Tag Archives: Poem

“Too Many Daves” by Dr. Seuss

So much poetic depth, a 24-line poem becomes a story.

So much poetic depth, a 24-line poem becomes a story in The Sneetches and Other Stories.

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Too Many Daves
Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel)

Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, “Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!” she doesn’t get one.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves’
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.
And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn
And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim.
And one of them Shadrack. And one of them Blinkey.
And one of them Stuffy. And one of them Stinkey.
Another one Putt-Putt. Another one Moon Face.
Another one Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face.
And one of them Ziggy. And one Soggy Muff.
One Buffalo Bill. And one Biffalo Buff.
And one of them Sneepy. And one Weepy Weed.
And one Paris Garters. And one Harris Tweed.
And one of them Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt
And one of them Oliver Boliver Butt
And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate …
But she didn’t do it. And now it’s too late.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
If you ever find yourself trying to explain to someone that most essential of poetic qualities, what I call “poetic depth” (which I define as “miles per word“) — and reader, a time will come when you’ll need to explain it to someone, oh yes, few elements in poetry require a better understanding — then “Too Many Daves” is your Exhibit A.

But really, Mr. Geisel? Is that the route on which you wish to take your restless, impatient, easily-distracted — and sometimes very young — reader? A list of 23 names? It is. It is. Why shouldn’t it be? From Bovary to Prospero, Bloom to Rabbit, Jekyll to Hyde, Holden, Huckleberry and Humbert — names can carry us a very long way.

We can safely say of “Too Many Daves” that no English poem of similar length has been so densely peopled; exactly one line per character when we include the loving, yoo-hooing, regretful Mrs. McCave. In fact, there are 25 characters in “Too Many Daves,” because Mr. McCave, Dave Sr., is working double-shifts to support the large family; or else maybe he’s recently, and happily, deceased (or wishing he was).

Perhaps the most revealing choice of words in the poem is “she wishes that, when they were born, / She had named one…,” as opposed to something like, “when each was born,” or “at the time of each child’s birth.” In other words, the language suggests, or at least allows — which makes sense given their mimeo-monikers — that all 23 Daves were born at the same time; and maybe the McCaves have a legal claim against a fertility clinic and Papa McCave is living large in the Bahamas and drinking Yama-Mamas with a family named the McRamas (or even the O’Bamas?).

Viginti-tretuplets. Twenty-three gene-sharers. But Sunny Jim is no Moonface. At least those two certainly don’t hang out together, not like Buffalo Bill and Biffalo Buff, or Stuffy and Stinky, those paired humiliations to poor sophisticated elder brother, Harris Tweed.

A name like Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face rockets us through the deepest space of possibility, because remember, no one knows her children better than Mrs. McCave, and there must be a reason she imagines such an inflated cognomen, or what you might call an inflappellation, for Dave number 12. The last-born, Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate, by the way (and maybe Mrs. McCave herself?), is an avid reader of Nabokov.

“Too late,” the poem ends. Too late — and too bad. Of a single name, we learn, is born a individual character (23 in this case). So, too, with words. Most writing, most poetry, and 99% of blogs let’s be honest, have way too many Daves. We “yoo-hoo” for a thought and they all come running. Weepy Weeds and Soggy Muffs are nothing in popular prose but drab diminished Daves, the same words serving multiple purposes.

Poetic depth occurs, you might say, when poets treat words as if they were their own children — the way Updike cared for his words — or when they take the time, like Flaubert, to observe the precise characteristics of a thing before assigning it its proper name. And if naming everything Dave is “not a smart thing to do,” the ever-revising poet (20 years to finish “The Moose,” O wonderful Ms Bishop!) will know that the paradise of poetic depth (and why else live?) often exists between a Ziggy and a Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt, and you’d better take the time to get it right.

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“Island Song” by Zireaux

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin

Radio New Zealand is scheduled to broadcast Zireaux’s Res Publica, Book One, performed by the great Stuart Devenie, early next year. “Island Song” is a stanza from Res Publica, Book Two.

Island Song
by Zireaux

She was mine. My island. My me
and my my-land. My rock in the sea. My high
and my dry-land. My reef, my wreck, where I,
a castaway, a refugee,
would try to forget a life-gone-awry-land.

She was mine. My island. My shy-land,
my why-land, my cosmic design-land.
And though she confined me from beckoning waves,
with her I felt free, a wandering mind-land,
unmarred by my past or scarred by its graves.

But O the regret! That I couldn’t lie
with her forever, my lie-land! That I
couldn’t be her first; and she couldn’t be
my last – an island, a die-land, for me.

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“In the Photograph” by Bryan Walpert

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

In the Photograph

that I have never seen,
the one my wife refuses to show me,
the one in the frame hugged to her chest,
she stands in a crowd, as I imagine it,
her hair larger, and looks ahead
to a future she has no idea includes me
imagining in the past
framed by this photograph a bird
sits just barely discernable in a tree
behind the voluminous mane of her head.
It has a red beak or, if the photograph,
which I may have mentioned I have not seen,
is black and white, it is a beak one might
have to imagine to imagine to be red.
I may be making too much of the beak.
The tree might be what most matters
in this photograph, the way its skeletal
branches importune something about
winter sneaking up behind her,
like the future she thinks
she’s looking into, so young,
younger than I’ve ever known her.
It’s a group shot, but the photographer
has noticed her. Not her hair,
which is beautiful, but the red line
of her lips, the smile he commands
darting too quickly across her face,
a bird alighting on a branch
then flurrying away, like the present,
as if noticing it has been noticed
by someone who wants to say to the person
beside him, Quick, look at that bird,
but that person will say, What bird? What tree?
Anyway, she’ll say, this person beside him,
the person putting the frame face-down
on the table, then placing a book on top of it,
she’ll say, Anyway, it’s winter now,
and what’s gone is gone.

Location of the Right Temporal Parietal Juncture.

Location of the Right Temporal Parietal Juncture

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
In the Tuesday Poem before last, I mentioned the right temporal parietal juncture of the brain, which is responsible for our imagining what other people are thinking (known as “theory of mind”). It’s one of evolution’s more recent inventions, first unveiled to the world about the same time, no doubt, that the first story-teller invented the first mythical animal.

We are the only known species to possess this faculty, or at least, the latest release of this faculty, allowing us to imagine not just what a person is thinking, but what a person is thinking about another person’s thoughts, which may concern another person’s thoughts, and so on, to a maximum — many neuroscientists believe — of five or six degrees removal.

In the poem, “In the Photograph,” notice how Walpert achieves an astonishing six degrees of “theory of mind” — from Walpert himself, to the narrating husband, to the photographer, to the wife, to the red-beaked bird, to the person observing the red-beaked bird, to the person standing beside this observer. And this doesn’t include the skeletal and importuning tree sneaking up behind the narrator’s wife.

Poets, of course, achieve a “theory of mind” far more impressive than any utilitarian Facebook or social network, because their imagination includes perspectives which a social network neither finds value in, nor could possibly connect to: Babies, for example (I think of “Baby Eppie” in the buttercups near Silas Marner’s cabin*). Or red-beaked birds. Or inanimate objects (Ruskin’s “pathetic fallacy”). And notice how “In the Photograph,” by creating its 6-degree journey of imagination, engages us with the narrator’s mind, that is, with its progression from the reticent (“might have mentioned,” “may be making”) to the confident (“she’ll say”). In other words, the narrator may need to speculate about a photograph he’s never seen; and he may not know the thoughts in the minds it captures; but he knows his wife’s mind. Even better than his own. Nothing, according to evolutionary biologists, is more human than that.

* I’ve always wondered if George Eliot was the first English writer to write from a baby’s point of view. Can anyone point to an earlier example?

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“Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Mrs Reynold’s Cat, by John Keats

Cat! who hast passed thy grand climacteric,
  How many mice and rats hast in thy days
  Destroyed? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears – but prithee do not stick
  Thy latent talons in me, and up-raise
  Thy gentle mew, and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists –
  For all thy wheezy asthma, and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nicked off, and though the fists
  Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
  In youth thou enteredst on glass-bottled wall.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
What other poets have found themselves beguiled or heartbroken by cats (see last Tuesday’s poem, “Elegy to Joy“)? No shortage here. From Sir Walter Scott’s cat, Hinse of Hinsefeldt, to Tennyson’s feline clan of “Sweet-Arts,” to Henry Walpole’s emerald-eyed Selima, who drowned in Thomas Gray’s goldfish bowl (to rise again in Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat”). W.B. Yeats’s black Minnaloushe, Byron’s brave Beppo, Poe‘s Cattarina, Amy Lowell’s Winky, Lear’s Foss, Eliot’s Jellylorum, Bly’s mysterious cat in the kitchen, Edward Hirsh’s Zooey, Marianne Moore’s Peter, Weldon Kees’s (appropriately named) Lonesome — poems from them all; plus Shelley, Dickinson, Swinburne, Swift, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Hughes, Updike and many others, with T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare disqualified: the former for writing what might be called “cattoons,” the latter for breaking the rules of eligibility (Forces of Nature not allowed).

Sir Walter Scott and his cat named Hinse (and the dog that may have killed Hinse

Sir Walter Scott with his cat named Hinse of Hinsefeldt (and the dog that may have killed Hinse), posthumous portrait by Sir John Watson Gordon, circa 1845

The best cat poem goes to Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Jeoffry,” but few readers today can tolerate his long mad litany of ailurophilia; so “Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” achieves selection here, because it’s written by John Keats, and even an average poem by Keats can out-strut just about any field of models, not to mention supermodels like Meowmi Campbell, Tiger Banks, Kit Moss (apologies, a private joke). “Cat!”

The “grand climacteric” refers to the 63rd year of a person’s life, in other words, a kind of meno-paws (too easy, the cat-pun). The final couplet brilliantly brings the fresh young cat over the protecting wall that — paved with glass shards — surrounds Mrs. Reynold’s property, and into the fighting arena (“lists”) of an unprotected world. A perfect example of what I call “poetic depth.” So much portrayed — about the cat, Mrs. Reynolds, the neighborhood — in just a few lines. Live on, dear thing, to prick thy velvet ears and lick thy dainty wrists forever!

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“School Play (Post 4/20)” by Zireaux

The post about the Gimmal a few days ago seems to have passed relatively unnoticed. Please have a look. If not duly recognized as an important discovery for poets and scholars, it should at least serve as a good treadmill for those with shortening attention spans.

For this week’s “Tuesday Poem,” here’s the closest your Zireaux has ever come to a “political” poem:

School Play (Post 4/20)

Inside the little crystal screen
that some inspired father’s fist
has raised before our craning row,
a blue-cheeked girl, with wavy bow
and foamy fins, stands stunned amidst
her ocean friends, all aquamarine.

A play of fish. A school of kids.
They’re singing of the seas:
“Don’t keep the smaller catches! Or
dispose of soap too close to shore!
We’re sure to catch a dread disease
by doing things the earth forbids!

We drown within your trawling snares!
Your petrol stings our sting-rays’ eyes!”
They’re dressed as star-fish, urchins, jellies
tentacled with bulging bellies.
But one blue girl, reduced in size,
is fixed within that floating glare.

“Your plastics soil our seaweed beds!
Your sonar bursts our gentle ears!
You may not see the loss until
its absence shows itself…” — but still
the father’s upraised camera spears
the spume of stage-lights overhead.

It zooms, that SonyCam, it drills
with driving force and trembling aim,
into the children’s depths, to trap
those lovely liquid eyes, to tap
within its tiny fold-out frame
the fount where every passion spills.

July 1, 2010
Takapuna, New Zealand

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“The Poems of Our Climate” by Wallace Stevens

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
We now turn from the poet’s obsession with another person to the poet’s obsession with his or her own life and death. Nabokov’s imperfect closing rhyme in last Tuesday’s Humbert’s Poem, “hardest/stardust,” perfectly captures the sentiment expressed in the final lines of Wallace Steven’s “The Poems of Our Climate” — which, less poem than koan, was mediocre in my opinion, until the fat Harold Bloom (fat in a Falstaffian way) convinced me of its merit. The imperfect (hardest/stardust), says Stevens, is our paradise. The imperfect (hardest/stardust) is “hot in us” — hot as in that burning desire, that wanting, wanting climate which heats us all internally and keeps us alive.

“Delight,” he concludes, “lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.” Whereas Poe, Shakespeare and Nabokov stir us along with breezy meters, Stevens switches off the song entirely. A meditative silence, fresh and brilliant-edged. Snow, clear, pink, white, cold, brilliant — these are words of emptiness. They smell like snow — that is, like nothing. And they are precisely the words which Stevens gathers, examines and finally, in the penultimate line, burns away with his own eternal summer, his own volcanic heart, his own too hot (“sometimes too hot the eye in heaven shines“), evilly compounded, vital I.

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