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World War I, Golf and Golf Poetry

 

Robert Stanley Weir

 The First World War began 100 years ago this month. With this in mind, I would like to devote at least the next two Posts to links between the War, golf and golf poetry. Previously I published a Post called “Golf and the Great War” (http://bit.ly/1kZL9n2). These Posts will add more stories and information to the subject.

While doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, (now available on Amazon in Europe for lower prices 6.50 pounds, 7.82 Euros), I discovered a Canadian poet-golfer named Robert Stanley Weir, 1856-1926, who wrote an impressive war-related poem at the beginning of World War I. Let me quote from my book:

“Robert Stanley Weir, a Canadian, wrote a poem, “The Plains of Abraham,” published in the April 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated and Outdoor America. Weir, a Montreal judge, writer and poet, was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem. Today’s official English lyrics to the anthem are based on Weir’s original version. A little digging also shows that Weir was a golfer and frequent contributor to Golf Illustrated. He wrote book reviews and several articles on swing mechanics. One titled “Braid or Vardon, Which?” focuses on the swings of these two champions and ends with the thought:

 ‘Whether we essay the mighty Vardonian sweep or Braid’s whip-like, corkscrew-like snap, let us beware of adopting one theory to the denial of any other possible one. It is a great satisfaction and advantage to be able to recognize and adopt both.’

 Clearly the Judge was a student of the game.

The title of Weir’s poem, “The Plains of Abraham,” refers to a plateau just outside the wall of Quebec City where a famous battle was fought between the British and French on September 13, 1759. The British won this pivotal battle; however, the British commander, General James Wolfe, was mortally wounded and died on the battle field. The French commander, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, was also mortally wounded and died the next day. From 1874 to 1915, Cove Fields on the Plains of Abraham was the site of the Quebec Golf Club. This background is needed to understand the setting for the poem. The poem, written at the beginning of the First World War, is a strong and heartfelt statement against war.

The Plains of Abraham

Here, where so long ago the battle roared
Sore frighting Dawn when, trembling, she arose
And saw the precious blood of Wolfe out-poured
And France’s hero sinks to long repose.

The grass, they say, is greener for the red
That drenched these plains and hollows all about;
And those thrice fifty years or more have spread
Much peacefulness on glacis and redoubt. [defensive fortifications]

Yes, Mother Nature, grieving, hideth soon
All trace of battles, ravage, death and pain.
The birds began to sing that afternoon—
The dusty, trodden grass to rise again.

And many a year the Citadel’s gray walls
Have seen the quiet golfers at their play:
Passing old ramparts, rusted cannon-balls,
And sighting gunless ships the river way.

Thrilled with the peace of golf the players said:
“Those cruel wars can ne’er again have birth;
The living shall no longer mourn their dead
Untimely gathered to reluctant earth.”

“The tribes shall rest—nor nearer conflict come
Than when a friendly foursome play the game;
The roaring voice of Wrath is stricken dumb
O better brotherhood than battle-fame!”

But, hark, the roaring of unnumbered guns
By salt Atlantic breezes hither blown!
And bitter cries from countless weeping ones,
While Peace is wringing her cold hands alone!”

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The Playing Partner From Hell

From the USGA Digital Library

 

In 1923, The American Golfer, the golf magazine of its day, asked its readers to submit entries to answer the question “What Puts Me off My Game Most?” The April 7th issue included the responses of the three prize winners. The winner of the second prize wrote, in part,

“…I can play with the hare type and with the human tortoise…Sun nor wind nor clouds affect me, I enjoy them all. Nor does a bad hole depress me, for there are many such in my life and I should worry.

But delivery me, oh, delivery me from the fiend who coaches my each and every shot! He usually has about a twenty-four handicap. He has made every hole on the course in par, but never by any chance has he gotten two of them in the same round.

As I step up to drive it starts. My stance is wrong. I should waggle more; my backswing is too short. If I take my midiron for one hundred and twenty-five yards, I am patiently told that I should pitch up with a mashie….”

The second prize winner goes on a while longer, but you get the point.

The first prize winner complains about a similar critic that he calls “NEVER-WILLIE.” In his entry he includes these quotes:

“You never will get rid of that slice with your left toe turned out.”
“You never will hit them clean until you learn to keep your head down.”
“You never will be able to use a mashie as long as you keep dropping that right shoulder.”

At least it’s nice to know that the guy you played with last week that wouldn’t stop talking has a long history.

To immortalize this playing partner from hell, I wrote the following:

He Talks a Good Game

He talks a good game
You know the guy
He judges each swing
With a critical eye.
 

He talks a good game
Awash with advice
He’s off to the races
When he sees you slice.
 

He talks a good game
He studies the pros
He is eager to tell you
All that he knows.
 

He talks a good game
Can he turn a phrase
He talks a good game
But it’s not how he plays.
 

He talks and he talks
With eyeballs that glisten
But even the duffers
No longer listen.
 

Leon S White, PhD

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A Masters Chip for the Ages: Tiger on 16 in 2005

 Tiger's ball at the penultimate moment

 

With Tiger absent from this years Masters, it is a good time to remember one of his most famous Masters shots which he made on the 16th hole in 2005. If you saw it live I would bet that you still remember it. But even for those of you that do and also for those that missed it, I offer my recollection as follows:

♦A Masters Chip for the Ages

From a difficult lie beyond
the steeply sloped sixteenth green

a steely-eyed Tiger sent his ball
to a spot far above the hole,

the ball coming crisply off his wedge,
flew low, bounced once

and rolled on a yard or two
until gravity took over,

causing it to turn sharply,
and start slowly down the slope

towards the hole, speeding up
then slowing again as it got closer.

“All of a sudden,” Tiger’s words,
“it looked really good.”

“How could it not go in?” and
when it stopped, a single turn short,

“How did it not go in?”,
“And all of a sudden it went in.”

It was as if Tiger’s will
had given gravity an assist.

“In your life,” the tower announcer’s voice,
“have you seen anything like that?”

While around him, the patrons’ roar
rose rocket-like, fueled by sheer wonder.

Leon S White, PhD

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A Weary Winter and Thoughts of Golf

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I’m sitting in my home-office looking out the window as the snow comes down hard again. This has not been an easy winter in New England. When not look out the window I’ve been looking for a poem for this Post. In that search I came across a song titled “The Weary Winter Weather of 1886” by David Jackson (Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Leven) in his slight volume Golf – Songs &Recitations. Jackson’s song is to be sung to the tune of “Johnnie Cope.” (see http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Johnny_Cope)

The poem/song was composed after Winter had passed and reminds those of us who are snowed-in that we will yet cheer the coming of warmer days and a new golf season. Here is the song’s Chorus,

But hurrah! Hurrah! The Spring has come at last,
And loosened the burns, that were a’ frozen fast,
And we a’ rejoice that the Winter is past,
For we’ll get a round at Golf in the morning.

Jackson wrote in Scots which makes the song a  bit more challenging. The song has seven verses.

Here is the first verse which describes our Winter as well,

Oh, lang and dreich (long and tiresome) the Winter has been,
And mony (many) a stormy day we’ve seen,
When the frost was sharp and the wind was keen,
And nippit a’ oor noses in the morning.

The third verse brings to mind this Winter’s Olympics,

When the ice was strong, the Curlers with glee
Were busy at their game  sae merry and free;
While the Golfers would wish, wi’ the tear in their e’e,
That the ice would be thawed in the morning.

And the last two verses are what gives us hope,

But the Spring has come wi’ sunshine and rain,
And the wast (west) wind has blawn the snaw off the plain,
And the trees and the flowers are budding again,
And the lark sing early in the morning.

 And the Links are looking as bonnie, fresh, and green
As if nae cauld, frosty weather had been,
And the old and the young sae merry are seen
Awa for a round in the morning.

On a cold winter’s day, this poem allows us to form a link in common with a golfer who was playing in Scotland 128 years ago. That warms me up a little. I hope it does the same for you.

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“The Golfer’s Waggle” for Jason Dufner, PGA Champion and Champion Waggler

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner, who last week won his first major, the PGA Championship, has become well known to the golfing public in the last two years for his approach to waggling his club before hitting the ball. Waggling may be as old as the game of golf itself. And an unknown poet almost one hundred years ago provided us with the most detailed analysis of this pre-shot phenomenon. The poem appeared in The American Golfer in September 1915. (The few Scottish expressions are starred and translated.)

The Golfer’s Waggle

Every golfer has a waggle—
A waggle o’ his ain—*                                           of his own
A wiggle-waggle, long and short,
Wi’ flourishes or plain.

The long and quick, the short and quick,
Long, short, and quick and slow;
The variety is infinite
That golfin’ waggles show.

The sprightly waggle of success,
Dull waggle of defeat;
The weary waggle-wasting time,
The waggle of conceit.

The waggle of the swanky pro,
Of “Far and Sure” design;
The feeble waggle of old age,
That preludes “off the line.”

The caddie’s waggle-dry asides,
That golfers whiles maun* suffer;                                   must
And worst o’ waggles on the links,
The waggle of the duffer.

The waggle shows the waggler,
Be the waggle slow or quick;
There is mair* into the waggle,                                      more
Than the waggle o’ the stick.

The poem can be found in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (Available on Amazon.com.)

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French Golfers, Poetry and the British Open Championship

In 1999 Jean Van de Velde, a French golfer, came to the 18th hole on the final day of the Open Championship with a three shot lead and (as most of you probably know) scored a triple bogey ending up tied with two other golfers. In the ensuing playoff, he and Justin Leonard lost to the Scotsman Paul Lawrie.

French golfers at the Open had seen better days. One hundred and two years earlier Arnaud Massy won the event beating the three British greats of that time, Harry Vardon, J.H.Taylor and James Braid among others. In the 1922 Open Championship, Jean Gassiat, a contemporary of Massy’s, came in seventh. A second contemporary, Baptiste Bomboudiac, was the subject of a golf poem written by Robert K Risk and first published in the English magazine Punch in April 1908.

A story in the Daily Paper, sometime in early 1908, included the following quote regarding the Open Championship to be played later that year at the Prestwick Golf Club:

“France will be well to the front at the Golf Championship. Massy is already at the top of the tree, and there are great possibilities in Gassiat and Baptiste Bomboudiac.”

Risk, maybe the best golf poet of his time, responded to this quote with the following poem.

A TIP FOR PRESTWICK

Some prate of Braid and Taylor,
And eke of Harry V.
(Admittedly a nailer
At driving from the tee):
But of all the golfing heroes
Whom common punters back,
There’s none to me so dear as
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

A Gassiat or Massy
May do distinguished things
With iron and with brassy—
But his the name that rings
Daylong through all my fancies,
Nightlong my sleep I lack,
Through sizing up your chances,
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

To drive and pitch and hole out,
With skill satanical,
Wears an opponent’s soul out,
And sends him to the wall;
The “influence” called “moral”
Will ward off such attack,
Awarding thee the laurel
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

We need not be affrighted
To meet a White or Jones,
Whose Christian names are cited
In quite familiar tones;
But diffidence comes o’er us,
When driven to attack
Polysyllab-sonorous
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

For the record, James Braid won the 1908 Open and Arnaud Massy was tenth. Neither Gassiat or Bomboudiac are listed among those with four round scores.

One more thing. If anyone knows more about Baptiste Bomboudiac please leave a comment. A Google search only produced two references. He deserves better.

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Golf Poetry from the Majors

On occasion I have been inspired to write a poem about a Major event. These have previously been published in Posts on this Blog, but I thought that for Masters week I would put them together. These poems are also included in my new Ebook, If Only I Could Play That Hole Again which is available on Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle app.

Starting with last year’s Masters here is how I saw Bubba’s memorable sweeping hook:

♦Bubba’s Master’s Shot

About B.W. let’s be candid
Fortunate that he’s left handed
If he had hit a slice instead
“Our usual shot,” all we’d have said.

Another Master shot that will always be remembered, is Tiger’s 2005 chip show on the 16th hole:

♦A Masters Chip for the Ages

From a difficult lie beyond
the steeply sloped sixteenth green

a steely-eyed Tiger sent his ball
to a spot far above the hole,

the ball coming crisply off his wedge,
flew low, bounced once

and rolled on a yard or two
until gravity took over,

causing it to turn sharply,
and start slowly down the slope

towards the hole, speeding up
then slowing again as it got closer.

“All of a sudden,” Tiger’s words,
“it looked really good.”

“How could it not go in?” and
when it stopped, a single turn short,

“How did it not go in?”,
“And all of a sudden it went in.”

It was as if Tiger’s will
had given gravity an assist.

“In your life,” the tower announcer’s voice,
“have you seen anything like that?”

While around him, the patrons’ roar
rose rocket-like, fueled by sheer wonder.

In July 2012, Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots over Amy Yang. As the fourth round began, Choi held a six shot lead. And at the turn, she still led Yang by five. Then it got interesting.
Again the newspapers and magazines have told the story of the last nine holes in straight forward prose. I thought it would be fun to re-cast this minor epic in a more traditional form.

♦Na Yeon Choi – U.S. Women’s Open Champion

She was cruising along with a five shot lead
And just nine more to play
But the ever-present golf gods
Had not yet had their say!

As she turned for home with a  big Open lead
Fans saw her name on the cup
Especially now with it down to a match
And she was the one five up.

But the golf gods knew the score as well
And on ten they went into action
Soon enough Na Yeon Choi
Was losing more than just traction.

Her drive went out and couldn’t be found
She was back on the tee for her third
When her putt finally sank she was up only two
But surprisingly undeterred.

A resolute Choi bounced right back
With a birdy on eleven
The golf gods were clearly hard at work
In the depths, then close to heaven.

The down and up would continue
From the next tee into high weeds
But a brilliant wedge put her ball on the green
And she holed with a perfect read.

On thirteen the gods gave one final scare
Her ball hit two rocks, au revoir
But dry it remained miraculously
Choi then made an up and down par.

In the end the golf gods seemed to remember
A dream from way way back
When Na Yeon first said “I just want to be there,”
While watching Se Ri Pak.

Accepting the cheers as she walked up the last,
Her win beyond a doubt
Standing where her hero had stood
She finally putted out.

“I’m here right now and I made it.” she said
After winning ─ though I would wager
The thought that was foremost in her mind —
Like Se Ri, I’ve won this Major.

You may remember at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, Tom Watson needed a four on the final hole to win his sixth Open championship. Unfortunately he didn’t do it. Thus, he lost his chance to make history as the oldest golfer to win a major. He was 59 at the time. Shortly after, I wrote the following poem to pay tribute to Watson’s heroic but failed effort.

♦Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream,
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting.
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning – or losing,
But how he had played the Game.

In 1970 Doug Sander missed a short putt on the final hole at the British Open that cost him the Championship. Here is a reply,

♦An Open Putt Remembered

The putt was less than three feet long
Just how could anything go wrong?

For sure he knew the stakes were high
But could he really run it by?

Doug looked as cool as cool could be
His poise was there for all to see.

But as his putter made its sweep
And those who watched made not a peep.

The ball escaped its aimed-for goal
And did not end up in the hole.

The question was, how could he miss
An easy putt as short as this?

The answer—simple, known to all:
Pressure putts don’t always fall.

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For Golfers April is National (Golf) Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, but of course for golfers it’s National Golf Poetry Month. True, the Masters gets more attention in April, but we golfers should not lose sight of the fact that while the first Masters was played in 1934, the first poem that included a reference to golf was published in 1638!  Golf poetry was most popular in the early 20th century. The golf magazines of the time included golf poems in almost every issue. A number of golf poets such as Robert K Risk (one of the best)  also published books of their poetry.

As those of you know who follow this Blog, I have tried to revive interest in golf poetry through my Posts, of which this is number 150, and through my two books:

Golf Course Of Rhymes - Links Between Golf And Poetry Through The Ages          Final Briggs Cover for Vook ebook

Both are available on Amazon.com. If Only I Could Play That Hole Again is an eBook that is also available for Nook and the iPad. (For descriptions click in the header above)

I would like to mention two other  golf poetry books that are currently available on Amazon. The first is an eBook called Eighteen Holes and is written by Mike Ellwood. Mike describes the book as “a round of golf in poetry.” It consists of 18 poems with an additional on at the Nineteenth Hole. To quote Mike again, the poetry describes the “the drama, excitement and sheer fun of a round of golf.” The second is called Golf Sonnets and its author is James Long Hale. James describes his book as “A delightful collection of humorous sonnets and illustrations about the Game of Golf.”

With Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day not too far in the future, you might consider a golf poetry book. At least you will know that it will be their first!

I can’t write a Post without at least a few lines of poetry, so here are two four-liners.

THE YIPS PURE AND SIMPLE

You have the yips if you miss- hit your putts
Frequent attacks can drive you nuts
The yips occur when you’re not controlling
The direction or speed of the ball that you’re rolling.

CHANGING ODDS

Heard said that trees are nine-tenth air
If your ball gets over you hardly care;
But if it’s low and lost from view
It’s no more than even that your ball gets through.

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Golf Poetry for Fun and Discovery

 As I have written in other Posts, the primary purpose of this Blog and my two books (see Banner) is to offer today’s golfer enthusiasts the opportunity to have fun with and learn from poetry. For many of you “poetry” is on the other side of a literary out-of-bounds line. I’m trying to bring it back onto the fairway to give you a shot at it. That’s what this Blog and my two books are about.

In this first Post of 2013, I would like to begin by wishing you (who come to this Blog from more than 100 countries) a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. And now I’d like to show you how one of my recent  searches for old golf poetry led to the discovery of a non-golf poem that includes well-known lines of inspiration.

In a previous post I included a poem from a book called The Golf Craze – Sketches and Rhymes published in Edinburgh and London in 1905. Between the Table of Contents and the first Chapter of the book, the author (John Hogben writing under the pseudonym Cleeke Shotte, Esq.) included the following verse by W. E. Henley:

“Out on the links, where the wind blows free,
And the surges gush, and the rounding brine
Wanders and sparkles, an air like wine
Fills the senses with pride and glee.”

When I find an old golf poem or verse, I often also try to determine the poet’s connection to the game. So I Goggled Henley’s name and found a very interesting Wikipedia entry.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic and editor. He was born the son of a poor Victorian Englishman.  From age 12 he suffered from tuberculosis, and when he was in his teens his left leg below the knee was amputated.  After a long recovery, when he was in his early twenties the disease made a comeback.  His doctor proposed amputating his right foot to save Henley’s life.  Refusing to accept the doctor’s advice Henley got a second opinion.  The new doctor saved the foot, but there were two more years of recovery.  While in hospital he met his future wife, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, who became literary collaborator and friend; and also while there Henley wrote the poem Invictus.

Two things I learned from this search. First, Henley had a wonderful feeling for “the links” without playing them. (Given his physical trials it is unlikely that he ever played golf.) And second, he left us a most inspiring poem with phrases that you have often heard.

                 INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem was originally published without a title. A publisher later added it. You can go to this second Wikipedia entry to learn more about the poem and some of its more public influences.

Note: Searching through Henley’s poetry I found the golf related verse above comes from a poem called “Ballade of Aspiration.” Here is the first two stanza which precede the verse which is the first half of the third stanza. Click here for the complete text.

 O to be somewhere by the sea,
Far from the city’s dust and shine,
From Mammon’s priests and from Mammon’s shrine,
From the stony street, and the grim decree
That over an inkstand crooks my spine,
From the books that are and the books to be
And the need that makes of the sacred Nine,
A school of harridans ! – sweetheart mine,
O to be somewhere by the sea !

Under a desk I bend my knee,
Whether the morn be foul or fine.
I envy the tramp, in a ditch supine,
Or footing it over the sunlit lea.
But I struggle and write and make no sign,
For a laboring ox must earn his fee,
And even a journalist has to dine;
But O for a breath of the eglantine!
O to be somewhere by the sea.

So even this non-golfing journalist/poet saw the attractiveness of the links “by the sea.”

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Golf Poetry Books New and Less New

My Dropbox1

Just a few days ago my new eBook If Only I Could Play That Hole Again – And Other Golf Poems was uploaded by Vook Digital Publishers. The book is now available at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Nobles Nook, using Apple’s iBook app and at the Vook Bookstore. The book description is as follows:

The title poem of this eBook begins with these oft spoken words, “If only I could play that hole again/ I know that I could shoot a better score . . .” Leon White a long-time player and keen observer of the game writes poetry for golfers who want to enjoy a new and exhilarating golf experience. His poetry will delight players who cherish the game for its perversities as well as its pleasures. He chronicles the joys and the heartbreaks of professionals such as Tiger Wood, Doug Sanders, Bubba Watson and Tom Watson. Other poems celebrate Michelle Wie’s college graduation and Na Yeon Choi’s U.S. Open triumph. There is even a poem about Johnny Cash as a golfer. White, who in his first book Golf Course of Rhymes reintroduced the great golf poems of the past to the golfing public, now adds his own collection of more than 50 sparkling verses. Read them yourself or give them as a gift just for the fun of it.

Some of these poems appeared as Posts on this Blog, some were in my earlier book Golf Course of Rhymes and some are new. Please take the opportunity to look inside the book at any of the websites where it is available. Also Amazon and B&N allow you to give an eBook as a gift. Thanks.

And if you have enjoyed the golf poetry from earlier times on this Blog, you might look at my (less new) book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles. It is also available on Amazon in Great Britain and in Western Europe.

In October 2010 and again in in September of this year I published poems about “opposites” based on an idea I got from the great American poet Richard Wilbur. These poems appear in my new book, but the following will have to wait until the second addition:

     HOOKS AND SLICES

What is the opposite of hook?
Eye you say with a fishy look.
Fish reminds of hook and line
Then bait’s the answer to assign.

A hook is also a cager’s shoot
A jumper might oppose or not.
But with golf, what the duffer fears
Get rid of a hook and a slice appears.

Enjoy the holiday season and may the new year be good to you.

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