Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by James B. Nicola

To Players

You are not what you are, but what you're not;
you're what you can be, and the opposite.
That is, after all, what makes art, art.
When a master, you're a servant; when
a lackey, be a guide. All you have mem-
orized must seem spontaneous, to them,
as it was yesterday, will be again
tomorrow; what you over-pronounce, seem
uttered, merely. Your love affairs will end
at curtain, resume from where you began,
not from where you left off: they don't pretend
to develop like life. And on like this
till closing night. And though together you're
to make a mirror, your images shall
be moving, sharp'relived, not just reported.
Your glass stands a little bit distorted,
though--a smoky, well-smudged, fun house mirror--
so that it's up to them whether they see
themselves in it or not, laugh, cry, rise, fall
with the action, see themselves suddenly clearer,
or blink and never see themselves at all.
But for two hours, two and a half, three,
you tease, toast, remind guests not how it is,
merely, but how it has been, and could be:
make them feel fortunate the tragedy
is not what is, and have them understand
it need not ever be; in comedy,
you let them play their roles with dignity
in the orchestra, mezzanine, or balcony,
safe from pratfalls, hijinks, or being made
to look like a fool. After all, that's your
job, your charge, your calling, your stock-in-trade--
that, and making them think they're having fun
so that they can't help but come back for more.
So welcome. Now. Act One. Scene One. Page one.

The Beauty of Actors

Their silences are sinew and connect
the muscle of their actions with the tis-
sue of their words so that you keep expect-
ing their next rash deed. Whatever it is,
you're unable not to find out! The wis-
dom in their looks holds back their sounds with dis-
cipline, its fire invisible, like a
volcano not erupting. I once saw
an active one a week before it blew.
How it reminded me of, what, the beau-
ty of actors, as they've made me stop, think,
suspect a trace of smoke, breathe in, and blink
as a Cypriot watching, from an aproned shore,
the goddess emerge from the sea foam, wanting more.

Elocutionary Advice

You might engage your jowls
To gather round your vowels.
And consonants slide better
With lips a little wetter.


We are not what we are but who you say
we are. That is the business of the show,
which makes us what we are each time we speak
onstage, all memorized and set to play
six evening and two matin'es a week.
And if an evening's pangs of thought and laughter
enthrall you to your feet to shout Bravo,
then for the next show, or the one right after,

our agents can negotiate for billing
above the title (wouldn't that be thrilling?)
or boxed and on a separate line, below,
that you might notice and begin to know
the name associated with the star,
as well as what we, who we, that we are.


I don't imagine meeting kings and queens.
But we were born not to rise and arrive,
but rise and fall again and again fall,
half-needing black and blue marks to survive!
No clown believes in learning to behave:

So, though there may be royals we appall,
our job's to entertain, cheer up, and stave
off your dark looks and thoughts by our bright miens,
and not bow to the few, nor most, but all--
and, one or two, in a bad way, maybe, save.