Posts filed under “Poetry”

IF I HAD A TIME MACHINE,

By Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle.

If I could visit ancient Hellas,
I’d have to look up all the fellas.
To learn what oratory means,
I’d make my way to Demosthenes.
For history, I’d take long rides
To hear the tales from Thucydides.
I’d walk through Athens’ seedy lanes
And trade jokes with Aristophanes.
And, since I’m calling on the greats,
For physick, I’d see Hippocrates.
The priests in their white clericals
Would lead us all to Pericles,
And I’d say, “If you plan to write us,
Address us care of Democritus.”
And, best of all, I’d learn to speak
Quite fluently in ancient Greek.

DIALOGUE OF THE SPIDER AND THE FLY.

Said the spider to the fly,
“If you did not wish to die,
You should not have tapped ‘Agree’
On my site.”

But the fly said to the spider,
“I attached a little rider,
Which it seems you did not see
Or read right.

“By continuing to spin
This here web you caught me in,
You agree to let me go
On my way.

“So I’ve beat you fair and square.
Note the words I added there
With a Sharpie, don’t you know,
Plain as day.”

But the spider ate the fly,
And he gave his reason why
As the life began to ebb:
“Flies are fools.

“For consent’s a one-way street,
And the law’s quite plain and neat
That whoever owns the web
Makes the rules.”

AN UPDATE ON COMMENTS.

For some time Dr. Boli has been using a spam-interception system that is very simpleminded. It does two things, one of which is a clever little trap for spambots that almost always works. The other was checking the comments against a blacklist of disallowed words, and there we sometimes ran into problems: the list was long, and every so often a frequent commenter would innocently use one of the disallowed words. That would cause a legitimate comment to end up in the trash, and it was always very embarrassing when one had to fish it out and dust off the coffee grounds and grapefruit rinds.

A week ago, Dr. Boli decided to try the experiment of simply deleting the entire list of disallowed words. So far the result has been that the anti-spambot algorithm continues to work. In fact no spam comments have got through at all, but no legitimate comments have ended up in the trash. It seems reasonable to say with some confidence that the blacklist is not necessary, and the algorithm is sufficient. Dr. Boli therefore hopes there will be no more embarrassing incidents, and in the future regular commenters should be able to say what they like without worrying that a random phrase will dump the whole comment in the trash.

It is important to note that the anti-spam algorithm does not send your data to any outside server. All the work is done here at the site by our own gnomes.

Of course, by blocking all the spam, we do miss some exceptional poetry. Fortunately the spam goes into its own special slops bucket, where it can be consulted until we delete it. Here are some of the things readers have missed because they did not make it through the spam blocker, and in passing we might note how many of them are offering professional writing services:

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CELEBRATE YOUR RHYME-RICH LANGUAGE.

In this week’s issue of the New Yorker we find “The End of the Line” by Adam Gopnik, ostensibly a review of a book about rap lyrics, but really a meditation on the nature and utility of rhyme. Most of the article is quite good, and you probably want to read it.

Dr. Boli would like to quibble with something that is almost incidental to Mr. Gopnik’s argument. Mr. Gopnik repeats a notion that comes up so often that it must be a cliché of poetic criticism in English: “the impoverished rhyming resources of English…the scarcity of rhyme in English…” Like everyone else who brings up this subject, he compares our poverty with the rhyming richness of French or Italian.

This is exactly backwards. French and Italian are the rhyme-poor languages. They could never have produced an Ogden Nash or a W. S. Gilbert. A French or Italian poet has to look hard for rhymes that are interesting, because everything rhymes with everything else. Obligato, ostinato, moderato, pizzicato, agitato—just try writing an interesting poem about music in Italian. Look at a libretto for an average Italian opera—not a really good one, like the ones by Da Ponte, but an average one—and see how quickly the rhymes without the music put you to sleep. French is just as bad. Émergé, parlé, enseigné, pensé—almost every single past participle in the French language rhymes with every other past participle in the French language, and the few that don’t mostly form a club of rhymes in ‑u or ‑i. Rhyming in French is ridiculously easy, even with what would seem like a rarish rhyme, like ‑oi: doit, Benoit, fois, Québécois, roi, toi, crois.

Ma foi !
Le loi,
C’est moi !

—cried the French judge in a poem Dr. Boli just made up, slaving over it for fifteen seconds. Well, that’s an exaggeration.

The point is that making rhyme interesting in French takes all the talent of a Molière or a Baudelaire. In English, a rhymed poem is an adventure. Yes, rhyming correctly is harder in English, in the same way that a Boucher painting is more work than a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle. But that makes rhyming itself—even rhyming badly—a richer experience, in the same way that even painting a bad painting is a richer experience than putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

In The Mikado, when Ko-Ko starts to tell his life story, we feel as though we are watching a tight-rope walk between two skyscrapers. He can’t do it, we think. He can’t get through an entire song on the same two rhymes. But he does.

Taken from the county jail
By a set of curious chances;
Liberated then on bail,
On my own recognizances;
Wafted by a favouring gale
As one sometimes is in trances,
To a height that few can scale,
Save by long and weary dances;
Surely, never had a male
Under such like circumstances
So adventurous a tale,
Which may rank with most romances.

Now, if you had tried this trick in French, the jaded French audience would have said, “Et alors ?” That is because French is a language rich in rhymes in the same way that the desert is an environment rich in sand.

The next time you read a poem in English and notice that the poet has taken the trouble to make the lines rhyme, think of what an accomplishment that is. Think what an incomparably rich forest of rhyming possibilities we have in English. And spare a tear for the poor French and Italians, who have to make do with the resources they can scrounge from a rhyming desert.

A SONG OF PARSLEY,

By Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle.

I sing a song of words,
A song of adjectives and pronouns and O! the interjections!
A song in which verbs do verb things, and nouns just sit there,
A song in which adverbs lie in wait for the verbs, and sometimes waylay the adjectives and shake them down for their lunch money,
A song taped and stapled together with prepositions and conjunctions,
A song in which I delve deep into the unconscious part of my brain for words, and the only word I can come up with is “parsley.”

Have you heard a song of parsley before?
I have not.
I do not know how to sing about parsley.
I have heard what the talkers were talking, and they talked about parsley,
But they did not sing, and the parsley they talked about sounded suspiciously like cilantro.
I sit and hope for inspiration;
I sit and hear my own respiration,
My inspiration and outspiration,
And after a while my perspiration.
Someone said “conspiration,” but I hit him.
I sit and wait for a thought, but the only thought that comes is about parsley.

I would sing of space and time,
Of eternity and paternity,
Of the stars and the seas and the blazing beaming blustering sun,
Of the things that are and the things that are not,
But all I can think about now is parsley,
Parsley parsley parsley parsley parsley parsley parsley,
Filthy rotten stinking parsley.
I guess I am not meant to sing about anything else.
I guess I am not meant to sing at all.
I guess I will have to try free verse instead.