Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ogden Nash from Mid-Century to Today

Are Ogden Nash's poems relevant in 2010?

Half a century after Ogden Nash’s popularity has peaked it’s fair to ask if Nash’s work maintains any salience to a seemingly vastly transformed world. Nash's celebrity status, earned by the wit of his pen and years of often grueling lecture tours, fostered popularity for his works while he was alive. Recent artistic works and contemporary blogular discourse say a lot about the influence of his work today:

“Does anyone read Ogden Nash any more?” When North-port, MI bookstore owner P.J. Grath was asked this, she replied with arch dignity “Some of us grew up on Ogden Nash, and he is very important to us!” To understand her questioner’s indifference to F.O.N. she later posited that perhaps you had to discover Nash as a child to love his work as an adult. P.J. cites Nash’s “captivating, easily memorized little animal verses” such as the The Pig and The Canary as a reason to be a Nash admirer.

In a recent review of the 2002 ‘Poetry Speaks to Children’ the author claims that it’s the elements of rhyme, rhythm, fun and occasional mischief that makes poetry endearing to children. As Illustration of this we are given Nash's tale of the brave little Isabel, who “didn’t worry, didn’t scream or scurry” when confronted with a ravenous bear, a one-eyed giant or a troublesome doctor. Her clever solutions to problems (“She turned the witch into milk and drank her”)

There's a certain plausibility to the importance of youthful exposure in order to build a life-long affection. On the other hand, in the 1920's and 30's not one of Nash's millions of fans had read him as a child. Can contemporary adults without previous contact find Nash interesting when reading him for the first time?

Grown ups like Natalie Merchant and Neil Gaiman are quite fond of Nash. Gaiman is the best-selling author of the ‘light horror’ book ‘Coraline’ which was later made into an ’09 award winning animated film. In a recent CBS TV interview, he credits Nash for a profound influence on his writing:

“What do you think your attraction to the dark side of things is?"

"I think the thing that crystallized it for me, the moment that I actually understood it for myself, was a quote from Ogden Nash, the great American poet and humorist, where he said, 'Where there's a monster, there's a miracle…And I realized that, for me, is the joy of the monstrous. It's the joy of ghosts, fiction, joy of vampires. It's the miraculous."

Musical artist Natalie Merchant will soon release "Leave Your Sleep" as her first studio music in 7 years. The two disc set adapts poetry from many 19th and 20th century poets such as Ogden Nash and light verse pioneer Edward Lear into song. The album includes an 80-page booklet featuring extensive liner notes by Merchant as well as the original poems.

“Leave Your Sleep is the most elaborate project I have ever completed or even imagined. Nearly seven years ago I set out to create a piece of work I hoped could capture the universal experience of childhood through poetry and music. ”

Delmar, CA author Robert Lundy, transformed his therapeutic interest in Nash into a wellspring for a book and exhibit. Summation 2009-10: The Merging of Art and Poetry” is his book based on an exhibition installed at the Escondido Municipal Art Gallery last December. It contains reproductions of the work of 37 artists and the words of 20 poets.

While enduring the death of his mother and his wife, Lundy rediscovered the therapeutic power of reading and writing poetry.

"I was looking for things to get involved in, and since I'd always liked poetry, I decided to form a poetry club with a friend of mine...I brought along Ogden Nash works and read him, then I started writing my own work." The library based club brought in a poetry director, Williams, to facilitate writing seminars with the group. Due to budget cuts, the library canceled the program after a year, but Lundy and Williams remained friends.

"That's when I really started writing a lot of poetry," Lundy recalled. "Elizabeth would invite me for dinner and say, 'OK, no food until you have written a poem.' It was amazing the number of poems I wrote about food during that time."

Baron Bodissey generally designates Saturday as either his Ranting Day or Poetry Day, depending on his mood and the news of the week, in his blog Gates of Vienna. Having recently having “used up most of my supplies of rant" he decided to "feature light verse while I replenish my stores of invective.”

Bodissey's difficultly in finding his favorite Nash poem, remembered from long ago, inspired him to embark on a quest because Nash’s “most famous examples were very brief eponymous vignettes about animals, but he wrote many other poems which never escaped into fame, and now reside only in dusty old volumes that can be quite difficult to find."

"By the time the internet came along, his aficionados had become so few that many of his lesser-known poems are unavailable on the web. The oeuvre of Ludacris or the philosophical ramblings of Eminem are easy to locate in their entirety, but not the poems of Ogden Nash." But not Boddisey's favorite verse about lawyers.

"I discovered this unfortunate fact last year when I went looking for two of my favorites. They are now obscure, and no amount of googling turned up complete and reliable versions. So I went off to the library the other day and borrowed Verses From 1929 On — which had probably lain untouched on the same shelf since the last time I needed it, fifteen or twenty years ago."

"Finding the poems in question proved a formidable task. None of his books has an index of first lines, and any given title bears only the most tenuous of connections to the poem itself. I had to page through the table of contents four times before I finally found both poems I was looking for."

"The poem below cried out to be posted quickly, because in a year or two — assuming the economic crisis follows its expected course — his stanzas will no longer be funny. By then they will be too true. Here is Ogden Nash ruminating about Professional Men.” He then posts the poem I Yield to My Learned Brother or Is There a Candlestick Maker in the House?

Have you been impacted by the looming tomato shortage? The India's Economic Times alludes to Nash’s ode to catsup as to how the cycle might play out:

“ Thousands of miles away in the US there are burgers, bologneses (sic) and pizzas crying out for a slice of the action. Thanks to a chill in Florida, the supply of fresh tomatoes in the US has got so squished that fast-food chains and restaurants alike have started skimping on the tart vegetable and providing it only on order as prices have trebled. Matters have come to such a pass as 70% of the Florida tomato crop has failed, leaving producers $300 million in the red. Of course, this squeeze — the worst since 1989 — will not last long as harvests from other areas like Mexico and California will soon ketch-up. “ Shake and shake the ketchup bottle/First none will come and then a lot’ll ...?

Can a bookseller, a reporter, a famous musician, a crusader lampooning injustice, a bestselling writer and a niche poet offer a barometer for the salience of Ogden Nash in the 21st Century?

There's no doubt that Nash's poems resonate for many people. Some even celebrate his artistry by creating new works from his poetry. However, many more people have either never discovered his work or have and were unimpressed. Nevertheless, for over 40 years Ogden Nash attained a popularity that was unheard of for a poet in modern times.

4 comments:

VJESCI said...

.you probably saw this.

http://www.nataliemerchant.com/w/leave-your-sleep/adventures-of-isabel

JohnBrady said...

@ VJESCI: I missed that - The juxtaposition of Isabel and bluegrass is unexpected at first, but it grew one me...the Natalie Merchant interview video about the album is pretty amazing too. Thanks for sharing it.

Marsha said...

Shakespeare is relevant. Twain is relevant. Nash is relevant. I very much like your blog.

JohnBrady said...

@ Marsha: I appreciate that and I heartily agree with you.

 
Poetry Blog Directory