Peace March

In 1969, I was working for System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, in the job I wound up in after I was almost sent to Vietnam.   (I’ll write about that and about the complicated mix on anti-war revulsion and sense of duty that I felt at the time in conjunction with a forthcoming poem).  1969 was the year I first felt free to publicly express my feelings about the war.  For the previous two years, I had worked at Air Force facilities in Massachusetts and Florida.  In an odd way, I had fulfilled the tour of duty that I had almost spent in Vietnam, and I began to involve myself politically in the anti-war movement that had begun to sweep the country the previous year.  I took to wearing a black arm band at work, and when I heard about the nationwide October 15th Peace March, I joined the one that marched from Santa Monica to UCLA.   At the end of the march, we were treated to a rather banal speech by Candace Bergen, in her pre-Murphy-Brown days.   It wasn’t exactly inspiring, but what the hell; she was beautiful.

Song for the October 15th Peace March

Verse 1:

I went out marching on that day.
Ten thousand people led the way,
Then more joined in, and more, and then
We marched as ten times ten times ten.
And we’ll keep on marching, if it takes us years;
Til someone listens, someone hears.

Chorus 1:

Well, when you get old and gray,
You can’t hold a candle – for peace.
When you get old and gray,
You can’t hold a candle – for love.
But if everyone else lit one little candle,
We’d have one hell of a light.

Verse 2:

My mother called me up next day,
And I really hadn’t much to say,
So I told my mother what I’d done,
And she said: “Is that what you believe in, son?”
“Sure,” I said, “Has been for years.”
She always listens, but never hears.

Chorus 2:

Well, as we all marched along,
We all held a candle – for peace.
Well. as we all marched along,
We all held a candle – for love.
And when all of us lit just one little candle,
We had a hell of a light.

 



 

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.

Intro:
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.

 

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:
a
a
b
c
c
d
d
b
e
e

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.”

On Creating Art

In 1980, after my divorce, I decided to study creative writing for the first time, and I took an excellent course through UCLA Extension.  I enjoyed the class, but I was nervous about one of its main requirements: that you submit a 5000+ word story to the rest of the class for their critique.  I vividly recall how brutal the comments of my fellow students seemed, and how surprised I was when the teacher took me aside and said:  “I think they liked it.”

Recently, in preparation for this blog, I have been doing a different kind of studying with my friend Cathy Wild,  who is a writer, an artist, a counselor and a creativity expert, among other things.  When Cathy critiques a poem of mine, she won’t let me settle for “good enough.”   She forces me to continue to look at how to make whatever I’m working on better, until I can’t make it better any more.  The following poem, which began as a simple note about a fun fact*, went through several drafts.  You will have to decide for yourself whether or not I can continue to make it better.

PUCE

Puce.
I know I’m no good with colors,
Couldn’t describe a one of them,
So a blind man could understand.

Only
The deep purple-brown of your lips
Comes alive for me
Shimmering in the dark.

When
I kiss you, my lips become puce.
It is as though I’ve fed
Upon your blood.

And
It comes to me:
Puce is the color fleas leave.
Why couldn’t I think of that before?

 

*Puce is the French word for flea; ma puce is a term of endearment. I guess you have to be French…