Archive for May 30th, 2017

Lonesome George’s lesson: light verse is not always a laughing matter.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
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George

A lonely life on the Galapagos for George (Photo: Mike Weston)

Two friends have the spotlight today: Patrick Kurp, one of our favorite bloggers over at the incomparable Anecdotal Evidence, writes about the poet X.J. Kennedy, who turns 88 this year in the today’s Los Angeles Review of Books. The review, “‘A Sweetness in This Sense’: On X. J. Kennedy’s That Swing: Poems, 2008–2016,” spotlights the latest collection of his poems. Well, we’ve written Joe Kennedy’s thoughts about aging here, on the occasion of one of his previous birthdays. And we’ll most likely have more to say about him after the West Chester Poetry Conference next month, where he will be a guest of honor. 

Here’s what Patrick has to say about Joe, aging, and the light verse for which the poet is renowned:

thatswing“Kennedy’s standing as a poet recalls the late Thomas Berger’s as a novelist. Berger, the author of some of the funniest novels in the language, always denied being a comic writer, because, in our culture, humor is regarded as suspiciously frivolous. But consider the serious humor of Kennedy’s “Lonesome George,” devoted to a giant tortoise, the last of its species, kept in a pen at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galápagos Islands:

No mate for him exists.
.  Last one of his subspecies,
he solemnly persists
.  in turning into feces
eelgrass brown and dry,
.  spine-sprinkled cactus leaves.
Straining to gulp a fly,
.  dejectedly retrieves
blunt head. Dead-ending male,
.  lone emblem of despair,
he slumps on his kneecaps, his tail
.  antennaing the air.
For a long moment we bind
.  sympathetic looks,
we holdouts of our kind,
.  like rhymed lines, printed books.

XJKennedy

Da man.

“Lonesome George, like his author, persists in doing what he does best, and without self-pity. Humor has many timbres and tones, and Kennedy plays with most of them, from the scatological to rarefied wit. Has anyone before him rhymed “subspecies” and “feces”? Kennedy’s gift for concision is a marvel (the meeting of poet and tortoise could easily be a fleshed-out essay or story, and much would be lost), as is the way he bends and shapes his basic iambic trimeter line. In a note to the poem, Kennedy, who visited George in 2011, delivers the punch line: “In June 2012, a few days after this poem appeared in a magazine, George died, leaving no progeny.” Light verse isn’t always a laughing matter.”

Read the whole thing here.