Aug 112017

Merlin Stone Remembered

Merlin Stone Remembered is a tribute to the renowned feminist, author, artist, historian, and speaker. With unparalleled access to Merlin’s unpublished writings, photos, and personal stories, this book is a significant contribution to women’s studies, spirituality, and the ongoing struggle for gender equality.

Known for her groundbreaking book When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone was a pioneer of the Women’s Movement and the reclaiming of the Great Goddess tradition of the Western world.

In this phenomenal book, new light is shed upon Merlin’s philosophy and methodology as you take a memorable journey through her life.

Discover Merlin Stone, author of When God Was A Woman, through the eyes of her life partner of 34 years, Lenny Schneir (1941-2017), who affirms his love for Merlin, his passion to keep her legacy alive and his journey converting from chauvinist to feminist. Readers have praised their touching true story—part love story, part memoir, and part transformation of a diamond-in-the-rough gambler to a devoted husband and passionate feminist.


After good sales, the publisher, Llewellyn Worldwide, was kind enough to offer me remainder copies at a lovely, discounted price so I can still sell you a book. But,  *  a bit like the old “bandwagon” ad-sell, Buy it today before we run out! Originally $22.95, now: $11.95 includes free USPO shipping


It is so great to remember Merlin—to remember the time when I first read When God was a Woman and Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood. It is great to have so much detail about her life and her work. Thank you for this remembrance.” — Olympia Dukakis, Oscar-winning actress and author.

A Note about Lenny Schneir: Lenny Schneir, Merlin Stone’s life partner for 34 years, passed away on May 31, 2017.

You can click this link to read a tribute to him.

To honor Merlin’s memory and keep her legacy alive, he invited his friend, author/poet Dr. David B. Axelrod, to curate Merlin’s papers, write and edit a book that documents and celebrates Merlin’s life. It includes many unknown facts about Merlin as well as previously unpublished writings and a reprinting of “Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve” from  When God Was a Woman, which Merlin designated as the best chapter to represent her million-selling book. Dr. Axelrod invited the noted feminist author/teacher Gloria Orenstein to write the introduction, and feminist author/psychologist Carol Thomas to add chapters to the book.


2014 FLORIDA BOOK AWARDS GOLD MEDAL WINNER, best non-fiction book.

2015 Coalition of Visionary Resources, COVR AWARD for Best Autobiography/Biography.

Watch an interview with the authors of Merlin Stone Remembered.

A Note about When God Was a Woman

“In the beginning, people prayed to the Creatress of Life, the Mistress of Heaven. At the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?” —Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman.

When Merlin Stone’s first book, The Paradise Papers, was released in England in 1976 it became an instant sensation. When it was re-released in America under the title, When God Was a Woman, it exploded onto college campuses and elsewhere for its groundbreaking research regarding the role of women in ancient religions.

Merlin always felt guided by a force outside her control to correct historical information about female deities as she was convinced that the role of women, particularly Goddesses, had been all but erased from history.

We hope that Merlin Stone Remembered will, once again, bring this important information to the public’s attention, at a time when it’s especially needed by those of us who are concerned about world peace, preserving the earth, and understanding the world’s cultures.

Merlin said that early Gods were actually Goddesses and she traveled the world, alone, living out of a backpack, in order to do the research necessary to prove that her instincts were correct, ancient religions were matriarchal.

Praise for Merlin Stone

“This book is paradigm-shifting. It should be read by all those who yearn for miracles, as well as by those who still need proof to believe that they are possible. It gives us hope for the regeneration of compassionate and nurturing relations between all forms of interconnected life on our planet, now and in the future.” —Gloria Orenstein, Prof. Emerita, Comparative Literature and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

“A lovely and loving tribute to the late Merlin Stone, a foremother of Goddess feminism. … What a gift to those of us familiar with Stone’s work, as well as those who want to know more about her life, both personal and professional.” —Judith Laura, author of Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century: From Kabbalah to Quantum Physics.

Table of Contents, Merlin Stone Remembered

Preface, by Carol Thomas
Editor’s Note, by David B. Axelrod
Introduction: Transforming His/story into Her/story. Merlin Stone’s Dramatic Entrance onto the Stage of Our Story, by Gloria F. Orenstein
Merlin Stone Timeline
My Life With Merlin Stone, by Lenny Schneir
Poems, by Lenny Schneir
Merlin in Her Own Words
Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: A Reflection on the Poetic Genius of Merlin Stone, by David B. Axelrod
Unpublished Writings, by Merlin Stone:
The Inner Voice: Intuition
The Global Garden
Women in Armed Combat
Two Poems
One Summer on the Way to Utopia or Dreams of Getting There: Excerpts from a Novel
Three Thousand Years of Racism: Recurring Patterns in Racism
The Importance of Merlin Stone, by Lenny Schneir
Merlin Stone, Artist and Sculptor, by David B. Axelrod
I Remember Merlin, by Cynthia Stone Davis
A Gallery of Photos and Artifacts
A Great Sense of Hope
The Legacy of Merlin Stone, by Carol Thomas
Epilogue, by Carol Thomas
Bibliography & Works Cited
About the Authors
Other Books by Merlin Stone
When God Was A Woman

“Lenny Schneir’s tribute to Merlin Stone—her life, her person, her work—touched me to the core. The book is both humble and powerful, proclaiming as it does his unconditional (and undying) love for a creative, independent woman, who expressed her own mind and lived out her destiny. A fine archival gathering of photos, as well as his stories and poems, plus her unpublished writings, the book is a peek into the mysterious, private world of this iconic feminist woman who changed history.” —Vicki Noble, Feminist shamanic healer and author of The Double Goddess: Women Sharing Power

You may also wish to buy Merlin Stones book:
Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: A Treasury of Goddess and Heroine Lore from Around the World


DR. CAROL THOMAS was the holder of a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Saint Thomas of Villanova University in Miami. She also holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Psychology from Union Institute and University, and a doctorate in Applied Theology (D.Min.) from Pittsburgh’s Theological Seminary. She taught Women’s Studies, Psychology, and Literature at the University of Connecticut, Bowie State, as well as in additional colleges and universities. She also taught creative writing for Saint Leo University and for Gavle University in Storvik, Sweden. During her sojourn of eleven years at the University of Connecticut, she enjoyed private practice as a member of Shoreline Psychiatric Associates. At Niantic Women’s prison she taught for Mohegan College and was instrumental in facilitating the publication of a book of art and poetry written by the incarcerated women and published by the State of Connecticut’s Counsel for the Arts. She has published a book on the Women’s Movement and three books of poetry. Dr. Thomas and her husband, Frank, a retired surgeon, had a horse ranch in Oklahoma where they resided for a number of years, and a home in Palm Coast, Florida, where Carol lived until her passing in 2017.

LEONARD SCHNEIR was born in Brooklyn, New York. He lived at home with his sister Renée, and his mother, Betty. His father, Irving, a shoe manufacturer, only occasionally lived with them. In 1947, at the age of seven, he moved to Kew Gardens, Queens, where he became an “expert” at roaming the streets, as his memoir amply recounts. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1962, from the University of Denver. Thereafter, he served in the Army, rising to sergeant E5, honorably discharged in 1968. After a series of jobs, first for his father, and at other sales positions, he moved to his home at 184 6th Avenue, New York City, in that same year. There, he settled into the life of a professional poker player. Later, he became a major collector of gambling memorabilia in partnership with the American playing-card authority, Gene Hochman. As an expert in that area, Lenny authored the book, Gambling Collectibles: A Sure Winner (Schiffer Publishing: Atglen, PA, 1993). Lenny met Merlin in September, 1976, and she moved in soon thereafter. They continued at their 6th Avenue residence until 2005, at which time they moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. After Merlin’s death, Lenny continued to live in Daytona Beach until he died in the same room, in the same bed where Merlin passed. At his request, his and Merlin’s ashes were combined and may be visited at the south corner of the Andy Romano Park in Ormond Beach, Florida.

DAVID B. AXELROD has written and published hundreds of articles and works of fiction and non-fiction ranging from 21 books of poetry to dramatic writing for stage and television, freelance journalism, stories and memoirs. He holds a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts; an M.A. from The Johns Hopkins University; an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, and a Ph.D. from Union Institute. He is recipient of three Fulbright Awards, including his serving as Fulbright’s first official Poet-in-Residence in the People’s Republic of China. He is a Volusia County, Florida, Poet Laureate, and before that, served as Suffolk County, Long Island’s Poet Laureate. Dr. Axelrod’s CV notes that he has performed at hundreds of venues internationally including for the American Library Association and at the United Nations. As a non-fiction writer and journalist, he was published by the New York Times, Newsday, and Harper Collins. Dr. Axelrod’s four children—Jessica Robinson, Emily Axelrod, Daniel Axelrod and Aileen Axelrod—are all working professionals in the New York area.  David B. Axelrod is Director of Creative Happiness Institute, Inc., in Daytona Beach, where he lives with his wife, Sandy Martin.


Dr. David B. Axelrod


Phone: 386-337-4567.

Jun 272011

Would you like to learn more about poetry? Would you like to attend a poetry workshop or take personal poetry lessons?

For over forty years I have written, performed and taught poetry to all ages of people–from pre-school to senior programs.

Contact me for:

Personal poetry lessons

Poetry workshops


Assistance with magazine and journal publication

Book editing, design and publishing

I will be happy to work with you or your organization to design exactly the services you desire. My fees are negotiable. I may also be able to assist you with fund-raising and grants to pay for programs or even for your own personal work with me.



Apr 172011


The Poetry Audience

by David B. Axelrod 

I’ve always been a populist poet, but that term, “populist” has probably changed meaning substantially.  Using the term when it comes to literature, I use “populist” to mean someone who believes that poetry is for a large audience of people, not just for English majors and academics. More recently, however, populism has taken a sad turn  politically, and even among poets it could me people who are bringing poetry down to a “least common denominator.”

When I first started writing poetry—as a thirteen-year-old boy in a macho culture—it was a secret activity. My father was an auto mechanic, a mechanical genius who could fix anything. It was as if he could talk to any machine, diagnose it, and cure it. He wasn’t very patient with his poet son, however, and to his dying day he protested “I just don’t understand poetry.”

Later, in college, I had professors who made poetry a task wherein they knew its deep, hidden meaning and we, poor students, had to guess it. To read and understand a poem, we had to study the author’s life, the historical context, every conscious and unconscious motivation of the poet. Needless to say, poetry was not for everyone. You had to be a scholar, or at least a mind reader to appreciate verse.

I wrote because I had strong feelings. As often, there were things that pained me—feelings of abuse, rejection, cruelty that I experienced or observed. It took me years to learn that I didn’t have to suffer to write a good poem. There is a stereotype of the poet starving in some garret, penning poems in poverty, depressed, and fixated on suffering. It is also true that, as a group, studies have shown that poets are prone to depression.

I, myself, attribute those tendencies to the fact that poets are keen observers. If life conspires to deaden our senses; if we aren’t inclined or even allowed to look too closely, then those who do take a closer look are likely to see some pretty bad things. Certainly, there is a genuine balance between the good and bad, the happy and sad. We need only watch the nightly news to see the pain and suffer. A sensitive person, someone who gives a voice to all that pain, could well be sad.

Those who know me more recently also know I am a secular Taoist. You might want to read my book


But this is where populism often goes astray. To reach a large group of people, poets should not “write down.” They shouldn’t have to simplify, or worse, censor themselves. Their job, like a good journalist, should be to observe and channel what they see in words that will make others pay attention. Poets, in fact, are freer than reporters who are bound by the classic rules of journalism. The old style of reporting dictated that a news story should not introduce the reporter’s opinion. Poets get to personalize, personify, and set a strong tone and theme.

The task of a populist poet, therefore, is not to simplify or sanitize, but to use all his or her powers to communicate. Words are a poet’s pallet and whether it is photographic realism or abstract art, the poetry should snap the reader’s head back. Controversial subjects, graphic depictions, yes, even politically incorrect statements are fair game for poetry. There are those who say poetry should not use “those words,” or be political, or celebrate violence. To make a list of things a poet can not say is to stifle the art, to deny life.

Of course, I’m not advocating that poets set out to offend people. If they did that they would, first off, not reach a large audience. Poetry can be the antidote to cruelty, the salve for pain if not the cure. It comes from such antecedents as prayer. The poet’s real challenge is to pick the right word for the right moment. In that way a poet captures and preserves what others may not have observed.

The process of poetry can be transformative. It’s a kind of word magic–as surely as poets were not just the storytellers of the past but the shamans, priests, medicine men and women. I make no claims to such healing powers, though I have observed and participated in events where healings have occurred and poetry was the means.

What I do claim now is the right, if not the power, to put all that I see and feel into words. I won’t hold back if things aren’t pretty. I won’t restrict myself only to certain words. I want the whole pallet, redolent with colors–every variation and tone. I want high definition poetry that reflects life back at all the people so they see themselves more clearly and thus understand and love themselves that much more.  



Apr 172011

Is it the Art of Poetry or the Business?

by David B. Axelrod

Have you heard writers complain that they aren’t able to sell their writing? It probably isn’t fair for poets to complain. Let’s face it, the old adage “for love or money” is a benchmark for poets. As there is very little money in selling poems or even books of poetry, devoting yourself to poetry is almost certainly for the love of the art.

You can, however, find a steady outlet and even a small source of revenue in your poetry but it takes the right mind set. (See our tip on increasing your chances of publication as an example.)

It would help if you start with some basic definitions. If art is what you do for yourself, commercial writing is what you do with a particular audience, editor or publisher in mind. Art, if you wish, is from the heart. Commercial writing is for a particular audience.

That doesn’t mean you can’t sell your art. Nor does it mean commercial writing is “heartless.” Rather, it should alert those who wish to get published to the need to know their markets. An educated writer targets submissions to particular outlets. 

For poets, “commercial art” might be most obvious in your trying to write greeting cards or offering poetry written for specific occasions. More likely, a poet who sees a call for poems on a certain theme or for a particular purpose can use that “commercial” opportunity to trigger (if not indeed inspire) a new poem or two.

It isn’t fair to complain if you send your work out blindly and get rejected. Imagine you send poem with a “liberal” use of language to a “conservative” magazine. It would be unlikely you would make a match. You might as well send poems that rhyme “posies” and “rosies” to an experimental poetry magazine. You’d be speaking the wrong language!

Clearly, the directories that list magazines and outlets for writing are of great use. They describe the general requirements as outlined by the editors. However, as often the magazine will say “We are interested in publishing only the best”—whether that is poetry, stories, opinion pieces, etc.  What “the best” is, naturally, is subjective.

You’d do best to find and read a sample of work before sending to a magazine or publisher. If you have “commercial” aspirations, study the contents–not just the table of contents but the advertising and layout. Ask who reads the magazine. Think what you need to do to match your writing to that special audience.

Because magazines and publishers survive and thrive by targeting their publications to special markets, you need to analyze the audience. Often you can get the guidelines for publication from the magazine either by sending a SASE or going on line.

Best of all, if you are an artist, you will be able to write for yourself and match your creations to various markets. You may be that special talent which appeals to a wide audience. If writing is a song, marketing is the dance and after all, you ought to take pleasure in it!

Apr 162011


by David B. Axelrod

Note: I know this memoir/story has no direct bearing on my work as a poetry doctor, but I am proud to offer this remembrance of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

    The neighbor says “Did you hear the news? Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.”

    It’s 9:10 at the bus stop. His wife told me he hits her. He seems like such a nice guy. The Chinese have a saying: “Every family has a hard book to read.”

    “Two planes?” I say, “It must be some kind of beacon problem. They went off course.” Terrorism doesn’t even come to mind. It’s the corner of Here and There in suburban Long Island. All we worry about around here is too many Canada geese in the little pond nearby. They are turning the water a sickly green.

    Who thinks of terrorism on such a beautiful sunny day? Terrorism: 1. a belief in terror? 2. Terrifying things done on purpose? 3. My brother jumps out from behind a tree screaming as I walk to school. I run home crying.

    We put our kids on the bus. His nine year old son hugs and kisses him. “I love you, Daddy.”

    “I love you too.” he says.

    I think of how his wife confided that some nights she lies awake, terrified. “He told me If you ever leave me I’ll kill you.’“

    My own daughter clunks up the steep bus stairs with her oversized red book bag. She hardly looks back. She has her mother’s eyes, sometimes her mother’s caustic tongue. For four years since the divorce, I’ve been Mr. Mom and she still argues with me that I don’t know how to do her hair.

    Inside the house I forget the news, start a breakfast of too much red meat, greasy fried potatoes. As I reach for the Times I remember the neighbor’s bulletin and get up to turn on the TV. Smoke flame billow from the twin towers. An urgency that is usually inappropriate edges the voice of the news commentator. A camera zooms in on what we’re told is someone falling. It isn’t clear if it’s a man or woman but the arms flailing indicates it isn’t a piece of debris.

    The screen splits to show a replay of a large plane approaching the twin tower, angling to impact with a giant ball of flame. I’m surprised at how stunned I am. I’ve seen a lot, more than you’d care to know. “Hi, how are you, “ is just a ritual. Don’t ask is good advice. Don’t tell is better.

    Just as I’m adjusting to what announcers are calling “a possible terrorist act, “ someone with a handheld camera screams “get back” and a tower begins to collapse. It’s just like a slow motion filming of a demolition scene, layer after layer flattening downward faster and faster into a cloud of dust and smoke. It’s so much like the special effects I’ve seen in movies that I’m bothered. It can’t be real.

    The people running, screaming must be movie extras. Only there’s the overweight cop who weaves around other panicking people, shoves a woman and runs out ahead of the billowing cloud of debris and smoke. Much later there will be the video footage of cops beating a fellow who “tried to pedal his bike past a police officer who told him to stop.” The announcer explains, “Impatient, tired, the police seem to be taking their frustrations out on him.” I doubt there will be an investigation.

    The entire World Trade Tower is gone. I feel a surprising tightness in my jaw, hear a ringing in my ears. I’m amazed at how amazed I am. And then the TV voice asks, “Do you think the other tower is leaning?”

    Almost as quickly it’s coming down, only this time the huge TV tower on top is visibly falling in the center. I remember being out on the observation deck atop the South Tower, looking over at the other building and how huge that broadcast antenna was. There as was Frenchman who strung a cable from one tower to the other and walked across the chasm! What gall! I always pictured him walking with his balance pole and the cable tied to the top of that antenna.

    Now it’s falling down, falling down. With it goes the indifference I had recently worked so hard to cultivate. “Who gives a damn. It’s no big deal; all just part of life.” It isn’t nihilism, just a desire to detoxify, to shake loose from too much pain and too much striving. But I feel first a great uneasiness rising out of that dust cloud and later an anger.

    The news coverage goes on and on with details. I place a call to my employer and say I won’t be coming in. I say I have an ear ache–not completely untrue as I realize I’ve tightened my jaw so much I’m in pain. Later they will cancel the day’s work and close up anyway. I’m saved a sick day and a small lie.

    A parade of officials come forward to promise “everything we can do to help.”

    It occurs to me that people inside–one estimate in the thousands–won’t take much consolation from all this, their bones likely ground to dust with the buildings’ collapse. The President comes on to say “We’ll get the folks who did this.” Not exactly inspirational.

    The phone rings several times. Older daughters reassure me they and their spouse, fiancé, friends are okay. Close calls. One might have been down by the WTC but decided to head up-town instead. She tells me later that she walked five miles, from mid-town, over the 59th Street Bridge and all the way to Astoria to get home. “It was a beautiful day. I felt guilty because I was enjoying the walk.”

    The woman who’s husband beats her calls to ask me if I can get her kid if the elementary school closes. “Don’t worry, “ I reassure her. “I’m always here for you.” If only it were that easy, I think. I gave her numbers to call–women’s groups, domestic services, and an attorney. That was a year ago and they’ve stayed together. What can a person do?

    Before I notice, it’s time for my daughter to get off the bus. There she is all flush with the news. “The teacher didn’t give us any homework tonight. She was too busy with what happened and forgot.”

    I bring her in and settle her in front of the TV but every channel is playing and replaying the plane that crashes into the towers and then the towers falling down.

    “Wow, “ she exclaims. “I went there and now they aren’t there.” And then it dawns on her, no cartoons. We experiment and even the shopping channels are either off the air or showing news. A couple satellite channels are still replaying the usual cartoons. Disney has an old Donald Duck cartoon in which, ironically, Donald is parading around in his World War II uniform trying to be heroic.

    When I saw that cartoon for the first time we were still being asked to buy liberty bonds. I think how many times during the day people compared the events to Pearl Harbor. For me, it was a bit like the assassination of JFK, as for the magnitude of people’s reactions. We live through so much. It’s a crazy existence and it’s amazing who does survive.

    Not long after my daughter’s return we decide to head out–upset by the continuing coverage, longing for something to do. We drive toward a department store where I’m scheduled to pick up a new vacuum cleaner. Wow, best suction available. I wonder what’s in the thick dust coating everything where the buildings collapsed. How will they ever be able to clean that?

    I promise my daughter she can get the Tweety quilt she has been asking for. But when we get there, to our mutual amazement, the department store is closed. Why? Why would they close on a perfectly good business day? Was this terrorist thing really such a big deal that a store sixty miles away needed to let its help go home?

    I guess so, I know so, but all the way home my daughter complains until, turning into our driveway I am forced to say, “For pity sake, thousands of people have died.” We spend a quiet evening pretending we are safe at home.






Apr 152011


by David B. Axelrod

While the sonnet may be the best known example of formal poetry, dating back to at least the 13th Century and, of course, most known for the average literature student from study of Shakespeare, the contemporary poet who attempts the form is advised to “not try to write like Shakespeare.” That is, a contemporary sonnet does not use “fancy” or out-dated words (poetic or archaic diction); does not invert sentence structure to make a rhyme (see “Telling Good Rhyme from Bad”); does not necessarily treat abstract ideas or heightened emotions as the subject matter. Rather, the test of a contemporary sonnet is to follow the form precisely, but make it sound like normal, conversational speech.

As for following the form–precisely–I would say that is the only way to learn. Roll up your sleeves and sweat with the muse. Do not go for easy rhymes, but rather just those rhymes/words that express what you mean. Do not quit until the meter is perfect iambic pentameter. There may be such a thing as “poetic license,” wherewith one feels exempt from the rules–able to break form. (Poetic license is a bit like learning to drive properly, then rolling an occasional stop sign.) But a poet who wishes to learn any form, truly ought to learn and follow the rules completely. Any less than an exact adherance to the rules would be, simply, a cop out! You would not have mastered the form.

That said, below I offer you some of my own attempts.


 (a sonnet for Aaron Kramer)

“Do not go gentle?” Dylan missed the mark;

as if we all must think of death as dark.

I think that death’s more gentle than a birth.

I’ve seen a light that glows beyond the earth;

but not a heaven, not Elysian Fields.

One needn’t find salvation; rather, yield

to that same light that little children miss

in nurseries where doting parents kiss

their fears away indulgently.  But why?

Suppose it isn’t fear that makes kids cry

but yearning for the pre-birth light they left.

Then go, good journeyman, gently cleft.

Greet death as quietly as candles burn.

From light you came. To light you shall return.


The promise of an endless summer brought

me here. Daytona Beach, its hard, flat sand,

green surf, an amphitheatre where a band

performs for free each summer weekend. I thought

the warmth of Florida would compensate

for all the ice and snow I had to clear—

an end to winter doldrums and the fear

I’d never leave that endless, frozen state.

I hadn’t calculated how far north

I picked, or how one summer thins the blood

so nights in forties, days just sixty would

need a jacket when I venture forth.

It isn’t freezing. Sure, I’m glad for that.

I wear a bathing suit and woolen hat.


If I had said, “Please stay,” if I had said,

“I’ll go with you,” would you have then been pleased

or quickly run away?  Each time in bed,

I said, “I want to care,” you only teased,

as now you sign your letters cryptically,

“X K,” so I am left to guess it means

you send your love.  Or are you scripting me

in lines so hard to read the words are dreams

and I, fool, wanting love, fill in the lines

with longings long held in a breathless creams?

We thought our brief romance beneath Key pines

would never last.  We fooled ourselves it seems.

You say my leaving you has left a space.

For me, you are a love time can’t erase.



Awakened simultaneously at one,

we argue who’s to blame, whose cough resounds

percussive, whether health foods help prolong

one’s life; count careful people still struck down.

We quote the facts, make odds and place our bets:

In WW I, one out of four was killed.

Now one if four will die a cancer death.

An hour–no sleep.  The bottle rattles, pills

half gone; we drink a glass of tepid juice.

Our terrors slow their ticking, numbed by drugs

that stop diurnal clocks.  At noon, transfused

with sugared tea, we slump behind our mugs,

ignore the nitrates bursting in our guts,

the table strewn with bacon rinds and butts. 


Crises, you never let me comfort you,

would rather sit alone in dark and cry,

as is we hadn’t been together through

ten years of births or watched our close friends die.

To show your rage at life you call the cops,

phone threats of self-annihilation, 9-

1-1.  I wake when the receiver drops.

Dazed, I find you flushed with fear and blind

with tears.  You only asked them for protection–

a guard with gun to keep the cancer out.

“Don’t call again,” I beg.  “The cops will come

and get you.”  Then who would drive me crazy,

shout my fears away, or with her madness, fight

to wear me out enough to sleep at night?

(Two little notes about the second sonnet in fear of cancer. Notice that it breaks a rule at the opening by starting with “Crises.” That is the opposite accent of syllables form an iabic foot–a troche. But I wanted to start with a “cry” so I broke the rule for a reason! Also, I believe I am still the only person to use 9-1-1 correctly as part of a sonnet!)

Among those friends and poets whose sonnets I have admired, I also recommend: Aaron Kramer; Peter Meinke; Dana Gioia; X. J. Kennedy; Lewis Turco. I’m not giving you their links. Sometimes it is more fun to just type in a name and see who and what you discover!

Apr 132011



by David B. Axelrod

Many poets write using rhyme. Many more are masters of set forms. At a time when the majority of America’s recognized poets are writing in a plain style–blank verse and free verse–going back to learn the “forms” might seem unfashionable. However, there are some good arguments to encourage a diligent student of poetry to the study of formal poetry.

There are those who say “if you don’t count the beats, it isn’t poetry.” After nearly a century of free verse, such a pronouncement seems a bit extreme! What can be said, however, is that the predominant history of poetry is one of regular meter and rhyme. A poet should spend some time with forms if for no other reason than to honor the past, to pay a little back to tradition!

Then, if you think about it, writing poems with “no rules, ” can breed a certain laxity. If there is no rhyme, no regular meter, no rule for length of the line or the poem itself, what measure does a poet apply to judge a poem a success? One thing following a form can do is send a poet back to work and rework the lines until they are the best example of the form. Thinking, working that hard could produce a better poem than the amorphous notion that anything goes in poem!

Perhaps one of the best explanations for what a poet can learn from a turn with forms, came from one of America’s foremost sonneteers, Aaron Kramer. Asked by students why anyone would want to write a sonnet, he pulled a chair into the center of the room.

“First, ” he said, pressing his wrists together, “you are handcuffed by having to write fourteen lines.

“Then, ” he said, sitting down to press his ankles together, “you are shackled by having to write with a set meter.”

Leaning forward to crouch into a ball, he declared, “They put you into a sack called rhyme.”

Rising suddenly from the chair to spread his arms, he declared, “But think what a magic act it is if you can set you meaning free!”

Writing a form, mastering a form, truly saying what you want while doing what they say, is a bit of a Houdini act! Why not try a sonnet and see if you can rise to the challenge. Perform the necessary word magic and you will have bragging rights for life!

Some reference material:  links you to a group devoted to sonnets and provides items like a rhyming dictionary. addresses the structure or logic of the sonnet, also sometimes referred to as the “Volta.”

Here’s a definition of a sonnet by Michael Jarrett, Associate Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, which provides the basics:

A lyric poem almost invariably of fourteen lines and following one of several set rhyme-schemes. Critics of the sonnet have recognized various forms, but only two types need be discussed if the reader will understand that each of them has undergone various modifications. The two basic sonnet types are the Italian or Petrarchan and the English or Shakespearean. The Italian form is distinguished by its division into the octave and the sestet: the octave consisting of eight lines rhyming abbaabba, and the sestet consisting of six lines rhyming cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce. The octave presents a narrative, states a proposition or raises a question; the sestet drives home the narrative by making an abstract comment, applies the proposition, or solves the problem. English poets have varied these requirements greatly. The octave and sestet division is not always kept; the thyme-scheme is often varied, but within the limitation that no Italian sonnet properly allows more than five rhymes. Iambic pentameter is usually the meter, but certain poets have experimented with hexameter and other meters.

 To summarize, a sonnet has:

14 lines

Iambic pentameter

A set rhyme scheme

Regarding the meter: English, it is said, is spoken very comfortably in iambic pentameter. That said, most people need to relax into writing with a regular meter. Start by writing out your full name, presumably all three parts (or more): first name, middle name, last name and even Junior if that applies. You certainly know where to put the accents, the stresses when pronouncing your own name. Mark over the accented syllables with a /. Mark over the unaccented syllables with a simple –. Guess what! You just “scanned” your name. Scansion is the notation of the meter in poetry.

Set beats, or patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables are given names. Sonnets are written in measured units, “feet, ” which are called “iambs.” Sonnets are “iambic.” Each line of a sonnet contains five regular iambic units or feet. (Quick math therefore, tells you that a line has ten regularly patterned syllables, five iambic feet, and the entire sonnet, therefore, will have 140 such iambically arranged syllables or seventy iambic feet before it’s done.)

Try marking the correct stressed and unstressed syllables:

“Destroy, create, deceive, ” are all iambic words, as is “believable”–four syllables, _ / _ / .

In fact, the whole preceding sentence scans iambically as does this one!

Mark the stressed and unstressed syllables when you read the following line:

“Perhaps it’s time to scan a line of verse.” It’s five regular feet, iambic pentameter! _ / _ / _ / _ / _ /

Ah, but how could that be when the only two syllable word is “perhaps?” Well, it takes a little practice but if you just listen to the way words are spoken, and occasionally check the dictionary, you will grow accustomed to finding the beat. The trick is to not force the words into unnatural places. Don’t go putting the ACcent on the wrong SYLlable! Multi-syllabic words are pronounced in an agreed upon manner. You aren’t allowed to fracture the language and call it “sonnet.”

Another pitfall in writing the sonnet is “padding” the lines to make the meter come out correctly iambic. You may catch yourself adding unneeded words–syllables introduced into a line not because you need them but because you want to keep the beat.

Oops! Padding your lines, like padding your expense account, isn’t an honest path. A good poet holds him or herself to account. Every word, every syllable should be there to further your meaning, not just to fill out the form.

There is room in any poem for some poetic license, but as a student mastering the form, try to be as correct, as formal as you can this first time through. Similarly, you should try not to fracture normal sentence structure, syntax, to make the beats come out regular.

Try to write “naturally, ” smoothly, so that the lines scan regularly but you are still writing modern English and more so, saying what you mean.

Regarding rhyme: As noted above in the definition, sonnets commit themselves to one or another regular rhyme scheme. “Scheme” refers to the pattern of rhymed line endings. While there are a substantial variety of schemes, it’s suggested you pick one or another of the regular patterns:

A B B A C D D C E F F E GG or A B A B C D C D E F E F GG

Having established the rhyme scheme you will follow, read “How to tell a good rhyme from a bad” so that you don’t wind up writing a nursery rhyme. Rather, the challenge, the Houdini trick which Aaron Kramer so cleverly enacted, is to say what you mean, not succumb to making rhymes.

The logic of sonnets: From the rhyme scheme above, you may have noticed that your sonnet will be divided into three quatrains (three stanzas of four lines each) and a couplet (your last two rhymed lines). For some, that suggests that sonnet, like an Aristotelian plot, has a beginning, middle and end. Indeed, if sonnets don’t proceed as stories, they may act like a syllogism in logic with a major premise, minor premise and conclusion.

There is, in a sonnet, as often what is called “the volta, ” or “turn.” You may wish to organize your sonnet as a story or follow a certain logic, you will be writing a substantial poem. By that it’s meant that you have lots of room to let your subject matter grow. The lines are long enough and fourteen of them are ample length to do a good job.

Most of all, have a good time. Folks do crossword puzzle, play word games. They rise to the challenge with cleverness and a love of language. So, the sonnet should make a worthy pastime, a good game. With luck you’ll trigger something wonderful. Poets who avoid form, sometimes drift into a habit of thinking “anything goes.” If the sonnet requires more thought, more effort, that extra work could bring out the best in you. Enjoy! 

YOU SAY YOU’RE NOT SATISFIED. YOU WANT MORE FOR YOU R MONEY? Click here for two sonnets I have written as samples for you: Sample Sonnets

Apr 122011

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I’m available to travel for much of the year, but consider coming to work with me.

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