Plotting around the Genre Bend

A friend and I were batting quips around discussing writing the other day and at one point, we both agreed that plot can be . . .  tricky.

I ended up misquoting someone* who once said something like: Plot is the journey to a goal—though the characters may not know this or may mistake which goal they each need to reach.

In my opinion, it’s far easier to figure out goals in genre fiction than in literary or general fiction, because they’re part of the definition:

carved bookMystery: solve the puzzle.

Romance: permanently cement the relationship between the MCs.

Erotica: same thing, but with stickier cement

Horror: live through the experience and/or reset it for the next group of idiots/hapless victims

Science Fiction:  save the world/species/universe/cheerleader/big picture while either scrupulously following or deliberately breaking the laws of the hard science of your choice.

Fantasy: complete the quest that will save the kingdom/village/species/nubile royal/known world/your own sorry ass and earn you your hero card and sometimes a bonus coupon for one free nubile royal/person next door/frustratingly smug companion/magical creature of your choice.

This list isn’t complete, of course, but the concept works with sub-genres or even when the genres merge, as they tend to do, to the confusion of library budget lines and catalogers everywhere.

In romantic suspense, the goal of the MCs would be to cement the relationship  while solving a spooky puzzle.**

In paranormal romance, that fantasy bonus coupon becomes crucial.***

In erotic fantasy, you save the the kingdom/village/species/whatever by gluing all the frustratingly smug elves to trees and . . .King of the Eyebrows


Never mind.

Thoughts? Opinions? Additions?


*I think it might have been Alexandra Sokoloff, who knows from plot arc construction like whoa—but if anyone knows for certain, please lay the facts upon me, because the doubt is starting to itch.

**There doesn’t seem to be many romantic thrillers out there, possibly because thriller MCs are busy people who can barely fit a whole night stand into their tight schedules of stopping international catastrophes that generally involve mutated viruses, treasonous politicians, or greedy corporations—though not greedy mutated politicians harboring treasonous corporeal viruses, because that’s horror—and keep losing your number during those extended transportation chases.  Or so they claim.

***But if it sparkles, it’s all sorts of horror.


Poetry Wednesday: Ren Kaos, på Engelsk

There’s a poem that’s been cropping up on Facebook and in feeds and blogs lately, which is odd for something that’s about a foot long in fine print and less inspiring than frustrating.

So naturally, I investigated.

Turns out, the true title of this poem is “The Chaos”—and no wonder.  Made up of more than 800 quirks of the English language, this thing scans like a dream and drives me “Runny Babbit” insane.*

The author, Gerard Nolst Trenité, was a Dutchman who originally studied a little bit of everything in college, finally settling n a career in education. He earned his doctorate in 1901 and wrote several textbooks in several languages. For the last twenty-five years or so of his life, he contributed a regular linguistics column to an Amsterdam paper, using the pseudonym “Charivarius”**

“The Chaos” first appeared in the fourth edition of his textbook, Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen*** in 1920. The textbook went through three more editions until his death in 1946–and four more afterward—and the poem itself grew longer and longer, evolving as it went.

There are many, many different versions out there—some favoring British English, some American, and so forth—and frankly, I have no idea when this one was published, but it’s probably younger than the original, which was shorter than 200 lines.

I dare you to read it aloud all the way through without spraining something:

The Chaos
(Gerard Nolst Trenité)

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em-
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

Dr. Trenité originally placed his poem in the appendix of his book, presumably so his readers would buy the book before the final couplet rendered the whole thing moot.

Wise man.

*For those of you who don’t know Shel Silverstein’s aneurysm-inducing “Runny Babbit,” you’re going to have to go to the library and see for yourself. My kids love it, but it’s the one child-oriented poem I won’t read to them. It hurts.

**In English, “Charivarius.” Oh, well. But in French, a Charivari is a loud raucous noise. So there’s that.

***”English pronunciation exercises”

Random Thursday: Literate Tattoos, Library News, and Thug Clues for Questionable Reviews

Random Thursday (ˈrandəm ˈTHərzdā): the day on which Sarah plunks down all the odd bits and pieces she’s been sent by friends or has otherwise stumbled upon this week in an effort to avoid writing a real post, the assembly of which usually ends up taking twice as much time as sitting down and creating actual content.

Janie is off to Concordia Language Camp, so I have half an empty nest, a missing MP3 player, and a seven-year old who claims she needs to move into her sister’s room because she’ll miss her SOOOO much—though from Jane’s reaction to this during the morning commute, I’m thinking Sunny was just getting in one more dig.  Guess we’ll see tonight.

I accidentally used Janie’s body wash this morning—through blindness, rather than sentiment—and now I smell like a rainforest as interpreted by Suave’s scent chemists, who appear to think rainforests are made of grapefruit trees and Douglas firs.

It’s not bad.


Reading Ink

Found me a new Time Suck, y’all.

Matilda Tattoo

I’ve been thinking about getting more ink for a few months now—which means I’ll have a final design decision by this Thanksgiving, maybe*—and while I was idly clicking through some images of literary tattoos, this homage to Matilda led me to Contrariwise, which bills itself as the original literary tattoo site.

 Even when I started skipping over all the variations of “So it Goes”—not because I don’t appreciate those words, but there are only three of them—I lost about an hour looking at the other quotes and images and symbols from literature that made such an indelible impression on people’s imaginations that they made them a permanent physical part of themselves as well.

Regardless of how one personally feels about body art, it’s a fascinating study.


R.I.P. Reading Comprehension

A librarian friend shared a link to a list of one-star reviews of classic or prizewinning works of literature that say far more about the reader—and for most of them, I use the term ironically—than the book.

This one is my favorite:

“Mr. Beowulf should be required to repeat his nighttime writer’s class at the learning annex.”

Beowulf Cover

I’m sure Mr. Beowulf would be devastated by this harsh criticism, if he weren’t the main character in a story written by some other guy about a thousand years ago** and if he hadn’t died at the end of it, making any claims of autobiographical elements in the subtext  just a tad problematic—by which I mean, of course, that the reviewer is box o’ rocks stupid.

Having said that, I have to agree with the person who said that s/he would “never read another Shakespeare novel again.”

Neither will I, though mostly through lack of opportunity.


Check This Out

Springwater Library in Elmvale, Ontario,
I salute you.


Geek Ink

Turns out, there’s a site for geek tattoos, which is called—wait for it—Geeky Tattoos.

Who knew?

Geek Tattoo

The Geek Virus, designed and inked by Fien-X at Houston Body Art and proudly worn by IT Manager Eric.

Thanks for the suggestion, Kev.  I’ll keep it in mind.
Yes, that probably means no—it’s awesome, but my kind of geekery has more Kudzhul, Sindarin, and Sherlock Holmes in it.


 Thug Help for the Hapless Reviewer

Need help understanding epic Scandinavian poems written down between the 8th and 11th centuries,
without losing your gangster cred?

Sparky Sweets, Ph.D  is all over that $#!%.


*Hey, Mom—you still game for that apple on your shoulder?

**Seriously.  Somewhere between 700 and 1100 A.D.

Poetry Wednesday: A Dream of Sunshine

I fully intended to do a post on Eugene Field—the “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” guy—because I had no idea he wrote adult stuff until a friend sent me a poem he did in fake Chaucerian English and I was forced to track down the rest of his stuff.

But I’m exhausted for all sorts of reasons—feel free to read back—and I’ve decided to postpone that post to share the poem that colored my dreams last night.

Like Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, it’s about friends and boating and pleasant things enjoyed with good friends.  And it’s anti-snow, which has been a bonus in my book since late November.

A Dream Of Sunshine

I’m weary of this weather and I hanker for the ways
Which people read of in the psalms and preachers paraphrase—
The grassy fields, the leafy woods, the banks where I can lie
And listen to the music of the brook that flutters by,Trees
Or, by the pond out yonder, hear the redwing blackbird’s call
Where he makes believe he has a nest, but hasn’t one at all;
And by my side should be a friend—a trusty, genial friend,
With plenteous store of tales galore and natural leaf to lend;
Oh, how I pine and hanker for the gracious boon of spring—
For then I’m going a-fishing with John Lyle King!

How like to pigmies will appear creation, as we float
Upon the bosom of the tide in a three-by-thirteen boat—
Forgotten all vexations and all vanities shall be,
As we cast our cares to windward and our anchor to the lee;
Anon the minnow-bucket will emit batrachian sobs,
And the devil’s darning-needles shall come wooing of our bobs;
The sun shall kiss our noses and the breezes toss our hair
(This latter metaphoric–we’ve no fimbriae to spare!);
And I—transported by the bliss—shan’t do a plaguey thing
But cut the bait and string the fish for John Lyle King!

Or, if I angle, it will be for bullheads and the like,
While he shall fish for gamey bass, for pickerel, and for pike;
I really do not care a rap for all the fish that swim—
But it’s worth the wealth of Indies just to be along with him
In grassy fields, in leafy woods, beside the water-brooks,Fish
And hear him tell of things he’s seen or read of in his books—
To hear the sweet philosophy that trickles in and out
The while he is discoursing of the things we talk about;
A fountain-head refreshing—a clear, perennial spring
Is the genial conversation of John Lyle King!

Should varying winds or shifting tides redound to our despite—
In other words, should we return all bootless home at night,
I’d back him up in anything he had a mind to say
Of mighty bass he’d left behind or lost upon the way;
I’d nod assent to every yarn involving piscine game—
I’d cross my heart and make my affidavit to the same;
For what is friendship but a scheme to help a fellow out—
And what a paltry fish or two to make such bones about!
Nay, Sentiment a mantle of sweet charity would fling
O’er perjuries committed for John Lyle King.

At night, when as the camp-fire cast a ruddy, genial flame,
He’d bring his tuneful fiddle out and play upon the same;
No diabolic engine this—no instrument of sin—
No relative at all to that lewd toy, the violin!
But a godly hoosier fiddle—a quaint archaic thing
Full of all the proper melodies our grandmas used to sing;
With ‘Bonnie Doon,’ and ‘Nellie Gray,’ and ‘Sitting on the Stile,’
‘The Heart Bowed Down,’ the ‘White Cockade,’ and ‘Charming Annie Lisle’
Our hearts would echo and the sombre empyrean ring
Beneath the wizard sorcery of John Lyle King.

The subsequent proceedings should interest me no more—
Wrapped in a woolen blanket should I calmly dream and snore;
The finny game that swims by day is my supreme delight—
And not the scaly game that flies in darkness of the night!
Let those who are so minded pursue this latter game
But not repine if they should lose a boodle in the same;
For an example to you all one paragon should serve—
He towers a very monument to valor and to nerve;
No bob-tail flush, no nine-spot high, no measly pair can wring
A groan of desperation from John Lyle King!

A truce to badinage—I hope far distant is the day
When from these scenes terrestrial our friend shall pass away!
We like to hear his cheery voice uplifted in the land,
To see his calm, benignant face, to grasp his honest hand;
We like him for his learning, his sincerity, his truth,
His gallantry to woman and his kindliness to youth,
For the lenience of his nature, for the vigor of his mind,
For the fulness of that charity he bears to all mankind—Brule River Camp
That’s why we folks who know him best so reverently cling
(And that is why I pen these lines) to John Lyle King.

And now adieu, a fond adieu to thee, O muse of rhyme—
I do remand thee to the shades until that happier time
When fields are green, and posies gay are budding everywhere,
And there’s a smell of clover bloom upon the vernal air;
When by the pond out yonder the redwing blackbird calls,
And distant hills are wed to Spring in veils of water-falls;
When from his aqueous element the famished pickerel springs
Two hundred feet into the air for butterflies and things—
Then come again, O gracious muse, and teach me how to sing
The glory of a fishing cruise with John Lyle King!

Ah, lovely.*


*And if you’re wondering who the marvelous Mr. King was,  he wrote a memoir called Trouting on the Brulé River, or, Lawyers’ summer-wayfaring in the northern wilderness, which was based on a journal he kept while taking a trip with a group of his fellow amateur anglers.  It was published in 1879 and did pretty well, probably because the trip wasn’t quite as idyllic as Mr. Field poetized it above, and can be drily funny with moments of wincing hilarity—kind of like Mr. Field’s poetry, come to think.  It’s here, if you want to read it.


Image of the man so thoroughly enjoying playing the Hardanger fiddle is courtesy of Jon-Eric Melsæter via Wikimedia Commons.

Public Domain Image of the Camp on the Brulé River originally from the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views, housed in the New York Public Library, and was found on Wikimedia Commons.

Poetry Wednesday: All That’s Squishified

We briefly interrupt this regularly scheduled Poetry Wednesday to mention that Middle Earth News noticed and said some very nice things about last week’s post on Tolkein’s poetry!

You know, just in case you missed my retweets or Facebook updates or weren’t within earshot when I found out or thought that odd, prolonged squealing sound was the teakettle boiling dry.


Crow in TreeWhen Aunty Flo
Became a Crow
She had a bed put in a tree;
And there she lay
And read all day
Of ornithology.
—Mervyn Peake, “Aunty Flo”

I decided this past weekend that I was a poetry lover in need of  nonsense, so I went hunting.

And among the Lear and Carroll and Katz and Nesbitt and so no, this guy Mervyn Peake popped up.  His stuff was exactly what I needed,and I wondered why I hadn’t heard of him before.

Turned out I had—this is the same guy who wrote Gormenghast.

Gormenghast, for those of you not in the know, is possibly the most densely-written fantasy series ever written. The first book—I never managed to get any farther than that—is about the weight of a culture that hasn’t evolved so much as added centuries of traditions, so that its people have become trapped in the gravity of rituals so ancient that no one knows why they started, only that they Must Continue.*

You know how Tolkein could write ruins into the background of his settings with a few throwaway sentences  that made you feel their history and remember that even the greatest of kingdoms still fall in time?  Mervyn Peake’s ruins still have people in them.  And they’re having tea in the green cups and wearing purple socks on their left feet and also straw tiaras because it’s the third Tuesday after the three-fourths gibbous moon (Don’t ask them why; they don’t know).

But Mr. Peake also wrote poems.  Really, really good poems.

Much of his poetry is as serious and weighty and perhaps as darkly odd as one might assume—“If Trees Gushed Blood” comes disturbingly to mind**—but one or two of those really resonated for me,*** and if I were in that kind of mood, I’d explore it.

But I’m not.

Luckily, Mr. Peake also wrote poems as whimsical as I could wish.

Of Pygmies, Palms and Pirates
(Mervyn Peake)

Of pygmies, palms and pirates,
Of islands and lagoons,
Of blood-bespotted frigates,
Of crags and octoroons,Pirate Ship
Of whales and broken bottles,
Of quicksands cold and grey,
Of ullages and dottles,
I have no more to say.

Of barley, corn and furrows,
Of farms and turf that heaves
Above such ghostly burrows
As twitch on summer eves
Of fallow-land and pasture,
Of skies both pink and grey,
I made my statement last year
And have no more to say.

You think Shel Silverstein knew about Mervyn Peake? ‘Cause I do:

The Trouble with Geraniums
(Meryn Peake)

The trouble with geraniums
is that they’re much too red!
The trouble with my toast is that
it’s far too full of bread.

The trouble with a diamondGeranium red
is that it’s much too bright.
The same applies to fish and stars
and the electric light.

The troubles with the stars I see
lies in the way they fly.
The trouble with myself is all
self-centred in the eye.

The trouble with my looking-glass
is that it shows me, me;
there’s trouble in all sorts of things
where it should never be.

It’s not just me:  I read “Geranium” to my kids at breakfast this morning and the older one asked me if Mr. Silverstein wrote it.^ “Because it’s so weird.

That’s fair.

I Have My Price
(Meryn Peake)

I have my price – it’s rather high
(about the level of your eye)
but if you’re nice to me I’ll tryKnit Fast!
to lower it for you –
To lower it!

To lower it!
Upon the rope they knit
from yellow grass in Paraguay
where knitting is taboo.

Some knit them purl, some knit them plain
some knit their brows of pearl in vain.
Some are so plain, they try again
to tease the wool of love!
O felony in Paraguay
there’s not a soul in Paraguay who’s worth the dreaming of.
They say,
who’s worth the dreaming of.

I read on his official website, which is almost as vast and thorough as Gormenghast itself, though far more user friendly, that Mr. Peake’s darkest writing holds at least a touch of humor, and his humor often hints of graver moods.

And while Gormenghast isn’t my particular green cup of tea—or orange, rather, since it’s Wednesday—I remember the humor of it, too and the times when the story seemed to poke fun at itself.

I suspect that was part of Mr. Peake’s point.

I Cannot Give the Reasons
(Meryn Peake)

I cannot give the reasons,
I only sing the tunes:
the sadness of the seasons
the madness of the moons.

I cannot be didactic
or lucid, but I can
be quite obscure and practic-
ally marzipanAboriginal Sunny Art

In gorgery and gushness
and all that’s squishified.
My voice has all the lushness
of what I can’t abide

And yet it has a beauty
most proud and terrible
denied to those whose duty
is to be cerebral.

Among the antlered mountains
I make my viscous way
and watch the sepia mountains
throw up their lime-green spray.

 No wonder I like his poems so much.

Not enough to start up with Gormenghast again . . . but I’ll definitely be looking for more of his gorgery and gushness and cosmic shades.



*Unlike the series itself, which was left unfinished when Mr. Peake died of complications from Parkinson’s at the age of 57.   I’m being serious when I say that I’m sorry about this—I may not care for the story myself, but many, many readers adore Mr. Peake’s world and I know what it feels like to lose not only a beloved author but all his or her characters as well.

If Trees Gushed Blood
(Mervyn Peake)
If trees gushed blood
When they were felled
By meddling man,
And crimson welledFrom every gash
His axe can give,
Would he forbear,
And let them live?

**To Live is Miracle Enough
(Mervyn Peake)

To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle’s wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may the imagination’s heart
Is constellation high and can’t be weighed.

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.

***Okay, I lie.  She asked me if that “one sidewalk guy” wrote it.  But she did remember him.


Image of Geranium by the extremely interesting Lewis Collard, via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Crow in Tree by El Pollock, via Wikimedia Commons

Image of “Aboriginal Genesis” used by permission of Sunny Wesson.