Book Report: The Life Expectancy of Pantyhose and The Poems of Middle Age by “Wilbur Topsail” (1993)

Book coverWell, what should I think about this book? Let’s get into what I think might be the back story of this volume: Based on a couple of Internet searches, I think this book was actually published in 1993 under a pseudonym. The “author”‘s name also appears in a review of a book entitled Navigating Infinity:

Author Michael Langthorne and Wilbur Topsail, the main character and narrator in Langthorne’s novel “Navigating Infinity,” have some things in common, but the novelist says it would be wrong to call the book autobiographical.

* * * *

The second part of the book features poems that Wilbur wrote from his childhood, through college and into adulthood.

“When you read the poems, you will see that sometimes he is venting and he is angry at his parents and then you will see the other side of him wanting to be a sexual person and wanting to have fun,” Langthorne says. “As he gets older and starts to mature, he writes poems that reflect the fact that he is an older person. You see that he has different feelings as he ages.”

That pretty much describes the poems in the book. It’s a lot of Rod McKuen territory, with the aging sex-seeker lamenting less sex and more aging. But instead of the lyricism of Rod McKuen, we’ve got more modern (and therefore lesser) free verse and a couple of prose pieces with some free-form association.

I didn’t like the book very much, thinking it less than some of the more earnest poetry by less serious “poets” like Leah Lathrom or Ronald E. Piggee. Piggee, as a matter of fact, would be contemporary to “Topsail”: both books were published in 1993, and both men would have been about the same age.

But as I got closer to the finish, I thought perhaps I should appreciate the book more if I thought of it less as a book of poetry and more as a collection of performance pieces. Back in the days when this book was fresh, I did poetry open mic nights, and a number of the St. Louis poets like Paul Stewart and Michael O’Brian did great performance pieces that, if you looked at them in their chapbooks, really weren’t much on the page. You could apply this to the Nuyorican Poets, too–I saw them when they were traveling through St. Louis at that time. Once I got that into my head, that maybe these were a product of the time, I tolerated the poems better.

Then I got to one poem, called “Generations”, that was pretty good. So I guess that redeemed the book for me.

It’s odd, a bit of double-effect going on here: The author is a little younger than I am now, but the poems are from my most fecund poetical era (captured, of course, in Coffee House Memories) in the middle 1990s. I can relate to some of the themes of aging now, but I was not very impressed, overall, with the execution. Especially the prose poem things which were a little free-association with little point aside from the free-association and the poetating.

Of course, now that I’m aware of it, perhaps I will pick the novel up if I spot it at a book sale to see what the older (still) author does with the material.

The Au Naturel Native American Way To Protect Your Garden From Pests

From The Song of Hiawatha, Chapter 13 (“Blessing the Corn Fields“):

     Once, when all the maize was planted,
Hiawatha, wise and thoughtful,
Spake and said to Minnehaha,
To his wife, the Laughing Water:
“You shall bless to-night the cornfields,
Draw a magic circle round them,
To protect them from destruction,
Blast of mildew, blight of insect,
Wagemin, the thief of cornfields,
Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear
     “In the night, when all Is silence,’
In the night, when all Is darkness,
When the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,
Shuts the doors of all the wigwams,
So that not an ear can hear you,
So that not an eye can see you,
Rise up from your bed in silence,
Lay aside your garments wholly,
Walk around the fields you planted,
Round the borders of the cornfields,
Covered by your tresses only,
Robed with darkness as a garment.
     “Thus the fields shall be more fruitful,
And the passing of your footsteps
Draw a magic circle round them,
So that neither blight nor mildew,
Neither burrowing worm nor insect,
Shall pass o’er the magic circle;
Not the dragon-fly, Kwo-ne-she,
Nor the spider, Subbekashe,
Nor the grasshopper, Pah-puk-keena;
Nor the mighty caterpillar,
Way-muk-kwana, with the bear-skin,
King of all the caterpillars!”

I’ve encouraged my beautiful wife to try this method, but to no avail. Of course, our gardens don’t have corn since it’s a little dry for corn around here in the late summer time, and she is probably right to be doubtful about native methods since my attempt to use the “three sisters” method of growing corn, beans, and squash together did nothing but leave us with a harvest of more spaghetti squash than we could eat (which, to be honest, is any).

Book Report: Little Orphant Annie and Other Poems by James Whitcomb Riley (1994)

Book coverIt took me a couple tries to get through this book. A couple years ago, I stuck it in my gym bag as my carry book, and I read it at the martial arts school before class. I even read the first poem, “Little Orphant Annie”, to my children, and they were interested in the Gobble-uns at gits you eff you don’t watch out.

But I ran into an excerpt from “A Child’s Home–Long Ago”. This particular excerpt runs six pages. Which, in retrospect, is not very long, but I’m not generally a fan of long poems (the longest in Coffee House Memories, “Homecoming ’93: A Collage”, runs five pages, but it’s narrative). The long ones that really choke me are the ones written by the Romantic poets, where it’s ten pages of landscape. Brothers and sisters, I prefer paintings that have people in them, and I sure tooting need something more than a litany of flowers if a poem is going to be more than twelve lines. The excerpt of “A Child’s Home–Long Ago” starts out landscapy, with a description of the home, and I must have abandoned it before it got to describing the children and the other people they interacted with long ago. It got better, and I made it through the poem and the book.

James Whitcomb Riley rose to infamy by penning a counterfeit Poe poem, but he managed to make do on his own as a journalist and writer. His poems make great use of the vernacular, as the refrain of “Little Orphant Annie” proves out, which makes reading the poems a little fun. He’s got a good sense of rhythm and does tell little stores in some of his poems, which makes them more engaging than mere word pictures. I ding the Romantics again because I’ve started reading Keats and Shelley, who wrote only, what, sixty or seventy years before Riley, but whose poems read much older. Or perhaps Riley’s just read that younger.

Riley, relative unknown in the 21st century, must have punched quite above his weight in the pop culture of the day, though. The title poem of this collection spawned comics in the papers and a musical play made into a movie several times. Raggedy Ann dolls, which were popular up into my childhood, were named for the poems “Little Orphant Annie” and “Raggedy Man”. Crazy. You don’t get many toys or comics named after Maya Angelou or David Clewell poems these days, ainna?

So I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a more comprehensive volume sometime. This book is a little Dover Thrift Edition, which was what we had instead of inexpensive POD and Kindle versions of classic works back in the old days. For a buck, you could get a collection of classic poems or a longer work that had fallen out of copyright. They’re still available, apparently, for just a couple bucks. Dover in the 1990s must have been the Walter J. Black of its time, with its minting money in classics and in clip art books. Like book clubs of classics, though, its main time of success must have been limited.

Reading Edna St. Vincent Millay

Back in my coffee house days (yes, those very ones which produced the poems within Coffee House Memories), I hit numerous open mike nights around town, and attendees knew what to expect from me, from sonnets to ending with the poem “An Evening Walk.” I would mix in some “covers,” where I would recite a poem by another poet or even cool prose from someone like Raymond Chandler.

But if I went to an open mike for the first time, I would do a little trick: I would perform Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Love, though for this you riddle me with darts….”

You can see what this sounds like when a proper British woman reads the poem:

That’s not how I did it, though.

I’d sign my name on the sign-up sheet, and when the MC would call it, I’d go to the stage or the microphone with slumped shoulders, clutching a set of papers shyly, and I’d warble my voice breathlessly into the microphone, “This is a, um, sonnet” as though I were suffering stage fright (which Edna St. Vincent Millay herself did–she was known to take a belt before readings). And then I would throw the papers aside, leap from the stage or in front of the mike, and shout/snarl the first ten lines like a challenge to fight Cupid waving my fist in the air. Then, I’d deliver the last two lines like an aside.

Less formally than Edna St. Vincent Millay herself would have done.

I wouldn’t need to pick up the prop papers I brought, though, as I had whatever I was going to perform memorized. Ask me someday how long it takes to recite Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at the Venice Cafe.

Good poems, good memories. Like my book!

Oh, Poems, No Less. Poems, Everybody!

So I have released my infrequently threatened/promised collection of poems.

Entitled Coffee House Memories, it contains just short of 100 poems that I wrote mostly in my college and immediately post-college life. I spent a lot of evenings at coffee houses and their attendant open mic nights.

via GIPHY

Man, I wrote a lot of sonnets, and some of them are pretty good, I still think. But some of them are a little, erm, saucy? Not bawdy, but they’re clearly about making love. So this, like John Donnelly’s Gold, is not something my children can take to school for show and tell. It’s funny; I used to perform said poems in coffee houses in front of dozens of people, but it’s been a while. I’m pretty sure I’d feel like a creepy old man reading one of them out loud now. And/or I’d blush furiously. But I’m convinced they’re good poems, so they’re in the collection.

Also in this volume:

Not included: “Springfield Panera Bread BDU”, although I did include a number of other haiku. And pantoum or two. And a couple villanelles, I thing. I did write a couple bits of free verse, but I always favored more structured forms, like the sonnet.

The book includes two chapbooks I released in the middle 1990s, Unrequited and Deep Blue Shadows. The latter is named for a poem inspired a bit by a song by the band Lillian Axe.

It might be the only poem inspired by anything by Lillian Axe.

In my defense, the book also features three poems inspired by “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” by Edmund Spenser. So clearly, my influences are varied.

At any rate, it’s available for Kindle now for 99 cents, and hopefully will be available in paperback in a week or so.

So if you’ve got a buck and a Kindle, grab one now.

In related news, I guess I still have four or five ISBNs left, so perhaps I should write something else.

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, But I’m Working On My Alibi Just In Case

For the second time this year, human body parts have been found at a location named in my poetry.

First, it was Bee Tree Park. Now, it’s Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin:

A body found floating in Okauchee Lake near Road J on Oct. 26 appears to have been missing its head, part of an arm and a foot, if a photo circulating on social media is to be believed.

Police declined to comment about the photo, but Police Chief James Wallis said, “It does appear that the body may have been in the lake for an extended period of time.”

The relevant poem: “Okauchee Light”:

Across the dark Okauchee lake, a light,
the marker for the end of someone’s dock,
is strangely lit at nearly twelve o’clock
and breaks the solid black that is the night.
From here, across the chilling April lake,
through busy bar room glass I see that glow,
but life or rooms beyond I’ll never know.
One light does not a utopia make.
Quite like your smile, that single man-made star:
Up there, on stage, you flash a smile at me,
and crinkle eyes to give the gesture weight,
but like the dock-end light, you are too far;
your glow is there for someone else to see,
and now, for me at least, it is too late.

If anything happens six miles south of Tonica, Illinois, I will probably be interviewed.

Weird that “Okauchee Light” did not appear in one of my chapbooks from the middle 1990s. It will appear in my forthcoming volume Coffeehouse Memories, due out whenever I get around to it.

It Would Have Been Less Romantic That Way

As you might know, gentle reader, I met my beautiful wife on the Internet when I posted a poem on a Usenet newsgroup (ask yer grandpa), and she liked it (fuller story here).

This is the poem I posted (and which should appear in a forthcoming volume of poetry when I get around to finishing it up.

Exploring, we discovered Bee Tree Park.
Tree branches laced like lazy fingers behind our head,
above the trail, above the naked rock,
where neon graffiti was worn to earthen tones.
The slow Mississippi whispered by.
Fingers woven like dreams and the night
before falling asleep.
Her warm palm pulsing, we paused
to watch the barges wander down
and sip the summer breeze.
Her voice murmured cooly in my ears,
she spilled her hair over my shoulder,
maple syrup dripping down my chest,
“This would be a great place to make love.”
I smiled, ruffling kisses through her hairs,
a butterfly on a field of clover,
and rustled in her ear, “We are.”

The whole scene and setup would definitely be less romantic with a severed human foot in it.

Concept: A Heavy Metal Band Whose Songs Are Kipling Poems

You know, if we had a heavy metal version of “The Hymn of Breaking Strain”, I would totally put it on my iPod for workout music. As such, we only have Leslie Fish and Julia Ecklar singing the filk version:

My goodness, how awesome would many of Kipling’s works be in heavy metal form. Just think of “If” or “The Gods of Copybook Headings” really loud. Frankly, I’m surprised Iron Maiden hasn’t already done it.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the parlor practising the power chord on a cheap acoustic guitar.

Book Report: Friendly Fireside Poems by Lloyd Carleton Shank (1957)

Book coverThis book is a nice collection of poems from the middle part of the last century. The author has a pretty good sense of rhythm, the poems have end rhymes, and they’re nice short bits of Americana with an especial Christian sensibility. They cover things like the seasons, special events like Inauguration Day (Eisenhower, probably), and holidays. They’re about being neighborly and looking to God. The kind of thing that got published in newspapers in a bygone era, but never made it to the slicks or the anthologies.

They’re better than some of the chapbooks I read, but unfortunately, they suffer in comparison to the better of Edgar Allan Poe’s work which I read concurrently. The Poe poems are fun to say aloud, whereas these are just words.

So it’s okay if you’re going deep into the poet bench, but there’s a lot of better poetry out there. On the other hand, the poems are nice and short, and I’m learning just how much aversion I have to long poems.

Book Report: Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price (1967)

Book coverThis book was published by Hallmark back in the day when your grandmother or great grandmother might pick up a little light book of poetry as a gift for someone and maybe take a little try at verse herself even though she left school in the eighth grade to take care of her younger siblings. And her poems were better than the stuff written by kids in the English program in college because sixth graders back then were better read than contemporary college-educated folk. But I digress.

The book is, as you might expect, a slim collection of haiku poems. They’re translated from the Japanese, so the actual 5-7-5 syllable count is off on many of them.

But they’re in the proper haiku style, where they provide an Eastern koan sort of thought designed to spur your musing or to trip your own experience with what they’re discussing instead of creating an experience for you.

However, it’s not best to sit down and read them all at once, as they’ll seem very repetitive if you do.

On the plus side, I can now say I prefer the haiku of Bosun to Basho, which will be nice and will impress anyone who earnestly asks.

Are there any haiku in the book of poetry I keep talking about publishing? Yes. And I’ll have to remember to add this one.

Book Report: Five Themes of Today by Changde Chen (2001)

Book coverThis book is an interesting proposition: It is a number of philosophical arguments presented as poems, as lyrics. Although they do not contain imagery and particularly clever turns of phrase that makes for good poetry, the line-broken and metered presentation makes for easy reading of a philosophical argument.

The main piece within the book, “On the End of Technological Civilization”, presents a mathematical argument that technology is destined to fall because, basically, in a long enough timeline, all possibilities will come true, including the fall of the civilization. I don’t buy it because every moment brings new possibilities that did not exist the moment before, so the finite infinity projected might not apply to history as it does to mathematics.

The other ‘themes’ are longer musings on the logic of love and marriage, reason and religion, the war between equality and liberty, and the dead weight of democracy. They’re followed by some shorter little riffs on more topical subjects. I found all of them engaging, but although I did not agree with much, I did enjoy the presentation of the arguments. I would have expected the bits, particularly the one on reason and religion, to be a little more informed by the Chinese perspective, but it focused on Western religion instead of the Chinese beliefs, for example.

An interesting bit about this particular volume.

This appears to be a copy inscribed by Chen to his Oxford colleague, poet Bernard O’Donoghue. The sticker indicates it was a charitable donation at some time, and fifteen or so years later it ended up in Springfield, Missouri. Man, I feel for Chen here: A personal gift of his book with an inscription put in the Goodwill pile. I remember when I saw a copy of John Donnelly’s Gold listed on Amazon by a used bookstore in Indianapolis, and I knew which copy I’d mailed off that got there. I feel you, brother.

At any rate, like I said, a good intellectual read and an interesting presentation and easily digestible presentation of the material. It led me to wonder if I could make a philosophy book completely out of bullet points or ordered lists for modern audiences to understand. Perhaps someday.

Book Report: Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha (1976)

Book coverThis book is a small, self-published collection of poetry by a Midwestern farm wife circa 1976. It’s on some very nice paper stock, so it probably cost a pile to print. The woman was committed.

It is broken into three sections: poems about family and motherhood, poems about landscape and the natural world, and poems about other things, like church. The poems are decent; some are rote sorts of poems like you get when someone sits down and thinks, “I should write a poem about x.” The poem celebrating the flag is like that. Others have good sense of rhythm and good rhyme schemes. The poems I enjoyed most were in the first section, poignant thoughts about growing children and looking back at them. I’ve decided I feel the same way about poems as I do about paintings: I prefer to have people in them and don’t really enjoy landscapes unless there are human figures in them. Which might be why I have so much Wordsworth around but haven’t read much of it.

As I read this, I thought about the number of magazines that I take that still publish poems. Since I did not renew National Review (too expensive), I’m down to Chronicles and First Things. The poems I see in them don’t touch me, generally, any more or less than the poems in these collections I read by unknowns.At any rate, a good collection of poems by a normal person. One or two of them might have been worth tearing from the paper or a magazine and putting on your refrigerator or cubicle wall. Which is about the best you can expect of any poet, really.

So I Wrote A Poem….

In the middle of September, Instapundit linked to a call for submissions on Jerry Pournelle’s blog:

Accepting submissions for a new volume of the There Will Be War series. Send with cover note to submission@therewillbewar.net. Stories should preferably be 20,000 words or less. Poetry encouraged, but see the previous series; it needs to make sense. Hard science fiction mainly; urban fantasy with a military theme possibly acceptable, but mostly we want hard, realistic stories. They need not be action adventure; good command decision stories encouraged. Space opera always considered. Again see the previous nine volumes.

I was struck pretty instantly with an idea: update Rudyard Kipling’s “Tommy” by re-writing it from the perspective of a cloned cyrogenically preserved mercenary called a Canny. Okay, the name came first and the conceit almost instantly thereafter.

Man, the idea came fast, and I wanted to do it, but I was a haunted man this summer. Timing on various and sundry life activities left me little time to complete projects that I wanted to do. I’d started painting the interior of the house, but didn’t finish, leaving a room half painted; I’d meant to refinish my deck, but I’d only done the inside of the deck, where I could see it on the deck; I have a couple of items on the to-write list that I could certainly place if only I sat still long enough to write them; and so on. I wasn’t finishing anything I started. I was almost paralyzed with self-doubt regarding this idea for a poem.

I mean, in the old coffee shop days, I filled legal pads with sonnets and poems, easily scratching something out in an hour if I wanted to or felt inspired. But lately, writing something is harder than pulling middle-aged teeth as the infrequency of this blog attests. Somehow, a gap emerged between the inspiration/idea and the effort to carry it through.

I did a little research to procrastinate: I ordered one of the earlier volumes of the series to see what kind of poetry it contained. It had Kipling. I thought I was in like Dave in an emergency airlock in 2001. I mean, if I wrote a poem and it turned out any good.

So in spite of my recognition of my recent non-successes, I was determined, and I discovered a gap between determination and doing something. Probably the same gap between inspiration and doing something: laziness or disbelief in an effort resulting in the desired result. Still, I started carving out a half hour every morning. I’d drop my children at school and duck into the local coffee shop to work. I fully expected nothing more to come of it than coffee drinking. Did I mention paralysis in self-doubt? It wasn’t so much paralysis as actively working against myself.

I started out with a laptop so I could do a side-by-side comparison of “Tommy” and what I was putting down, but I quickly switched to a printed copy of “Tommy” and a legal pad. I was dismayed to find out the poem was in iambic heptameter; to someone seasoned in sonnets and iambic pentameter, that seemed a little syllablely, but over the course of four weeks, I managed to eke something out.

And then when all the lines and syllables were filled, I reached the next Hamlet moment: How much do I tweak it? Should I share it with science-fiction savvy Internet connections to see if it works? It was Hamlet and J. Alfred Prufrock time. Could my darker side dither long enough for the submission period to close while I was tweaking and transposing stresses?

Finally, one Saturday morning, I just emailed it in a moment of “What’s the worst that could happen?” By Saturday night, it was accepted.

Today, There Will Be War Volume X was released in a Kindle version.

I understand there is to be a hardcover version next year.

I wondered if the editors would recognize the source material; I expected Dr. Pournelle would, but I didn’t know if he was on the selection committee. Apparently, the source was recognized, as it is included in the introduction to the piece.

At any rate, how about that? Maybe there’s some hope for me as a writer yet if I just put my back into it.

Book Report: Wisdom in Rhyme by Nora O. Scott (1980?)

Book coverYou know, there was a time when I might have made fun of a collection of poetry like that contained in this book. Probably a time when I was younger and more cocksure, a bit arrogant, and impatient with the mediocre in life. I was destined for greatness, and anything less than greatness was worth mocking. That’s what youth does, and growing older gives us a little better perspective on life and the pursuit of greatness.

So I’m not going to mock this book. The poems within it are not bad poems. I’ve read bad poems. These are merely common. They have end rhymes and a decent sense of rhythm. The subjects are domestic and landscapish and Christian, with a couple of little ditties about people she knows thrown in. She’s got a couple little poems about her children growing up or having grown up from being little babies. She writes about the landscape of Arkansas, her native state. It’s the sort of thing you see a lot of in small writing groups and clubs.

The poems span a number of decades; the book was prepared and maybe published by the pastor of her church ahead of her 92nd birthday in 1980. This volume was inscribed as a gift in 1984. So that’s what it’s circa. But it represents a woman of the ninteenth century, probably with limited schooling, writing poems for most of her life and not doing badly at it. So I’m going to appreciate that for what it is. She was reaching higher and giving it her effort, and her goals might not have been more lofty than having something to show her friends and family. And here it is.

Books mentioned in this review:

Lost in the Noise

I’m a little behind in reading my National Review magazines, and I’m just now getting into the February 23 issue. The magazine mentions the passing of Rod McKuen. The New York Times obit is here.

Strangely, I didn’t see anything on blogs, social media, or in the news in January. Unlike the death of Roscoe P. Coltrane, of which I heard all day yesterday.

I’ve read a lot of McKuen over the last ten years (see), and I’ve not always enjoyed the poetry or the record albums, but I’m saddened that he’s no longer part of this world.

Book Report: Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire translated by Jacques LeClercq (1958)

Book coverInterspersed among my other reading, I’ve been working on this book for a little bit. It’s a collection of poems by Charles Baudelaire, but they’re end-rhymed, so the translator had a heavy hand in the actual English of the poems which probably means they’re almost as much his work as Baudelaire’s. Because poems have so much nuance, rhythm, and flow that rely on word selection, you have two choices when translating: You can go with the literal translation, which will chop most of the mouthfeel of the original poem out, or you can try to put the poem in the target language with as much of the flavor of the original as possible but still ending up with something of the original in it. I think this translation, as demonstrated by the end lines, did more of the latter.

Now, about the poems: Oh, my.

On one hand, these are the poems I wanted to write when I was twenty years old. Vivid, evocative, concrete, and meaningful (and full of end rhymes). You’re in the moment with the poet narrator in a way that overshadows a lot of poetry in English that I’ve read. The topics are full of love, lust, and pondering mortality.

But.

The introduction explains a bit of Baudelaire’s bio and explains his obsession with a particular woman, and it comes through in the poems as the poet-narrator fixates on a woman and the poems describe a love/lust/hate relationship with a woman. And the poet-narrator muses on death and the ultimate meaninglessness of love when confronted by death. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

And vivid in a sometimes squicky way. There’s a poem called “Carrion” which is about the poet-narrator and his love out for a walk when they come across a dead animal, and the poet-narrator describes it in great detail as it breaks down and then says something about the breakdown of the flesh and how the woman will be food for worms soon. And then there’s a poem about necrophilia. But only one.

So.

It’s good poetry qua, but some of the topic matter is a bit objectionable.

This book features an inscription, To Michael, with love and a Merry Christmas, Ellen 1966. Frankly, I’m not sure what sort of message you’re sending if you’re giving this book to a lover. Also, Phil offers to read Baudelaire to Rita in the film Groundhog Day; suddenly, this changes the meaning of the film for me forever.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Limericks by Edward Lear &c (1980)

Book coverThis book is just what it says: A collection of limericks, the five line poem type.

The book contains 212 limericks by Edward Lear, the English writer who popularized the form. His limericks are a bit of nonsence, and the fifth line pretty much just restates the first line without the clever twist that later limericks employed. So we get things like this:

There was a Young Person in Pink,
Who called out for something to drink;
But they said, “O my daughter,
There’s nothing but water!”
Which vexed that Young Person in Pink.

and:

There was an Old Person of Fife,
Who was greatly disgusted with life;
They sang him a ballad,
And fed him on salad,
Which cured that old Person of Fife.

After the main course of Lear, we get 28 limericks from Punch magazine and then 20 other limericks. These last 48 are in the contemporary form with a little more punchline to the last line, but none of them stuck with me or inspired me to memorize them and tell them to others.

I’m not really consumed with the urge to try out the form, either.

So skip this book unless you’re a real scholar on poetry forms or want something to browse through during football games and don’t mind re-reading the same limerick a couple of times because you’d forgotten you’d read it before third down.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: As Autumn Approaches by Ronald E. Piggee (1993)

Book coverThis book is a chapbook written by a Vietnam veteran, a black father in Nebraska in 1993. The poetry within ranges through a bunch of different styles, including free verse and at least one villanelle. It’s better than a lot of chapbooks I’ve read.

The book led me to some personal musings, though. In 1993, my father was two years away from dying from cancer; he was a Vietnam-era veteran who served in Okinawa instead of Vietnam (and I think he felt a little guilty about it). It’s hard for me to imagine him writing poetry, but that was not his way. He was a hands guy: his creative hobby of the time period was building elaborate ship models that required him to tie nautical knots in thread using a magnifying glass and tweezers.

Crazy that a book of poems about growing older would make me think about my father, how he didn’t grow older, and how I will not long be older than he ever was. Or maybe not so crazy, since that’s what poetry does. So consider that an endorsement of this book: It was definitely evocative.

Book Report: Poems of Creatures Large and Small edited by Gail Harvey (1991)

Book coverThis book is not the first in this series of grouped short poetry anthologies I’ve read; in 2007, I read Poems of Flowers and Poems of Friendship shortly after finding them at an Old Trees estate sale. I picked up the current volume at a thrift store about a week ago. I like these slim little anthologies that I read them quickly.

As with the other volumes, this slim (65) page volume collects mostly public domain poems on a theme. This time, it’s animals, so all of the poems are about animals (Tiger, tiger, burning bright? It’s in there.). As always, the poems vary in style and, honestly, quality, but it does offer a bit of a buffet approach to a number of styles and poets from Whitman to Wordsworth to a lot of Bret Harte.

I know, I know, Don’t you have an English degree? Shouldn’t you be reading Real Volumes of Poetry? Oh, but no. I’m currently into my third decade of trying to read the complete works of Emily Dickinson, friends, and I’m here to tell you that poetry is supposed to delight and entertain. It’s supposed to be deep pop music. Pleasing to the ear and conveying deep meaning. Like so much art, it got corrupted by critics and poetasters so that too much of it is either too ponderous to be appreciated by normal people or just twee without any deeper resonance. Give me a K-Tel collection of poems like this any day over the complete works of Wallace Stevens.

I liked this collection so much that I’m considering looking into how many Gail Harvey edited in this series and seeking out the others. Fortunately, the intersection of my laziness and otherwise busy day will intercede and prevent me from adding any more to my sagging shelves other than the upcoming autumn book sales and occasional trip to the thrift store.

Books mentioned in this review:

I Admit It: My Lips Move When I Read…

poetry.

Because I want to feel the words and the rhythms in my mouth. To hear them in my voice.

I recognized this whilst I was sitting in the dojo whilst my child took his martial arts class. I was sitting there, moving my lips, and grateful when I could snag my younger child, seat him on my lap, and read a couple poems out loud to him before he wriggled off to find a child with a mobile phone to watch.

You really can’t experience poetry by reading it in your head. Not good poetry, anyway.

Also, notice the double-whilst sentence above. I’m pretty sure in the Hoyle’s Rules of Writing, a double-whilst is a trick worth many points.