creativitie runneth amok

by John Bellairs
April 24, 1959, Scholastic #20

On reading the last issue of the Juggler, and on discovering that my Pierian spring had been poisoned, I decided to revive a noble idea of William M. Malloy (one of the few literate men who formerly wrote this column). That idea is the poetry contest. I had formerly intended to institute the George Eliot-Felicia Hemans Contest For Florid Phraseology, but Charles Bowen's last column would make any competition in that field a joke. In fact, he has already been presented with an engraved bust of Mrs. Hemans and a stuffed owl, the coveted symbols of literary pomposity. At any rate, I have already received several contributions which will get the melee off to a running start.

The first poem in this collection was wrenched from the restless soul of Bob Vonsackbut, a young artist who first stood in the garish light of fame when his critique of Longfellow's Evangeline was published. He is the first critic known to have found a salacious meaning in this poem. I quote from his essay.

Note the satyrlike suggestiveness of lines such as this:

"Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms."

It is no wonder, then, that this young poet was catapulted into a literary career. He is now a senior at this university, and majors in Cosmic truth. He has written several notable essays other than the one from which I quoted, among them being: I Admire the Universe, My Tragic Vision and How It Grew, and the completely original The Problem of the Artist in the Modern World. I feel certain that his latest poem, Anapestic Anhydrides, is as cosmic as anything he ever wrote. In speaking to me of it, Bob once said, "My bravura technique (not unlike that of W.H. Auden) has produced a poem full of symbols drawn from my personal cosmology, which is known only to myself and a young woman in whom I confide while dazed. I don't expect anyone to really understand my poem (giggle) because I'm an (simper) obscurantist." With this introduction, then, I present the poem:

ANAPESTIC ANHYDRIDES
The green wind whisles o'er the golden weir,
Clear creaking anent the whiggish wharf,
Brass bagpipes peal in pierodactyl ptunes
While wheeling wharfrats warble weirdly.
Restlessly riffing in a tumdrum tuvern
A plum-cheeked drum-woman at my side,
I cast aloft my burning soul
And utter thoughts most snide. "There is no luck in cards," cried I,
Plucking at my lute,
Therefore I build a pastoral:
Come prance ye to my flute.

The second poem in this rapidly disintegrating collection was written by the only neo-Chaucerian poet of my acquaintance, Slingsby Bethel. This gifted youth may be found of an evening at the Tabard Inn in Elkhart, Ind., where he downs draughts of corn-ripe ale and composes poems in a style which has all but vanished from the earth. He has revived the acrostic and combined it with the subtly indefinable music of Chaucer to produce a poem which both delights and instructs:

ACROSTIC FOR ST. SWITHIN'S DAY
Syken bryennen Marbrindde frae the oot blibs
I hae naught friOnden swylke ye clyster pipes,
Butte knoww ye thaT mye bargen bee nicht mit
Der OberbraumeisterHausen und nicht unter den
Lindenstrasse but wEre I to speake wythe tonges
Of fyre, the paypere Really wolde bee a divil of a messe.

The third poet I shall consider represents the Homespun or Aphoristic School which flourishes in New England, where a quaint dialect lends an air of profundity to almost anything that is said. My source of such rock-bound wisdom is Mrs. Zechariah Claggblaggett of Pocumtuck Ceremonial Hills, Vt. She lives on a houseboat in the middle of a large pond of surplus maple syrup, and utters homely truths as she rocks to and fro on her imitation cane-seated rocker. I camped before her door one day and gathered these granite-hard chips of Yankee wisdom:

Them as has, gets.
Them as ain't should have been.
Them as didn't belonged to the wrong pahty.
Them as don't care can go away.
Them as ain't , is.
Them as reads old New England proverbs is teched, I 'low.

My last selection was penned by a member of the vital and significant Beat Generation, young Bisbee Snarl. This Angry Young Poet first achieved fame during a three-day brawl at the Ginsberg Saloon in San Francisco. He performed the feat of reading "Howl" backwards in elegiac octameter while fighting off well-wishers with a broken beer bottle. When the tavern burned to the ground during an especially feverish reading of Rexroth, all of Snarl's works were lost, a calamity not unlike the burning of the Alexandrian library. "I like to think of myself as an angelheaded hipster wandering the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix." He said once in a burst of beery enthusiasm. The poem which I present now was first written on a table-top in the basement of Frankie's. It cries out against t the cruelty of modern society. It cries out for a reawakening of the soul. When all else fails, it just cries out.

THEM DIRTY COPS
I hate cops.
You heard me dirty stinkin cops!
I think cops represent all which is socially unsatisfactory in this world of rumsoakedsadanddopefilled slumping lumpsters. Sneer! Hatred! Social Unrest! And other intellectual but banal statements.

With this beginning the contest should produce an incredible volume of erudite trash. Those who wish to climb on the bandwagon which slowly climbs the grass slopes of Mt. Parnassus should send manuscripts, as the St. Ogmus Day School is having a paper drive next week and I am sorely in need of money.

HOW TO WRITE A THESIS WITHOUT TRYING

I have always prided myself on my ability to do several things at once. For instance, I have been known to attend classes while apparently being asleep, and I continue to write this column while remaining an English major. But my most spectacular recent feat was my attempt to rewrite my Senior Thesis or Onus while listening to a baseball game. (Please note: J.D. Jr.) These results were forthcoming:

"Conrad has many symbols which are doubtless significant, especially his predominant foul ball imagery."
"Marlow is especially successful in avoiding the natives when he hook slides around second to avoid the tag."
Kurtz's evil tendencies come out - Out my foot! He was safe! - when he...

My next attempt will be the typing of a final thesis draft while listening to Ravel's Bolero. Don't fail to miss the results.


Commentary

Myers finds it remarkable at how well some of Bellairs's columns hold up today and that "this satire on poetic trends in in the 1950s is one his best. First, the Juggler is the Notre Dame literary magazine where student efforts at short stories and poetry were published. It is named after the legend of the Juggler of Notre Dame (the cathedral, not the university) who has nothing to offer a statue of Our Lady but his act. To anticipate your question, I do not think that John ever made any contributions to the magazine.

"The stuffed owl is probably a reference to one of Bellairs's favorite books, The Stuffed Owl, An Anthology of Bad Verse. This book is something of a classic and is probably still in print. The bad verse is by both celebrated and obscure poets. One of my favorites is a poem by an Indian (or as the book puts it, a Babu) poets on the death of Queen Victoria:

Dust to dust
Ashes to ashes
Into the tomb
The Great Queen dashes.
"One of John's friends at Notre Dame, and one of mine from high school, was a guy named Bob Vondrasek. I don't know if this name was some kind of an inside joke between them. Probably not. A sackbut is a medireview ancestor of the trombone and Bellairs no doubt used the name just because it sounds slightly silly (and slightly dirty) to modern ears.

"Frankie's was the pizzeria closest to the Notre Dame campus and was a quite popular gathering place. God knows why. Most people have a recollection of some place in their youth which served the best pizza in the world. Take it from me, Frankie's pizzas were the worst! Tasteless and as hard as manhole covers.

"And last, regarding the section on writing his senior thesis while listening to a baseball game, John really was a rabid baseball fan who used to listen to Tigers' games while he was studying. When he moved to New England he transferred his allegiance to the Red Sox, and his overall interest in baseball declined sharply, though it never really disappeared. I'm not sure who he means by the J.D. remark, though it might be Joe Duffy, an English professor who once did make fun of John's predilection for radio baseball. Perhaps then his friend Joe Daschbach, though I know of no baseball or senior thesis connection there. Oh well."