Wednesday, April 25, 2012

National Poetry Month—John Lennon—Two Poems

An illustration from John Lennon's In His Own Write.

The other day the subject of poems by people famous for other stuff popped up.  All right, I popped it.  Here is another one, a bloke you may have heard of—John Lennon.

Don’t panic.  Lennon’s shot life is far too well documented for me to revisit the well plowed ground.  If you don’t know he was one of those Beatles who attracted so much attention a few decades past and who seem to never go away.  John said himself—and got in plenty of trouble for it—that the lads were “more famous than Jesus.”

Of course, all song writers and lyricists are in some way poets.  Go far enough back in time and there was no distinction between the two at all.  Certainly John was a very gifted songwriter.  It his partner Paul McCartney had a finer ear for the catch musical hook, John was the master of playful language.

He was also a rebellious working class kid from Liverpool who got what education he could stand as an art student.  Despite blowing off classes he took art of all kinds and self expression very seriously in an extremely frivolous way.  His main passion and outlet might have been music, but he was always bursting with ideas and searching for new ways to express them—in words and quirky art work.

As the Fab Four were touring at the heights of their popularity, Lennon jotted down little prose sketches—prose poems often, snatches of verse, and drawings.  With his great popularity he had no trouble getting them published in two slender volumes.  In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.  They sold almost as well as his records.  I certainly ran out and bought my copies.

The titles were indicative of his playfulness with language.  The pun in the first book title is obvious.  But Americans usually have to be told that a Spaniard is Brit slang for a span wrench—what we call on this side of the water a monkey wrench.

Lennon’s shorter poems owe a debt to William Carlos Williams and more especially e.e. cummings.  His longer ones evoke comparisons to Lewis Carroll and show a familiarity with the deeper playfulness of James Joyce.  His verse was accompanied by line drawings, as spare, economical and whimsical as the words themselves.  James Thurber comes to mind.

After leaving the Beatles and settling into a complicated life with Yoko Ono in New York City, he resumed experimenting with poetry.  His most famous post-Beatle song Imagine was not originally intended to be set to music and has often been anthologized as a poem.

But today, we look back at the youthful Lennon with two nice pieces from his first book.

Good Dog Nigel

Arf, arf, he goes, a merry sight,
Our little hairy friend,
Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright
Arfing round the bend.
Nice dog! Goo boy,
Waggie tail and beg,
Clever Nigel, jump for joy
Because we're putting you to sleep at three of the clock, Nigel.

I sat belonely

I sat belonely down a tree,
humbled fat and small.
A little lady sing to me
I couldn't see at all.
I'm looking up and at the sky,
to find such wondrous voice.
Puzzly puzzle, wonder why,
I hear but have no choice.
'Speak up, come forth, you ravel me',
I potty menthol shout.
'I know you hiddy by this tree'.
But still she won't come out.
Such softly singing lulled me sleep,
an hour or two or so
I wakeny slow and took a peep
and still no lady show.
Then suddy on a little twig
I thought I see a sight,
A tiny little tiny pig,
that sing with all it's might.
'I thought you were a lady'.
I giggle, - well I may,
To my suprise the lady,
got up - and flew away.

—John Lennon

No comments:

Post a Comment