Sunday, September 19, 2010

Celebrating With a Few Good Words

Where does a poet go when they die? Do they write new verses in the clouds? Or do they just enjoy watching their old ones take flight?

For the last 39 years Ogden Nash has probably been doing both. On his birthday many took the time to remind Mr. Nash that they adore him. Introducing others to his poetic magic, some artistic souls celebrated the comedy, otherwise known as life, that was Nash's passion:

The Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Gallery blog shared a portrait of the poet and a review of his work by Warren Perry. If your looking for a more expansive review check out Erin Overby in the New Yorker.

Greenwich Village's Cornelia Street Cafe staged a collaborative musical performance featuring several local artists. The Manhattan neighborhood was no doubt well known to Nash as the New Yorker's original offices were not far.

The venerable North Hampton NH library created an exhibit for their long time summer resident. Several residents stopped in to see Nash family photos and recalled the wonderful parties at the Nash house.

The Baltimore edition of Reading Local gave tribute to their home town poet with a snippet of his summer verse:

From “Pretty Halcyon Days”:

How pleasant to sit on the beach,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun,
With ocean galore within reach,
And nothing at all to be done!

Ira Tucker remembered Nash's birthday by taking a picture of a North Carolina water lily and captioning it " He without benefit of scruples....His fun and money soon quadruples."

Chicago mystery writer Julia Buckley is especially fond of the 1940 poem "Don't Guess, Let Me Tell You" where Nash satirizes the crime novelists of the "Had I but Known School." She also notes "Nash was always playful, but sometimes in a pessimistic way; he started his poem "A Bas Ben Adhem" with

"My fellow man I do not care for.
I often ask me, What's he there for?"

Robert Merkin traveled from MA to Ontario to see "A Touch of Venus" at the Shaw Festival. The show runs through October 10th. He shared these thoughts which seem to illustrate that Nash knew much about romance in the human race he continually lampooned:

"It's a dirty, off-color, naughty little show -- Perelman wrote Marx Brothers' movies, and Broadway had no Hayes Office to censor or restrain him -- just one jalapeƱo after another, a string of cheap Macau firecrackers. The mechanics and equipment of actual human reproduction are often clearly referred to in Nash's lyrics and the dialogue. (The barber Venus falls in love with has a Murphy bed, and as it magically descends to the floor, she enthusiastically approves.)

I can't describe the thrill of hearing "Speak Low" sung and harmonized, Venus and Brooklyn barber, in its intended setting and Weill's original orchestration. The orchestra gave it a driving bass vamp -- a bit of a tango beat -- which subsequent jazz covers ignore, but it works on the
Broadway stage circa 1943.

The whole thing is a French farce, with the wrong people ducking in and out of windows and closet doors and hiding under the Murphy bed -- well, it has the manic panic of a Marx Brothers movie, a pretty funny one at that. Much of its look and flavor and feel is from the same factory that cranked out "Guys and Dolls." The dances were by Agnes DeMille, straight from "Oklahoma!" -- so it's punctuated with Dream Dances to advance and illuminate the real-life narrative.

As you'd expect from re-animating a statue of Venus, the whole show is about Romantic Love, and it's wholeheartedly in favor of it, mess, pain, torment, grief and all.

Poor foolish heart
Crying for one who ignores you
Poor foolish heart
Flying from one who adores you

After the barber impulsively puts his fiancee's engagement ring on the statue's finger, and then rejects the goddess' advances, she laments to the audience

You see here before you
a woman with a mission
I must discover
the key to his ignition
and if he should make
a diplomatic proposition
how could I possibly refuse?
when I'm a stranger here myself

Well, look -- I just had the damnedest time. I've loved these songs for maybe a half-century, and I finally got to see them in their Delivery Room.

Of Nash -- well, you win, it's Genius by a Knockout, his poems are a perfect marriage of fun, jokes, puns, wit, syncopation -- and True Romance. You got to hum Weill's tunes as you leave the theater, and Nash's lyrics just make these exquisite, sometimes ethereal melodies burst into gorgeous, funny, beautiful flowers."

On Nash's birthday lyrics burst into flowers and water lily's became verse.

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