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Old 05-03-2002, 09:52 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I have a bad habit of versifying jokes, and after Earsman's offer, we could use a little levity. When David workshopped this dramatic sonnet, he was criticized for the excrutiating off-off-rhyme in its final couplet, a touch I thought was perfect.

Cushioning the Blow

We thought it best to leave the cat with Ted
along with Grandma, when we went away.
No sooner were we home from holiday
than, bluntly, he announced the cat was dead.

“Listen!” I said, “Bad news is better told
obliquely--such as, ‘Bess went climbing on
the roof, and fell. Her legs and back were gone.
They tried to save her but she was too old.’ ”

Ted--who’s direct but not a thoughtless man--
was chastened (so he said) and mortified.
“Don’t worry, Cousin Edward”, I replied.
“We all drop clangers. By the way, how’s Gran?”

“Not great”, he said. “In fact, to tell the truth,
last night she went out climbing on the roof……”
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Old 05-03-2002, 09:59 AM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Even for those of us who already knew the joke, this is a delight. I agree that the final rhyme is better than okay -- there's a necessary goofiness that a perfect rhyme would fail to convey.
RPW
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Old 05-03-2002, 10:22 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
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I very rarely impose my poetry habit on my wife (a former poet herself), but a few weeks ago I read David's sonnet to her and she laughed out loud with appreciation. There are actually two jokes going on here, the standard joke that was already familiar to most of us (I presume) and the joke of installing the joke into a well-modulated sonnet. One of he remarkable things about this sonnet is that the reader doesn't really laugh at the familiar joke that serves as the sonnet's source material, but at the sly sense of humor that would choose to mock-solemnize the joke in classical form, and at the success with which that choice was carried out. The concept is simple but elaborate at the same time, proving once again that it's not the joke but the comedian that's funny. (And yes, how can anyone so ignore the humor that they would find fault with the comical flourish provided by the inexact rhyme in the couplet?)
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Old 05-03-2002, 11:22 AM
Dick Davis Dick Davis is offline
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I'm surprised that the two respondents who've already commented on this poem obviously know this joke. I heard it in Tehran in the 1970's (that dates me . . .) when it was told to me as an object lesson in how Westerners and those from the Middle East convey bad news - the crass guy who says "You're cat's dead" is the Westerner, the guy who advises him to go all round the houses and work up to the bad news is from the Middle East. The crass guy doesn't really get it, but doing his best he says that Grandma has climbed a tree (in the version I heard . .). So seeing the joke in the poem was a nice surprise for me. I like the levity a lot, and No the final "rhyme" doesn't really bother me - in that way I think it's a bit like the way the zany meter in Alicia's sonnet marks the bats' zig-zag flight: the formal wrongness of the "rhyme" seems to underline the social wrongness of what the crass guy is saying: there's a social faux pas signalled by a formal faux pas. What I really admire in this sonnet is the way a quite complicated anecdote is laid apparently without much strain across the sonnet structure. It seems easy until you try to do it: it's very hard in fact, in my experience, to lay out a little narrative within sonnet form and make it seem inevitable, to have it "fit" the form so apparently effortlessly. That's really art hiding art, as Horace tells us to.
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Old 05-03-2002, 12:52 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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David, You can dine out on Dick's comment for the foreseeable future. He's put his finger on the magic of this poem. You make it look easy. "I said, 'A line may take us hours maybe/ Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought/ Our stitching and unstitching has been nought.'" That's Yeats' advice in Adam's Curse, which I quote too often to younger poets. Versifying a great joke is not very different from translating a great poem, one has to closely adhere to the rhythms of the original, and in a joke that rhythm is very different from that of a Petrarch sonnet. I have used ballad stanza, abcb, which affords me vastly greater liberty than the constraints of David's sonnet. Such poems are invaluable in the course of a reading of verse as black as my own, because they give the reader breathing space. All of us know that David is a meticulous and conservative practitioner of the sonnet. I must confess that I begged him for permission to use this poem to give all of us some breathing space in this impassioned discussion. Thanks, David.
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Old 05-03-2002, 09:16 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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It's true that the sonnet form makes writing "effortless" narrative difficult, but then doesn't all formal poetry? I agree David has created a great fit here; most admirable of all imo is S3L1-2. In retrospect it's the both the most amusing and most original area of the poem (since many have heard the joke already), and provides an essential dramatic pause in the narrative before the culmination. An elegant volta!


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Old 05-04-2002, 05:36 AM
Nigel Holt Nigel Holt is offline
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This is a very good sonnet, but I wonder why David's superb poem on the death of the Oklahoma bomber wasn't included - that must rank as one of the very best sonnets to be posted on this site - or any other for that matter.

Would someone like to post it?

Nigel
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Old 05-04-2002, 09:46 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
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David's McVeigh sonnet, along with two other splendid sonnets, are about to appear online in the new issue of Artemis. I was permitted to browse the issue earlier today, since I'm in it, and I was struck by the genuine excellence of all three of David's sonnets. Carol Taylor also has some fine poems in the issue.

Anyway, you'll all want to check out the new Artemis once you learn it has poems in it like this one by David:

Out of the Night
– on the Execution of Timothy McVeigh

We saw your death – they showed it on TV –
and had revenge, if vengeance was our goal.
You thanked the Gods, whatever Gods may be,
and spoke of your unconquerable soul.
We shared a God – no, not the one whose whole
existence was compassionate, who tried
by promising redemption to console
his wayward children, and was crucified.
We chose your sterner Deity as guide,
with ancient tribal precepts, and a sword.
Though hope and charity did not abide,
faith lived when our uncompromising Lord –
not often merciful, but always just –
demanded eye for eye, and dust for dust.

(McVeigh chose Henley's "Invictus" as his epitaph and copied it out in his own hand.)

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Old 05-05-2002, 11:12 PM
Solan Solan is offline
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I have a question for Dick on rhyme schemes: It seems some turn their noses up at "incorrect" rhyme schemes; more specifically, I read Clement Wood's Poet's Craft Book, where he expressed horror at 1221 1331 as a rhyme scheme in Italian sonnets, or - gods forbid! what some people do - 1221 3443, in the octave.

Problem is, I think enveloped rhyme is very aesthetic, while at the same time I think English is too rhyme-poor for the 1221 1221 demand to make sense. David's poem here is 1221 3443 5665 77, which fits neither Shakespearean nor Italian standards. Are such "deviations" really frowned upon anymore, or is that frowning becoming an old-fashioned attitude?


------------------

Svein Olav
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Old 05-06-2002, 03:33 AM
Dick Davis Dick Davis is offline
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That's a good question about rhyme schemes in sonnets. It's something that's bothered me a bit; I tend to think we have to rememeber why we like formal verse (and I guess most people who visit Eratosphere do like f.v.) in order to answer it. We like it - or I like it and I guess I'm not atypical - it because of its aesthetic effects, because form gives us a particular kind of insight, satsifaction and sheer pleasure. If those effects can be achieved by adjusting rules somewhat then I'd say fine. We sould remember maybe that the Shakespearian rhyme scheme for a sonnet was once an innovation, but it's one we are easy with now, and in fact it's not simply a substitute for the Italian scheme, it produces its own effects and aesthetic which differ from the Italian scheme's. This is emphatically not opening the door to every incompetent poet saying "well it seemed right to me" for every clunking metrical mess he/she can come up with. Chess is still recognizably chess and has to be be played by rules, even though they are different now from what they were when the game evolved in India: you can play rugby union, rugby league or American football, all recognizably related, but all with their own somewhat different rules. There have to be rules if we're to have the aesthetic that goes with having rules (that's obvious and a tautology) but they don't always have to be exactly the smae rules.
The relative paucity of rhymes in English means it makes sense to relax rhyme rules in a form taken from Italian (which is very rich in rhymes compared to English). However, I must admit there is still a special joy for me in reading a true Italian sonnet (abbaabba in the octave) that really works well in English, and there's a special joy too in trying to write one.
I hope this helps. Dick.
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