Nonsense and Some Sense Verse Smackdown, Round 3A
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, and the Musical Intermission)
Musical face-offs always do well, so I'm a little surprised that last week's intermission attracted a grand total of three votes. Then again, why be greedy for more when enough is plenty? And we certainly had enough: just when I was about to call a tie between Noel Coward (Brandon's choice) and Cole Porter (Christopher's choice), Mrs. Darwin slipped in and called it for Cole. =)
Now we can move on . . . The themes, which I started using out of desperation, have turned out to be a fun twist on how I normally organise brackets. So I think I'll continue today and next week with . . . FAMOUS FIGURES.
The Funny Four
Lewis Carroll . . .
We've always opened with Lewis Carroll because he usually comes first alphabetically--but it's also fitting inasmuch as he is the most prestigious funny writer in every round. He is best known for his children's novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass--and so far, he has advanced on the strength of "Alice" poems alone. They're great examples of humorous verse, but since they're so well-known, they raise the possibility that Carroll is coasting on familiarity and nostalgia. So I thought I'd switch things up a little with something that the average reader, however much he appreciates the classics, likely hasn't heard of.
Hiawatha's Photographing is a parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha. Since I've only read snatches of the earlier poem, I'm not really qualified to judge the former by its lights; but I'm going to be audacious anyway, and declare it awesome. Not only did Carroll get the rhythm and style consistently right, but he also produced a mock epic worthy to be named in the same sentence as Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock. (Yes, if only on this humble blog.) I'm just not sure how the North American wilderness suggested the photography studio. Perhaps Carroll was just letting two of his personal interests collide.
For Carroll was also a talented photographer who specialised in portraits. He would have been familiar with (and frustrated by!) subjects' insistence on looking a certain way: the way they would like to look rather than the way they do look. I wonder what he would make of digital cameras, which lend themselves to taking the same shot over and over again until everyone is satisfied with it--or for that matter, what he would make of selfies! We don't release images of reality until we've first made them fit some idealised image in our minds. For all the archaic details in this poem, it remains a very timely satire.
And to think that I almost rejected Hiawatha Photographing because it didn't rhyme! Thank goodness that it refused to stop haunting me for weeks!
. . . Ogden Nash
I'm happy to say that I did Ogden Nash a great disservice two weeks ago, by choosing his poem To a Small Boy Standing on My Shoes . . . for the OLD AND YOUNG theme. (Not happy to have done him a disservice, mind you, but to have learned that my hunch that it was a disservice was right.) But I really didn't discover the verses inspired by his own children until I started doing research for this post. Not that it makes any difference; he got into the Funny Four with his mean entry anyway, aye? Nevertheless, I hope that linking the hilarious Children's Party (with its possible allusion to Mr. Darling?!) makes up for that somewhat.
But it is with his poem Columbus that he must try to win today's face-off. And what I wouldn't give for a scale to measure humourous verse: I'll bet that if we put the "Ferdinand/Berdinand" lines on one tray, they would outweigh most other contenders.
Aside from the kind of rhyming you will never get anywhere else, no matter how hard you look, there are other elements that put this poem head and shoulders above other humourous verse. Take the philosophical aside on human nature. You've probably run into Nash's shorter "aphorisms" on marriage, the most famous of which is his Word to Husbands. This is along the same lines, but from a different angle. Even if Queen Isabella's support of Christopher Columbus had nothing to do with her thinking that her husband must be wrong about everything, it's still funny to see one of the great achievements of history . . . not to mention every marriage that has ever been . . . in that wry light.
Then there's the irony at the end, which comes nicely wrapped in a "moral." Unfortunately, the world (which means we) does discourage its Columbuses--but woe to it (which means us) if everyone's takeaway from that story is the discouragement. For really, what would we collectively come to if we all played it safe as promoters instead of taking risks as discoverers? (The answer that just came to me: we'd be social media worker bees. Oh, Lord.)
Winner: Lewis Carroll . . . because, oh, man, is he talented or what???
So do you think I made the right choice? Let me know in the combox! And be sure to include your own pick in today's new face-off . . .
Michael Petroni, Stephen McFeeley and Christopher Marcus
Another children's novelist who spices up her stories with funny verse is the phenomenally successful J.K. Rowling. And well, wizardry just wouldn't seem right without whimsical rhymes in its culture . . . or are those just my Muggle preconceptions talking? =P My favourite poem from her first Harry Potter book is the official warning at the Gringotts bank, which is as much a temptation as a deterrent. Another children's literature heavyweight is C.S. Lewis; but I can't recall whether the Book of Incantations in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" has any verses. (I wish I could give him points, however, for the unfinished limerick that rhymes "Narnia" with "balmier"!) The following bit is taken from the flawed yet fascinating movie adaptation, (See my Twelve Things!), with credit shared equally among its three screenwriters. Their "Spell to Make the Unseen Seen" is my favourite--and for the love of it alone, I wish that the movie "merch" had included a complete Book of Incantations.
Voting in this face-off will also let you earn another point for the Philippine Literature Giveaway, but the details of blogging admin are kind of bogging me down at the moment.
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Image Sources: a) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, b) The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" poster