Friday, March 31, 2017

“Words as Weapons” by F. J. Bergmann

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Words as Weapons” by F. J. Bergmann.  This poem was a finalist in the 2017 Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.

Bergmann edits poetry for Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association ( and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (, and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. Recent work appears in: Apex Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, The Future Fire, Twisted Moon, Uut, and elsewhere.

Words as Weapons
F. J. Bergmann

         If words are to enter men’s minds and bear fruit, 
         they must be the right words, shaped cunningly to pass men’s defenses 
         and explode silently and effectually within their minds.
                  —J.B. Phillips, writer and clergyman (1906–1982)

Words are weapons
John Bertram Phillips
that poets have always
been able to conceal and carry:
a haiku’s three-spiked shuriken,
the stiletto of a sonnet,
a six-shootin’ sestina.

Obscene limericks go viral,
infecting entire grade schools.
Rap and hip-hop lyrics
sell by the case from car trunks:
Viva la revolución no televisado!

The use of the hydrogen jukebox
violates the Geneva Convention
and the Kyoto Protocol—
but those who enjoy being violated
line up for blocks.

We set up secret maquiladoras
to manufacture lyrical ammunition,
assessing judicious juxtapositions
for their incendiary potential:
tintinnabulation and pallid,
Porlock and albatross,
brillig and borogove,
concupiscence and ice cream,
cochineal and immortality
detonate on the darkling plain
of the testing range.

In a catacomb beneath a corporate office
I pile high my stolen vocabularies
and slither surreptitiously
back up the stairs after lighting
the slow green fuse.

Poet’s Notes:  Shelley said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Gil Scott-Heron said, "The revolution will not be televised." I believe that literature influences politics and culture more than anything else, because people do not become as defensive when reading or hearing information presented as art, which allows the ideas within it to sneak in, germinate and then explode in green growth. Poetry, because the wording must of necessity be more exact, is the most concentrated and effective form of literature in disseminating subversive ideas. It is not lost on me that the root of the word "verse" means "change." Sub-verse, indeed.

I'm a regular at a local slam and have read at National Poetry Slam several times. What has always impressed me about the best slam poems, which are frequently political, is that they are not mere rants, but use clever narratives and, often, humor in contrast with strong emotion to make their point, and always well-chosen, interesting words. I feel strongly that it's not enough to appeal to ideologues on one's own side; the best work always has something to intrigue any reader or listener, no matter what their political views, and perhaps elicit a connection and a deeper understanding.

Of course, this poem is also a hat tip to some well-known poets besides Scott-Heron—Ginsberg, Poe, Coleridge, Stevens, Dickinson, Arnold, Williams—and a few of their trusty warhorses.

Editor’s Note:  This poem is a nice piece of ars poetica--easily the best I've read by a modern poet.  The bullets Bergmann uses for her poetic gun are unique and wonderful (I admit, I had to look up more than a few).  Her employment of alliteration is just right, not overdone, and I find the narrative riveting. 

Comments by Contest Judge Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, PhD:  It's very hard to pull off a poem about language and especially about poetry, but the poet is quite successful here because of the sharp and sinewy images, the constant and concise wit, and the surprises popping out of each stanza. I loved “the stiletto of a sonnet, a six-shootin' sestina” and the pile of syllables in “ manufacture lyrical ammunition,/ assessing judicious juxtapositions.” The ending is downright spectacular and also reminds me of some of Dylan Thomas's images. This poem is overflowing with wit, and I loved reading it aloud to hear the sounds that make this poem so musical.

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