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Monday, January 3, 2011

Number 27: Ogden Nash "Everybody Tells Me Everything"

Everybody Tells Me Everything

I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

-- Ogden Nash

Hap Notes: Ogden Nash (1902-1971) did not invent light verse but his distinctive style is often imitated and set the bar for any light versifier (or "worsifier" and Nash called himself). There are people who consider "light" verse to be easier to read and digest but the idea that light verse does not often have a serious intent at the core is to belittle the intelligence of the poet. Shakespeare said the gravest things are said in jest and I do believe that often applies to light verse. Yes, it's amusing and sometimes silly, but it's a rare person who can succeed in solely trying to funny because trying to be funny all the time often brings out incredibly cathartic and telling things about the writer's issues and personality.

We won't go into the philosophy of how humor is a form of aggression but it's certainly in there. Nash made suburban frustrations and concerns slightly rebellious. We could probably use somebody to do that for us now.

Nash often wrote short little rhyming epithets that people remember and he's very witty at that. He invents words to be amusing. You may remember his poem "The Jellyfish" which reads in entirety: "Who wants my Jellyfish?/ I'm not sellyfish." I find his titles to the poems to be particularly sharp and amusing. I'm sure you know the poem that goes "Candy /is Dandy/ But Liquor/ is quicker." It's called "Reflections on Ice-breaking." Other Nash titles include "Just Keep Quiet and Nobody Will Notice," and "So Does Everybody Else Only Not So Much," and "To a Small Boy Standing on My Shoes While I Am Wearing Them," and my particular favorite "Don't Cry, Darling, lt's Blood All Right." (See how the titles make you want to read the poem? There's a genius in that which should not be overlooked. Getting someone to stop and read something based on a title should not be underestimated.)

Nash is in no small way responsible for much of the kind of humor that has come to be identified with The New Yorker. He was also published and lauded in The Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Review (so sad it's not around anymore), Ladies Home Journal and Life magazine. He is often placed in the company of Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and Robert Benchley all of whom wrote with sly comic intelligence. Nash made a living writing verse during the Great Depression. I'm assuming that people needed something cheery and less preachy. We could use that, now, too.

It's not a big shock to learn that he was, before he made a living from poetry, an advertising copywriter. In part of a Christmas poem entitled "I Remember Yule", he grumbles:

"What, five times a week at 8:15 P.M., do the herald angels sing?
That a small deposit now will buy you an option on a genuine diamond ring.
What is the message we receive with Good King Wenceslas?
That if we rush to the corner of Ninth and Main we can get that pink mink
housecoat very inexpensceslaus.
I know what came upon the midnight clear to our backward parents,
but what comes to us?
A choir imploring us to Come all ye faithful and steal a 1939 convertible
at psychoneurotic prices from Grinning Gus."

Once again, it's funny and clever but there are a few daggers in there. One should never confuse Nash's cleverness for mere comedy. Truly amusing stuff always makes you think.

When I was a kid, one of the things I looked forward to with great glee was the Family Circle magazine at Christmas time. They usually had an illustrated light verse poem and very often they were by Nash. "The Unpublished Adventures of Santa Claus" or "What's the Because of Santa Claus" were always a delight to read. Nash's longer poems often read like very sophisticated Dr. Seuss.

Nash lived in Baltimore and he was a fan of the Colts (when they were there) and he loved baseball. He often had poems appear in sports magazines. (You might want to read that last sentence again if the impact escaped you.)

In 2002 the U.S. Postal Service brought out a series of six stamps honoring Nash and a few of his poems. Oh, another interesting fact; he was directly related to the guy for which the city of Nashville, TN, is named.

Now, I'm not saying that Ogden Nash is a writer of totally intellectual and fabulous verse.
But I am saying that when it comes to reading something, poetry in particular, you could do considerably worse.

(That was my first and only imitation of his fun to imitate but hard to equal style.)

A couple of good Ogden Nash quips: "Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else."

"Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."

You can find more Nash here:

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