I bought a new book this month (well done Nick) – a collection of verse by Yip Harburg, better known as the lyricist behind ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’ and ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ (inspiration for the poem above).
I’ve always liked those great American lyricists – brilliant players with language and writers of some of the most romantic words ever written, but who always treated it essentially as a trade.
It turns out Yip Harburg was also a politically engaged writer with a lifelong commitment to social justice (you can tell from the Paper Moon lyrics quoted above, which is what got me Googling him). He channelled this into light verse, which was eventually collected into a book illustrated by the great Seymour Chwast.
It includes stuff like this:
That’s nice, isn’t it? Feels like it would slot straight into Instagram and Twitter if they had been around.
It’s not a great revelation to find people have written light verse about topical subjects before. But it’s good to know there were poets responding to Watergate in real time – and there is plenty to enjoy in the poems, long after they were written. In fact, they’re better because you know he was writing in the thick of it (like many, his career was blighted by McCarthyist blacklisting – anti-truth, America-first hysteria has a long history).
I like to think poems like the one above come from a similar spirit of verbal playfulness in response to serious times. The language of active shooter situations has become ritualistically familiar, but it’s the ‘active’ that always gets me – in contrast to the political paralysis.
So, deaths. This month’s roll call includes Tessa Jowell, Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe and Margot Kidder – the picture of her with Christopher Reeve is a poem in itself when you consider what life brought them afterwards.
On a happier note, this month brought a royal wedding!
I feel like Nicholas Witchell didn’t get enough airtime in the coverage, but this is the eternal Witchellian reality – his duty is to cover the royals until the big occasions when Huw Edwards steps in. Or Dermot O’Leary.
Anyway, I love writing poems about Nicholas Witchell.
The moron continues to do what he does, and I continue to search for language in response. These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
I quite liked this Harvey Weinstein poem – sometimes the form clicks into place when you’re pondering the subject matter, and a handy New York / Perp Walk rhyme supplies itself.
To finish on an indulgently self-analytical note (my favourite note), I’ve semi-consciously tried to stake out a territory with Realtime Notes that takes in Yip Harburg-style playful/formal versifying but extends to more surreal/dark experiments and sometimes loosens up into confessional, artfully casual semi-prose.
When the poems come out in a conversational style like the one above, I like the effect it creates – similar to a stand-up’s delivery. I have a not-entirely-unserious plan to take up stand-up comedy when I get to the age of 70. I think everyone should try something new at that age, and my advancing senility will give me a good PR hook.
For now, it’s on with the poems. 628 poems and 290 days into this now.
I’ll leave the last word to Yip – this could easily be a Realtime Note about the renationalisation of the East Coast line.