Fireflies – one letter and one word poems

saroyanHow brief can a poem be? The briefest poem in the English language is probably that odd construction by the American poet, Aram Saroyan, which he wrote in the nineteen-seventies.  His four-legged “m” has been cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest poem. How is this poem supposed to be read? Bob Grumman in his intriguing essay, MNMLST POETRY, calls it “a closeup of an alphabet being born”. It may be an amalgamation of  “m” and “n”. It may also be a pun on “I am”, implying the formation of consciousness itself. If this all sounds far-fetched, Gumman goes further in arguing the case for the poem with a textual acuity that would put many a scholar to shame. The Saroyan poem, he argues, “snaps us visually into the center of an alphabet just starting to form, between its m and n. And it brings to mind the way a doubled u becomes a w. The poem also comes across as a pun for the word, “am,” to suggest some kind of superior, or perhaps gross, state of being–an “am” times one-and-a-half.” (I am unsure how serious he is in all of this.)

Another unacclaimed one letter poem suggests to Gumman that the Guinness Book of Records may be wrong. He has come across a poem by the avant-garde Canadian poet, publisher, and bookseller jwcurry (John Curry) which consists of the letter “i” where the tittle is a thumbprint. And he applies his forensic textual analysis to that poem. “The curry piece,” Bob Gumman explains,  “charmingly turns a standard, thoroughly un-unique letter i into the very essence of individuality by giving it a thumbprint.”

One of Aram Saroyan’s most famous poems was the unconventionally spelled word “lighght” in the centre of a blank page. This poem was featured in The American Literary Anthology and, like all poems in the volume, received a $500 cash award from the National Endowment for the Arts, then just five years old. The NEA was created in 1965, the same year the poem was written. Some prominent American politicians objected to the per-word amount of the award, complaining that the word was not a real poem and was not even spelled correctly. This was the NEA’s first major controversy. Years after it was written the American President, Ronald  Reagan, was still making pejorative allusions to “lighght.” For more information on the poem and on the controversy, see the relevant links below.

The Scottish poet Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) published a hand-made booklet in which he reprinted nine one-word poems which were first published in the final issue of Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. no. 27 (c.1967). Ian Hamilton Finlay had requested from his contributors poems which “consist of one word, with a title of any length, these two elements forming, as it were, a corner which would then contain the meaning”. He wrote to the Austrian poet Ernst Jandl, “The kind of poem I would most like is a serious one, for many people have sent examples which are only briefly witty, and the form is capable of more than that. After all, one has the whole title to move around in.” These poems by Edwin Morgan are otherwise uncollected, though three (‘glasgow’, ‘morning’ and ‘blue’) are included in Atoms of Delight: an anthology of Scottish haiku and short poems (2000).

Geof Huth has coined a term to describe one version of the one word poem – PWOERMD – any one-word poem, such as Aram Saroyan’s famous ‘lighght’ or Jonathan Brannen’s ‘pigeoneon’ .  (This word is a veritable pwoermd itself, since the “pw” at its beginning mirrors the “md” at the end, leaving the pseudo-archai-poetic “oer” in the middle of the word.)

poem + word (w/ the letters from each word alternated to produce the neologism)

This is what Ron Sillman has to say about Geoff Huth: “Huth, if you read his work or his website, is the most serious theorist of visual poetry I’ve ever seen. He is, in a sense, exactly what the genre needs, a systematic thinker and a goad, someone who will – by example if nothing else – prod others to try harder, do better.”

In what may be a mockery of the one word poem, and particularly the fame or notoriety that attended “lighght”, Dave Morice in 1972 published Matchbook, a magazine of one word poems, costing five cents a copy. Each issue was printed on one-inch square pages stapled inside of matchbooks donated by local businesses. Edited by the fictional Joyce Holland, each issue featured nine one-word poems submitted by contributors. Here are some of the contributions :-

apocatastasis (Allen Ginsberg)

borken (Keith Abbott)

cerealism (Fletcher Copp)

cosmicpolitan (Morty Sklar)

embooshed (Cinda Wormley)

gulp (Pat Paulsen)

Joyce (Andrei Codrescu)

meeeeeeeeeeeeee (Duane Ackerson)

puppylust (P.J. Casteel)

sixamtoninepm (Kit Robinson)

underwhere (Carol DeLugach)

zoombie (Sheila Heldenbrand)

The longest submission was  whahavyagotthasgudtareedare by  Trudi Katchmar which appeared  as a foldout.

When Ian Hamilton Finlay (above) makes serious claims for the one word poem or when Geof Huth creates a theoretical underpinning for the form, they are both going further than I am prepared to concede. But there is a certain, almost perverse, fascination in the one word poem. What do you think? Is it fun, fundamental and flourishing, or is it just folly? Comment below.

 

 

firefly-pics2

 

 

Two One Letter Poems

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Aram Saroyan

***

 

egrumn4

 

jwcurry

 

***

 

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Four One Word Poems by Aram Saroyan

 

 

aram_saroyan_lighght_320x320_c

 

Aram Saroyan

***

 

Saryoyan-crop-eyeye_2

 

Aram Saroyan

***

 

Saroyan aaple

 

Aram Saroyan

***

 

(If you have difficulty viewing this image, it reads:-  morni,ng)

Aram Saroyan

***

 

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Four One Word Poems by Edwin Morgan

 

A Far Cool Beautiful Thing, Vanishing

	     blue

The Dear Green Plaice

	    Glasgow

Homage to Zukofsky

	     the

Dangerous Glory

	    morning

 

 

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Three One Word Poems by Ian Hamilton Finlay

The Cloud’s Anchor

swallow

***

The Boat’s Blueprint

water

***

A Last Word

rudder

 

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More One Word Poems

One-Word Poem

Motherless.

David R. Slavitt

***

The Last Breath of a Famous Philosopher

Why . . .

Douglas A. Mackey

***

The Lover Writes a One-Word Poem

          You!

Gavin Ewart

***

8.06pm June 10 1970

poem

Tom Raworth

***

M SS NG

 

Thiiief!

 

George Swede

 

***

graveyarduskilldeer

 

George Swede

 

***

UTTER

 

John Bryam

 

***

pigeoneon

 

Jonathan Brannen

 

***

 

laugnage

 

Jonathan Brannen

 

***

 

eadacheadacheadach

 

Glenn Ingersoll

 

***

 

th’air

 

Greg Wolos

 

***

 

ccoommiittee.

 

Geof Huth

 

***

 

cant’

 

Crag Hill

 

 

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LINKS

A Poetry Foundation article on the story behind the poem “lighght” by Aram Saroyan.
The Paris Review account of the Saroyan poem
The Scottish Poetry Library Page on Edwin Morgan.

Bob Grumman on MNMLST POETRY

Bob Murdoch on very brief poems

Geof Huth on Visual Poetry Today

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Brief Candles – The Art of the Clerihew

ClerihewThe clerihew was invented by and is named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956). He claimed to have invented this poetic form when he was sixteen years old and bored in a St. Paul’s chemistry class. First written for his own amusement, as a means of relaxing in the classroom, Bentley’s clerihews were not published for another fifteen years. Gavin Ewart, in his introduction to The Complete Clerihews, places Bentley’s age at eighteen the time he composed his famous lines about Humphry Davy. That famous first clerihew, which, in Ewart’s judgment, was never bettered by Bentley, reads as follows:

Sir Humphry Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered Sodium.

Later Bentley changed “Detested” to “Abominated.”  As that chimes nicely with “odium” and “Sodium”, it can certainly be called an improvement. Bentley published three volumes of his own clerihews: Biography for Beginners (1905), published as “edited by E. Clerihew”; More Biography (1929); and Baseless Biography (1939), a compilation of clerihews originally published in  Punch and illustrated by his son, Nicolas Bentley, whose own version of the form appears below.

The first use of the word, “clerihew”, in print was in 1928. According to Bentley’s son, Nicolas, “I think it gave him more pleasure than anything else he achieved in life to see the word ‘clerihew’ . . . enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary as part of our language.” (It was probably handy that the practice of naming forms after their practitioners did not develop; imagine a “crapsey” instead of a “cinquain.”)  Like the haiku, the clerihew is a very short type of poetry with a specific form. A clerihew has four lines and consists of rhyming couplets. It is, also, usually a witty anecdote about a famous person.  “The classical clerihew,” Ewart writes, “is free from malice. . . . The clerihew could easily be used for satire, and even satire of great bitterness, but as far as I know it never has been.” He describes the tone of the clerihew as “both civilized and dotty”, a mini-cocktail. Henry Taylor (see below) calls them “four-line, raggedly-metered miniature biographies.”

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) born one year earlier than his friend, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, was also educated at St. Paul’s .  Both of them were later to writegk_chesterton novels. In fact, Chesterton dedicated one of his novels, The Man Who Was Thursday, to his friend Bentley whose most famous novel is the detective story, Trent’s Last Case. Chesterton began writing poems in the clerihew form shortly after Bentley created it. Though he did not attend college, he did attend the Slade School of Art to become an illustrator. He illustrated many of Bentley’s clerihews when they appeared in book form in Biography for Beginners (1905). His own clerihews, a selection of which are included below, helped to popularise the form.

8000d3604d3ceaef1d8a8ebcdcb54c84a96e35b7-2W. H. Auden (1907-1973) also wrote clerihews which he published under the title Academic Graffiti (1952, 1970). According to Gavin Ewart, “Nobody much except Bentley has ever written really good clerihews.”  But Auden’s Academic Graffiti, part of which was published in the May 8, 1971 issue of The New Yorker, also contains gems like those I have included below. While some were written in 1952 and included in an earlier collection, Homage to Clio, many were new. According to his biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, “they were the sort of thing he had been writing in his notebooks since undergraduate days.”  Auden, along with his friend, Chester Kallman was also responsible for what has come to be known as “the world’s shortest clerihew.  “To the Poetry Editor of the New Yorker” was composed, over breakfast, by Auden and Kallman, in honour of Howard Moss, poet, critic, and poetry editor of The New Yorker. Despite or because of the poem’s brevity, Auden and Kallman manage to rhyme the names of three different people. The poem was discovered years after Auden’s death in a manuscript notebook donated by his heirs to the New York Public Library. It has apparently never been printed in The New Yorker:

TO THE POETRY EDITOR OF THE NEW YORKER

Is Robert Lowell
Better than Noel
Coward,
Howard?

Pulitzer Prize winner, Henry Taylor, has, like Auden, written a book of clerihews, Brief Candles, which I’ve used as the title of this post. As he taylorexplained in an interview in The Cortland Review, “I had a little adventure with a plasma cytoma in my jawbone between April and November of 1998; I seem to have come through it successfully, but it was quite preoccupying for several months, and during that time serious poetry seemed to be something I didn’t want much to do with. I could teach it all right, but I didn’t feel like writing anything that had any ordinary seriousness or ambition. Instead, I got on a weird, sometimes manic roll with these clerihews. It started with an odd one or two, and then burst into a sequence of a dozen and a half about book reviewers, that I did over two or three days in June. That led me to think of doing others in categories—the British Poets Laureate, the present nine Justices of the Supreme Court…”

George-SzirtesGeorge Szirtes is a modern master of the clerihew.  In his blog he writes about his own clerihews (see below): “For a while now I have taken occasional recourse to the Clerihew, the form coined by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, aka E C Bentley, author of the Trent series of detective novels, but also practiced with great skill by Chesterton and Auden. Here is a set I wrote in an intense half hour or so this evening in a state between tension (about things to be done) and sleepiness (at the thought of them). They were a great pleasure to write, each about an artist.”  He has the ability to toss clerihews about like pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. On another occasion he posted a set of clerihews on his Twitter account (@george_szirtes) on 12th June 2015.

 

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Clerihews by Edmund Clerihew Bentley

Sir Humphrey Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

***

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

(Revised version of the first clerihew ever written)

***

George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.

***

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, “I’m going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I’m designing St. Paul’s.”

***

It was a weakness of Voltaire’s
To forget to say his prayers,
And one which to his shame
He never overcame.

***

Dante Alighieri
Seldom troubled a dairy.
He wrote the Inferno
On a bottle of Pernod.

***

Daniel Defoe
Lived a long time ago.
He had nothing to do, so
He wrote Robinson Crusoe.

***

The meaning of the poet Gay
Was always as clear as day,
While that of the poet Blake
Was often practically opaque.

***

Edgar Allen Poe
Was passionately fond of roe.
He always liked to chew some,
When writing something gruesome.

***

John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote ‘Principles of Economy.’

***

The younger Van Eyck
Was christened Jan, and not Mike.
The thought of this curious mistake
Often kept him awake.

***

What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

***

Edward the Confessor
Slept under the dresser.
When that began to pall,
He slept in the hall.

***

Chapman & Hall
Swore not at all.
Mr Chapman’s yea was yea,
And Mr Hall’s nay was nay.

***

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley

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Clerihews by G. K. Chesterton

The novels of Jane Austen
Are the ones to get lost in.
I wonder if Labby
Has read Northanger Abbey

(Labby was an English journalist.)

***

Whenever William Corbett
Saw a hen-roost, he would rob it.
He posed as a British Farmer,
But knew nothing about Karma.

***

Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Is now a buried one.
He was not a Goth, much less a Vandal,
As he proved by writing The School for Scandal.

***

Saul
Was tall.
David cut off the end of his cloak
For a joke.

***

Of the prophet Ezekiel
I do not wish to speak ill;
But he himself owns
He saw a valley of Dry Bones.

***

Solomon
You can scarcely write less than a column on.
His very song
Was long.

***

The Spanish people think Cervantes
Equal to half a dozen Dantes;
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

***

James Hogg
Kept a dog,
But, being a shepherd
He did not keep a leopard.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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Clerihews by W. H. Auden

Sir Henry Rider Haggard
Was completely staggered
When his bride-to-be
Announced, “I am She!”

***

John Milton
Never stayed in a Hilton
Hotel,
Which was just as well.

***

When Karl Marx
Found the phrase ‘financial sharks,’
He sang a Te Deum
In the British Museum.

****

Mallarmé
Had too much to say:
He could never quite
Leave the paper white.

****

When the young Kant
Was told to kiss his aunt,
He obeyed the Categorical Must
But only just.

****

Lord Byron
Once succumbed to a Siren:
His flesh was weak,
Hers Greek.

****

Henry Adams
Was mortally afraid of Madams:
In a disorderly house
He sat quiet as a mouse.

***

Oscar Wilde
Was greatly beguiled,
When into the Café Royal walked Bosie
Wearing a tea-cosy.

***

Thomas Hardy
Was never tardy
When summoned to fulfill
The Immanent Will.

***

No one could ever inveigle
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Into offering the slightest apology
For his Phenomenology.

***

William Blake
Found Newton hard to take,
And was not enormously taken
With Francis Bacon.

***

When Arthur Hugh Clough
Was jilted by a piece of fluff,
He sighed “Quel dommage!”,
And wrote Amours de Voyage.

***

Said Robert Bridges,
When badly bitten by midges:
“They’re only doing their duty
As a testament to my beauty.”

W. H. Auden

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Clerihews by Henry Taylor

According to Matthew
the wrath you
flee may be your own.
Live not by bread alone.

***

Bartholomew,
Hearing from afar a hollow moo,
said to himself, “That’ll
be Nineveh thriving: also much cattle.”

***

Thomas Warton
never met Dolly Parton.
It made him quite surly
to have been born too early.

***
Alexander Graham Bell
has shuffled off this mobile cell.
He’s not talking any more
But he has a lot to answer for.

***

John Dryden
wasn’t the sort you’d confide in;
there was no limit to the secrets he’d tell
in lyrics set to music by Henry Purcell.

***

Adelaide Crapsey
induces narcolepsy;
most of her cinquains
fade as invisible ink wanes.

***

Preston Sturges
was subject to urges
whose nature and history
remain shrouded in mystery.

***


Tommaso Landolfi
was disdainful of golf. He
considered putting
more vulgar than rutting.

***

Henry James Pye
is extremely difficult to justify;
none of the writing he managed to do
has been reprinted since 1822.

***

William Wordsworth
considered four-and-twenty birds worth
a walk as far as the banks of the Wye.
There are some things money just can’t buy. 

***

Robert Bridges
lived into the era of fridges
but doubted they were worth their price.
He hadn’t much use for ice.

***

Andrew Motion
Could make moisturizing lotion.
Much of what he now creates
Is slick and fragrant, and evaporates.

Henry Taylor

 

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Clerihews by George Szirtes

Karel Reisz
was not always nice:
his Saturday Night was followed Sunday Morning.
Let this be a warning.

***

Nahum Tate
wasn’t great
and is hardly worth defending –
but he did give Lear a happy ending.

***

Robert Herrick?
Too randy for a cleric.
Even Julia
thought it peculiar.

***

e e cummings’
unpublished hummings
will shortly be published in a book –
just l(oo)k

***

Paul Verlaine
stood in the rain.
It rained in his heart.
He did it for art.

***
Rene Magritte
liked his rum neat
and would never think of adding Cola.
He’d sooner eat his bowler.

***

Pierre-August Renoir
simply adored Film Noir
and kept nagging at Jean
“Make your old dad a Film Noir! Aw, go on!”

***

Claude Monet
resisted all forms of donné.
When someone suggested he should paint the cathedral at Rheims,
he replied, “In your dreams!”

***

George Braque
decided to pickle a shark
as a kind of tableau,
but then left it to Pablo.

***

Michelangelo Buonarroti
woke up feeling grotty
having painted an enormous fresco
for Tesco.

***

Fra Filippo Lippi
was kinda dippy
but succeeded in laying tons
of nuns.

***

William Blake
worshipped Veronica Lake
but secretly thought The Blue Dahlia
something of a failure.

***

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
was never mean or petty,
though he would occasionally fiddle
with Lizzie Siddall.

***

Jacques-Louis David
refused to read
Karl Marx.
“Too many sharks.”

***

J M W Turner
liked a nice little earner
and was untroubled by greed,
painting Rain, Steam AND Speed.

***

Jack B Yeats
told all his mates
to ignore his brother Willie.
“Those bloody fairies are just too fecking silly.”

***

Antonio Canaletto
could sing falsetto
but once he was off his face
he growled in bass.

George Szirtes

 

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Anglo-Irish Clerihews by Derek Mahon

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Is still read today;
While other Victorian novels degenerate in the attic,
Its reputation remains static.

***

Maud Gonne
Was no fonne;
If her husband came home late she would call out:
“You drunken vainglorious lout.”

***

John Quinn
Preferred the Algonquin
To any other hotel –
Though he liked the Plaza as well.

***

“Strange Meeting”

Wilfred Owen
And Elizabeth Bowen
Never met;
And yet…

Derek Mahon

 

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Assorted Clerihews

Massenet
Never wrote a Mass in A.
It’d have been just too bad,
If he had.

Anthony Butts

***

Alfred de Musset
Used to call his cat Pusset.
His accent was affected.
That was to be expected.

Maurice Hare

***

Henry James
(Whatever his other claims)
Is not always too deuced
Lucid.

Clifton Fadiman

***

James Joyce
Had an unusually loud voice;
Knightly knock eternally wood he make
Finnegans Wake.

Michael Curl

***

Cecil B de Mille,
Rather against his will,
Was persuaded to leave Moses
Out of “The War of the Roses”.

Nicolas Bentley

(The son of Edmund Clerihew Bentley)

***

“Anthony Adverse”
May not be bad verse.
But God knows
It’s bad prose.

Constant Lambert

***

There’s no disputin’
that Grigori Rasputin
had more will to power
than Schopenhauer.

Dean W. Zimmerman

***

Jesus Christ
Was sliced and diced,
And punched with holes
To save our souls.

Paul Ingram

***

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Hardly ever went out to dine.
Be the menu never so abundant,
He found “green leafy lettuce salad” tautological and redundant.

Tom Kirby-Smith

***

Desiderius Erasmus
Suffered from one of the rare asthmas.
His worst wheezes
Were caused by over-ripe cheeses.

Paul Horgan

***

Luchino Visconti
Saw ‘The Full Monty’
Which he thought was vile,
Bar Robert Carlyle.

Ian Duhig

***

‘Ingmar’,
said his wife, ‘I wish you would sing more,
not just sit there playing chess against Death and being glum’.
But Ingmar kept shtum.

Katy Evans-Bush

***

Cary Grant
loved his aunt.
When he was alone,
He would try her eau de cologne.

Katy Evans-Bush

***

Rudolf Diesel’s
As German as measles,
But his engine stayed mobile,
So his legacy’s global.

Kelly Robinson

***

Norman Mailer
took little interest in finding a great tailor,
unlike his sometime pal
Gore Vidal.

Mark Granier

 

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LINKS

The Wikipedia page on the clerihew.

Wikipedia page on Edmund Clerihew Bentley.

The Complete Clerihews of E. Clerihew Bentley, edited by Gavin Ewart.

Henry Taylor writes about the brief candles he calls his clerihews.

Cody Walker writes about the clerihew in The Kenyon Review.

George Szirtes on his blog discusses the clerihew.

Philosophical clerihews by Dean W. Zimmerman

A site devoted to the contemporary clerihew.

Results from the Practical Pyromaniac Clerihew Contest.

 

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Burnt Toast – Brief Poems by Harry Graham

 

Harry_Graham_c_1904

Harry Graham [1874-1936] is best known for his wickedly humorous collections of light verse,  ‘Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes’ and ‘More Ruthless Rhymes’. Jocelyn Henry Clive Graham (to give him his full name) was born in England in 1874 to reasonably well-to-do parents. He was educated at Eton before going to the military academy at Sandhurst. He became an officer in the Coldstream Guards and rose to the rank of Captain. As an aide-de-camp to the Governor General of Canada, Lord Minto, between 1898 and 1901, he visited the Yukon in 1900. The journal he wrote of that trip was one of his first literary ventures. On his return to England he became a journalist and by 1910 he had become a full-time writer. He was engaged to the American actress Ethel Barrymore, great aunt of Drew Barrymore, but she added him to her list of spurned suitors, among them Winston Churchill. He continued to write popular fiction, poetry and music lyrics such as those in White Horse Inn.

 

Graham is now renowned for his series of cheerfully cruel Ruthless Rhymes, first published in 1898 under the pseudonym Col. D. Streamer. These were described by The Times, in an editorial that compared him to Edward LearLewis Carroll and W. S. Gilbert, as “that enchanted world where there are no values nor standards of conduct or feeling, and where the plainest sense is the plainest nonsense”. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography also compares his verse with that of W. S. Gilbert and suggests that his prose was an early influence on P. G. Wodehouse.

 

The Ruthless Rhymes are mainly short satirical poems, short enough to include in a tweet if you exclude the often unnecessary titles. One is about a boy named Billy. Billy became Willie and a new form was born known as a Little Willie, usually featuring Little Willie and the terrible things he did or the terrible ends that he came to. Little Willies are:

 

  • satirical
  • accentual, with 4 stresses per line.
  • a tetrastich. A complete poem in 4 lines.
  • composed with a surprise last line and a touch of sadistic humor.
  • rhymed. Rhyme scheme aabb or abab.
  • light verse.
  • often composed using Little Willie and his family as the brunt of the joke.

 

In a BBC Radio 4 programme, broadcast in April, 1987 and entitled “The Ruthless Rhymer”, Jeremy Nicholas said of Harry Graham, “He is in the great tradition of Lear and Carroll and Gilbert and Belloc. At his best he easily ranks with any of these.” And a writer on the acclaimed TV series, “The Vicar of Dibley”, Paul Mayhew-Archer, has joined this chorus of praise, “I love the wicked humour of Harry Graham’s writing.”  I hope you do.

 

 Burnt-Toast-2

Brief poems by Harry Graham

Little Willie

 

Little Willie, full of glee,
Put radium in grandma’s tea.
Now he thinks it quite a lark
To see her shining in the dark.

 

***

 

Aunt Eliza

 

In the drinking-well
(Which the plumber built her)
Aunt Eliza fell, —
We must buy a filter.

 

***

 

Impetuous Samuel

 

Sam had spirits naught could check,
And to-day, at breakfast, he
Broke his baby sister’s neck,
So he shan’t have jam for tea!

 

***

 

The Fond Father

 

Of Baby, I was very fond,
She’d won her father’s heart;
So, when she fell into the pond,
It gave me quite a start.

 

***

 

Necessity

 

Late last night I slew my wife,
Stretched her on the parquet flooring;
I was loath to take her life,
But I had to stop her snoring.

 

***

 

Misfortunes Never Come Singly

 

Making toast at fireside,
Nurse fell in the grate and died;
And, what makes it ten times worse,
All the toast was burned with nurse.

 

***

 

Scorching John

 

John, who rode his Dunlop tire
O’er the head of sweet Maria,
When she writhed in frightful pain,
Had to blow it out again.

 

***

 

Aunt Jane

 

Aunt Jane observed, the second time
She tumbled off a bus,
‘The step is short from the Sublime
To the Ridiculous.

 

***

 

Tender Heartedness

 

Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy.

 

***

 

Uncle Joe

 

An Angel bore dear Uncle Joe
To rest beyond the stars.
I miss him, oh! I miss him so, —
He had such good cigars.

 

***

 

Jim

 

When the line he tried to cross,
The express ran into Jim;
Bitterly I mourn his loss–
I was to have lunched with him.

 

***

 

Appreciation

 

Auntie, did you feel no pain
Falling from that apple tree?
Will you do it, please, again?
‘Cos my friend here didn’t see.

 

***

 

Baby

 

Baby in the cauldron fell, —
See the grief on Mother’s brow;
Mother loved her darling well, —
Darling’s quite hard-boiled by now.

 

***

 

The Stern Parent

 

Father heard his Children scream,
So he threw them in the stream,
Saying, as he drowned the third,
“Children should be seen, not heard!”

***

Indifference

When Grandmamma fell off the boat,
And couldn’t swim, and wouldn’t float,
Maria just sat by and smiled –
I almost could have slapped the child!

***

Compensation

Weep not for little Leonie,
Abducted by a French Marquis!
Though loss of honour was a wrench,
Just think how it’s improved her French.

***

Calculating Clara

O’er the rugged mountain’s brow
Clara threw the twins she nursed,
And remarked, “I wonder now
Which will reach the bottom first?”

***

 

Tragedy

 

That morning, when my wife eloped
With James, our chauffeur, how I moped!
What tragedies in life there are!
I’m dashed if I can start the car.

 

***

 

Accident

 

“There’s been an accident!” they said,
“Your servant’s cut in half; he’s dead.”
“Indeed!” said Mr Jones, “and please
Give me the half that’s got my keys.”

 

 Burnt-Toast-2
LINKS
Wikipedia entry on Harry Graham.

 

 

A large selection of poems by Harry Graham.

 

A history of Little Willies.

 

George Szirtes has created his own Utterly Ruthless rhymes in the style of Harry Graham.

 

Burnt-Toast-2

 

Aspens – Brief Poems by Yvor Winters

6713_b_8166Yvor Winters (1900-1968) is one of the great critics of the twentieth century. His judgements on some writers may be perverse and the result of his strict ideological views, but they are always readable. The same is true of his poetry which has had a narrow and dedicated following. I, too, have been entranced at times. His “Collected Poems”, in essence his own selection, is a book I often take down from the shelves. His amazing short story. “The Brink of Darkness”, is a neglected masterpiece. But it is his early poems I am concerned with here. As Donald Stanford noted, Winters is “the only important poet of the century to go from experimental to traditional poetic technique” and “the only critic of the twentieth century who formulated a coherent theory of poetry at the same time he was practicing it” 

Although he is known for a formal and conservative poetic style, he began his career as an experimental poet, influenced by American Indian songs, imagist poetry and Japanese haiku. He told his friend, Kenneth Fields, “I was trying to beat the haiku poets at their own game.” Many of these poems are examples of what has come to be known as monostich, a poem which consists of a single line. Yet in such a short space he can manage great depth of feeling, as the poems below testify. He said of these early poems that they were “just so damned lonely.” And that loneliness is expressed in a quiet solitary voice confronting an austere American landscape.

The early poetry of Yvor Winters may not be popular today when voices are far more expansive, but that poetry deserves a wider audience.

JF-winterpines

Brief poems by Yvor Winters

Winter Echo

Thin air! My mind is gone.

***

Spring Song

My doorframe smells of leaves.

***

God of Roads

I, peregrine of noon.

***

Noon

Did you move, in the sun?

***

The Shadow’s Song

I am beside you, now.

***

The Aspen’s Song

The summer holds me here.

***

A Deer

The trees rose in the dawn.

***

God of Roads

I, peregrine of noon.

***

Sleep

O living pine, be still!

***

Sunrise

Pale bees! – Oh, whither now?

***

A Song of Advent

On the desert, between pale mountains, our cries:
Far whispers creeping through an ancient shell.

 

***

Hawk’s Eyes

As a gray hawk’s eyes
Turn here and away
So my course turns
Where I walk each day.

***

Song

I could tell
Of silence where
One ran before
Himself and fell
Into silence
Yet more fair.

***

The Lie

I paved a sky
    With days.
I crept beyond the Lie.
    This phrase,
Yet more profound,
    Grew where
I was not. I
    Was there.

 

***

The Far Voice

Roads lie in dust –
White, curling far away;
And summer comes.

 

JF-winterpines

LINKS

A blog devoted to Yvor Winters.

Helen Pinkerton Trimpi on Yvor Winters as critic and poet.

Reginald Shepherd’s thoughts on Yvor Winters:

The Poetry Foundation essay, biography and bibliography.

A large selection of poems by Yvor Winters.

A memoir by David Levin.

Kenneth Fields writes about the life and the poetry of Yvor Winters.

JF-winterpines

Blackbirds – Brief Poems by Wallace Stevens

WallaceStevens6Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) is one of my favourite poets. I first came across his poetry over 40 years ago when I heard the Professor of English at University College, Dublin, Denis Donoghue, intoning “Sunday Morning”  in a lecture hall. I was entranced. I went out and bought the Faber “Selected Poems.” Later I managed to track down a more substantial selection, “The Palm at the End of the Mind”, edited by his daughter, Holly Stevens. I also bought the essays collected as “The Necessary Angel”. These poems and essays continue to entrance. I have returned to them frequently over the years. (There is also the story of my failed effort to find the grave of Wallace Stevens in Hartford, when I went with a friend of mine, Jack Lyons of the Irish Transcendental Meditation Centre, in the 1970’s. But that is for another day and for chieffallingleaf.)

Although he has written “Adagia”, a series of aphorisms in prose, his poetry is at its best when it is at its most extensive and expansive. One of his most celebrated poems, however, is like a series of haiku. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” may, in some of its sections, exceed the limitations of a tweet. But I include it in full because there is an exception to every rule and because I like it.

I also include a very brief poem, “To the Roaring Wind”, which Stevens placed at the end of his first collection, “Harmonium”. The seeking and speaking of syllables by this great “Vocalissimus” of twentieth century poetry has led to some of the finest poems ever written. Enough said.

blackbird_in_the_snow_by_poodychampa

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

 

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

 

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

 

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

 

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

 

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

 

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

 

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

 

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

 

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

 

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

 

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

 

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

 

To the Roaring Wind

What syllable are you seeking,
Vocalissimus,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.

 

blackbird_in_the_snow_by_poodychampa

LINKS

Some of the Adagia from Opus Postumous.

A Wikipedia page on the poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”.

A critical analysis of “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by four commentators on the Modern American Poetry site.

A reading of the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Tom O’Bedlam.

Denis Donoghue on metaphor in Wallace Stevens.

 

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