Woodworking: Ignore the critics, it may be worth your precious time to try some rhyme
Poor David's Almanac tells me that on this date 57 years ago, Newsweek magazine ran an interview with poet Robert Frost.
When the snappish New Englander was asked what he thought about "free" verse, the type of poetry that does not rhyme and has no discernible meter or rhythm, he replied:
"I'd just as soon play tennis with the net down."
Lots of poets these days would pooh-pooh Frost's dismissive comment.
Free verse is very fashionable but until I became a book reviewer I had no idea how fashionable.
The year was 1988.
The Star Tribune announced that I was to be the new book review editor.
My boss, Joel Kramer, asked me to write an introduction to myself in which I talked about my loves and dislikes in the world of literature.
I wrote lots of stuff.
I liked T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, etc., etc. I also said I had a soft spot for rhymed verse, especially by writers like Alexander Pope and John Dryden, famous for their rhymed couplets, like Pope's "A little learning is a dangerous thing/ Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring."
Turns out that was the wrong thing to write.
For the next 10 years Kramer received hate mail from free-verse poets for appointing me editor.
The letters usually ended with, "But what can you expect from a guy who likes rhymed verse?"
I'm sorry, but I still enjoy rhymed verse.
I like dirty limericks, clean limericks, nonsense rhymes, Clerihews.
I like Ogden Nash, for gosh sakes -- The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks/ Which almost doth conceal its sex. Isn't it clever of the turtle/ In such a fix to be so fertile?"
But most of all I enjoy the most outrageous of all poetic forms, the double dactyl.
A dactyl is a foot of verse with three syllables, the last one accented "du du DUH." So the first line of a double dactyl poem is two dactyls long and should be made up of nonsense syllables, like "pocketa-pocketa" or "higglety-pigglety."
The next line should be two dactyls made up of a person's name, like "Heliogabulus," the insane Roman emperor. This is followed by a third line of double dactyls and a final four syllable line.
That's followed by a second stanza with the same syllable count. Here's an example by poet and Bollingen Prize winner John Hollander about the sad end of a heroine of Russian Literature:
Went off her feed and just
Then, quite ignoring the
Threw in the sponge and was
Scraped off the tracks."
When my Beautiful Wife asks me why it took me so long to earn my Ph.D., I tell her it's because my buddies and I spent too much time composing double dactyls in the student union.
After a time, we got pretty good at it, but for the life of me I can't find any examples I had stored away in my files, so I'll try a new one. I'm pretty rusty, but I should be able to handle Robert Ingersoll, the famous 19th century freethinker:
Robert J. Ingersoll
Preached 'gainst religion
When e'er he could,
Made lots of enemies
In Kansas and Georgia,
For modern theology
Did lots of good."
Lots of poets reside in the St. Croix Valley. Help me out, gang. I'd like to solicit double dactyls from those of you who need a respite from free verse.
To help out, here are some names that qualify to get you started.
Marcus Antonius, Josephine Bonaparte, Vladimir Nabokov.
And some activities: Gubernatorial, Neoplatonical, Cosmetological.
Dave isn't kidding. He'd like to hear from you, 715-426-9544.