Short poems

February 5, 2016

I’ve already got quite a full inbox, packed with possibles for March. It should be a good issue.

In April we’ll have one of our SHORT POEMS issues, which always seem to be popular. Eight lines maximum. Haiku, triolets, limericks, double dactyls, clerihews and verse epigrams are welcome, as are shorties in any form you like, whether conventional or strange.

Send them to in the body of an email, please (remembering that I don’t open attachments). 

‘An homage’?

February 4, 2016

Snakeskin has writers and readers from all over the world. We only print poems in English, but English, of course, is a variable language. It has its dialects, its slangs and its local peculiarities, And is all the richer for it. Sometimes this variety throws up interesting issues.

I’ve received, for example, a couple of questioning notes about a phrase in Daniel M. Shapiro’s poem in the February issue. Daniel writes:

We whispered, unplugged,
an homage to Wicked Lester days.

‘Surely that should be “a homage”? ‘  my correspondents suggest.

That’s what I thought, too. Or maybe, I wondered, Daniel meant the French word, ‘hommage’, with the emphasis on the second syllable. It’s a term used by film critics when one director steals an idea from another. And, being unaspirated, it takes ‘an’.

I checked with Daniel and guest-editor Jessy Randall. Both are from Philadelphia, and say that ‘an homage’ (with the stress on ‘hom’) is standard pronunciation in those parts. Other Americans don’t recognise the phenomenon, but that seems to be how they say it in Philadelphia.

Despite Daniel’s generously offering to allow the change, I decided to keep the ‘an’. This is how he hears the poem spoken, after all, and that matters.

I very rarely suggest changes to the language of poems submitted to Snakeskin. I correct spellings and tidy punctuation where necessary, but don’t go further than that. If the poem doesn’t work for me as submitted, I generally just say ‘No thanks.’ The main exceptions come (and there are no more than two or three instances a year) when I can see a good shorter poem struggling to escape from a longer one. Sometimes, for example, I might say that I would print the poem except for the last verse which added nothing to an otherwise interesting piece. Or once, I said that I would be interested in printing a poem if the poet removed all the adjectives that were clogging up the lines. But such occasions are rare.

I’m English, and yes, my ear is attuned to the English way of speaking. In twenty years of Snakeskin, though, I’ve got used to other dialects and accents. Sometimes I’m offered a poem that rhymes perfectly if you say it in an Australian accent, but not in a British one. No worries. I can cope with that, and expect my readers to.

Daniel’s ‘an homage’, though, reminds me that the language is more various than I’d supposed. If that’s his way of speaking, then that’s how the poem should read.


Do readers, coming across that phrase, and thinking it odd, get their attention directed away from the poem to a detail that has little relation to what the poem is saying? If it’s distracting, should it be standardised? What do you think?




January 31, 2016

Snakeskin has many friends, but one of the best is Jessy Randall, who once a year takes over editorial responsibilities and gives your usual editor a holiday.

This month Jessy has collated an issue on the theme of Friends. It is now online, and well worth taking a look at.

While you’re investigating the magazine, take a look at the Plans page, and see what we have in store for April…

New year, new Snakeskin

December 30, 2015

January Snakeskin is online a little early, because I’ll be away from home tomorrow, celebrating the new year as only Oxford knows how.

I’m very pleased with the January issue. And plotting what will happen next in the Snakeskin saga.

February, of course, is the month when Jessy Randall takes over as guest editor. She has already sent me her selection of poems on the theme of friendship, so if you’ve missed that boat, you’ve missed it.

March will be an all-purpose issue. Just send me plenty of poems, any subject, any style. April, though, may be rather different…


Allen Ginsberg’s Christmas Howl

December 22, 2015


I have seen the best teeth of my generation broken upon the crust of a neighbour’s mince pie.

I have seen men struggling through aisles laden with tinsel, buying chocolates uglier than sphincters and enduring carols.

I have seen ecstatic visions of Noddy Holder and of King Wenceslas naked upon a reindeer.

For it is Christmas.

Therefore I rejoice.

I rejoice in the truths that will emerge in shallow Yuletide arguments.

I rejoice in television specials, for mindlessness opens gates into nirvana.

I rejoice in gifts of underwear.

I rejoice in the mother cooking resentfully, and in the drunken aunt.

And in the farting vegan who refuses turkey.

In these I rejoice.


Twenty years on

December 1, 2015

December Snakeskin is online, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the month when I decided, just for fun, to make use of a tine amount of webspace that I had been offered. You can read the story in the interview reprinted in this month’s magazine.

In the interview we talk about e-chapbooks. Snakeskin hasn’t printed many of these recently, so perhaps it’s time to revive the practice. If you’ve ten or so poems on a theme, maybe, that would fit neatly into a smart little pdf file that readers could print off to read at leisure – let me know.

The interview harks back to the ambitions of the early days of the internet (and some of us are ancient enough to remember when there wasn’t a single advert in the whole of cyberspace…) Some of these ambitions have been realised, others not.
To remind us all of how once we had a sense of the medium’s possibilities, here’s Ken Payne’s Manifesto for the Internet Poem, from 1997:

Because the Bit moves through a virtual space, across beleaguered continents and doomed regimes, unabashed by the sniper’s ballistic veto, the reprimand of cannon, and the armoured tread of tanks, because the Bit moves across seas unhindered by the submarine and the belligerent battleship, over the walls and past the fences of the snide censors, the moral Mommas and the mad dictators, I assert the ubiquity of the Internet Poem.

The tyrant tore and torched the texts.

Because the Bit can replicate, because the Bit can be stored and multiplied, because the Bit can be printed on paper or T-Shirts, because the bit can be carried on diskette in the back pocket of a pair of democratic Levis or the jacket pocket of a Saville Row suit, because a purse or handbag can hold an archive of epics, I assert the continuity of the Internet Poem.

On magnetic media, millions of minds.

Because the Bit is not in the gift of Academics, Editors, Critics and Pundits, because the Bit is unabashed before the terminals of the mighty and unashamed on the laptops of the low, because the Bit is created at the screens of the outcast, the unconventional, the dreamers, the dispossessed and the exiled, because the Bit is prolific, precise and passionate, I assert the quality of the Internet Poem.

Postings of passion were placed on the server.

Because, by the grace of the Bit, reader and writer are drawn into a closer community, because the Bit enables the creation of new types of verse and new ways of meaning, because the Bit unites the artist, the poet and the musician, I assert the superiority of the Internet Poem.

The landscape is lively with electric laureates


November 26, 2015

It was a week or two ago that I suddenly realised.
December will mark a notable Snakeskin anniversary.
It was in December 1995 that the first issue of Snakeskin went online, which means that we’ve now been carrying on, more or less steadily, for twenty years.
I thought about writing some sort of account of Snakeskin’s early days for the December issue, but then remembered that the job had already been done. A few years ago, Helena Nelson was interviewing poetry editors for her excellent and fondly remembered print magazine, Sphinx. When she interviewed me, I said quite a bit about Snakeskin’s origins, aims and history.
Quite a few readers will not have seen that interview, so, with Helena’s permission, I am reprinting it in the anniversary issue.
But – twenty years!
Are we the only webzine to have survived from those early days?
If so – how did it happen?
Well, I suppose I got into the habit. And I don’t feel like stopping quite yet.

Welcome to Britain

August 28, 2015

Today Snakeskin’s essayist, Bruce Bentzman arrives in Britain (with of course Ms. Keogh, his more significant other) to begin a new  life in Wales.

Being a Patrick O’Brian fan, he has crossed the Atlantic by sea, and has already sent dispatches indicating that he has noted the regular flashes of the Portland Bill lighthouse. He also had a taste of Britain on board, when served a pint of London Pride beer. It was not to his liking. (I warn you, Bruce, you’ll find many worse pints in Wales.)

Once established in Wales, Bruce will, of course, continue his series of essays.

When he moved from suburbia, he changed the title of the series from ‘Suburban Soliloquies’ to ‘From the Night Factory’.  What we have to consider is – should he mark this new change in his affairs with a new title.

‘Welsh Whimsies’?

‘A Yank Abroad’?

‘Transatlantic Themas’?

Doubtless he will think of something.

Meanwhile – Bruce, welcome  to Britain. I think you’re going to like it here.

Last poem: an opening number

June 15, 2015

The verse-writing that I have enjoyed  most over the years has been in collaboration with musicians, producing songs for shows and cantatas. In particular, i enjoyed writing pantomimes for nineteen Christmases, knowing that they would be presented by a cast who always rose to the occasion. Here, to finish this small collection of poems, is my favourite panto opening number, the Song of the Mediaeval Peasants from Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood.

The age that we are living in
Is known for grimness, plague and sin.
It’s the darkest of History’s pages.
But we sing with a cheerful grin –
We like the Middle Ages!

There’s lovely castles for the rich,
The poor get scurvy and the itch,
And the Black Death generally rages.
But once a week we burn a witch –
We like the Middle Ages! Read the rest of this entry »

A pair of Limericks

June 14, 2015

Today’s poetical post is a pairing called Two Perverse Limericks.
The limerick is a splendid form – compact and zinging. I like it even more when another constraint is added to its rules, so these are two formal experiments. Square limericks have been around for a while, but I think apocopated ones are my own invention.

Two Perverse Limericks
This one is a Square Limerick. The rule is that the words on the left hand side of the poem repeat the words of the first line, while the last line repeats the words going down the left-hand side. This is as near as I’ve got to a successful one:

A person from old Bangalore –
Person? No! Frankly call him a bore! –
From noon to night sings
Old B-sides by Wings
Bangalore bore sings Wings evermore.

This one is an apocopated limerick. Apocopation cuts off the last syllable of the word you’re rhyming with, and you rhyme with what’s left. Confused? The poem should make it clear. As I say, this kind of limerick is my own invention. I doubt it’ll catch on.

The poet cried: “Look! Bluebells glistening!
And are those fairy footsteps? Do listen!”
But his eight-year-old daughter
Replied with a snort:
“Wossat? Dad, are you taking the piss?”


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