BE MY GUEST

I’d rather be a great bad poet than a bad good poet. –Ogden Nash

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Today is the birthday, not of Ogden Nash, but of Edgar Guest (Aug. 20, 1881). And who, you might ask, was Mr. Guest, and why is he my special Guest for this post? (Sorry about that, but to paraphrase Will Rogers, I never met a pun I didn’t like.) Though he is all but forgotten today, in his day Guest was a poet so popular that he was known as the People’s Poet. Unfortunately for him, this lofty regard was not shared by more discriminating appraisers such as Dorothy Parker, who is reported to have declared:

I’d rather flunk my Wassermann test*
than read a poem by Edgar Guest.”

*a test for syphilis

Were his poems really that bad? Here are a few examples; you be the judge:

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ living in it.
–from his most famous poem, titled “Home”

When you’re up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face,
Lift your chin, and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
–from “See It Through”

Now, I’m not saying I’d rather flunk a syphilis test than read a poem by Edgar Guest, but August 18 was/is BAD POETRY DAY, and one wonders why that date was chosen rather than August 20, which would have coincided perfectly with the birth date of the critics’ poetaster child for BAD POETRY DAY. Of course, it’s possible there are worse poets than Guest, so perhaps neglected candidates for the honor would have raised a stink (as opposed to raising a stinker, like the parents of a certain GOP candidate for President).

But I digress (the devil made me do it). Back on message, your humble host is more than capable of vying for the honor; as proof, he submits the following for your disapproval:

RAINED ALL NIGHT THE DAY I LEFT

It was a dark and stormy night
On the day I left to stay.
The sun was shining brightly
On yon shadows afar away.

I be starting on a journey
Just as soon as I know where.
I’ve packed a lot of nothing
To unpack when I get there.

They say the spirit’s willing,
But the flesh is weak as sin;
The former is my future —
The latter is where I’ve been.

So come, sweet spirit, raise me
From the heap o’ living dead.
I surrender — set me free from
My behind to look ahead.

And should I meet up with trouble,
I’ll meet it squarely and not duck;
I’ll shoulder my chin, a face lift face,
And just show all-around pluck.

And if that doesn’t take me
Beyond that unbending bend,
I’ll just declare this is where
Both journey and poem end.

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Back to Mr. Nash. I opened this opus with his “great bad poet/bad good poet” quote. There was a method to my badness: he was America’s preeminent writer of humorous light verse from 1931 until his death in 1971, a favorite of mine, and, apropos to this post’s focus on an August 18-20 time frame, he was born Aug. 19 (1902). So Happy Birthday, Ogden Nash — a wit as a light versifier and, I might add, no twit as a lyricist; witness his words to this tune composed by Kurt Weill, as sung by Eileen Wilson (lip synced by Ava Gardner) and Dick Haymes in the 1948 Hollywooden film version of the play ONE TOUCH OF VENUS:

 

 

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TELLTALE TITLES

How much time and thought do you devote to coming up with just-the-right title for your story, poem or article? If you take writing seriously, the answer is probably: as long as it takes to nail it — which could be almost no time at all, if it comes to you in a flash — or, more time than a less intense writer is willing to allot.

Ernest Hemingway, for one, evidently wasn’t the latter type. Case in point: in writing his definitive Spanish Civil War novel, he didn’t settle for less than a killer title that would encapsulate ‘the moral of the story,’ eventually finding it in this passage from a 1624 work by the poet John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

As a writer of (mostly) humorous poems and posts, I’m inclined to go for witty and/or wordplay titles. Many times, the title to a particular piece all but suggests itself, but more often, no such luck, and I’m stuck — until eventually (as with the title of this post) a eureka moment rewards my resolve….or a poem resists my labeling efforts, and I just settle for:

UNTITLED

This poem’s title is Untitled —
Not because it is untitled,
But because I am entitled
To entitle it Untitled.

If I’d not titled it Untitled,
It would truly be untitled….
Which would make it unentitled
To the title of Untitled.

So it is vital, if untitled,
Not to title it Untitled,
And to leave that title idled,
As a title is entitled.

Moving on, suppose we try a title quiz based on the Papa Hemingway model (sorry, those of you who’d prefer the mistermuse model). Here are five passages from classic original works from which later authors lifted titles for their novels. Can you name the five later works and pin each tale on its author (ten answers total)? If you name all ten correctly, you win the title (with apologies to Cervantes) of Donkeyote Of All You Survey.

PASSAGES FROM ORIGINAL WORKS:

Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree/Damned from here to Eternity/God ha’ mercy on such as we/Ba! Yah! Bah! –Rudyard Kipling

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley/An’ lea’e us naught but grief an’ pain/For promised joy! –Robert Burns

By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes. –Wm. Shakespeare

Come my tan-faced children/Follow well in order, get your weapons ready/Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?/Pioneers! O pioneers! –Walt Whitman

No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr’d,/Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard./Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead/For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. –Alexander Pope

TITLES (WITH AUTHORS) FROM  ABOVE PREVIOUS WORKS:

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY –James Jones
OF MICE AND MEN –John Steinbeck
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES –Ray Bradbury
O PIONEERS! –Willa Cather
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD –E.M. Forster

How many of the ten titles/authors did you get? That last title, parenthetically, became part of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to this 1940 hit song composed by Rube Bloom:

And now I fear I must tread on out….before something wicked this way comes.

 

A TOWERING FIGURE IN POETRY

April is NATIONAL POETRY MONTH (as decreed by the Academy of American Poets in 1996). Can there be any doubt that a poet of my stature* would be expected to contribute a poem to the celebration?

*about 5′ 7″

As it happens, I had a poem in my April 20 post, but that doesn’t count….unless I say it does, which I don’t, because I’ve composed a new poem for the occasion (or any occasion, for that matter). The point is that this occasion happens to be at hand and is sufficiently worthy of a work of such distingué distinktion:

ONCE A POET

Once I wrote poems;
Writing poems was fun.
Once I wrote poems;
Now I write none.

Once I wrote poems;
Poems were my life.
Once I wrote poems;
Then I met my wife.

I’m just joking, of course;
I still write, as you see —
For my wife loves my poems,
And I still loves she*.

*That end word was going to be me, but that might be the end of me, so I reconsidered.

Thank you very much, ladies and sentimentalmen. I’m glad you appreciate the heartfelt passion and savoir fairy that went into said poem. Your defecating applause on this historic day warms my cockles to the core. This calls for a curtain call. But I don’t have another new poem handy, so how about two oldies that survived previous publication:

RHYME GONE TO HELL

I don’t comprehend
why poems that rhyme
must, most of the time,
just rhyme at line’s end.
Who so decreed it to, as though it needed
to? And would it spell

nonsense if most rhymes
commence where lines start?
Dare we call it art?
Where I’m at, at times,
is: does it matter where rhyme is, if indeed
it’s where mine is? Hell!!!

TRYING TIMES

Forgive me, please, my verse you’ve read —
Much better works are in my head….
–  But they’ll remain there
–  Until the brain there
Learns how to extract gold from lead.

But enough about me. Let us close on a serious quote from ex-Chancellor of the aforementioned Academy of American Poets, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet/novelist, Robert Penn Warren, who was fittingly born (April, 1905) in what would become National Poetry Month:
Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.

 

 

HUMOR INCORPORATED

Humor must both teach and preach if it would live forever; by forever, I mean 30 years.
–Mark Twain

If Webster’s definition of humor as the “quality of imagination quick to perceive the ludicrous or express itself in an amusing way” is on the mark, Twain underestimated the staying power of his humor by nigh onto 100 years (and counting). But “staying” is just one of humor’s possible powers, and because (as Lord Acton famously observed) power tends to corrupt, humor cannot absolutely avoid Acton’s axiom.

My musing on this subject is occasioned by April being National Humor Month — so proclaimed in 1976 by Larry Wilde, Founder/Director of The Carmel Institute of Humor: http://www.larrywilde.com/

As you might expect, The Carmel Institute of Humor is not without serious competition. A similar entity I’ve come across is The Humor Project, Inc., founded by Joel Goodman in 1977 “as the first organization in the world to focus full-time on the positive power of humor” — a claim that suggests a merger of Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” with funny business. And, from such appealing funny businesses as Goodman’s, have big businesses grown (judging by their “power” promotions): https://www.humorproject.com/

Now, far be it from me to regard the corporatizing of humor as a phony business — hey, there are worse things to make of humor than a commodity, and worse ways to earn a buck than to commercialize the process. But, purist that I am, I see making humor in the same light as making love: much to be preferred on a human level than as an industry (the virtues of consumer capitalism notwithstanding). Nonetheless, I’m not so doctrinaire as to deny either humor or sex to potential customers when free(?) enterprise comes a-courting.

Unlike Larry Wilde and Joel Goodman, mistermuse does not have a Speaker’s Bureau, a three-day Annual Conference (discounted fee for early registration), a five-point humor program, seminars or workshops. But mistermuse does offer an every-five-days discourse on subjects of interest (his, if not yours) — usually with tongue in cheek, and never with hat in hand. Dis course today concludes with ten humorous quotes, which come with a funny-back guarantee if he doesn’t think they’re priceless:

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.Oscar Wilde (not to be confused with Larry – or Curly or Moe, for that matter)
Conference: a meeting held to decide when the next meeting will take place. –Evan Esar
You can’t study comedy; it’s within you. –Don Rickles (the Donald Trump of insult-comics)
Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. –W.C. Fields
Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else. –Will Rogers
Culture is roughly anything we do and monkeys don’t. –Lord Raglan
In politics, an absurdity is not a handicap. –Napoleon Bonesapart (I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to butcher that name)
Politicians do more funny things naturally than I can think of doing purposely. –Will Rogers
Humor is just another defense against the universe. –Mel Brooks
Wit – the salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out. –Ambrose Bierce

Over, and out.

 

TAKE THIS JOB AND CAN IT!

And to think that you can turn on the television any hour of any day and find a politician railing against the outsourcing of these manufacturing jobs, as if this is any great loss at all. The outsourcing hasn’t gone nearly far enough if you ask me; we should be outsourcing these factories to the ninth circle of hell, outsourcing them into oblivion! It’s not work fit for a human being….  —Franklin Schneider

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If you think my last post featured jobs that stink — stink again. Franklin Schneider, author of CANNED (subtitled How I Lost Ten Jobs in Ten Years and Learned to Love Unemployment) has held every type of job — briefly. He’s detasseled corn in Iowa, served time at a doomed Internet start-up, and for one shining moment became the “Most Successful Telemarketer in America.” But his search for a fairly compensated, fulfilling position free of pointless drudgery taught him one thing: Such a job does not exist. And if it did, his boss would  probably be an a**hole [quoted from back cover].

CANNED is a book with an attitude you’ll probably either loathe or relate to. As I read it, I found myself doing a bit of both, because, although Schneider tells it like he sees it, I was left feeling — well, more or less like a combination of these reviews/reviewers:

“For the majority of you reading Canned, a feeling of contempt will wash over you toward the writer for exemplifying the worst in Americans. Others will read these words and show some form of remorse for the author and his ill-conceived notions as to what he is ‘entitled’ [collecting unemployment benefits while deliberately ducking work]. In either respect, I am sure that every one who is not a Marxist can agree, Franklin Schneider is the type of person this country can do without.” –Charles Signorile

“[It’s] a caustic celebration of the loser life, a ranting jeremiad against the working world and all its slavish pieties. It’s like watching Thoreau hand out tokens at the mall arcade, Melville grind his teeth in an Aeron chair at a media portal startup, or Bukowski lose his mind in an MCI telemarketing carrel: a twisted kind of fun.” –Tom Lutz

“Franklin Schneider’s writing is smart, energetic, funny, illuminating, outrageous, painful (in the best possible way), quirky, distinctive and wildly entertaining.” –Josh Emmons

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I view CANNED in the broader context of a roiling world of differing individuals, groups and classes who can’t put themselves in the other guy’s place, unable (or averse) to consider there may be a happier way to run a steamboat. The late comedienne Joan Rivers put it like this: “Can we talk?” The answer: Apparently not really (unless by “talk,” is meant moving our lips and making sounds). No wonder many of us just don’t “get it.” Sometimes it seems that only kids make allowances.

Like fellow lost-soul Schneider, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was young. Unlike him, I wound up falling into a thirty year career with one company while I “found myself.” It was a career in which I take neither great pride nor lasting prejudice (in other words, I worked to live, not lived to work), from which I was able to retire early and end up doing what I came to want to do. Was it worth putting up with all the “slavish pieties” one must observe along the way? Given the cards we’re dealt, I never felt as if I had a choice.

It’s easy to envy those who have the good fortune to earn a living doing what they love to do, but even some of them go off the deep end, unable to cope. For the everyone else of us, Franklin Schneider cites this quote: This is how the hero of our time must be. He will be characterized either by decisive inaction, or else by futile activity.* Perhaps so. In any case, I rest his case.

*from A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov

P.S. And what was it “I came to want to do?” Well, since you asked:

http://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine/2016/01/24

 

SO, WHAT’S THE GOOD WORD?

Good question — and one we rarely hear nowadays. According to wordorigins.org, the title question “was popular back in the 40s and 50s but, like so many other things, it was obliterated by the 60s.” I bring this up now because, as it happens, the annual conference (Jan 7-10) of the American Dialect Society is shutting down (and up) today, and is announcing the 2015 Word of the Year. Here are the winners for the past decade:

2005 – truthiness  2010 – app
2006 – plutoed       2011 – occupy
2007 – subprime    2012 – hashtag
2008 – bailout        2013 – because
2009 – tweet           2014 – #blacklivesmatter

Speaking of American Dialect (or any other English language dialect) reminds me of what eminent Professor Henry Higgins had to say about it:

Looking over those past Word of the Year winners, the one that, for me, caused pause was 2006’s “plutoed” — until I remembered that Pluto was down-graded by astronomers from a planet to a dwarf planet, or plutoid. Prediction: the 2016 Word of the Year winner will be “trumpoed,” in the expectation that planet Trump will be found to be little more than a gaseous bag of hot air, or trumpoid.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. My nomination for 2015 Word of the Year is “affluenza,” the social disease (diagnosed as such by eminent shrinkologist, Dr. Don Frankel) which results from being spoiled by affluent parents who raise their kids in a values-vacuum….as in the case of the 16-year old who killed four people while DUI and was put on probation instead of being spanked….and then left the country with the help of his momma. I know — it’s not funny. It’s serious business….as if humor has no business being serious, even if it makes one think.

If you (or some other brilliant person) were to ask me, I think I’d propose a sub-category for Humorous Word of the Year (not that some previous Word of the Year winners lacked humor, like 2005’s truthiness). Surely, my fellow nasal gazers, you don’t doubt that such words as booger would have been worthy contenders in the past….not to mention weenie, kumquat and odiferous.

Speaking of reeking of serious humor, I nominate the class noun “etymology” for the proverbial last word :

Online Etymology Dictionary – humor

 

 

30 NOVEMBER — TO THE SWIFT

As 3o days hath the month of November,
Today marks the end of a month to remember.
Swift doth the day pass into December,
Ere the twain shall meet….in a glowing ember.

The above is my Lilliputian ode to two literary giants who were born on this day: Jonathan Swift  in 1667, Mark Twain in 1835. This post celebrates the former, the latter having been extolled in a post one year ago today (THE UNIVERSAL MARK TWAIN).

Jonathan Swift’s pièce de résistance, of course, was GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, a book I gobbled up when about 12 years old (in an abridged version for children), and still own. However, at that age I didn’t fully appreciate that it was much more than a grand adventure tale — it’s also a masterpiece of parody and social/political satire, as exemplified by the enmity between the empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu over which end of an egg should be broken first before being eaten — a conflict which put Gulliver in the middle between the Big Endians and the Small Endians. Well, I suppose that makes just as much sense as real people fighting over whose god is the Big Enchilada.

Let us turn now to three quotations from the unabridged GULLIVER’S TRAVELS:

Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license give to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert an idolatrous and barbarous people.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

I close with three more Swift quotes, the last of which I intend to inscribe on a club to beat anyone who would disparage my stunning cunning punning:

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise except he that is without it.

 

–30–