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The Stony Lonesome: ‘It Could Be Verse’

First off, Constant Reader, I would like to assure you that I have no idea what a "below standard boatswain door for grande" is, and I don't expect you to. I refer to a transcriptional error in my Stony Lonesome entry of 1/14. (My fault entirely; I was sending in hand-scrawled manuscripts which the transcribers did a mostly admirable job deciphering but which occasionally resulted in nonsense like the above.) I have now joined the 19th century and will be typing my efforts so I assure you all that further nonsense will be deliberate.) The piano in my airship is actually a "Bösendorfer grand," not a whatever the hell that was. What we sacrifice in speed and maneuverability we make up in class and sophistication. Also, the intentions evinced by the lion and orca in my song were anthrophagic (man-eating) not anthropologic which doesn't scan and isn't a word. I may play fast and loose with the truth but never with meter.

Speaking of poetry, I think we can all agree that it's a colossal waste of time and poets by extension are exceeded in uselessness only by TV psychics and professional bedazzlers. Their obscurantist ravings make me want to shake them and demand, "Just tell me what you mean, man! Damn your crepuscular gloamings straight to hell!"

Which wouldn't help of course. They would just say something like, "Ask your soul what it means."

Phhhhbbbbth. My sole is at the bottom of my shoe, or perhaps lightly broiled and drizzled with sauce Meuniére, and neither will be affected in the least by your dactyls and trochees.

I don't think I'm going too far in suggesting that poetry should be an arrestable offense, and that poets might be detained (for their own good) in a large fenced compound with barracks to live in. That way they could all be, like, concentrated in one area and a good sharp eye kept on them to ensure they didn't get up to any mischief. A sort of camp with a focus on re-education, having the aim of turning these miscreants into productive and responsible members of society. I know that the prevailing wisdom has poesy as being chronic and incurable, but I feel that with patience and a firm hand we might make dishwashers or tollbooth attendants of them, and the irretrievably recalcitrant could be funneled into soap production. I'm just saying.

But let me not tar all the poems with saying fat brush. I'm here to discuss two poetic forms for which I have a genuine affinity and regard. They are similar in that they are emblematic of the people and culture and of the island nations from which they derive. I speak, of course, of haiku and limerick.

The haiku is spare, elegant, rigid yet flowing, fraught with meaning; both concrete and abstract, simple yet intricate. Exactly how someone whose knowledge of Japan was gleaned entirely from James Clavell novels (like myself) might characterize the people themselves.

Herein an example:

Temperate waters

Could it be global warming?

Nope, I've peed myself

The first line evokes images of sun-dappled tropical shores or perhaps a secluded island cove and cascading falls. Then in the second line, a little twist! Maybe these waters aren't supposed to be temperate. An eco-political element. And then in line three, Bam! The shocker. Turns out he's just drunk and lost control of his bladder. So pithy, so taut. So much drama packed into 17 syllables.

Try this one:

"Call Me Maybe" sounds

There is a text coming in

I ignore you now.

That one is a statement on the disconnectedness of modern society. The Nipponese really have a way of getting to the heart of the matter, don't they? Of course, I wrote these, but I feel that in adopting their form I was able to channel my inner Asian, filtered through an Anglo/Irish Turk. A piquant blend, indeed.

And then we have the limerick. Considered by many to be the lowest form of poetry, akin to the knock-knock joke's position in the humor canon, a limerick is short, clever, and punchy, not unlike the Irish themselves. A limerick begins with a straightforward introduction. There was a guy, and he's from somewhere. Sets the stage. Then a problem arises, usually in the form of a genitalic anomaly or bizarre sexual practice. In the next two lines, something funny happens because of the above peculiarity and in the fifth it's neatly wrapped and capped.

To wit:

There once was a man from South Philly 

Who tattooed a face on his willy 

The thing, when erect 

had a frightening effect 

But when flaccid just looked rather silly.

This requires no explanation. Just pure fun. Short, to the point, and vivid.

Here's another:

A fishmonger chap from Cape Cod 

Had a sexual habit most odd 

He would do the in-out 

with a hollowed out trout 

Thus convincing himself he'd been scrod.

What's funnier than a man "boning" a fish? Not much, I think. Plus you get a bonus rhyming pun in the resolution.

As concise and fun as these poems are, most other poetry is conversely dreary and long-winded. Your average classic poem is characterized by interminable unintelligible droning on and on about something boring. I say, Why not distill these monstrosities down to their essences and reinvent them as haiku, saving everyone a lot of time and effort? Take, for instance, The Iliad. This poem has engendered countless undergraduate suicides and driven the steadiest men mad. Here it is as haiku.

Who's that at the door?

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Then more stuff happens.

Then there's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a man versus nature epic. Spoiler alert! Nature wins. Nature always wins and we know that, hence this bloated excrescence's unnecessaryness.

Instead, try this:

The ocean is big

Don't kill the albatross

Everybody dies.

Tells you all you need to know, right? Bam! Set them up and knock them down. Even Shakespeare could benefit from this treatment.

Here's Hamlet as haiku:

Uncle now stepdad

Should I kill myself or not?

See you in hell, Claud.

I have also reimagined T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a limerick:

There once was a fellow named Prufrock

Who found that he needed a new cock 

For the old one though tough 

Prufrock thought good enough 

To be plucked, cleaned and boiled for stew stock.

Granted, my version has nothing to do with the original, but you must admit it is superior if only for the triple-double rhyming of Prufrock. And of course the play on the word "cock" — sheer genius. Much more interesting than all that coming and going and Michelangelo-ing.

I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, Oh, yeah, these trifles are all well and good, but what happens when those five lines or 17 syllables are not enough? What if my kid, through these stepping stones, develops a taste for poetry and decides to try a sonnet or an ode, just this one time? What if he likes it and starts versifying and dithyrambing all over the house? What if he writes his wedding vows in anapestic hexameter?

Well, in that case, the child will have to be euthanized, of course. But with care and vigilance it will hopefully never get that far. Take a tip from the Ad Council and adopt some of their pithy anti-drug slogans, adapted to an anti-poetry stance.

Friends don't let friends write poetry. 

This is your brain. This is your brain on poetry (image of bubbling oatmeal). 

Hugs not poems. 

Just say no to poetry. 

You get the picture. Be proactive and explain the dangers of a life poetic. Most important, set a good example. Maintain a poetry-free household and enroll your child at the earliest possible opportunity in technical school or the armed services where the worst he'll hear will be doggerel of the "I don't know but I've been told" variety. Experts classify this type with limericks in degree of danger (minimal).

If we all work together there's no reason why poetry cannot be eradicated in a generation or two. If you need more convincing, consider this. In my heedless youth, I freely engaged in both the propagation and consumption of poetry and look at me now. I'm not saying poetry put me here, and I'm not saying it didn't.

One thing is certain, it tenderized my brain considerably which probably lowered my natural defenses against stupid ideas.

In the 1960s some very observant person or persons noticed that a lot of people who wouldn't ordinarily be dead were in fact prematurely becoming so via the infliction of some intrusive and unsustainable holes upon their person, and said apertures being perpetrated by the long-term use of firearms. When the visionaries politely suggested to the government that perhaps we, as a people and a culture, had evolved beyond the condition of every Tom, Dick and Sirhan needing to be armed, the gun lobby vociferously disagreed. Guns don't kill people, they said in their most memorable and powerfully concise slogan. People kill people.

Well, poetry doesn't kill you either. But it might make you wish you were dead.

(All poems committed by me.)

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