Dealing with Death

I just reviewed this site…no  less than six posted poems since January  have to do in some way with death, which is strange, because as I grow older, and as I experience the deaths of others close to me, death has become a part of life.   But when I was young, I was haunted by a pervasive fear of death.   Either I dealt with it ironically, as here, or aggressively, as in the following verse from 1965:

I know you, Death, you cannot hide.
It’s most unseemly to be weak.
Come out – I shall be satisfied
With only – call it – “morticide”.
Since that your moving finger writ
Your name in blood upon my cheek,
My honor’s called out for revenge –
You must be made to answer it.
You shrink, my friend?  Is that a twinge
Of fear on your unmanly brow?
I am Immortal – I have died.
You must be made to answer now.

Palimpsest – a Sonnet

Someone asked me the other day if a poem I had marked as autobiographical was “true”.   I replied that it was, like most autobiography, fiction based on a true story.   The same holds true for the following verse.   Here is its true story.   I was standing behind a pretty woman named Barbara at work as she bent to get a drink from a water fountain.  Unfortunately, she pressed the button too hard, and water squirted down the front of her blouse, soaking it.  She immediately turned to me with a smile and asked: “Do you think I’ll mildew?”   The rest is fantasy.

Your name is missing when I search the net;
Your features arefading when I search my heart.
I’ll always remember – when last we met,
We pledged our love, and then we broke apart.
What if I’ve lost you? What if you’ve died?
So much to tell you, so much we’ve missed,
Such years of yearning.  Why haven’t I tried
Harder to find you, to prove you exist?
The first time I met you, you made a jest,
And I thought: finally, someone I fit.
My heart was like parchment, a palimpsest
To be cleaned and invaded by your gentle wit.
I let you go;  I flinched; you went away.
Now I must find you; I’ve something to say.

Found Poems

Found poems are poems created by taking words, phrases, and even whole passages from prosaic sources and reframing them as poetry.  They are the poetic equivalent of the “scrapture” events that used to be held at the Sonoma County dump – exhibitions of sculptures made from discarded items..   I’d forgotten that I’d ever written a found poem, until I found the following from my college days:

Bulletin of the Garden Club of America
Baskets of fibrous-rooted begonias.
A hole for one or two daffodils.
We cannot grow.
You plant not the seed,
But a mixture designed for maximum enjoyment.

Slouching Towards Oligarchy

In an earlier post, I said, without further explanation that we are slouching towards oligarchy in this country.   I’d like to explain what I meant

Oligarchy is an ugly word; for that matter, it is an ugly concept, especially to a small “d” democrat like myself – rule by an elite.  Slouching means to move in a lazy manner, and that is exactly the problem – we aren’t as a people, putting any energy into our relationship with our government.  We glide through our lives, shoulders hunched, blind to the manipulations and deceits that are being carried out by those who seek to control and guide the individuals that we ( a few of us, anyway) have chosen to represent us.   Notice how I phrased that: “…those who seek to control and guide..”   The problem is not with the concept of representative government; it is with a system of government that was conceived more than 300 years ago, in a very different context.

Our government, any government, is just  that: a set of interdependent components that form a whole.  Any system interacts with the environment in which it exists, and as that environment changes, the system needs to change, because over time, the oligarchs of this world will exploit its weaknesses, if it is not modified  to prevent them.

So what are the major problems?  Here are a few:
*****a bizarre tax system that taxes oligarchs less per dollar earned that it does ordinary working people
*****an irrational Supreme Court decision that declares that spending money is an act of free speech
*****federal legislative bodies that in effect, require oligarch level wealth before you have a chance for admission
*****legislative redistricting processes that lend themselves to exploitation by the application of money

I could go on multiplying examples, but the only real power the people have in our system is the ability to recognize that is out of sync with its environment, and to take action.   If we are lazy about that, the oligarchs win.   Every time.


To The Fair

Here I go again.   I said here that I didn’t write songs, and yet here is yet another verse turned into a song, this one from the early 70’s.

My mother made me take you out
She said that you were very sad,
Because your mother and your dad
Had perished in a roundabout.
And so I met you at your place
And smiled at you and took your hand.
You didn’t smile, but I understand;
I saw the sorrow in your face.

Chorus 1:
Oh, do you remember when I took you to the Fair,
To the Fair?
And how we got together there?

Verse 1:
Oh, do you remember the Ferris Wheel?
That great circle of seats and steel.
Oh, do you remember the Teddy Bear,
And hoards of people everywhere,
And Cotton Candy?

Repeat Chorus 1

Verse  2:
Oh, do you remember the racing game?
The plunger-pulling racing game,
And the ceramic leopard that I won –
You said you hadn’t had such fun
Since bumper-cars.

Repeat Chorus 1:

Verse 3:
Oh, do you remember the strength machine?
How I, reluctant, far from keen,
Picked up the hammer, rang the bell?
After that, we said we might as well
Head on home.

Chorus 2:
Oh, do you remember when I took you to the Fair
To the Fair?
And how you smiled at me there?

On the Decline of Light Verse

As I have indicated here , I grew up in a household that loved verse.   My mother was an actress, who appreciated recitations.   My father was a college professor turned rocket scientist who loved to recite.   I grew up with W S Gilbert, and Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash.   In those days, it was easy to find light verse to read, as well.  National magazines like Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post would accept humorous verse for publication.   But no more.   By the time I decided to publish my book of light verse for  children  (and adults), A is for Arnyx, in 2010, self-publication was essentially my only option.

Why is this?  Light verse poets like Richard Armour and Ogden Nash were quite popular when I was young.   And even today, when I read light verse aloud, it still has the power to engage the attention of children.  So why is there so little of it being created today?   I can think of three possible explanations- the internet and other changes in technology, the channelling of verse talent into music, and disturbing trends in our educational systems.

The internet has certainly made a difference in our daily lives.  When I used its predecessor, the ARPANET, back in the 70’s,  at System Development Corporation, it was still possible to imagine sitting around the fireplace in the evening and reciting verse (and holding your children’s interest at the same time)   Now we are all connected by various electronic devices that compete constantly for our attention and that sort of quiet time seems quaint and old-fashioned.

To be sure, popular music has kept various  forms of versification alive, and the good news is there is a lot of it available to us.  On the other hand, the needs of the music tend to drive the techniques used.   Rap, for example, makes heavy use of slant rhyme (words that don’t quite rhyme), which sounds fine on a recording, but is unsatisfactory in print.

Finally, there are the changes that have taken place in our educational system.  When I was in the fifth grade, I was taught the basics of music theory.   When I was in high school,  Art and Acting were popular electives available to all.   Now, these so-called enrichment classes are much harder to find in public schools around the country.  I could probably write a lengthy essay on why that is so, but for my current purposes, the point is that the study of light verse, its techniques and its most skilled practitioners, is being left to whatever overworked and underpaid English teacher who might want to include it in her or his curriculum.

Here’s a simple example, in the style of Richard Armour.  (Note: the Arthur Murray dance studios are still around; the first two lines of this verse was their advertising jingle for many years.)

Arthur Murray
Taught me dancing in a hurry.
I dance divinely in my head,
I wish he’d taught my feet instead.