Richard the Third in a Fourth of a Second

February 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Essential Shakespeare, Volume I
Rapid-retrieval editions in rhymed hemimeter

ACT I

Clop.

Clop-
clop.

But
look
what
Hop-
toad
did.

Wid-
ow’d,

ACT II

woo’d,

took

this
lewd
and
stin-
king
thing
this
En-
gland.

ACT III

Clop-
pit-
y
clop
he
swap
it
fer
some
horse.

ACT IV

Flum-
mer-
y
of
course.

Cov-
er
stor-
y
for
the
hoi-
po-
lloi.

ACT V

Good;

we
would-
n’t
want
the
slu-
bbered
herd

ACT VI

thin-
king
which
nerd
murd-
ered
Rich-
ard
Third.

– George Starbuck

A bare bones exhumation of Shakespeare’s deform’d, unfinish’d king?

A syllable is nothing more than the smallest phonetical unit of a word, a vocalic boulder with consonantal tufts of grass sprouting before and after. As Starbuck shows, syllables do funny things when cleft from their crags: thinking breaks to thin king, stinking becomes stin king oozing from the odiferous En gland. Eek. But then everything ends in a landslide of -urds, -erds, and words, reburying the body.

Verses to Exhaust My Stock of Four-Letter Words

June 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

From the ocean floors, where the necrovores
  Of the zoöoögenous mud
Fight for their share, to the Andes where
  Bullllamas thunder and thud,

And even thence to the heavens, whence
  Archchurchmen appear to receive
The shortwave stations of rival nations
  Of angels: “Believe! Believe!”

They battle, they battle — poor put-upon cattle,
  Each waging, reluctantly,
That punitive war on the disagreeor
  Which falls to the disagreeee.

– George Starbuck

No four-letter words, but Roy Blunt Jr. in Alphabet Juice gives plenty of three-and-four-dot words. A scholar who studies the victims of Vesuvius? Pompeiiicist. The town where Dr. Livingston was found, presumably? Ujiji. My own entries are more whimsical. A frolic in Natural Artesian Water? Fijiing. That one is a Newton’s cradle of dots. There is also Wiiitis, muscle aches that occur when one plays too much Wii, which, before its I’s are dotted and its T’s are crossed, would look something like Wɪɪɪɪɪs, a trump to Starbuck’s four four-letter words — but not mine. Soporific ostentation? Pizzazzzzz.

Nude Descending a Staircase

May 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh —
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.

– X. J. Kennedy

By the use of doubled-up words throughout (“toe upon toe”, “nothing on. Nor on”, “parts to let her parts”), Kennedy mimics the overlapping motion of Duchamp’s famous nude figure. The poet imagines the figure as female, whereas the artist never mentions its gender, but I think the latter would appreciate the the anatomical mischief the former splays across the stanzas (the poem’s wordplay is reminiscent of that in L.H.O.O.Q.)

High Renaissance

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

‘Nomine Domini
Theotocopoulos,
None of these prelates can
Manage your name.

Change it. Appeal to their
Hellenophilia.
Sign it “El Greco.” I’ll
Slap on a frame.’

– George Starbuck

Thanks to English prosody, a six-syllable word is almost always double-dactylic; stresses shimmy into their appropriate positions based on a word’s syllable count (compare op-er-a to op-er-a-tic). Anthony Hecht and John Hollander must have known this linguistic trick when they invented the double-dactyl in the late 60s — the rules call for a single six-syllable double-dactylic word in the antepenultimate line. And George Starbuck must have known that a name like Theotocopoulos practically demands its use in the form.

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