Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Archy, the Vers Libre Poet, Does Better in Rhyme

The irony of Don Marquis’ The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel isn’t that a vers libre poet’s soul has transmigrated into the body of a cockroach – but that this vers libre poet’s structured, rhyming bits of verse are the best bits of poetry in the book.

Now, that may be my own biased ear’s longing for rhyme and structure coming through, but I’m tempted to think I’m more right than my prejudices might allow.

Consider the following:

Some natural history

the patagonian
penguin is a most
he lives on
and his tongue
is always furred
the porcupine
of chile
sleeps his life away
and that is how
the needles
get into the hay
the Argentinian
is a very
subtle gink
for when he s
being eaten
he pretends he is
a skink
when you see
a sea gull
on a bald man s dome
she likely thinks
she s nesting
on her rocky
island home
do not tease
the inmates
when strolling
through the zoo
for they have
their finer feelings
the same
as me and you
oh deride not
the camel
if grief should
make him die
his ghost will come
to haunt you
with tears
in either eye
and the spirit of
a camel
in the midnight gloom
can be so very
as it wanders
round the room

Here we have a bit of delightful nonsense verse that plays well with the tight structure it follows. It’s readable. It’s memorable. It’s fun. It’s not like Marquis’ “vers libre” throughout the book, mushed together and mostly forgettable, even as it tells the tales of archy the cockroach and mehitabel the alley cat.

It’s quite possible I’m reading these poems the wrong way, or that I expect poems to rhyme. I freely confess that I’ve written both structured and free verse poetry, and find the structured poetry oh so much more memorable. It’s too easy, I think, to ramble on in free verse, but with a rhyming structure to meet, the writer has to show more discipline, more creativity, and more storytelling to pull the poem off.

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