Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lewis Turco Reviews "The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram"

Editor's Note: When P&PC received a gold-foil-wrapped review copy of The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram, our first thought was:
If Ingram, Paul
Has a ball
Writing clerihews,
Who's to lose?
We wondered if the pun on "to lose" and "too loose" was not audible enough. But then our thoughts turned to poet Lewis Turco (pictured here), author of, among other things, The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics. Who else—cleriwho else—we figured, than Turco to best tell us about the complex structure of the clerihew form as well as its bawdy history, which Ingram has now both inherited and expanded? Publishing both under his own name and the pseudonym Wesli Court, Turco is the author of numerous books including, most recently, The Familiar Stranger (Star Cloud Press) and The Hero Enkidu: An Epic (Pen & Anvil Press), both set to drop this coming week on May 2. (If you're a devoted P&PC reader, you might remember an interview we did with Turco a number of years back about his youthful indiscretions writing sci-fi genre poetry.) In short, we kept the gold foil for ourselves and sent the book to Turco. Here's what he had to say:

According to the publisher, this collection of "lost" clerihews by the "Legendary bookseller at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, Paul Ingram," came to light after having been "long lost," apparently in the author's basement. In his Introduction Ingram says, "I started writing Clerihews about twenty years ago. The process seemed involuntary, rather quick Tourette's-like explosions bound by rhyme and form. I would speak a name and the rest of the poem would spill from me without careful thought."

When I was attending Paul Engle's Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa considerably earlier, in 1959-60, there were two bookshops in town, Iowa Book and Supply, and Prairie Lights, both of which are still there, and both of which I haunted. One of them supplied a book, Green Armor on Green Ground, by Rolfe Humphries, that caused me to begin writing The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, which was published by E. P. Dutton in 1968. This is the way that I describe the verse form called the clerihew in book's fourth edition:
The clerihew, a particular type of epigram, was invented by E[dmund] Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956). It is a quatrain in dipodic [two-beat] meters rhyming aabb, the first line of which is both the title and the name of a person:


Sigmund Freud
Became annoyed
When his ego
Sailed to Montego.

Sigmund Freud
Became more annoyed
When his id
Fled to Madrid.

Sigmund Freud
Grew most annoyed
When his superego
Tried to Montenegro.

Sigmund Freud
Was nearly destroyed
When his alter-ego
Showed up in Oswego.

Karl Jung
Found himself among
Of various stripes. 
 Oddly enough, Ingram's collection begins with this clerihew:
Carl Gustav Jung
Was impressively hung,
Which sorely annoyed
The good Dr. Freud. 
Wikipedia says:
"E. C. Bentley (10 July 1875 – 30 March 1956) was a popular English novelist and humorist of the early twentieth century, and the inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse on biographical topics. One of the best known is this (1905):

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls
Say I am designing St. Paul's."
Perhaps in my definition I ought to have said simply "podic" rather than "dipodic," because Clerihew's practice was to allow his lines three, or as many as four beats if an author such as Ingram wishes; even I allowed myself three stresses in some of the lines of my examples above. But the inventor of this form was even less strict than the Wikipedia definition, for sometimes Clerihew (pictured here) didn't write about people:
The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps. 
And sometimes personal opinion is more important than biography:
What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead. 
On occasion fiction overcomes even personal opinion in Clerihew's epigrams:
Edward the Confessor
Slept under the dresser.
When that began to pall,
He slept in the hall. 
Clerihew even allowed himself at times to be judgmental:
It was a weakness of Voltaire's
To forget to say his prayers,
And one which to his shame
He never overcame. 
But this is a review, not an encyclopedia entry, and the book under consideration is certainly a worthy descendent of the work of the English journalist who invented the form, which Ingram stretches to the breaking point on occasion:
Margaret Mead
Used to fart when she peed,
A fact well known
To every Samoan. 
Of course, the object of derision in a clerihew must be famous, or at least well-known, if the verselet is going to be effective:
Charles Baudelaire
Picked at his scrotal hair,
And found a weevil
In his Flowers of Evil. 
Baudelaire's reputation has stood the test of time, but other of Ingram's targets may not be quite so lucky:
Forrest Gump
Told Donald Trump
"You know I like you
We have the same IQ."
Although Clerihew was a journalist, it was not his practice to be historically accurate, as Ingram is well aware:
Rebecca West
Became obsessed,
With the nether smells
Of H. G. Wells. 
Vivian Vance
Put cheese in her pants,
Both Swiss and Havarti,
When she used to party. 
I might have gone on with this review for quite some time except that a phone call came in from an old friend and colleague, Robert Shure, the author of a little book called Twink, full of epigrams in dialogue form that was popular back in the 1960s and 70s. I hadn't heard from him since those days, so we talked for an hour or more. Besides, I want to leave something for the reader to discover, and there is lots more in The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram, which I recommend happily.

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