Thursday, May 6, 2010

Presidential Light Verse

Only the brave enter into the cutthroat, ruthless, and competitive world of light verse. Wander in too far, elicit more than just a few chuckles and you’re likely to encounter James Thurber, Ogden Nash and Richard Armour in a dark alley with blunt weapons, complaining about them being very, very upset.
Not that these three are of themselves mean, ruthless people. It’s just that to write light verse successfully and consistently is a lot harder work than most people give it credit.
Franklin Pierce Adams, longtime Chicago and New York journalist and collaborator with O. Henry, is one of those to enter the world of light verse and not come a cropper. Here’s his tickle on a wannabee rich man:
The Rich Man

The rich man has his motor-car,
His country and his town estate.
He smokes a fifty-cent cigar
And jeers at Fate.
He frivols through the livelong day,
He knows not Poverty, her pinch.
His lot seems light, his heart seems gay;
He has a cinch.
Yet though my lamp burns low and dim,
Though I must slave for livelihood –
Think you that I would change with him?
You bet I would!
Here, we have all the elements of American light verse:
  1. The jiggy meter. Fie to the rote measures of meter, the light-verser takes conformity and puts it on its pyramidical head, hence the last line of each stanza cutting short, causing traditionalists to wonder if the printer missed something.
  2. Cutesy words. No serious poet would use a truncated word like “frivol.” That’s solely the realm of the light-verser.
  3. Mock of formality. How about those last two lines? “Think you that I would change with him” could be from Wordsworth, Carlyle or any of those other stiffs. So contrast it with a by-golly you-betcha. That’s American Light Verse in a nutshell. 
So I like Franklin Pierce Adams, and not just because he combines the names of three former US presidents into one name.

This is what happens when wannabee rpesidents and light verse mix. Don't let it happen to you.
NOTE: In 2004, I, myself, voted for Ralph Nader. Had I seen this poetry clip before November 2008, he might ahve won my vote again.

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