Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Poetry of Hogan's Goat Pizza

As you know, P&PC has a vast network of lookouts, helping hands, affiliates, fellow travelers, and owl-eyed spotters scouring the American landscape for material so that we can bring you your weekly fix and simultaneously try, in our own little way, to goad on the members of that school of poetry-think that perpetuates the myth (as William Logan did this past Sunday in the New York Times) that poetry is "loathed by many." Indeed! Well, if we here at P&PC try to goad 'em on, then the menu (pictured here) at Hogan's Goat Pizza of 5222 NE Sacramento in Portland, Oregon, could be said to take a more hircine approach to the issue.

We got the menu (not the pizza and definitely not the goat) hand-delivered from our friend Cheryl before she left Salem for the more enticing climes of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She'd been hanging out with all the hipsters in Portland (many of whom apparently model their facial hair after the billy pictured on the menu). She'd gotten hungry. She stopped by Hogan's Goat Pizza for a pie and, like probably everyone else, wondered who was Hogan and what was a goat pizza.

Well, Cheryl didn't have far to look for a partial answer, as the first panel inside the menu's cover explains that "Hogan's Goat" comes from a nineteenth-century song. (For one version of the song, click here.) Here are the lyrics as the menu (pictured below) presents them, complete with capitalization and punctuation issues:
Old Hogan's Goat ... Was feeling fine ... He
ate my shirts right off the line ... I took a
stick ... And broke his back ... And tied him
to a railroad track ... A speeding train ...
Came speeding by ... Old Hogan's Goat was
sure to die ... He gave a shriek ... A shriek of
pain ... Coughed up the shirts and FLAGGED
When we first saw this version of "Hogan's Goat," we didn't think it was a song—right?—since the pizza joint didn't print it, as song lyrics are traditionally printed, in lines and stanzas. Rather, Hogan's Goat Pizza printed it to look like a "poemulation"—the term that Sinclair Lewis used to describe the verses written by fake newspaper poet T. Cholmondeley (Chum) Frink in the novel Babbitt (1922), verses that were formatted to look like prose but rhymed like poetry. While Lewis may have coined the term, we're pretty sure he didn't invent the form. Among the poemulation's most esteemed and prolific practitioners was James Metcalfe, who, in the 1940s and 1950s (after his career in the FBI), penned hundreds of 'em for Chicago's newspaper The Times. (You can find lots of Metcalfe's poemulations preserved in old poetry scrapbooks.)

Before Metcalfe, and as early as 1912, "Uncle" Walt Mason of Emporia, Kansas, was publishing poemulations as well (many of which also found their way into poetry scrapbooks; you can check out nearly two hundred pages of Mason's poemulations here). And, as we discussed back in 2009 in relation to a discussion in Virginia Jackson's book Dickinson's Misery, it's quite possible that Emily Dickinson could be said to have written in poemulation form before the Civil War—around the same time ... wait for it ... that the lyrics for "Hogan's Goat" were being written.

So what's the upshot of all this? Well, for starters, it's possible that "Hogan's Goat" was a poemulation before it was a song. And if it wasn't a poemulation first, well, it now is—at least in the version that Hogan's Goat Pizza prints in the menu. In fact, when Cheryl delivered the menu to the P&PC Office, she delivered what she thought was in fact a poem; she'd skipped over the restaurant's introductory words that insist on calling it a "song" even though it isn't, and she let the rhyming and lack of musical accompaniment direct her reading of it as the poem—er, poemulation—it is. She may not have loved it as much as the pizza (which she said was excellent, btw). But she certainly didn't "loathe" it as William Logan says poetry is "loathed by many." Nope. We in the P&PC Office suspect that if there's any loathing going on in the poetry world, it's not among non-readers of poetry but among poets and critics like Logan who are bound and determined to imagine that the rest of the world somehow has the spare energy to loathe what they in particular do. Indeed, if they'd just adjust their definition of what a "poem"—even a poemulation—might be, we think they'd be a lot happier. Less narcissistic, perhaps. But happier.