Some might find it an odd pairing, Ogden Nash and Sir Thomas Wyatt. But the two could not be better mates in my opinion as poets, as each loved a bit of a riddle, mixed heavily with their rhyme. I find more humor when I look for it; in life and in poetry. Why must sonnets be stuck with the reputation as “serious” poetry? What stodgy English department proclaimed that the sonnet has to be “classic” verse? It’s only because we allow ourselves as readers to be buffaloed into believing such a thing, that we accept it to be true. We the reader are the one placing lofty expectations on the fourteen line form because we have been misled into thinking that’s what we are required to do. Generations of high school and college literature classes have boxed the sonnet into a corner. Maybe it’s time we unpacked the sonnet from it’s historical baggage, time to set the sonnet free.
There is a solution for friends of the sonnet; read the sonnet above through a different lens, a lens that you are reading a comedy, it may be a tragic comedy, but a comedy. Have you ever written a sonnet or tried to write a sonnet? If you have, you can speak from experience there is a moment during its creation where you recognize the silliness of it all – 10 syllables, 14 lines, rhymes all in their proper place. How could it not go off the rails a bit from drama into comedy, if for no other reason than to break the tension? Next time you are inspired to write a sonnet, trying doing it with your tongue set firmly to one side of your mouth as you write to remind yourself of the absurdity of it all and see if it yields a comedic gem along the way.
Most great sonnets have at least one great one-liner contained within them. The question is whether that one line is drama, action adventure, romance, horror, sci-fi, rom-com or stand up comedy? It may be all of them depending on your whim as a reader. But don’t limit your options. Trying reading Shakespeare’s sonnets sometime with the eye of looking for the punch line and then go ahead and laugh at the silliness of it when you find it. Don’t force Shakespeare to be so serious. It’s lots more fun slogging through old English, looking to be inspired by its brilliant comedy, than trying to sleuth out something weighty and intellectual; Oh, where art thou? And like all good comedies, the audience laughs the hardest when it releases the tension of something more serious, something darker. Just look at Ogden Nash.
Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long.
by Ogden Nash
Behold the hippopotamus! We laugh at how he looks to us, And yet in moments dank and grim, I wonder how we look to him.
Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus! We really look all right to us, As you no doubt delight the eye Of other hippopotami
I am resolved throughout the year To lay my vices on the shelf; A godly, sober course to steer And love my neighbors as myself— Excepting always two or three Whom I detest as they hate me.
I am resolved—to flirt no more, It leads to strife and tribulation; Not that I used to flirt before, But as a bar against temptation. Here I except (cut out the names) Perfectly Platonic flames.
I am resolved—that vows like these, Though lightly made, are hard to keep; Wherefore I’ll take them by degrees, Lest my back-slidings make me weep. One vow a year will see me through; and I’ll begin with Number Two.
Good Riddance, But Now What?
By Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)
Come, children, gather round my knee; Something is about to be. Tonight’s December thirty-first, Something is about to burst. The clock is crouching, dark and small, Like a time bomb in the hall. Hark! It’s midnight, children dear. Duck! Here comes another year.
Your hopeless patients will live,
Your healthy patients will die.
I have only this word to give:
Wonder, and find out why?
by Edgar Guest
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it’s an easy word,
And where’er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?
You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?
Don’t boast of your grit till you’ve tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it’s easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there’s a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you’re all alone.
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.
It’s bully sport and it’s open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you’ll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there’s something you’ve tried to quit.
by Ogden Nash
A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.
The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.
by Heid E. Erdrich
Dogs so long with us we forget
that wolves allowed as how
they might be tamed and sprang up
all over the globe, with all humans,
all at once, like a good idea.
So we tamed our own hearts.
Leashed them or sent them to camp’s edge.
Even the shrinks once agreed, in dreams
our dogs are our deepest selves.
Ur Dog, a Siberian, dogged
the heels of nomads,
then turned south to Egypt
to keep Pharaoh safe.
Seemed strange, my mother sighed,
when finally we got a hound, . . . a house without a dog.
Her world never knew
a yard un-dogged and thus
unlocked. Sudden intrusions
impossible where yappers yap.
Or maybe she objected
to empty armchairs,
rooms too quiet
without the beat
of tail thump or paw thud.
N’de, Ojibwe say, my pet,
which also suggests ode, that spot in the chest,
the part you point to when you pray,
or say with great feeling—great meaning,
meaning dog-love goes that deep.
There is ancient rhythm to the dance between dogs and humans. It could be asked, who domesticated whom? Did our canine brothers and sisters see as an unruly, unorganized clan in need of fostering and decided to bring us into their fold, as their own lost “tribe” as it were, or do we still persist in believing the myth in the manifest destiny of man? Ask a dog, they will tell you the truth.
I have no doubt that dogs write poetry. After all what is poetry? An emotion the author creates within ourselves, and dogs are masters at creating emotions within us. If we are looking for examples of unconditional love in our midst, most of us would not have to look farther than a dog in our household. God Dog may be the oldest and shortest palindrome in the English language other than I. I do think that this is a coincidence as language arises from our subconscious more than it does our conscious times when it comes to creating names. Don’t believe me, name a new puppy sometime. So next time you are petting your dog who has lovingly put he or she’s head on your knee and you feel your heart rate slowing and your mind becoming calmer, give thanks that this ancient bond is alive and well in your life. Soak in the unconditional love and loyalty that is connected to you. And then ask what can I do to wag my appreciation?
by Ellen Bass
It’s just getting dark, fog drifting in, damp grasses fragrant with anise and mint, and though I call his name until my voice cracks, there’s no faint tinkling of tag against collar, no sleek black silhouette with tall ears rushing toward me through the wild radish.
As it turns out, he’s trotted home, tracing the route of his trusty urine. Now he sprawls on the deep red rug, not dead, not stolen by a car on West Cliff Drive.
Every time I look at him, the wide head resting on outstretched paws, joy does another lap around the racetrack of my heart. Even in sleep when I turn over to ease my bad hip, I’m suffused with contentment.
If I could lose him like this every day I’d be the happiest woman alive.
Over back where they speak of life as staying
(‘You couldn’t call it living, for it ain’t’),
There was an old, old house renewed with paint,
And in it a piano loudly playing.
Out in the plowed ground in the cold a digger,
Among unearthed potatoes standing still,
Was counting winter dinners, one a hill,
With half an ear to the piano’s vigor.
All that piano and new paint back there,
Was it some money suddenly come into?
Or some extravagance young love had been to?
Or old love on an impulse not to care–
Not to sink under being man and wife,
But get some color and music out of life?
It would not be grandiose of me to say that poetry has transformed my life. Poetry has been a journey, a trial, an unveiling and an unraveling the past 5 years. That it is 5 years since my mind suddenly took a left turn and found poetry soothing an ache that lost love had left behind, gives me pause on how fast the years recede and how important it is to make a few investments along the way, to get some color and music out of life.
I find myself suddenly in love again, which is not something that has happened very often in my lifetime, only three times prior. To have been in love with four women, each distinctly unique, is a gift that I do not take lightly, each having brought something completely different in terms of insights their love of me opened. I hope they would say the same of my love, at least the best of my love.
I know that a defense of anyone accused of misdeeds raises the specter that you are wrong, for we never really know what another human being is capable in the privacy of their life. Yet, if writing is a window into our souls, and a writer who lives to write is constantly exposing some versions of their truths, then can we not deduce something of a person’s character by how they speak, by what they leave behind in words? The answer, is both yes and no. I have spent the past 5 years writing my beliefs as centering prayers, sonnets, and have completed a draft of a chap book titled The Canticle of Divine Doubt. I am in the process of sharing it, socializing it among friends and family, welcoming their feedback, positive or negative. But what will they take from those words, my poems? What can they deduce of my character from them? I wrote them not because I believe I have attained the attributes that the work describes, but because I hope by writing them and then reading them over and over, they will change me, and I will become more like the thoughts conveyed. Writing, for me, is not about arrival, it is about setting a course for my journey and correcting course as needed along the way.
If I were to judge Garrison Keillor solely based on his words, the volumes of his writing shared on public radio as The Writer’s Almanac, what could I deduce? That he is a person emboldened by sharp intellect, that he has a tremendous taste in poetry and that he is able to share his love of writing and literature with an audience through his voice in ways that far exceed the gifts of but a very few. That he is also human and potentially has committed acts that would neither honor the best of himself or those he might have assailed is the conundrum that makes the mystery of what compromises each life such a fascinating contradiction. In offering a defense solely based on his public contributions, I do not deny the very real suffering that occurred by his accuser, for the courage to come forward and make an allegation is a weighty thing. And regardless of what happened between them, I hope that she has the support she needs to move on in her life and find healing, forgiveness and a return to what is good and best for her. Something happened that drove her to come forward and in no way, does my seeing some measure of redemption in the man she accused negate the harm he may have caused her and others along the way. We are not one things as human. No one is purely good or purely bad. If we are lucky we find someone who is willing to love us fully, in spite of the entirety of our contradictions.
If you are not familiar with the Writer’s Almanac then there is a storehouse of podcasts just waiting for you. Here is a selection from March 16, 2017 along with a link so that you can explore on your own. Enjoy them for what they are and in Keillor’s signature sign-off;
Geniuses of countless nations
Have told their love for generations
Till all their memorable phrases
Are common as goldenrod or daisies.
Their girls have glimmered like the moon,
Or shimmered like a summer noon,
Stood like lily, fled like fawn,
Now like sunset, now like dawn,
Here the princess in the tower,
There the sweet forbidden flower.
Darling, when I think of you
Every aged phrase is new,
And there are moments when it seems
I’ve married one of Shakespeare’s dreams.