Thursday, March 30, 2006

Practicing Poetry in Public

Weekend Assignment #105: Share a favorite poem.

Extra Credit: Ever write poetry yourself?

I'm going to share four poems that aren't mine, and a few more that are. Let's start with an obscure one:

1. The Sniffling Viking

No, that's not the title of the poem, as far as I know.

When I was in college the first time, back in Syracuse, there was a NEA project called "Poetry in Public Places." One of the public places used was the city buses. I memorized a poem that was on one of the buses. It was perfect for Syracuse:

If it's not one thing it's another
(Muffler I have to wear)
Don't you know I come from
A stronger breed of Vikings?
We ate you people for breakfast.

--Author unknown

I Googled this, but all I found was the time I previously posted this in a comment. It may be under copyright, but in the absence of further info, I'm reproducing it anyway, in the hope that someone who knows who wrote it will find this and help me give credit where it's due.

2. Death's Blue-Eyed Boy

onetwothreefourfiveThe only poem by E.E. Cummings that I've completely memorized is officially called

Buffalo Bill's

but I think of it as Buffalo Bill's Defunct. Somebody, I think Dick Cavett, recited it on the PBS show The Great American Dream Machine back around 1969. That night's show was all about death. Also featured that night was Tom Paxton's brilliant satirical song, Forest Lawn:

I want to go simply when I go;
They'll give me a simple funeral there, I know,
With a casket lined in fleece,
And fireworks spelling out "Rest in Peace"--
Oh, take me when I'm gone
To Forest Lawn.

But I digress. My other favorite E.E. Cummings poem is In Just-


when the world is puddle-wonderful

Incidentally, despite the widespread "decapitalization" of Cumming's name, the preferred spelling among Cummings experts is E.E. Cummings, not ee cummings. No less an authority than Cummings' widow was quite clear on this point. The poems themselves also use capital letters, albeit not conventionally or consistently. So all you bloggers and texters who like to write in all lower case, you don't have "ee cummings" to justify this practice. Not really.

3. In the Park. In the Dark.

Buffalo Bill'sYes, I had The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, If I Ran the Circus and Green Eggs & Ham, all by Dr. Seuss; and more obscurely, Ten Apples Up on Top! by Theo LeSeig. All of these books were written by Theodor Seuss Geisel, and I was fond of them all. But the Seuss book whose poems stick in my head after all these years is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I can still recite two of them verbatim, and often do.

The best one is the next to last poem in the book, about a creature called Clark. I once wrote a parody of it, as part of my series of Tolkien mash-ups:

Look what I found
In a cave
Dark as a grave.
It's a magic ring.
It's a precious thing.
I put it on to vanish.
Its hold on my thoughts grows.
Should I pass it on now?
Gandalf knows.

The other poet I quote from the book with the fish involves a guy whose hat is old, whose teeth are gold, and who has a bird he likes to hold.

4. My Five Grey HairsMy five gray hairs...

Okay, last one. For me, the coolest poet before 1800 was not Shakespeare, but John Donne. Wikipedia calls him "a Jacobean metaphysical poet. His works include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and sermons." What a range of work! Imagine an Anglican clergyman who once started a poem (The Canonization) this way:

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout;
My five grey hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout;

and asks,

What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd?

I love his wit and relatively direct style, and the contradictions in his work, the sacred and the sexual in a single poem. And I always smile when I see the name "Donne" on a hymn at church. Even noticing grey hair on my own head used to remind me pleasantly of Donne's "five grey hairs." This is no longer as true as it was, though. I have many more than five of them these days.

Incidentally, today (March 31st) is Donne's commemorative day in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church.

Extra Credit:

a haikuYes, of course I've written poetry. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, or its predecessor, Musings, you've seen some of it. The earliest poem of mine I still have memorized dates back to first or second grade, a little ditty about birdwatching. I wrote my first blank verse in third grade. I've written lots of haiku, especially "epic haiku," which is what I call a series of haiku strung together. I've read my best poem, Pilate's Answer: And All Ye Need to Know, on KXCI's A Poet's Moment. And yesterday or the day before, I had the terrible anti-drug song I wrote in eighth grade stuck in my head for several hours:

Sue, stop your cryin';
Ain't no use tryin'
To bring back the dead with tears.
With a one-way 'ticket,'
The bucket, he kicked it
In a way you'll recall through the years.

Sure, go ahead and laugh at its maudlin mawkishness and awkward wording. It really is that bad.

Midnight slips behind.
Still I'm here, past my promise.
Stop my words. Good night!


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Monponsett said...

This is probably the exact opposite of poetry, but are you related to Terry Funk?

TJ said...

Lots of ground cover here. Interesting.
I didn't know it was E>E> and not e.e. I will have to be more careful. I love the works.
Thanks for all you share.

Kim said...

This is so funny...I was reminded today of the Sniffling Viking poem, Googled it and got your blog. I, too, rode the buses in Syracuse and that's where I saw this poem and was very moved by it. How funny, there are at least two people who were deeply touched by this poem, I guess the project was successful. I wonder how many others are out there...