Verse and Versatility
by Brian Allgar
Like any writer of light verse worth his salt, Bob Schechter delights in word-play. The following poem could be said to be the ne plus ultra (or should that be reductio ad absurdum?) of plausible-sounding but utterly daft neologisms:
If “ignoble” means “not noble,”
it seems to me that “ig”
should make all words their opposites.
You’re “small”? No, you’re igbig!
For “empty,” why not say igfull?
For “dark,” why not iglight?
For “ugly,” try igbeautiful,
for “left,” why not igright?
I am not “dirty”! I’m igclean!
“Embarrassed”? No, igproud!
When I am hidden, I’m igseen.
When quiet, I’m igloud!
Someday when I have igshrunk up
(make that igshrunk igdown!)
I’ll be igpoor and igunknown
(the thought makes me igfrown).
The world will igignore me then,
since igno one will dig
the fun I’ve igdeprived them of
iglearning them to ig!
In the final stanza, “igignore” is particularly felicitous as a tortured synonym for “acknowledge” or “recognize.”
This comes from the Children’s Poems section of Bob’s own website, www.bobschechter.com, where he tells us that his primary goal as a writer is to continue writing and publishing poems that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. In this respect, he fittingly cites W. H. Auden: “There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children.”
Bob came to writing poetry by a rather ironic route:
“I started writing in high school. I was of the opinion that poetry was stupid, though my older brother was interested in it, so I decided to write a poem to mock the whole endeavor. It was called “Ode to the Letter Q,” and it doesn’t survive. But although it was written to mock poetry, I was rather pleased with how it came out and soon was doing it for fun, and ee cummings, Theodore Roethke, and Keats became my favorite poets, though I’m not sure how much their work has influenced me in the long run apart from helping me get hooked on the endeavor.
“At first I tried to write the ‘serious’ stuff, but found that I lacked the wisdom and insight to sustain that sort of thing, so I turned to light verse (and continued doing some translations because I could thereby usurp the wisdom and insight of others). Light Quarterly [now Light] published the first thing I sent them and most of what I sent them thereafter, which was very encouraging and helped me stick with it.
“My conversion to writing mostly children’s poetry happened when my wife was pregnant with our first and only child. … It turned out that I really liked writing children’s poetry and it became my focus from then on.”
His children’s poems have appeared in such places as Highlights for Children, High Five, Highlights HELLO, Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, and The Caterpillar, as well as in numerous anthologies.
Bob also writes poems and translations intended for adult readers, which have appeared in numerous publications including: The Washington Post (where he currently has 229 “inks” in the Style Invitational), The Spectator, Salon, The Evansville Review, String Poet, Able Muse, Poetry East, The Paris Review Daily, The Alabama Literary Review, Ironwood, Miller’s Pond, Redactions, Anon, The Raintown Review, The Avatar Review, Per Contra, First Things, Light, Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, and Bumbershoot.
Of the translations on his website, I particularly enjoyed “Three Things,” where the poet cannot decide which of three things he loves most. In the end, he decides that
The competition is so close,
no winner can be drawn.
They all are one. Inez, the ham,
the eggplant parmesan.
At least, now that she knows that I
love other things as deeply,
Inez might sell me favors much
more often and more cheaply,
since there is now a counterweight
for her to reckon on:
a luscious slab of Spanish ham
and eggplant parmesan.
Bob’s poem “Archaic Torso of Barbie,” a parody of Rainer Maria Rilke, won the 2016 X.J. Kennedy Parody Award, and his translation of Leo Strauss’s poem, “The Village of As Though,” was a co-winner of the 2019 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize.
In “Love Poem,” one of the selected pieces in this issue, the narrator convincingly (and, of course, amusingly) explains why his beloved should prefer an unworthy suitor like himself to a distinguished practioner of the arts such as Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, or Robert Frost, any of whom might have been distracted from his own creativity by her beauty:
“… even he, the Avon Bard,
might well have found the task too hard
of mining with his magic pen
the spell you cast on mortal men,
and failing thus, he might have lost
the will to write …”
Then there is “The Crossing,” also in this issue, a villanelle with philosophical, even tragic, overtones:
“We live by running. What is there to know? […]
“We yearn to flee; but who can tell us how?”
The poem’s apparent high seriousness, however, is insidiously undermined by the fact that it is Bob’s own answer to the age-old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
I cross the street, and try not to be slow.
The farmer ate my mother. Time to go.
Clerihews, double dactyls and limericks all form part of the light-verse poet’s arsenal. They flow from Bob’s pen as effortlessly and unquenchably as lies from Donald Trump’s mouth, although, I hasten to add, their effect is far more agreeable. Here are a couple of each, the clerihews from a previous issue of Light, the others from the Spectator Competition forum on Eratosphere:
Received phish mail
But he knew it was a trick
When they claimed they could lengthen his Moby Dick.
(Who would have suspected that a rhyme exists for “Ishmael”?)
Wistfully regarding his unpacked trousseau,
Said, “I’m approaching do-or-die day!
If I’m not rescued Thursday, I’ll marry Friday.”
Doesn’t deserve his own
Verse in this contest but
He has a name
Perfectly suited to
Therefore I grant him this
Moment of fame.
(As readers and writers of double-dactyls will know, one of the rules of the form is that one line must consist of a single double-dactylic word, so Bob’s self-defining coinage “double-dactylity” is particularly appropriate.)
Ludwig van Beethoven,
if he could glimpse what our
world has become,
likely would find a new
for his immortal phrase:
dum dum dum DUM!
Finally, two ribald limericks purportedly by Keats:
I kissed la belle dame in the grot
And I chose the fantastical spot
Some people call “G”.
She was once sans merci
But now says “merci” quite a lot!
I’ve written of urns that are Grecian
Upon which no acts find completion.
My heart breaks in two
For those Greeks in the loo
Who are frozen in time mid-excretion!
I have mentioned ten poems, and that is enough;
I believe I have finished my job,
So I’ll ask you to plow through igmore of my stuff
When you could be delighting in Bob.