02 December 2005

W. D. Snodgrass

Chapter 3 of To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry carries the title "Disgracing Are Verse: Sense, Censors, Nonsense and Extrasensory Deception".

This is a VERY funny (and thought provoking) chapter. I will give you a taste, but you should buy the book for this chapter alone (the others are also good).

I. Codes, Hums and Puns

"Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge dock florist. Disc ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty rat hut, end fur disc raisin, pimple colder ladle rat rotten hut."

Who has so debauched our bedtime story? Everything's encoded into sounds we must decipher and reconstitute! Once we recognize, under this weird linguistic getup, our heroine's little cloak and pretty red hood, we -- like the "wicket woof" himself -- are likely to exclaim, "Wail, wail, wail . . . evanescent ladle rat rotten hut!"

Still, why crack our shins on such a verbal obstacle course? Why traril this phonetically corrupted child with her "burden barter and shirker car keys" through a "dock florist" of puns and echoes to her "groinmurder's cordage." We'll only find the "curl and bloat Thursday woof" is there already, wearing "err groinmurder's nut cup and gnat gun . . . curdle dope inner bet" and "disgracing is verse." And, while the child questions his disguise, why should we be trying to penetrate her linguistic camouflage? "O Grammar . . . Wart bag icy gut! A nervous sausage bag ice! . . . O Grammar, water bag noise! A nervous sore suture anomalous prognosis! . . . O Grammar, water bag mousey gut! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!" Finally, once the "woof" has "ceased pore ladle rat rotten hut and garbled erupt," what makes us whoop with delight at that stern cautionary moral: "Yonder nor surghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers"? . . .

The language of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut -- the "Anguish Languish" -- was devised by Professor Howard Chace for the disorientation of folk tales. . . .

Such pranks come natural to poets; their mission, after all, is to create language which means other -- preferably more -- than its everyday, dictionary denotation. For recreation, they mock not only artists they scorn, like Joyce Kilmer, but even -- perhaps especially -- those they admire. Kenneth Koch provided parodies of William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, even Shakespeare: "Tube heat or nog tube heat: data's congestion." At poets' parties, the favorite amusement has long been to render classics in improbable voices: W. C. Fields reciting "Lycidas," Groucho delivering "Prufrock" -- or, as noted earlier, to sing great poems to outrageous melodies.

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