Saturday, April 24, 2010

Doggerel and Light Verses: the Cinderella Sisters of Poetry

Twisted Tales from Shakespeare. By Richard Armour

One of  the most prolific American practitioners of artful doggerel and light verses was Richard Armour (1906-1989), who published approximately 10000 of them. Add to this the authorship of 65 books and ¨Armour´s Armoury¨, a weekly column that was syndicated in 300 newspapers, and one has to wonder how he also found time to be an English professor.
¨Doggerel¨ is defined as a crudely or irregularly fashioned verse, often of a humorous or burlesque nature. Armour had his own definition of the style: ¨Of course I don´t consider myself a poet, but a light verse writer. Light verse is a kind of Cinderella sister of poetry; poetry written in a spirit of a play. It emphasizes technique –or rhymes and meter- in a way the serious poet wouldn´t do.¨
Armour´s writing is reminiscent of the great humorist poet Ogden Nash, after whom, along with Phyllis Mc Ginley, Armour modeled his verse. Nash and Armour shared a love of language and the ability to incorporate made-up and misspelled words into their work about the nature of human foibles. In fact, Armour´s most famous poem is often mistakenly attributed to Nash:
Shake and shake
The catsup bottle
None wil come,
And then a lot´ll

Let´s read another Armour´s verse, from January 1953:

Driving in a Fog or Carl Sandburg Must Have Been a Pedestrian

The fog, says Sandburg, is a cat
That comes on little cat feet.
I think the fog a shaggy dog
With droopy tail and flat feet,

A dog that runs beside my car,
In front of me, behind me,
A dog whose fur- the shapeless cur-
Somehow contrives to blind me.

The fog, says Sandburg, sits and looks
And then, on silent haunches,
Moves on. This fog, this shaggy dog
Of mine, a lot more staunch is.

He sits and sits and looks and looks
As long as any spy can.
I hope that he at least can sep
More cars and things than I can.

Text adapted from ¨Top Dog(gerel). Richard Armour, virtuoso of light verse. By Morgan P. Yates. Westways magazine. May 2010. P. 48-49

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