interests whose very existence (and present-day relevancy) is a vestige of the past.

As long as claims on wealth can be created ex nihilo with all the energy required to depress a keystroke while wealth-creation remains ‘hobbled’ by perspiration/ inspiration/exertion, the proclivity will remain for debt to outstrip wealth.

Further freighting this disequilibrium away from wealth and towards debt is the cost of energy, an input necessary for wealth-creation. The Peak Energy thesis, should it come to pass, is one potential deathblow to this teetering edifice as would be some convulsive environmental collapse. However it appears deflation (internal illogic) might kill the system first before more exogenous factors can weigh in.

Suffice to say energy costs tip the equation further into the arms of the debt-creators, whose arms, it must be remembered, cannot catch anything because said appendages like everything else about this exquisite corpse, are imaginary. Has anyone every crept up on debt and pinched it? Even if you could locate a body, it would feel nothing because it isn’t there.

ZIR’s are a manifestation of prospective wealth-creators saying, in effect, to the vested debt-creators: ‘we are so profoundly beholden to your imaginarium of debt peonage that the prospect of fresh initiatives (impossible without the acquisition of fresh debt) is simply not an option.

In true Molochian fashion, legacy interests (the jealous prerogative the present moment, bolstered by accumulated obligations of the past) dine on the future. The debt purveyors increasingly are unable to give their money away. Would even Bernanke’s dollar-spewing helicopter suffice at this late juncture? Remember, Bernanke said the system can ALWAYS create inflation. Why then if the system desperately needs 2% inflation has it consistently failed to produce it, except in financial asset inflation and bubbles that stream upward to the rentiers and not downward to the wellsprings of production?

Again, the system cannot produce inflation, which is the slo-mo, banker-preferred mode of debt repudiation. Solutions? Large-scale supply/demand destruction (world war) or a fundamental reconstitution of the wealth/debt relationship.

A word on war. You would think that with 20 pygmies in the Democratic nomination race, each measuring about 3’7″, each surrounded by political strategists, one would have been counseled: “look, if you pick up the McGovern antiwar gauntlet, and run with it, overnight, you will tower above your 19 fellow-pygmies at a whole 4′ 0”.

Poll after poll shows a world-weary American populace. Yet not one taker. Except Tulsi. War is the final economic gesture in the business cycle when all else fails. So it hovers above our heads like an unrepealable Sword of Damocles. The bankers will break this glass when they need to. Unwinding of the war economy is an unspeakable policy prescription. The political class is thus careful not to invoke it.

War, as always, seems more likely as well as being the default, tried-and-true path. The debt-creation powers have long-since captured our political system. Should they continue to prevail, it would mean the end of the answerable economy and the onset of neo-feudalism, perhaps in a devastated and profoundly traumatized post-war aftermath.

Add to this the ‘lethality ratchet’ of our ever-‘evolving’ weapons of war and the it’s questionable whether any of us will survive to assume our new role as serfs.

Those who do may envy their lot. What a coup that would be! The apt euphemism would be meekly accepted ‘downsized expectations’. The casino wins.

Until His Son intervenes to forever restore the balance.

When the Storehouse Becomes the Value

Russian Collusion, China-Style

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Stealing a page from the Hillary Clinton blame-transference playbook, China blames ‘foreign forces’ for the recent Hong Kong vote. Russian collusion, Chinese-style? There’s one universal you can be assured of: When the going gets tough, governments of all types scapegoat other governments.

Unless NED/CIA is pulling the levers behind the voting booth curtain, today’s HK vote strongly suggests the movement is more than simply an artificial imposition from outside entities eager to sow discord in China.

Are the usual Empire Agencies in there agitating and assisting the protesters? You bet. But is there a genuine roiling generational conflict underneath all the instigating? Yes, that too. You can’t foment unrest in a vacuum. Beware the univocal narrative which is the hallmark of propaganda. Two things can be true at the same time.

Carrie Lam is disliked by 94% of HK youth. This is not NED propaganda. Why?

So I’m a 22 year old HK kid. Two Countries consolidate into One System in 2047 (in 28 years) when I’m 50. HK has 30-year mortgages just like in the US. Relatives pool money for the kids to put down 15% which the kid is expected to pay back after a couple of years via his appreciation. Great Ponzi scheme while it lasts. We all know how these things end. But that’s another story. I use the mortgage example illustratively for the huge sense of anxiety that surely grips the young more than the old.

The kids are doing the math. What do I own in 28 years after toiling over a mortgage my entire working life? The punt to 2047 was classic kick the can down the road. The kids are realizing they’re the cans.

Anyone who lays this electoral victory entirely at the feet of the CIA commits the worst kind of condescension towards the aspirations of the HK people.

This vote however is showing more, that the unrest instigated by the young people is seeping into the larger population. Shades of America’s 60s movement and the French university students of the 60s?

The contagion has clearly spread beyond its prior demographics. Look at the overwhelming results of this election and the 72% participation rate. The ‘handful of young malcontents and hooligans’ narrative has been demolished.

This is not an apology for the CIA, arguably the most evil human institution ever devised. But we may have here a strange confluence of convergent interests. Could the CIA/NED be on the right side of history for once? Stranger things have happened.

Russian Collusion, China-Style

The What-If Game


“In that context, how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical… About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about THREE-QUARTERS of the world’s known energy resources.” (p.31)

–The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Zbigniew Brzezinski (1997)

We appear to be in the very Sturm und Drang ‘fumes stage’ of the long historic arc known as mercantilism. This would be the ultimate ‘democratic breakthrough’ as, for the first time, the indigenous people who walk atop the wealth beneath their feet would control that wealth. Self-determination is the essence of freedom.

Or does this commit a grand naivete?

In their enthusiasm for seeing the ‘evil American Empire’ gone, many commit the error of cheering the arrival of Chinese re-education camps, live organ transplants and the social credit score system. Hurray! Free at last!

A departing evil need not presage an arriving good. Still, the hopeful, forward-seeking tendency of human nature makes one prone to say, ‘anything would be better than THIS’.

Also, Gramscian morbidities can stretch on for a long time, particularly for such an extended and deeply exploitative human era as the present one.

Thus date-setting is fraught with peril. We should also brace for top-down and desperately elaborate deception as well as war waged to postpone the seemingly inevitable.

There are clues however.


…Brzezinski significantly UNDER-estimated the lop-sidedness of the resource imbalance between the Anglo-Saxons and the Eurasians?

…Iran’s new 53-billion barrel oil discovery, added to their 150 billion of existing reserves, forms the basis for the emergent ‘Eurasian petro-dollar’ and the grand currency swap-out?…/Iran-Announces-The-Biggest-Oil-Disco…

…Saudi Arabia’s massive Ghawar Oil Field, the foundational fountainhead of the petrodollar is in far more rapid decline than anyone previously imagined?…/saudi-aramco-reveals-sharp-outp…

…China’s gold holdings, officially declared at a paltry 1.9 thousand tons, are more on the order of 20 thousand or even 40 thousand tons?…/goldmone…/china-s-gold-strategy…

…the persistent conspiracy theories of America’s gold reserves (official est. 8.1 thousand tons or 76% of global reserves) being a) absconded with b) delivered to the Chinese or c) endlessly hypothecated both at the NY Fed and Ft Knox bear even a kernel of truth?…/news-gold-silver-fort-knox-looted-……/rehypothecation-gold-and-why-it……/us-gold-reserves-immense-int…/

…The Permian Basin and fracking revolution is a massive Wall Street Ponzi with rapidly depleting wells (Buffet called them ‘capital destruction machines’) and are not the path to American ‘Energy Dominance’ after all?…/investors-are-souring-on-americ…

…the European market for vastly overpriced American LNG is on it last gasp thanks to the nearing completion of Russia’s Nord Stream 2?…/The-Inevitable-Finale-Of-The-Nord-St…

…Catherine Austin Fitts’ American Tapeworm has dined on and diverted $21 trillion of the Peoples’ wealth, leaving them with an equivalent sum of balance sheet liabilities?…/


What if the real Grand Chessboard in America these last 40 years has been a Three Card Monte table i.e. to leave the nation so stripped and bereft of real wealth (swapped-out for a stack of paper obligations and ‘financial assets’) that any hope for recovery in the modern era is a very bad joke?

What if the average American, fed on the bread and circus diversions of Trump-a-dump and NCAA brackets, doesn’t know his ass from his elbow? Surely Wall Street, the banks and the beholden ruling class wouldn’t advantage this Distraction Culture for their own enrichment? Surely they didn’t INVENT this Distraction Culture precisely for their own enrichment?

What if America’s the mother of all pump-and-dumps?

What if a fraction of the above scenarios (some are less plausible than others) are even half-true?

Can a duck swim? Did Epstein kill himself? The official Death Certificate says ‘yes’. There are government papers to prove it.

Now move along.

Suppose though at the roof of the world there exists a benign clique of ‘Platonic Elders’ who’ve set for themselves the task of saving humanity through a process of ‘Robin Hood arbitrage’ i.e. re-allocating wealth disparities and repatriating resources from the first-world to the third-world in a process of equitable leveling?
This would involve massive, tacitly-approved migrations of humanity from one zone to another in an effort to efface cultural, tribal and socio-economic differentiators; also, a slo-mo attrition of human population back to the carrying capacity of the planet’s resources.
Our experience with near-absolute power tells us that its ends are rarely benign or magnanimous. But it’s possible. Anything’s possible.

See Also:


The What-If Game

A Ton of Feathers: Behind Enemy Lines with the Prose-Sonnet

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[This essay appeared previously in 2013 & in slightly altered form at Pop Matters]

featherd creatures

Before some real-deal poet jumps out in front to apply face to my egg, I’ll offer a chicken-and-egg admission. An avid consumer of great poetry, I don’t strenuously identify with being a poet myself, though I enjoy tooling about in the genre purple pen in hand. I prefer the company of thinkers to poets frankly, or at the very least, thinking poets. An essayist at heart, I’m better at converging on dense and prickly concepts in an attempt to nail them down with dense and prickly prose.

How am I doing so far?

I suppose I prefer ground-control precision to imagistic flight. Such tendencies can be driven by individual temperament, the vagaries of native talent or whether or not one was breast-fed until age two. I honestly can’t say my tactics vary greatly from sonnet to essay. That may be the most ringing indictment of my poetry to date.

Then too, it may not be so far off the mark either as the sonnet structure encapsulates a sort of logical progression. There is an argument, a volte (a turn or ‘twist’), a counter-argument and then a resolution, the latter often occurring in the final couplet. I’m convinced many economists are closeted sonneteers seeking false comfort in improbable graphs (on the one hand) and studied superstition (on the other hand). In the words of Shakespeare from Sonnet 138, sort of:

When economics swears it’s made of truth, I must believe all unemployment lies

Voodoo economics aside, the sonnet offers rich terrain for rhetorical hijinks and abbreviated exposition. So why entrust such a tightly-wound machine to muddle-headed poets? I won’t get into all the structural variations and sonnet rhyme schemes here—the Petrarchan, Shakespearean, Spenserian, Protozoan, Heidi Montagian, etc.—as that would require a fearsome erudition beyond my rude powers.

Perhaps if we start with lines today, we can build to whole college syllabi tomorrow. Right now I’m fresh out of paper-mill certificates. Kicking it back and forth will have to do.

Tired thinking and expression is a sprawling hammock that looms large across our culture. Poetry’s ruby-red lips are thus not starved for company. Cliché can afflict poetic intent as surely as it haunts language and image. In my recent spate of sonnet-writing I’m aware of having grown terribly fond of the enjambment technique. For all you auto mechanics out there perusing this essay at lunch, enjambment is a fancy French word for straddling. Yes that’s right, sort of a broken Citroën, but with words not fuel-injection and a superior maintenance record.

Wikipedia gets fancier still, calling enjambment the “breaking of a syntactic unit” in a line of poetry. I suppose the opposite of enjambment is the end-stop of which I have grown supremely tired.

End-stopping is essentially matching syntax to lineation. For all you old-timers out there, imagine a typewriter futzing along until, bang, it reaches the end of the page at which point there is the clatter of a carriage-return. The machine drops to the next line: next thought—bang. I’ve come to regard end-stops as being clunky and deterministic with a Soviet-era flair for centralized control. Why not either fly through the sonnet box impervious to its rigid dimensions or make a game of bumping hard up against its dog-eared perimeters?

I have this vivid mental image of sentences being snapped like twigs in diabolical places, all in the hopes something interesting (a third thing) seeps out—as sap might from a damaged branch. I also imagine a retracement process similar to a Hegelian dialectic where the synthesized result, the unitary sentence, is ‘de-synthesized’ back perhaps to some seminal state of indistinct phraseology or two inert, uncontested thoughts. Verily, I am the crux of a million weird imaginings. A sentence has entrails and antecedent ghosts. So, let’s have a look then. Syntax can also play at subterfuge. By rifling its constituent parts, we reveal previously withheld compartments of meaning. Or, as the Kabbalists might say, what’s poetry anyway but a broken vessel? Here, then, is to breaking dishes. May the better shards win.

At the system level, this dialectical notion is well-observed. That vast sonnet clearinghouse in the cloud Sonnet Central has Nelson Miller referring to these precious little songs as:

“…fundamentally a dialectical construct which allows the poet to examine the nature and ramifications of two usually contrastive ideas, emotions, states of mind, beliefs, actions, events, images, etc., by juxtaposing the two against each other, and possibly resolving or just revealing the tensions created and operative between the two.”

Enjambment might also be thought of as a mini-cut-up method popularized in literature by Brion Gysin and Williams Burroughs; call these fractured clauses tiny naked lunches. Am I making clear that broken sentences, so-called enjambments, can be the keepers of subversive agendas? We belittle the technique therefore by characterizing it primarily as manhandled independent clauses in reluctant service to page width. [See ‘Burroughing in on Borrowed Time‘, Norman Ball, May 12th, 2018, Dissident Voice.]

That said, I find the denser or more complex the sonnet, the more jarring the enjambment effect comes across to the reader. I am guilty of sitting on my sonnets like overstuffed suitcases.

Sometimes it’s the only way to snap them closed. My sonnets are dense more often than not. Whether this makes them less or more conducive to enjambment, I cannot say. Whether this makes me a terminal essayist and not a sonneteer at all, I am similarly mute.

One could argue that density offers enough sense and meaning challenges without having to compound the reader’s task with ‘nonlinear’ syntactical presentations. Perhaps the musicality and horizontal flow suffers for these jagged, atonal edges. Enjambment introduces hiccups where one might prefer uninterrupted melody. That’s certainly a valid aesthetic judgment similar to one’s taste in musical styles.

There may be situational considerations as well. Some topics simply lend themselves better to enjambment than others. For example, harried descriptions of our frenetically paced, post-modern postal world might benefit from razor-sharp edges and abrupt trapdoors. An ode to garden lilies? Not so much. The process of ‘bending and snapping’ prose into the sonnet form can, I believe, yield up whole new platforms of meaning.

Do I belabor the enjambment technique? That’s possible. My consternation with the form in general is longstanding as this ten-year-old essay attests. Sonnet-writing is not unlike a golf game, a never-ending series of adjustments and corrections. Enjambment may be my version of a bad slice. For example, I notice of late I resist end-stops with heroic fortitude. I like the little surprises the travelling eye encounters falling from line to line. Perhaps I’ve fallen into an enjambment ‘trap’. Where’s my sand wedge?

One fascinating discussion on a poetry board began recently with a member disentangling my sonnet and ‘re-rendering’ it into a sequence of natural, sprawling sentences. Immediately I saw his point. I could discern a paragraph crouched in the reeds where a sonnet had once been. This disentangled prose form, the gentleman suggested, allowed my poetry to breathe; where before I had been rather cruelly breaking its butterfly wings against a medieval wheel. My loyalties were misplaced.

The worship of form had crippled the primacy of poetry. He had a point. Interrogating my motivations, I realized I had indeed been sitting down to ‘write sonnets’ and not necessarily poetry. Committing this inversion may be the equivalent of Kafka’s aphorism, a cage gone in search of a bird.

Quite apart from poetic intent, might the sonnet be an implicitly ‘enjambed’ form as it seems to straddle and incorporate features of both prose and poetry? The notion of nonce forms comes to mind. (Nonce being yet another fancy word for ‘I’ll do it once asshole but don’t ever ask me again’, i.e. an un-received, one-off or purely invented form.) This form might best be called a ‘prose-sonnet’. Eureka! (Note to my attorney: Please copyright this essay with all rights thereunto appertaining, alea jacta est and gesundheit.)

Such a sonnet would scan correctly yet be presented in prose form. Conceivably the inherent music of a good, strong sonnet should survive the wholesale abandonment of its conventional visual form-structure. Listening to poets read their sonnets, I’m often troubled at how so many invariably stress the end-rhymes in a manner that tends to rob the rhymes of their subtle beauty and sonic power.

I like a voice to nonchalantly fall through a sonnet, in effect obscuring the lineation from overt aural reception. Sonnets should be read like finely-tuned paragraphs and in a natural, conversational tone as opposed to a sing-songy, pat-the-kiddies-on-the-head Mother Goose twang. Aren’t lines starting to feel more and more like enemy combatants? Down with the barricade of lines! Up with lugubrious incantation!

That said, I find the denser or more complex the sonnet, the harsher the enjambment effect can be to the reader’s ear. Moreover density seems to breed enjambment as expansive and serpentine speculations, certainly mine, have been known to suck the oxygen out of entire rooms, never mind the diminutive parameters of the poor little old sonnet. Some essayists, it has been alleged, do go on a bit.

I am guilty of sitting on my sonnets like overstuffed suitcases. (Sometimes that’s the only way to snap them shut.) The fact my sonnets are rather dense more often than not may suggest I am a terminal essayist and not a poet after all. I stand ready to accept this verdict. Under practically all circumstances, concision is a challenge in the sonnet form. One could argue density offers sufficient sense and meaning challenges without adding insult to migraine via ‘nonlinear’ syntactical presentations. Perhaps the musicality and horizontal flow suffers for these jagged, atonal edges. Enjambment introduces hiccups where one might prefer uninterrupted melody. That’s certainly a valid aesthetic judgment on par with, say, an individual’s tastes in musical styles.

A tasteless palette relishes sour verdicts. In his excoriating 2010 Huffington Post essay “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers“, Anis Shivani, already no great fan of Sharon Olds’ “pseudo-confession[alism]” and “gory imaginings”, takes her poetry further to task for “disruptive enjambments — ending on prepositions” which in Shivani’s opinion only, “add to the exhibitionist content of the poems.” Rarely enamored with Shivani’s gratuitously confrontational tone, I am nonetheless sympathetic here to his charge.

In Olds’ 27-line poem (though not a sonnet) “After Making Love in Winter” for example, five lines end with the articles ‘a’ or ‘the’, three end with prepositions (of, like, before) and two end with the conjunction ‘and’. I feel myself being jarred with no jellybean reward at the bottom of the jar. In fact the intended effect recalls old Ms. Harshford’s prohibition in 8th grade English Composition never to end a sentence with a preposition.

Sonnet experimentation notwithstanding, it is a rule I have carried to poetic lineation as well and have, without exception, managed to live with. Methinks enjambment that succeeds in pointing mostly to itself has ventured one trapdoor too far. That said I would never kick a stanza out of bed for making a mess of convention. But I want meaningful intent and purpose behind all the willful infractions — or else I’m calling Ms. Harshford.

We have yet to consider situational dynamics. So if you’re situated comfortably, let’s do it right now. Some topics simply lend themselves better to enjambment than do others. For example, our frenetic, post-modern postal world seems better served by razor-sharp edges and capricious trapdoors. A garden ode to tiger lilies? Not so much. We inhabit an era of collapsed attention spans, vapid emoticons, wafer-screens, dashed-off emails and brusque tweets. Authentic communication suffers in the digitized-ADHD cacophony.

As our mediating syntaxes break down, why spare the sonnet a break, too? I suspect the world, for all its official protest, grudgingly admires something with the moxie to stand, on the one hand, against willful inarticulateness and on the other, against Rod McKuen. So come on you barbaric bloody yawpers, the air is thick with dislocation! Give us a break and don’t break something! Should the sonnet get relegated to Wordsworthian appendix in the post-911 age, at least it’s showing the stomach to weather on as an appendix. I call that guts.

In the final days, order will indulge the creeping advance of chaos. Perhaps the fractured line is an accommodation, or a memorial, to sustained reflection. Do I belabor the enjambment technique? Nah, I wouldn’t belabor anything. My overall consternation with the sonnet form is longstanding and broadly based to which this ten-year-old essay attests. Exasperation is built into the fabric of the enterprise. I find writing them is not unlike a golf game, that is, a never-ending series of adjustments and corrections. Enjambment may be my version of a bad slice. I enjoy the little surprises the traveling eye encounters falling from line to line. Perhaps I’ve fallen into an enjambment trap. Where’s my sand wedge?

Finally, I’d like to shade the page briefly with what I liken to the long game of enjambment, the white space. Perhaps a longer pause, breath-mark or interruption helps acquit the sonnet’s meaning or sonic effect. Perhaps too, irregular spaces between (or even within) lines (beyond the line-space often but not always accorded between sestets (six-line clumps) quatrains (four-line clumps) and ending couplets are desired. As I say, ‘blank page’ is yet another spatial device that can augment the sonnet’s overall impact.

On one poetry workshop I sometimes frequent, a workshop member helpfully ‘disentangled’ a sentence-laden sonnet of mine, yielding a more naturalized sequence of sprawling prose. Immediately I appreciated his rather astute insight. There, in amongst the tangled reeds of my sonnet, appeared a disheveled, mud-caked paragraph. This relaxed prose form, he suggested, allowed my poetry to breathe, where before I had been rather cruelly breaking its butterfly wings against a medieval wheel of fits and starts.

My loyalties were misplaced.

The worship of form had crippled the primacy of unfettered impartation. He had a point. Interrogating my motivations, I realized I had indeed been sitting down to ‘write sonnets’ more than poetry per se. Committing this inversion may be the equivalent of Kafka’s aphorism, a cage gone in search of a bird. Form and content must spring forth with the simultaneity of spontaneous combustion. One cannot be seen to be clumsily seeking the other.

Quite apart from poetic intent, might the sonnet be an implicitly ‘enjambed’ form as it seems to straddle and incorporate features of both prose and poetry? The notion of nonce forms comes to mind. (Nonce is yet another fancy word for ‘I’ll do it once, but don’t ever ask me again’ i.e., an un-received, one-off or purely invented form. Believe it or not there’s even an on-line journal that specializes in this nichiest of niches.)

What my colleague was implicitly pointing me towards might best be called a ‘prose-sonnet’. At least that’s what I’m calling it now. Such a sonnet would scan correctly yet be presented in paragraphed ‘disguise’. The tuning fork in my gut tells me the inherent music of a good, strong sonnet should survive the wholesale abandonment of its conventional visual-structure. Lineation may be overrated. After all the prose-poem is already a well-established poetry sub-genre.

The prose-sonnet amounts to nothing more than presenting an obdurate and venerable syntactic unit, the sonnet, in an altered visual format — a mere flesh wound, one would think. What is the sonnet after all, a machinery of lines or the ghost behind the grid?

Vision can countermand sound. Listening to poets read their sonnets, I’m often troubled at how so many invariably stress the end-rhymes in a manner that tends to rob the rhymes of their subtle beauty and understated power. I like a voice to nonchalantly fall through a sonnet, in effect obscuring the lineation from overt aural reception. End-stops should not ‘sound’ like stop-signs or worse, steep ravines. Sonnets should be read like finely-tuned paragraphs and in a natural, conversational tone as opposed to a sing-songy, pat-the-kiddies-on-the-head Mother Goose twang. Look Mommy, no hands rhymes with pro bands! Aren’t lines starting to feel more and more like enemy combatants? Down with barricades! Up with lugubrious incantation!

In the end, this inquiry seems to turn on the significance of sentences or clauses as unitary grammatical constructs of arbitrary length versus formal poetic lines as sound and meter-driven units of relative (i.e. complete or incomplete) meaning, but determinate length. Beautiful sentences notwithstanding, sentences are aligned more with meaning, whereas poetry lines are more sensuous beasts altogether; for the latter, sound and even space contribute to the effect. In a sense, enjambment allows unitary meaning to ‘fall though the machine’, creating additional sound and meaning variants as it clatters against the silo’s walls. To the extent a sentence or clause is fully expressed in a poetic line, no such variants are exploited. This is hardly an argument against ‘non-enjambed lines’ in all cases. No doubt, like any poetic technique, enjambment can be overused.

I should add there are countless poets pushing the sonnet envelope in novel ways. In Mark Jarman’s “Unholy Sonnet 13”, God seems to be ‘stirring’ in more ways than one, thanks in large part to enjambment:

Because I’m older and I think God stirs

In details that keep bringing back that time,

The late e.e. cummings played wild and loose with the sonnet form. In this instance, the title itself is enjambed (please pardon Mr. cummings’ broken cap-locks key) “i like my body when it is with your.”

Here’s yet another modern twist on an Elizabethan codpiece. Oddly enough, Twitter allows a 140-character maximum per tweet. The traditional sonnet permits 140 syllables (14 lines, 10 syllables). Am I onto the Twitter Sonnet? Is this number cosmologically significant? Without delving Ouija boards or consulting Pythagorean mystics, it’s interesting to find the same number bracketing two conventions of human expression. Hah! The sonnet’s been around since the 13th century. Let’s see how long Twitter hangs on. I weary of the tweet already. [Ed: Twitter has since stretched its wings to 280 characters.]

found enjambment

Below is the work-shopped sonnet previously described, one that sought to grapple with my conflicted affections for pop music. (In case it isn’t iconic enough, the phrase ‘secret chords’ in line 13 is a hat-tip to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” lyric.) The sonnet is presented in lineated form first and conforms to the English (Shakespearian) sonnet rhyme scheme, that is, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG with five feet (i.e., ten syllables) per line. The iambic pentameter (the five ‘ta-DA’ sounds per line) is a little irregular and instead of three four-line sections (quatrains), I sort of ‘keep a fifth line’ in the second quatrain because I like the effect of hanging ‘here and now’ out there like a good little existential predicament and a sore thumb all at once. In line four, ‘sing’ gazes out across a sea of white space. I fancy this imparting the sense of a lone singer warbling out into the void.

If I’ve gone hard on perfunctory end-stops, I meant no disrespect to the existential necessity of line (and paper’s) end and the inevitable onset of eclipsing whiteness. There’s no doubt the deployment of breaks and the ensuing spaces-between can help carry poetic effect. Below this traditional lineation format, the same sonnet appears again in a form not unlike what you’d find in the classified section of a newspaper. (Note to young people: Though help may be wanted, poetry doesn’t pay.)

Here, I’ve taken the sonnet of mine that set off the whole debate and presented it in standard sonnet form as well as in a prose format. I’ll leave each reader to judge the relative merits if each presentation format. Has enjambment merely been a stalking horse for lineation? How do lines, both in their presence and absence, affect the apprehension of poetry? Like most bullies, lineation may be mostly affect absent real punch. Maybe it’s time the sonnet took greater strides to abandon its fourteen-line presentational imperative.

sudden sound.png

And in plain ole paragraphic formation…

Striking at a moment too sharp for stale repetition, the pleasing sound is nothing to tamp down. Yet reprisal’s a pale echo–one arrival is aloud. Sing by all means, arched into time’s faltering applause. Memory accompanies death’s penchant for time-signature.

Why not bring sharp notes that tempt eternity? Our breath’s too short to box hit singles. Hear and now is the chance to alter prior arrangement as habit revives the grand piano haunting the front parlor. Let sound foment those secret chords ripe ears suspect are there. Ephemera makes light of moment’s air.

I leave you with more questions than answers. Here are but a few. Is aesthetic enjoyment varyingly enhanced or diminished by overt visual cues (e.g., end-rhyme, enjambment, white space, etc.)? Which mode of death-by-avalanche is the more painful: a ton of feathery sound-waves or a ton of collapsed scaffold? Most important for this inquiry, is there a place in great literature for the prose-sonnet nonce form and if so will the U.S. Patent Office honor my claim?

Perhaps it’s time we stopped fetishizing the protocols of line and page’s edge. Somewhere beyond and within the apparatus lies the sonnet’s resilient soul, a wellspring less beholden to typeset conventions than many have imagined.

In the final analysis, it’s what strikes you most soundly, dear listener, that really counts.


Get Norman Ball’s 2013 book of sonnets Serpentrope here.



A Ton of Feathers: Behind Enemy Lines with the Prose-Sonnet

Armistice Day (And Inches): December 20, 1918

william ball pic

pvt ball1

My Great Uncle William, Glaswegian by birth and Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps died December 20, 1918 of pneumonia, a complication resulting from influenza, five days before Christmas and a mere 39 days after Armistice Day at the 61st General Hospital in Greece while caring for his fellow soldiers, many of whom would succumb to the same illness in the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19.

For some who made it to war’s end, the first peacetime Yuletide still managed to elude them.

Pvt. Ball was stationed with the 61st General Hospital.

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Also on this day, the Friday before Christmas, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk returned to Czechoslovakia after years in exile in the United States to formally accept the position of the first President of the newly formed nation.[75]

Life was cheap with symmetry and symbolism trumping survival. Let them eat grass. And bullets. Robert Graves’ grim but masterful autobiography Goodbye to All That captures the class distinctions and cruelty that pervaded the trenches.

   Shortly after 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, German, British and French officials gathered inside a railroad dining car in a dark forest north of Paris and signed an armistice to end World War I. Rejecting German calls to immediately halt hostilities, Allied commander Ferdinand Foch dictated that the guns would fall silent at 11 a.m. in part to allow news of the cease-fire to be transmitted to the front lines.
   There was also the symbolic reason of ending at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” says Jonathan Casey, director of the archives and Edward Jones Research Center at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The quest to bring poetic symmetry to the conclusion of a war that was anything but poetic came at a terrible cost—the lives of nearly 3,000 soldiers.

A fascinating computer model of the influenza epidemic allows the user to turn troop movements ‘on and off’ as well as to adjust other mitigating variables here.

As Dr. Carol R. Byerly points out:

“When the Armistice finally came on November 11, it was impossible to maintain quarantines, but by then influenza had passed through most camps, leaving much to celebrate and to mourn.”

Penny for the thoughts of a sick young man lying alone in bed knowing he’s about to die 2,000 miles from home, the war having concluded just weeks before. A medic, he’d nursed dozens through the same symptomology. So he knew it well.

Ironically, it was the robustness of 20-40 year-old men’s immune systems and its aggressive response to this particular flu strain that made them the most afflicted demographic:

“In 2005 test trials seven macaques were infected with the reconstructed 1918 virus. The experiment was supposed to last 21 days but after eight days the monkeys were so sick with fever, pain and breathing difficulties the researchers, following laboratory guidelines, killed the animals…Scientists believe the 1918 virus had the same effect on humans.”–from The Guardian

Christmas 1918 couldn’t have been a joyous affair for Willie’s wife and parents back home.

So close and yet so far away. Peace can be as cruel as the war it seeks to follow.

glasgow distance

William was an Army medic in the Salonika (or Macedonian) campaign, which led to the defeat of the Bulgarians in September 1918. A number of Bulgarian combatants share the Kirechkoi-Hortakoi Military Hospital with British Army personnel.

Below is a silk-embroidered postcard sent back home to his mother. Given the rapidity of the flu’s progress, it’s probable Willie had not yet come down with the disease at the time of its writing. Surrounded by dying soldiers nonetheless, he must have realized it might be his final correspondence home. Indeed he would be dead within a month.

salonika pc.png

Another woman’s pain in a whole other war. Some things never change.

a mothers tears



The Macedonian front, also known as the Salonica front (after Thessaloniki), was a military theatre of World War I formed as a result of an attempt by the Allied Powers to aid Serbia, in the fall of 1915, against the combined attack of GermanyAustria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The expedition came too late and in insufficient force to prevent the fall of Serbia, and was complicated by the internal political crisis in Greece (the “National Schism“). Eventually, a stable front was established, running from the Albanian Adriatic coast to the Struma River, pitting a multinational Allied force against the Bulgarian Army, which was at various times bolstered with smaller units from the other Central Powers. The Macedonian front remained quite stable, despite local actions, until the great Allied offensive in September 1918, which resulted in the capitulation of Bulgaria and the liberation of Serbia.


william ball

Two of William’s younger brothers, Robert and Donald, who would become active in the notorious Red Clydeside, would later go on to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Both young men were said to idolize their deceased older brother. Working class outrage over the wholesale carnage of WWI would radicalize many young men and women of the interwar era into the waiting arms of Marxism.

Wikipedia tells us:

“Scottish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War comprised 23% of the estimated 2,400 men and women who traveled from Great Britain to serve in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.[1] Along with the 549 military volunteers, extensive funds and support for Republican Spain were raised through a nationwide grass-roots Aid for Spain movement; per capita, Scotland’s contributions were among the most substantial foreign aid offered to the Republic over the period of 1936-1939.[2]”

donald william.jpg

Robert and Donald would survive their rendezvous with Generalissimo Franco and return home with some good stories to tell. Robert excelled as a bar boxer. A small, unimposing man (my dad described him as a Scottish version of Jimmy Cagney), he would challenge fellow patrons to throw their best punch in an effort to knock him down. The winner would owe a pound to the victor. Great work if you have the chin for it. Robert was reportedly undefeated.

tom bobby

More than a few Balls have passed through the sport of boxing. Sam Ball appears below:

boxer sam ball.png

Few realize how the abject squalor of the Glasgow tenements compelled many women to assume leadership roles in the Scottish Leftist movement. Indeed the housing crisis may have been the true nadir of working class existence, exceeding what the proletarian menfolk contended with in the Clyde shipyards. Class struggle was as much about living conditions as it was capital’s exploitation of toiling labor.


Wiki again:

“At the turn of the twentieth century the Clydeside area in Glasgow experienced rapid industrial and population growth. Eleven percent of Glasgow’s housing stock was vacant due to speculation and few new houses were built as landlords benefited from renting out overcrowded and increasingly dilapidated flats. As Highlanders and Irish migrants came to Glasgow, the city’s population increased by 65,000 people between 1912 and 1915 while only 1,500 new housing units were built.”

My Great Aunt Jean (a beautiful women, yet lifelong ‘spinster’ pledged selflessly to the betterment of the working class!) was a close confidante of the first Labour PM (and working class Scot himself) James Ramsay MacDonald. Jean went on to become a British Labour Party MP in her own right.

jean ball


jean ramsey.jpg

As for my own father John (1932-2010 – bio here), he swore his early life mirrored Clifford Hanley’s 1922 classic Dancing in the Streets.

So, thank you for your service, Uncle William. And you too, Aunt Jean.

We’ll raise a glass to you (The Macallan Scotch, 12-year) on the 101st anniversary of your departure –and ever-so-short span on earth– this December 20th.


ball grave number

w ball tombstone.png



Armistice Day (And Inches): December 20, 1918