Friday, July 24, 2009

Holy Tango of Literature

I had to share this. The other day I was listening to an audiobook of an American humor collection called Mirth of a Nation, which contained a piece by Francis Heaney consisting of several very funny poetry parodies. Mr. Heaney’s premise is to take the name of a famous poet, anagram his or her name into a word or group of words that could be the title of a poem, then write a poem on that subject in the style of that poet, perhaps parodying one of their more famous poems. Thus, Emily Dickinson becomes “Skinny Domicile”, and T.S. Eliot becomes “Toilets”: “Let us go, then, to the john…” He has collected these poems, and also some short plays by playwrights such as Harold Pinter (“Horrid Planet”), in a book entitled Holy Tango of Literature. (“Holy Tango” is an anagram of “anthology”.) You can find examples from his book here:

I’ve been intrigued by anagrams in poetry lately, having read Paul Pereira’s collection What’s Written on the Body, which contains a section of poems with anagrams. Those inspired me to write a recent poem entitled “Journal Evening (Loving Near June)”. Mr. Heaney now has inspired me to try my hand at “poet anagram” piece. I selected a favorite poet, Robert Hayden, and my favorite poem of his, “Those Winter Sundays”, as the subject of my parody, even though I parodied this same poem just a few months ago. It turns out Mr. Hayden’s name produces one of the most perfect poet anagrams I’ve seen so far:

The Errand Boy
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too the grocery boy came early
in his supermarket clothes, dressed for the cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from bagging at checkout #4, made
my cupboards full. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear his knocking, yelling,
“Mr. Hayden, are ya home?” he’d call –
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the grocery bill for my house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven through the cold
and scuffed up his shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know,
about how much I should tip him?

Here's another one - it's not a parody of any particular Billy Collins poem, just his style, which, by the way, I admire greatly. I did lift the apple image from one of his poems, though:

Bly’s Ill, Colin
by Billy Collins

It’s not exactly the kind of anagram I would want.
After all, Robert Hayden got “The Errand Boy”,
and T.S. Eliot got “Toilets”. But my name anagrams
into a minimal rearrangement of letters,
barely disguising the source. It must be all those L’s,
a plethora of alliteration that reduces its flexibility,
though it keeps the tongue busy. Well, it will have to do.
I could write something about my friend Robert Bly
and give him some rare disease, like yaws or pellagra,
or maybe Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome.
I could have famous visitors pay their respects,
and I would be the doorman, running interference:
“Yes, Anjelica, I think he’d like to see you now.”
“Sorry, Colin – I mean General Powell – he’s sleeping.”
But that would be silly. Instead, I should just scrap
the title and the whole concept, and write about the apple
which has been on my bedroom floor for three days,
one lone bite in its side, spinning with the rest of my world
around a fat, indolent sun.

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