Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Making the Competition Look Dowdy

(This is Thursday's post.  I'll be traveling tomorrow and unable to get online, so I thought I'd put it up early.)

Dear Everybody:

We’re still in Finals mode. And today we have two extremely-easy-on-the-mind poems! First:

Eileen and Her Bully Machine

Hooray for Eileen and her bully machine 
That turns out such volumes of stuff! 
Some think it queer 
She's so seldom here 
Few find her absence enough. 
She lives in this town 
(At least, here's where's she's foun 
d); She is graced with a runcible style. 
Some think that she should 
Write what they wish they could 
But she freezes them out with a smile. 
Let's all celebrate 
Before it's too late 
And time's wingéd chariot's seen, 
That queen of the text, 
Seldom sour, never vexed, 
Eileen! -- and her bully machine.

Are you puzzled yet? A moment’s patience, and all will be made clear as clear. I got an email yesterday from Eileen Gunn, a wonderful but woefully unprolific writer, asking if she could use the above poem in her first collection of stories. Apparently I jotted it down one day a few years back when I was in Seattle to teach a writing workshop. So here’s a lesson for all you artistic types -- you don’t have to have genuine talent to be published!

(The “bully machine” is either Eileen’s typewriter or word processor, depending on what she had, and you knew of course that “bully” is a term of approbation. If you didn’t, you need to rush out and find a biography of Theodore Roosevelt stat!)

And here, below, is the poem I ripped off for structure and scansion:

How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear 
by Edward Lear 
HOW pleasant to know Mr. Lear, 
Who has written such volumes of stuff. 
Some think him ill-tempered and queer, 
But a few find him pleasant enough. 
His mind is concrete and fastidious, 
His nose is remarkably big; 
His visage is more or less hideous, 
His beard it resembles a wig. 
He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers, 
(Leastways if you reckon two thumbs); 
He used to be one of the singers, 
But now he is one of the dumbs. 
He sits in a beautiful parlour, 
With hundreds of books on the wall; 
He drinks a great deal of marsala, 
But never gets tipsy at all. 
He has many friends, laymen and clerical, 
Old Foss is the name of his cat; 
His body is perfectly spherical, 
He weareth a runcible hat. 
When he walks in waterproof white, 
The children run after him so! 
Calling out, "He's gone out in his night- 
Gown, that crazy old Englishman, oh!" 
He weeps by the side of the ocean, 
He weeps on the top of the hill; 
He purchases pancakes and lotion, 
And chocolate shrimps from the mill. 
He reads, but he does not speak, Spanish, 
He cannot abide ginger beer; 
Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish, 
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!

Years ago, Sean and Marianne and I were in London and went to the British Museum and the British Library (they’re both in the same huge building) -- which, incidentally, I urge you to do next time you’re there. One huge room is full of vitrines (great word, look it up) containing the rarest of rare books. Gutenberg Bibles, Medieval manuscripts, books of hours, the manuscript for “Ozymandias,” etc. etc. And there, among them, was a letter from Mr. Lear to a friend, saying, “I just wrote this today and thought you’d be amused” followed by the above poem with all his bright little illos. It made the competition look dowdy!

(You knew that Edward Lear, best remembered for his nonsense verse, was an artist, right? Not just those little drawings accompanying his poems. He was particularly well-known for his paintings of birds.)

All best,


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