Tuesday Poem – Life Sentences – Keith Westwater

Keith has recently published his second collection, Felt Intensity, Mākaro Press 2015. I asked if he would share a poem from the book on my blog. In fact I asked if he would choose one which was a departure from the norm for him, and he sent me, ‘Life Sentences.’ This is actually a group of three. Read all three and then read Keith’s description of the fascinating yet simple technique used therein. It’s always great to find new ways of refreshing our technique as poets and I enjoyed the exotic choice of words which resulted in ‘Life Sentences.’

1. The altar boy

by day he is a demon drover
who roams with rats in vacant lots
eats pitted dates with monster toads
leaves rinds of snot on rabid stones

his matted mane snares the mist
he shares his mind with dented mates
is atomised by vengeful doves
rants at vets who sieve his dreams

his eyes are stained with totem odes
he vends his verse from vats of steam
stores his rage in raven’s drains
strides the street with riven tomes

but when the mares of night invade
the priestly demons that he droves
divest their robes and mitred hats
and rape him on the road

2. Parentless children

on Mothers Day
and Fathers Day
septs of orphans
slip thistle sepals
through their lapels
tally the days
since partition
taste the halite
in their lesions
till the sepia past
for lisles that bind
but find only silt and ash
septal defects and pistils
spathes and stipes
of withered lilies
and haspless staples
with which to tile
their hills of hell

3. The bag lady

she decants each day in cans
scans the drains for plastic treasure
trades lice and rats with lepers
raids the ruins for pins and tapers

clears the bins of tripe and crabs
plaits ducted cable to her tresses
drapes her scabs in spats of peat
scrubs the crud from her dresses

daubs the seats with lunar runes
taps public stipends from the streets
spiels and reels a descant tune
laces tea with beer and acid

her nightly sleep is lanced with pain
as spiders’ bites redact her brain
and render essence of a past
so redolent of yours or mine

© Keith Westwater

Keith Comments: These poems were each written (mainly) using words that could be formed from a single “parent” word, so yes they are a little bit different with their repeating consonants and limited vowel palette. (I learnt this technique while participating in an Iowa University MOOC on how poets write poetry a couple of years ago.)

1. Select a “mother” word with more than one vowel (unless you want to work with that constraint). The altar boy started with “demonstrative”.
2. Think of as many words as possible that can be formed from the letters of this word – this is a word cloud.
3. Start playing with these words and write your poem.

Helen says: I like the way the use of alliteration and internal rhyming adds to the pace of ‘Life Sentences’ and creates an atmosphere which is redolent for me, of scenes from the middle ages or a Shakespearean play. I shall certainly be having a go at it. Thank you Keith for sharing this piece today.

Bio in Brief: Keith Westwater lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. His latest poetry collection, Felt Intensity, was published by Mākaro Press in 2015. Tongues of Ash, his debut collection, won the 2011 IP Picks Best First Book award from Interactive Publications, Brisbane. Keith’s work has received or been short-listed for awards in New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland and has often been commended in the annual New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition.To read more of Keith’s poems and about his books and other activities visit his blog, Some Place Else.


Keith Westwater
Keith Westwater

Some Reviews Of Felt Intensity, Keiths’s latest book:

The Booksellers NZ Blog: ‘From the start of Felt Intensity, Keith Westwater creates a strange and haunting image as he places the all-too-human thoughts of ‘February 22, 2011, Report 1’ in front of the scientific abstraction of ‘February 22, 2011, Report 2.’…Read more

 Mākaro Press: ‘When the earth thrashes under us like a fish, the ordinary words we use to describe the devastation afterwards never seem enough. Lower Hutt poet Keith Westwater harnesses instead the language of science, journalism and myth to adequately express the horror of the Canterbury quakes and their aftermath, lighting on mathematics for the best definition of that thing we need most: resilience.’ Read more…


To read more Tuesday Poems go to the Tuesday Poem Page here.