May 21, 2007

Assorted Pentastiches

by X. J. Kennedy

Sinister Limericks

by X. J. Kennedy

MONDAY, 21 MAY, 2007
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Poems: "Sinister Limericks" and "Assorted Pentastiches" by X.J. Kennedy, from Peeping Tom's Cabin: Comic Verse 1928-2008. © BOA Editions, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sinister Limmericks

Can Great-grandmother's mind be unsound?
Every midnight she totters around
     Voicing cries of distress
     In a dripping wet dress
That she got off of someone who drowned.


As Eliza stood twanging her zither
She beheld a vast sea serpent slither,
     Oozing slime, up the beach
     Till it came within reach
And she disappeared, no one knows whither.


Wailed an earnest young monk of Duluth
"Where O where is the ultimate truth?"
     All at once from above
     Dropped the dump of a dove—
Prompt reply, if a little uncouth.


A lugubrious lady of Lawrence
Would regard each new day with abhorrence.
     "When I wake up," she said,
     "Just to get out of bed
Seems a good deal more work than it warrants."

Assorted Pentastiches

"Oh, go soak your head!" said Narcissus
To his image. "Some love affair this is!
     I find little surprise
     In your watery eyes
And your all too predictable kisses."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Alexander Pope (books by this author), born in London in 1688. He was born a Catholic in Protestant England, so he was prevented from going to any of the best schools, and there was no chance that he'd ever be able to study at Oxford or Cambridge. But, he taught himself Greek, Latin, French, and Italian, and he read just about every book he could get his hands on. And then, just a week before his 23rd birthday, Pope published a long poem about the history of literature called "An Essay on Criticism" (1711). The poem made Pope famous, in part because it attacked many of the most prominent literary critics in London. But it also became one of the most quoted poems in the English language, with lines like, "A little learning is a dangerous thing," "To err is human, to forgive, divine," and "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Alexander Pope said, "Authors are judged by strange capricious rules. The great ones are thought mad, the small ones fools."

It was on this day in 1927 that Charles Lindbergh landed his plane in Paris, completing the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. He was an airmail pilot, flying between St. Louis and Chicago. It was an incredibly dangerous job at the time. Of the first 40 pilots hired, 31 died in crashes. But in his first four years on the job, Lindbergh flew 7,189 flights, logging almost 2,000 hours in the air, without a single incident.

He crossed the Atlantic in a single-engine plane with a large gas tank, which he called the Spirit of St. Louis. He didn't take a radio, a parachute, or any navigational equipment. He tore unnecessary pages from his flight journal, trimmed the margins from his maps, and only brought five sandwiches for food. The gasoline tank was so heavy that he had trouble getting the plane into the air, and only cleared the telephone lines by 20 feet.

From the take-off in New York, he flew north over Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. He reached Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, flew in over the city of St. John's, and then turned toward Ireland. For the next 15 hours, no one would know if he were alive or dead. The humorist Will Rogers wrote in his column, "No attempt at jokes today. A ... slim, tall, bashful, smiling American boy is somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where no lone human being has ever ventured before. ... If he is lost it will be the most universally regretted loss we ever had."

After reaching the halfway point of his journey, Lindbergh was exhausted and disoriented. In order to keep himself awake, he flew close enough to the water to feel the spray on his face. He began to hallucinate, and even saw a coastline before his calculations said that he should. When he flew toward it, the coastline vanished.

After more than 24 hours, Lindbergh spotted fishing boats on the water. He reached Ireland a few hours later and turned south toward Paris.

Lindbergh touched down at 10:24 p.m. on this day in 1927, 33 1/2 hours after he'd taken off. About 150,000 people mobbed the landing strip in Paris, shouting, "Vive Lindbergh!" And overnight, he became one of the most famous men in the world.

It's the birthday of writer Harold Robbins (books by this author), born Frank Kane in New York City (1916). He's one of the best-selling novelists of all time, perhaps best known for his novel The Carpetbaggers (1961), which is loosely based on the life of eccentric businessman Howard Hughes.

It's the birthday of jazz pianist and bandleader Thomas "Fats" Waller, born in New York City (1904).

It's the birthday of the romance novelist Janet Dailey (books by this author), born in Storm Lake, Iowa (1944). At the age of 30, Dailey and her husband sold their construction company and set off to see America in a trailer. In her free time, Dailey read romance novels and soon remarked to her husband that she thought she could write one herself. With her husband's encouragement, that's just what she did. Six months later, her first book became a Harlequin romance. To her great surprise, No Quarter Asked (1976) sold more than one million copies.

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