Timothy Steele
    Iambic pentameter is alive and well and living among us, here in Southern California, and one of its most visible practitioners is Timothy Steele, whom we have here today. Composer Olivier Messiaen, a fervent Catholic, once lamented his isolated status as a believer within a world made up of atheists. Timothy Steele must lament, in a similar way, that most poets are playing tennis without a net. In his case, the net is up and running, and his formal poems beautiful to behold, the meter never forced, the rhyming never artificial. In addition to several volumes of verse, he has also written useful books about poetry, especially All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing, which has everything you ever wanted to know about rhyme and meter but were too shy to ask, as well as surprising insights and revelations. Every poet should keep that book on his desk, whether or not he writes in form. Maybe it’s a healthy thing for us to be reminded of what metrical verse can still accomplish, what it is still capable of, even among freeways and palm trees and 21st century chaos.


April 27, 1937

General Ludendorff, two years before,
Had pushed the concept in his Total War,
And so it seemed a perfect time to see
If one could undermine an enemy
By striking its civilian population.
This proved a most effective innovation,
As the defenseless ancient Basque town learned:
Three quarters of its buildings bombed and burned,
Its children and young wives were blown to bits
Or gunned down, when they fled, by Messerschmitts.
Shocked condemnations poured forth from the press,
But Franco triumphed; and, buoyed by success,
The Luftwaffe would similarly slam
Warsaw and Coventry and Rotterdam.

Berlin cheered these developments; but two
Can play such games—and usually do—
No matter how repellent or how bloody.
And Churchill was, as always, a quick study
And would adopt the tactic as his own,
Sending the RAF to blitz Cologne.
Devising better ways to carpet-bomb               
 (Which later were employed in Vietnam),
The Allies, in a show of aerial might,
Incinerated Dresden in a night
That left the good and evil to their fates,
While back in the untorched United States
Others approved an even darker plan
To coax a prompt surrender from Japan.

That day in Spain has taught us, to our cost,
That there are lines that never should be crossed;
The ignorance of leaders is not bliss
If they’re intent on tempting Nemesis.
Each day we rise, and each day life goes on:
An author signs beneath a colophon;
Trucks carry freight through waves of desert heat;
A bat cracks, a crowd rises to its feet;
Huge jets lift to the sky, and, higher yet,
Float satellites that serve the Internet.
But still, despite our cleverness and love,
Regardless of the past, regardless of
The future on which all our hopes are pinned,
We’ll reap the whirlwind, who have sown the wind.




2012 Timothy Steele
Timothy Steel was a Featured Poet who read his poetry at the August 2012 Second Sunday Poetry Series