Showing posts with label light verse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label light verse. Show all posts

22 June 2013

Candy Is Dandy



by John M. Floyd



It's funny how we get started reading new authors. For me it happens sometimes by chance but usually as the result of a recommendation by fellow readers or writers. And, more and more, I've begun seeking out books and stories written by my fellow SleuthSayers. However it comes to pass, it's always fun to discover new writers.

Cider House Rules author John Irving says, in his memoir My Movie Business, that one summer when he was a little boy at the beach, someone pointed to a pale, ungainly man in a yellow bathing suit and said it was Ogden Nash, the writer. "To this day, I don't know that it was," Irving continues, "but I shall carry the image of that funny-looking man, 'the writer,' to my grave," and adds that he immediately took up reading Nash's humorous verse. I'm sure that he, like me and millions of other fans, is glad he did.

I can recall seeing only a few photos of Mr. Nash, and I think he looked like a pretty regular guy, maybe a bit scholarly. For some reason I tend to confuse him with Bennett Cerf, whose face I do remember well, from the panel of What's My Line?--but I'm more familiar with Nash's work. I even have a volume of his collected poetry on the bookshelf about ten feet from where I'm sitting right now. Occasionally I open it to a random page and read a few lines, and whenever I do I seem to feel a little better for the rest of the day.

If you don't already know Ogden Nash, here's some quick background. America's most accomplished writer of light verse, Nash was born in Rye, New York, in 1902 but moved to Baltimore in his thirties and lived there until his death in 1971. He was at different times a teacher, a playwright, a lyricist, and an editor at Doubleday, but above all he was a poet, publishing more than 500 poems in venues from The New Yorker to The Saturday Evening Post.

A few interesting pieces of trivia: he was descended from the brother of General Francis Nash, who gave his name to Nashville, Tennessee; his family lived briefly in a carriage house owned by Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts; and his death was the result of an infection from, of all things, improperly prepared coleslaw.

Making a word perfect

I recall that my friend David Dean once mentioned in a SleuthSayers column the fact that some words sound good even though they might not be real words. I agree, and I've used them in my own fiction--usually as verbs--when someone THUNKs his head on the sidewalk, or a helicopter whopwhopwhopwhops its way overhead, or a boomerang whickers through the air. (Yes, I know that's called onomatopoeia, but unless they're Hawaiian I'm not fond of words that have four vowels in a row. I'd rather just say it's "using words that sound like the sounds they make.")

Ogden Nash loved to create nonexistent words, especially in rhyme, and instead of being distracting because of their difference, they were wonderfully appropriate. Of babies, he once wrote in a poem, "A bit of talcum is always walcum," and on the subject of wasps, "He throws open his nest with prodigality, but I distrust his waspitality." My favorite is probably "If called by a panther, don't anther."

Trying to imitate the master

While it probably wouldn't be ethical to use examples of Nash's "invented-or-otherwise-zany-word" poems in their entirety here, I have no such qualms about showing you some of my own. The first of the following ditties was published in Futures, the second in Rhyme Time, and the third in a magazine called--believe it or not--Volcano Quarterly. The last two have never even been submitted (and probably for good reason).




SHOCK VALUE

When chased by a crazed wildebeest,
I preferred not to just kildebeest;
So I found a snapshotta
My wife's cousin Lotta,
Which immediately stildebeest.




SOUTH OF SAUDI

If the country of Yemen
Were governed by Britain,
Their gas would be petrol,
Their dresses tight-fittin'.
And sports fans could watch,
For the price of a ticket,
Arabian knights
Playing Yemeni cricket.




POMPOUS ASHES

An inactive volcano named Dora
Was implanted with buildings and flora;
And some say since the mayor
Has his offices there,
It puts out more hot air than befora.




DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH

Your investments crashed? Your money's gone?
Be neither sad nor jealous;
It isn't really gone--it just
Belongs to someone ealous.




THE PAIN IN SPAIN

She ran with the bulls at Pamplona;
One stuck her, another steptona.




This kind of goofy wordplay is a pleasure to write, and I can't help thinking that Mr. Nash--yellow bathing suit or not--was probably a happy and delightful person in real life. I wish I'd known him.

I've heard he is possibly best remembered for the expression "candy is dandy but liquor is quicker."

Neither one is as much fun as his light verse.




19 January 2013

A Heavy Dose of Light Verse



by John M. Floyd


As is often the case, I recently found myself inspired by one of my SleuthSayers colleagues.  This time it was Rob Lopresti and his "Hello, My Lovely" poem a few days ago.  I loved it!  While neither of us is well known for poetry, both Rob and I enjoy wordplay in thirty-one different flavors, and sometimes that's all that's required to turn out an occasional piece of light verse.  I have probably turned out more than I should have over my relatively short writing "career," but I truly like the sound and rhythm--and humor--of certain kinds of poetry.  And I often prefer poems that "tell a story."

Even though I confess my lack of serious poetic knowledge or talent, I would like to present a few of my mystery poems from the past several years.  I call them that because (1) they involve a crime, (2) they were published in mystery magazines, and (3) it's a mystery that they got published at all.  For the record, these first appeared in places like Mystery TimeMurderous IntentEllery Queen Mystery MagazineThe 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, and Futures Mysterious Mystery Magazine.

NOTE: I'm recycling even further, here, because several of these ditties were featured in one of my Criminal Brief columns more than four years ago--but I'm hoping that those of you who might've read them there have fully recovered by now from any mental anguish or acid reflux they might have caused.

Here goes:



A WIFE IN THE COUNTRY

Turk McGee sipped his tea and contentedly sighed
As he lounged on the porch and observed his young bride;
She was working the fields, as she'd done every day
Since her father arranged for her marriage last May,
But what Dad hadn't known (and McGee hadn't said)
Was that Turk thought all girls became slaves when they wed.
Just today, for example, she'd plowed until three,
Stopping only two times to pour Turk some iced tea;
But at last she was done, and looked quite peaceful now
As she unhitched the mule and put up the old plow.
When she walked to the porch, McGee'd finished his glass
And was watching the mule as it rolled in the grass;
"I been wonderin'," he said, "how a woman abides
A dumb beast that's so mean and so lazy, besides."
"I been wonderin' that too," she remarked to old Turk,
And then sat down to wait for the poison to work.




IMMORTALITY

Philip Marlowe was a P.I.,
Kay Scarpetta an M.E.,
Ms. Warshawski was a V.I.,
Mr. Watson an M.D.

Clarice Starling was a pro,
Bernie Rhodenbarr a con,
Ranger Pigeon was an Anna,
Vito Corleone a Don.

Inspector Pitt was smart and cagey,
Spenser brash and bold,
Dave Robicheaux sleuthed in the heat,
Kate Shugak in the cold.

Some say these folks weren't real--they lived
In books and books alone;
I say they'll be alive long after
You and I are gone.




PURPA TRAITOR

When Purpa's flights were smuggling grapes
Its king escaped in vain;
The Purpals found His Majesty
Aboard a fruited plane.




TINSELTOWN

The new bartender was a guy
Dressed in a well-cut suit and tie.
Sue blinked. "Hey, aren't you Peter Gunn?"
"I used to be, in '61."
"What happened, there? I liked that show."
"The guy who played me had to go."
"So you're Craig Stevens?" she replied.
"No, I'm the character. Craig died."
"The character? For real?" asked Sue.
Gunn shrugged. "Don't I look real to you?"
"But you were once a superstar!"
"A fallen star, now tending bar."
"So all this time, you've been right here?"
"Long story. Want another beer?"
When refilled, Sue inquired again:
"So what all have you done since then?"
"Well, two producers died one night--"
"I heard. They both got poisoned, right?"
"--I was accused; I left L.A.,
And caught a boat and sailed away."
She sipped her brew and asked: "With who?"
"With Gilligan. The Skipper too."
"You hid out on another show?"
"I lived there forty years or so."
"You stayed on, after they were done?"
"An island beach, a naked Gunn."
"So now you're back. Still wanted, right?"
"And undetected, till tonight."
Sue said, with a malicious grin:
"Aren't you afraid I'll turn you in?"
Then, gagging, she fell to the floor.
Gunn smiled and said: "Not anymore."




CAN YOU SPELL "ESCAPE"?
(Come on, you knew I had to include a limerick . . .)

On the eve of Boone's hanging, Ann Price
Hid a nail-file in his bowl of rice.
No great genius, Boone
Hanged the next day at noon,
But his fingernails looked rather nice.





NEVER TOO LATE
"You're Al Capone?"
He said: "That's right."
"You're dead, I thought."
He said: "Not quite."
"Then you must be--"
"I'm 103."
"So you're retired?"
"That's not for me."
"But how do you--"
"Get by?" he said.
He pulled a gun.
"Hands on your head."



Enough silliness.  I will now close with a more serious poem, about the commonly held belief that we as fiction writers are sometimes a little weird.  I hope this will help dispel those rumors:


GHOSTWRITERS

They say creative people tend
To lose their marbles now and then.
Musicans? Artists? That may be--
But novelists? I disagree.
My fellow authors, young and old,
Are all quite sane; this I was told
By Faulkner, Poe, and Hemingway--
I spoke with them just yesterday.