ANNOUNCER. And now Runcible Publishing and Finer Meats, Squirrel Hill’s finest publisher and delicatessen, presents…

(Music: “Washington Post” March, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. L.C.I.S., the adventures of our brave federal agents in the Library Criminal Investigative Service. Whenever crime strikes our nation’s libraries, L.C.I.S. agents are there.

(Music: In full, then out.)

ANNOUNCER. Tonight we find Agents Pleasant and Cuzzi heading into the Carnegie Library of Grant Borough, hot on the trail of the Swinburne Slasher.

CUZZI. I think you should talk to the librarian first.


CUZZI. First, because you’re the attractive female half of the team, and that makes people trust you. Second, because it gives me the chance to interrupt you with witty banter.

PLEASANT. It’s not really banter unless I do it too, is it?

CUZZI. What do you mean?

PLEASANT. Isn’t the essence of banter the back-and-forth thing? The exchange of barbed remarks?

CUZZI. Shut up and do your job, Pleasant. Ha ha! See? That’s witty banter.

MR. DEWEY. May I help you?

PLEASANT. Federal agents. We need to see your circulation records for all the Victorian poets, especially Swinburne, Tennyson,—

MR. DEWEY. What did that badge say?

PLEASANT. L.C.I.S. We need—

MR. DEWEY. L.C.I.S.? What’s that?

PLEASANT. Library Criminal Investigative Service.

MR. DEWEY. I don’t think that’s a real thing.

PLEASANT. Well, of course it’s a real thing. It’s an important federal agency. Part of the Department of Education. (Pause.) We even have our own TV show and radio drama.

MR. DEWEY. Kermit the Frog has his own TV show, too, but that doesn’t mean he gets to look at confidential library records just because he and Miss Piggy show up here claiming to be federal agents.

PLEASANT. But we have badges.

MR. DEWEY. I have a badge, too. See? It says “Carnegie Library of Grant Borough.” Sometimes we call it CLOG for short.

PLEASANT. No, I mean the kind of badge that’s a little metal shield thingy.

MR. DEWEY. How do I know you didn’t get that out of a cereal box? I haven’t had any coffee, and I’m not in the mood for these games.

CUZZI. Look, uh—what’s your name?

MR. DEWEY. Mr. Dewey. It’s on the badge.

CUZZI. Look, Mr. Dewey, that’s a computer terminal, right? You can look us up. We have a Web site.

MR. DEWEY. Anyone can put up a Web site.

CUZZI. You can look us up in Wikipedia!

MR. DEWEY. Anyone can—

CUZZI. I don’t have time for this. The Swinburne Slasher is still at large. He may be cutting up another book even as we speak. I’m calling the big boss. — Hello, sir.  — Fine, thank you. Listen, we have a matter of national security here. We need to catch the Swinburne Slasher, and we need information to do it, but this librarian here won’t believe we’re real federal agents. — Yes, sir. I’ll hand him the phone.—Here, talk to him.

MR. DEWEY. Hello? — Fine, thank you. — Yes, but you see the problem is that anyone can just pick up the phone and say, “I’m Donald Trump,” but— Yes— Well, if you want to talk about emergency situations, I haven’t had any coffee in three days. Our supply ran out, and the new order won’t come in for a week. It makes me cranky. — What? — Yes, I suppose that would work. — Yes, I guess that would be fair.—Here, he wants to talk to you again.

CUZZI. Hello? — Yes, I— Five pounds? — Well, yes, I suppose I can— Yes, sir. — Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. — Come on, Pleasant. The big boss worked out a deal. We’re going down to Nicholas to get coffee.

PLEASANT. But…the Swinburne Slasher!

CUZZI. Haven’t you ever bought information with coffee before? Come on before it’s too late!

(Music: “Washington Post’” March, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. So once again our dauntless agents of L.C.I.S. face down evil wherever they find it in our nation’s libraries. Tune in next time when Runcible Publishing and Finer Meats presents another adventure of our brave and witty L.C.I.S. agents. Friends, when you’re reading a book, do you find yourself listlessly turning pages, or reading the same paragraph over and over? Decreased reading comprehension is one of the first symptoms of protein deficiency. Runcible Publishing and Finer Meats is your source for everything you need for the optimum reading experience. Runcible reminds you: Don’t forget to eat meat while you read!

(Music: In full, then out.)



A tree decays,
dropping random branches,
shaking its fist.

(4-6-4, but don’t say anything to Mr. Stalin in third-period English class.)


A correspondent offering prescription medications at very reasonable prices has left us a very good demonstration of a modern short poem. This is a little longer than the average haiku; perhaps we could call it a free-verse epigram.

Heya i’m for the primary time here. I found this board
and I in finding It really useful & it helped me out much.

I am hoping to offer one thing back and aid others
such as you aided me.

This is the sort of thing Alexander Pope would be writing if he were alive today.


The words “wintry mix”
promise sparkle and magic
but deliver mud.


Your eighth-grade English teacher.

Intellectual fashions are often enforced with a Stalinist zeal; and, just as in the days of Stalin, they are usually enforced by the very people least qualified to understand any intellectual pursuit. And just as in the days of Stalin, the intellectuals can make use of those low qualifications to their own advantage.

For example, it is a fact that many teachers in public schools will assign haiku as an exercise in some class (perhaps auto mechanics), and then rigidly enforce the new orthodoxy that English haiku must be formless, insisting that it cannot be written in the traditional 5-7-5 formula, or grades will suffer, detention will be assigned, and parents will be notified that little Albertus is a very bad boy.

Now, for most of the class, this simply makes the assignment easier. You don’t have to put any effort into counting syllables, which is a kind of math, and math is work. But what of the two or three natural poets in the class? A poet craves the challenge of form; form is what makes the poetic imagination soar. You might as well tell a bird that he can fly without those ridiculous wing contraptions as tell a poet she can sing without form.

Now, Dr. Boli loves to be of service to his young readers who are groaning under the oppression of the educational-industrial complex, so here is where we bring in the suggestion Dr. Boli made a few days ago: we invent our own form. For example, you decide, arbitrarily, that you will make a modern haiku in a 5-3-1 pattern. You have the challenge of a form, but you need never tell your teacher that you actually set a form for yourself. (In fact, you would not dare tell her, because you have heard that the reeducation camps in Siberia are very cold.) So you turn in your poem and win appropriate praise:

Form in poetry?
What a crock!

After all, you read that essay that explained why Japanese haiku usually expresses shorter thoughts than English 5-7-5 haiku. You are simply trying to get into the Japanese spirit of things with shorter lines. You could probably get away with several more poems in the same meter before your teacher started to notice something was up:

Dead bird in the street
makes me feel

Scent of gasoline
gets in my

Dandelion seed:
here now, then

But you would be even safer if you added more forms. For example, you could reverse the form you just made up and make a 1-3-5 haiku:

The trash cans
bang and wake my dog.

pours in and
makes me want to dust.

Or you could make a 4-4-4 haiku:

I sometimes think
I can say more
in fewer words.

Come up with two or three forms, mix them up, and your chance of being sent to the principal’s office for egregious formalism is practically nil.


Examine yourself:
Are there untapped emotions
burbling deep inside?

Have you felt something
churning down in your heart,
or in your stomach?

Have you been somewhere
that gave you a brief flash of
intense emotion?

Then sit down right now:
write seventeen syllables
on the DMV.