Who is your favorite poet?
That’s the sort of question new sweethearts might ask each other during those first weeks of getting to know one another and falling in love. Especially if one of them is a romantic type who envisions tender scenes of cuddling in front of the fire or strolling in the spring sunshine while reading love poems to each other.
You know, that whole “loaf of bread, jug of wine, and thou” thing.
Love is wonderful, and romance is wonderful. I’m sure for those who enjoy that sort of thing, a loaf of bread with a jug of wine is wonderful, too, though I frankly would prefer my loaf of bread with some homemade chokecherry jelly.
And poetry? That’s wonderful, too, but as an aid to romance it doesn’t work all that well for someone like me, a practical, non-romantic type who would be more likely to bake a loaf of bread than to write a poem about one. Especially because my favorite poet happens to be Ogden Nash.
For those unfamiliar with Ogden Nash, here’s a sample of his work (which, like much poetry, works best when read aloud):
The clam, esteemed by gourmets highly,
Is said to live the life of Riley;
When you are lolling on a piazza
It’s what you are as happy as a.
True, it isn’t exactly Robert Browning or one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. But I love the way Nash played with words and twisted them into unconventional rhymes, slipped in unexpected humor, and would write 37 lines of verse for no other purpose than to set up a delightfully awful pun.
My taste in poetry was shaped at an early age. When I was growing up, one of the books in our household was an anthology, Best Loved Poems of the American People. It included poets from Shakespeare to Longfellow to Dickinson to Frost. I read most of those poems several times, enjoyed many of them, and can still quote several and recognize many more.
I can also still quote the parody of the first verse of Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” that my father came up with one day at the supper table:
"Under the spindly willow tree the lady blacksmith stands;
The muscles in her scrawny arms are strong as rubber bands."
The poetry that I read and enjoyed the most as a child, though, and that really fed my pun-loving little soul, came from another book on our shelves. It was a collection called The Golden Trashery of Ogden Nashery. All that remains of that particular paperback copy, unfortunately, are pages 29 through 74, which I have, tucked into an old greeting card envelope for safekeeping. The book is long out of print; I would owe a debt of gratitude to anyone who could tell me where I could get a copy.
I’d even be happy to send you an unromantic loaf of homemade bread in return. Sorry, but you'd have to find your own "jug of wine and thou."
Yeah. Another reader who enjoyed The Golden Trashery. I asked Ginny if we didn’t have a copy of it and with the thousands of books in this house and a failing memory, we can’t recall for sure. We have read it, repeatedly and I always liked the one, “Candy is dandy but likker is quicker”. Then there is the one about the ability of the turtle to be so fertile. Made for loads of laughs. As does your column.
Oh, yes, the turtle. I found it online:
The turtle lives twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.
Dr. Seuss for grownups.