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.


Another Song

Recently, I posted this, which I said was the only true song I ever wrote.   That’s no longer true.  A refrain from a Dylan-inspired verse I wrote back in 1968 began to percolate in my brain, and it has just expanded into my second song.

Fortune Smiles on a Motherless Child

Well, Life, it is fleeting,
And rain, it is sleeting,
And I have no where to go.
But still, I can ramble,
And with cards, I can gamble,
So I’m heading out on the road.

Fortune smiles on a motherless child,
Fortune smiles on a motherless child,
Got no relations; I’m running wild.
Fortune smiles on a motherless child.

My backpack is stuffed with food,
The long road lies before me,
There is no one to hold me,
I got no place to be.
Got all that I need, just my backpack and me.
Don’t need nobody to love.
But still I feel grateful
For the heavens above.

Repeat Chorus.

Well, someone once loved me,
Well, someone once kissed me,
Now she’s gone, she’s far away.
But still, I can ramble,
And with cards, I can gamble,
So I’m heading out on the road.

Repeat Chorus.

The Earth, it is my mother,
My Father is the sky.
If ever, I’m not between them,
I’ll know I’m going to die.
Got all that I need; don’t care about love.
I laugh at snow and rain.
Fortune smiles on a motherless child,
And he don’t mind the pain.

Repeat Chorus.

A Topical Clerihew

I’ve been struggling lately to write the introductions to a set of more serious poems.  I’ll get there, but meanwhile, a brief excursion.  President Obama has been showing a hint of passion lately, but for most of his two terms in office, the following clerihew applied:

Barack Obama
Avoided drama.
When Republicans began to whine,
He replied with speeches anodyne.

On the Music of Verse

I can neither sing, nor play a musical instrument.  I am devoid of musical talent, just like the rest of my family.  Now, it is true that my mother could play the piano, although since she was completely tone deaf, I’m not sure that counts.   My sister briefly imagined that she could play the drums, and I’m quite sure that that doesn’t count.  My father simply ignored all matters musical.

Despite my family background, I yearned for music and musicality.   Then when I was about ten or so, I fell in love with the musical possibilities of verse…with scansion, the pattern of stress in a poetic line,  with meter, the units of that pattern, and, above all, with rhyme, the similar sounds that can be chosen to end the lines of a poem.  I admired blank verse as well, poetry with meter, but no rhyme, but it seemed to me in those days that even the sublime work of Shakespeare didn’t have the same capacity to stick in the mind as subtly-rhymed verse.   For me, the word “subtly” was important – the less you noticed the rhyme, the better.

As I grew older, I began to see the expressive possibilities that were inherent in other ways of writing poetry, and you will find elsewhere in this blog more mature work that digs deeper than my youthful work; poetry written when I was no longer intoxicated with rhyme.  But I have never stopped yearning for the deep satisfaction that comes with a successful fit of rhyme.

The following poem, from 1970, is just that, a successful fit of rhyme, although the rhymes are perhaps not as subtle as I would have preferred.  Still I found it satisfying, and I was particularly pleased with the unusual rhyme scheme:

I wonder if I should give the rhyme scheme a name?…No, it doesn’t need one, and neither does the poem.

“In Fall, the wood’s my favorite red.”
The youthful nature lover said.
“I like the orange and yellow, too,”
“But red’s the color, seems to me,”
“That every leaf was meant to be.”
I turned to leave the youth alone,
When underfoot, a sudden stone
Pierced the leather of my shoe.
It bled a bit; I plucked it out,
“The same,” I said, “For stones, no doubt.”

Variation On a Children’s Poem

Some time ago, I wrote my first post on the concept of poetic variations.  The following is a variation on a famous children’s poem from two hundred years ago.

Variation on the Spider to the Fly

“Won’t you come into my parlor?”, said the spider to the fly.
“I have practiced misdirection, and on you I’d like to try
Seduction and Deception.  Oh, won’t you come in, my dear?”
“I’m the gentlest of deceivers, you have not a thing to fear.”

“I would have to be, Sir Spider, at the very lowest ebb
Of intelligence to step among the tangles of your web,
If I stepped into your parlor, I am sure that I would die.”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” said the spider to the fly.