top of page

From the Mad Mind

                             of Anthony Watkins

Experimental Poetry, in fact poetry in general as a concept, tends to escape me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I tend to write at least a poem every other day, and sometimes I will write several in a day, but the whole thing about “is this poetry?” and “why is this a poem?” eludes me.

Yet, I am forever curious about form, about concepts, about experiments. I started out over 50 years ago, writing down what I saw, or sometimes writing down what I thought, which I found to be a lot more ‘squishy’ than painting a picture of a bird on a tree or a cow near a red barn in a field full of bitterweed.


While I have mastered no form and am not sure how one would know they had mastered any part of poetry, I love making things. The other day I was thinking about how one needs to do something worthwhile with their life. For some less fortunate people, the very act of survival is a grand accomplishment, but for those of us who have lived a relatively easy, entitled life, survival is almost a given. For us, we must build a house, a corporation, a movement, a philosophy, or something.


I looked around at my life and thought: What have I built? I am 58, and I have done nothing (or nearly nothing, given the great advantages life has offered me). Then it occurred to me, I have built a machine. That machine is poetry, my poetry, as, of course, I have not built poetry itself. I wrote a poem about this, but it got me thinking about the concept of poetry as a machine. About mass production, uniformity, interchangeability, about building blocks. No one builds a house or an automobile or even a computer. People build components, then other people assemble these components.

Not to take it too far at the moment, but that is its own separate thought: if “Blocking” ever became a thing, some poets might take blocks from other poets and assemble them into new poems!


Back to my main point for today. My thinking led me to create the following system:


The Block

This is a “new” poetry concept I recently “invented”?

Four lines, four words per line, and each construction block is to be a complete unit but they can be stacked to build a bigger something. The quotation marks are because I have no way of knowing who has already created what ideas. This one seems so simple and basic, it is hard to believe I am the first person to think of it. If you know of this form/concept having originated elsewhere, please let me know!


As a form, I am leaning toward the haiku tradition of not naming the poem, though that goes against all MY conventions.

I think the idea in haiku is that it is such a short poem, one both accesses the meaning with immediacy, and a title does one of two things, it overwhelms the 17-syllable verse, or it allows a sort of cheating by extending the verse by a few pre-poem syllables.


With a single block, I think these all apply, and as the concept is, even if you stack them, they are all, each one an independent unit of 16 words, so the case still remains. for now, and as long as I am the only one writing them, I can make the rules, so I say “block” poems do not have titles.


I am very interested in what you, as a reader of poetry, as a writer of poetry, especially if you write haiku, formal, or short poems, think of this concept. I would love to hear from you, but less so about whether MY Blocks are good poems. What I am most interested is in seeing if you, the reader will send us some of your “Blocks”. If you do, note in the subject line blocks experimental, and we will publish them on the experimental page (hint: at least for now, say the summer of 2018, this is a great way to get your work published in Better Than Starbucks!)

Pen America

The following are some of my attempts at the concept:



Mrs Payne’s desk sees

thirty-two children’s faces

staring back in amazement

not seeing the desk.



Grass soggy on ankles

Like thick wet hair

Releases sweat and dirt

From leather and denim.


Both pants and boots

Not clean but cleanish

Enough for field work

Sunrise brings drying heat.


The wood on the plow

is rougher than me

as I push it

against dry rocky soil.


My daddy would use

a mule for this

but I fear beasts

big, strong and dumb.


Once had a farmer

tell me mules aren’t

dumb, in fact they

are smart and stubborn.



The roar deadened air

surrounds muscled line workers

ear muffs and eyeglasses

and gloves against metal.


Nuts, bolts, and shavings

broken bits and tools

fall to a floor

constantly swept and vacuumed.


Union made, at speed,

ten thousand times, more—

repeated all three shifts

to feed a market.



The crusher claw lifts

the Corvair, rusted, motorless

glass showers with rubber,

another cube is made.



Under the leafless pecans

the crow gun fires

frightening no one, not

even pecan eating crows.


The echo of rifles

as farmers stand, shoot

real bullets, killing birds,

ricochets through my mind.


Clear cold blue skies

cover the dead crows

more like a sail

than a comforting blanket.


One of my fellow ModPo South members, Arif Dalvi, tried his hand at a couple. I like them, I hope you do, too.


The pyre’s hot flames

Are dead. Whose face

Is it you seek

In the warm ashes.


And another filled with literary references:


Omar Khayyam wrote quatrains

Fitzgerald translated. Moving fingers

Stained much paper but

Poetry makes nothing happen.

bottom of page