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Page 67

[Note: The following poem has long lines, and is best read on a full screen.]

The modern lyric is typically delicately abrupt lines etched, nay,
graven on a mostly blank page, words selected the way a person dying
of a wasting disease shrinks to green-tinged luminosity, each image
as spare and honed as the rib cage of a pelican picked clean by piranha.
Such poems are serious matters, like legal contracts: Should any concept(s),
phrasing(s), emotion(s) expressed or implied, word(s), character(s) or symbol(s)
in any and/or all of these poems be found to be prohibited by law or commonly accepted usage
in any one or more of the 50 states of the United States of America or in
the District of Columbia or in any territory of that nation or other
nation on earth or province or territory thereof or of any comparable unit
on any other planet or other intelligent-life-supporting system
in this or any other galaxy or universe, let it be understood (and nothing in this poem
is to be otherwise construed) that whatever part of these poems must be
waived/annulled/voided in any area as a result of said prohibition(s),
none the less, those parts nullified in certain areas shall remain valid in areas
not prohibiting them, and in the areas where nullified, all other concepts, phrasings,
emotions, words, characters and symbols shall be considered a valid and living part
of the contract herein expressed and/or implied between author and reader,
with all attendant penalties for violation thereof and rewards for observance thereof,
Whereto I would place my signature on this, the _____th day of _________, ____,
were I not a figment of your equally fictitious imagination...

Such poetry is air tight. I can't breathe in it. I prefer to provide a conversation
of which you can't help partaking. In poetry workshops,
the talk often pleases me more than the poems. Yesterday
a poignant "postcard" poem (English Lake Country, sheep, collies, old stone bridge,
a weathered church-yard angel, wish you were here) included sheep flowing past
like streams, their profiles "walking pillows". It spoke of the curve
of their snouts. I asked, "concave or convex?" She said,
"Concave -- I mean convex, like pillows." "Pillows just fluffed
or after I've slept on them?" "Roman noses!" There were also
tarns, because, I suggested, England is a tarnation. Where else could one talk
about pillows and sheep without threat (not in vain) of sleep?

My ideal poem is, perhaps, found in Pogo: It's Christmas, and the critters (not critics,
critters!) are caroling (Albert Alligator roaring past his SEEgar, Turtle, his waving flagon
leading the chorus). They've finished "Deck us all with Boston Charlie"
and cavort onwards into "Good King Wenceslaus looked down on his feets uneven,
Whilst the snoo..." – and off to one side the three bats (Bewitched, Bothered and
Bemildred, unshaven little imps, each in checkered or striped suspendered pants)
chime in with "What's snoo." "I don't know. What's snoo with you?" (Further off,
perhaps, Deacon Mushrat, in black letter text, condemns such folly. (I wish
I hadn't lent someone my copy. They're getting hard to find.)
Someone (Rackity Coon Chile?) is pounding out the time on an inverted pot
with a spoon. Someone is pushing someone's head into a mince pie.
No one dies. The next day, an opossum and a porcupine
exchange rueful wise jokes on a raft until one (still joking)
is stuck in the mud, hanging from his pole, the raft
drifting on past lily pads and a mamma ladybug and her tot,
who wants to know if those are... (what? Republicans? I can't
recall. Help me, Walt. I have met the enemy, and it is memory.)


Several notes: The above loose and prosy poem is meant to be an argument in favor of loose and prosy poems, in contrast to the constraining girdle -- like a legal contractm -- of the terse, short-lined, go-for-the-vivid-image poetry now in favor.

"England is a tarnation" -- that is, a nation of tars, sailors. Or a nation of tarns (small mountain lakes), which is what appeared in my friend's pastoral poem. And, of course, the literal meaning is that England is a damnation. (It has dams, too. But more than any other nation, it has relied on its tars -- navy and merchant.)

The mention at the end of stanza two of the "threat (not in vain) of sleep?" refers to a couplet in Alexander Pope's "Essay on Criticism," where he chides poets for their overuse of certain rhymes, saying that whenever "streams in crystal murmurs creep, The reader's threatened (not in vain) with sleep."

The last stanza (or paragraph) is about an actual scene from one of the Pogo comic strips, written and drawn by Walt Kelly in the mid-20th Century. Some of you may not be familiar with them (or even with the more recent "Calvin and Hobbes"). If so, you are to be pitied. The last line refers to Walt Kelly's most famous and most quoted line, which occurs in two forms in his work, one of which is: "We have met the enemy and he is us" (The other form is, "We have met the enemy and they are us.") [In my case, I meet the enemy, and it is me, Morry. (memory)] [Me, Morry, because my full name is Maurice (Morry) Dean Blehert, but in early childhood, the Maurice got lost – or lost it's moorings.]

Kelly's line is a take-off on an American naval hero (Oliver Hazard Perry), who, having defeated the British in a naval battle (War of 1812), reported, "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." (Just what every nation needs: An enemy of it's very own!)

"Pogo" appeared in a few comic books and in many daily papers. Book-length Pogo "annuals" also were published. As I mention ("I wish I hadn't lent someone my copy..."), I used to have many of them. I didn't actually loan them. I gave them to people for whom I cared enough to want to introduce them to "Pogo". I did so, assuming that I'd always be able to find them in used bookstores,as I had for years. But they've since mostly vanished, or, when I find one, it is priced out of my range. But I still have one or two. And I remember....

If you have a complete set, I'll gladly trade you a century of two of English poetry for them.

Perhaps a Googling of "Pogo" or "Walt Kelly" will reward your time beyond expectation.

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