November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
– Edwin Morgan
The slippery snake insinuates itself in the sinewy lines and, in ouroboral fashion, begins and ends the poem. If we uncoil Morgan’s concrete creation we get this: a spontaneous obstreperous osmosis of hysterically snorting posses of sporting she-hippopotamuses spotting a little floating asp!; or, The Fall of Safari Animals. Morgan’s careful layout clusters similar letters together so that the poem looks like one tangled mess of a word, the repeating sounds tripping over each other. If we pay particular attention to the broken-off bits that book-end the poem, we get this summarization of sin:
June 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
Implex; thou, awagabu.
Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.
Thou, verdie; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
Thou; thou; thou — three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket, thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
Eared mashawok; thou, all; thou, all.
Were, in a fire of becoming,
Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
Would be as serious as play.
Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
Naming’s over. Day is done.
– John Hollander
There are four types of names at play here: the onomatopoetic (paw-paw-paw), the eponymic (McFleery’s pomma), the seemingly exotic (awagabu, mashawok), and names that describe the creature (lily-eater, whitestap). Curiously, McFleery’s pomma suggests that there is another man besides Adam walking around Eden. Ferdinand de Saussure might delight in witnessing how the animal’s names came about; they are arbitrary insofar as they spawn from Adam’s whim, but I’d like to think there are reasons behind each name. Paw-paw-paw must be a mammal, rivarn perhaps a stripy antelope-like thing, whitestap a nervous bird, and the glurd either an oafish ungulate or a big stupid fish.