A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bad Poetry: Statistically Improbable Phrases

Julia A. Moore, a.k.a. "The Sweet Singer of Michigan," was, like William Topaz McGonagall, one of those really bad 19th-century poets blissfully unaware of the ridicule of contemporaries. She took the Victorian penchant for writing about disaster to the extreme, at first using the deaths of children of her acquaintance as inspiration, and later any death or catastrophe she read about in the newspaper.

The Rochester Democrat wrote of her, in a review of her first book, "If Julia A. Moore would kindly deign to shed some of her poetry on our humble grave, we should be but too glad to go out and shoot ourselves tomorrow." By 1878 she had figured out that praise of her work was mostly mocking and insincere. At a public reading in Grand Rapids she admitted to her audience, "Literary is a work very hard to do." At the end of her poetry reading, she told her audience: "You have come here and paid twenty-five cents to see a fool; I receive seventy-five dollars, and see a whole houseful of fools."

Mark Twain modeled the dead poet Emmeline Grangerford after her (in the hilarious Chapter XVII of Huckleberry Finn). Emmeline keeps a scrapbook of obituaries and accidents, which she uses as inspiration for her poetry. Huck says of her "The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker--the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person's name, which was Whistler. She warn't ever the same after that...."

Julia A. Moore's "hyperdithyrambic meters, pseudo-poetic inversions, gangling asymmetrical lines, extremely pat or elaborately inexact rimes, parenthetical dissertations, and unexpected puns" were an inspiration to comic genius Ogden Nash. She also had a penchant for statistically improbable phrases that would have served her well in the twenty-first century. Hitherto herebefore?


....My heart was gay and happy,
This was ever in my mind,
There is better times a coming,
And I hope some day to find
Myself capable of composing.
It was by heart's delight,
To compose on a sentimental subject
If it came in my mind just right.

If I went to school half the time,
It was all that I could do;
It seems very strange to me sometimes,
And it may seem strange to you.
It was natural for me to compose,
And put words into rhyme,
And the success of my first work
Is this little song book of mine.

My childhood days have passed and gone,
And it fills my heart with pain
To think that youth will nevermore
Return to me again.
And now kind friends, what I have wrote,
I hope you will pass o'er,
And not criticise as some have done,
Hitherto herebefore

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