Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Superbowl Shuffle, Verse X by William Perry

The Superbowl Shuffle was 1985’s answer to the Canterbury Tales. Its genius lay in replacing Chaucer’s pilgrims recounting bawdy tales around the campfire with football players glossing themselves old school while dancing awkwardly in tandem. If the Shuffle’s highlight wasn’t Bears punter Maury Buford wearing a white fedora and oversized sunglasses and hitting a cowbell with no trace of irony, it was Chicago’s rookie sensation, “The Fridge,” laying down a few rhyming couplets.

The Superbowl Shuffle, Verse X

You're looking' at the Fridge, I'm the rookie,
I may be large but I'm no dumb cookie.
You've seen me hit, you've seen me run,
When I kick and catch we'll have more fun,
I can dance, you will see,
The others...they all learnin' from me.
I didn't come here lookin' for trouble;
I just came to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.

See it all here.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly poetry. The Bears pulling away from the Saints while the snow started to fall on Soldier Field—that was poetry.

(Thanks to Matt Lyon for the poem and bio this week)

William Perry (b. 1962) is a former defensive lineman for the Clemson Tigers and Chicago Bears. He is best known for pilfering a touchdown from the more-deserving Walter Payton in Super Bowl XX. His recent exploits include celebrity boxing against Manute Bol and a failed attempt to win the Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest.

Friday, January 19, 2007

During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy

I thought I’d post a poem by Thomas Hardy, as he’s been getting a lot of press lately (there is a review/essay in this week’s New Yorker and an article up on Slate today). You probably know him from novels like Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, but many critics believe he was at least as successful as a poet.

While he didn’t die with his head in an oven, Hardy was an incredible failure at happiness. His wife stayed cloistered in their attic and wrote letters about how horrible he was. He despised the Victorian culture he nonetheless tried to succeed in. He believed that God was dead and wrote about his funeral, etc., etc. His collected poetry is 800 pages of, as the New Yorker puts it, his “magnificently sombre, completely disillusioned view of the world.” Get your copy now.

That said, his poetry is, by in large, very good. He’s skilled in all facets, and while he writes with strict metrical constraints, he’s a wizard within them, as you’ll see in the unorthodox but effective metrical scheme of During Wind and Rain. Hardy wrote the poem about his wife shortly after her death. In each stanza, he conjures up a memory that time sweeps in to destroy. I enjoy the poem, but you’ll understand how I can take about three of these before I want a scotch.

During Wind and Rain

THEY sing their dearest songs--
He, she, all of them--yea,
Treble and tenor and bass.
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face....
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss--
Elders and juniors--aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat....
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See, the white storm-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all--
Men and maidens--yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee....
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them--aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs....
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the raindrop plows.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) the son of a stonemason, was born in Dorsetshire, England. Some of his novels, considered literary classics today, received negative reviews upon publication and Hardy was criticized for being too pessimistic and preoccupied with sex. He left fiction writing for poetry, and published eight collections, including Wessex Poems (1898) and Satires of Circumstance (1912).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

The line “sometimes it is necessary/ to reteach a thing its loveliness” has so much resonance and potential meaning, and this poem enacts that line in an unexpected and rewarding way. The sow is not traditionally “lovely,” but is lovely in that it embodies what it is supposed to embody: it is an animal; it is thick, heavy and visceral; and it is a source of sustenance and reproduction. Notice how the rich, earthy sound and feel of Kinnell’s language enhances what it’s describing.

Saint Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
or everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1927. He has won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He was a professor of Creative Writing at NYU, but is now retired and at his home in Vermont.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Boots of Spanish Leather by Bob Dylan

Yippee! I'm a poet, and I know it
Hope I don't blow it
Bob Dylan-- I Shall be Free. No. 10

He doesn't blow it. Dylan's song Boots of Spanish Leather not only works well as a poem, it boasts the rhythm, rhyme scheme, refrain and narrative movement of a traditional ballad, revealing some knowledge of the poetic form. Look at the similarities to the medieval Scottish ballad Sir Patrick Spence here (note: Sir Patrick sounds better if you read it with a gritty Scottish accent). Like much of Dylan's work, Boots of Spanish Leather is whimsical and emotional at once, and when the title image finally appears, it's both rewarding and suggestive.

Boots of Spanish Leather

Oh, I'm sailin' away my own true love,
I'm sailin' away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the sea,
From the place that I'll be landing?

No, there's nothin' you can send me, my own true love,
There's nothin' I wish to be ownin'.
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden,
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona.

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean,
I'd forsake them all for your sweet kiss,
For that's all I'm wishin' to be ownin'.

That I might be gone a long time
And it's only that I'm askin',
Is there something I can send you to remember me by,
To make your time more easy passin'.

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again,
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.

I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin',
Saying I don't know when I'll be comin' back again,
It depends on how I'm a-feelin'.

Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way,
I'm sure your mind is roamin'.
I'm sure your heart is not with me,
But with the country to where you're goin'.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there's something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, is an American singer-songwriter, author, musician and poet who has been a major figure in popular music for five decades.

You can listen to the song here.