The Local Yarn

Art Fare for the Common Man*

LET US discuss the writing of poetry. Here is an excerpt from a woefully typical modern-day poem:

A card table in the library stands ready
To receive the puzzle which keeps never coming.
Daylight shines in or lamplight down
Upon the tense oasis of green felt.
Full of unfulfillment, life goes on,
Mirage arisen from time's trickling sands
Or fallen piecemeal into place:
German lesson, picnic, see-saw, walk
With the collie who 'did everything but talk' —
Sour windfalls of the orchard back of us.

It is pieces like these that have pretty well killed popular taste for poetry. Those were the opening lines from the aptly-titled Lost in Translation by James Merril, and they demonstrate very well what is wrong with most contemporary efforts at English poetry: randomness.

The appeal of poetry lies in expressing an idea within the boundaries of some kind of pattern, typically a rhyming or metrical pattern. To the degree that a poem lacks at least one easily discernible pattern, it will fail to be engaging, entertaining, and inspiring. The pattern forces the idea to be expressed efficiently and, may we say, musically:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Both poems are vivid, and potentially full of implication; But where Merril’s poem prances awkwardly from vagueness to vagueness, Fitzgerald gives us something to chew on, an idea made powerful by the discipline of its rhyme and metre. Take note: We are not merely saying we prefer Fitzgerald to Merril. We are differentiating between real poetry and fake poetry.

In modern poems such as Merril’s, random surreality carries the day, and is given the title of Inspired Art. This trend is largely a feature of academia, a self-contained world where tasselled charlatans write material for each other and turn up their noses at the real world. Even many who call themselves ‘outsider’ artists achieve what fame they can by imitating their academic counterparts. This is all fine and good, except that, by and large, all this uber-progressiveness is edging out forms of poetry that require real creative ability, the ability to inspire the Common Man.

Anyone with an ear towards the artistic community cannot fail to note how disparagingly they speak of ‘public taste.’ Anything accessible and inspiring to the common man is hauled away in their wide net of ‘mass-marketing.’ To be sure, there is a lot of cheap, unoriginal work out there, but it at least does not make any claim of being more than what it is. What if a chef in a resturaunt should cook a fine steak? Is he “pandering to the interests of the public,” merely because his creations are both accepted and widely applauded? Should he abandon established forms and cook something that tastes bad so he can claim to be ‘progressive’ and ‘modern’?

And so the fellow on the street, encountering a poem that only its author could possibly understand, is told that this is Real Art, and is made to think that it is above him. Nothing could be further from the truth; he really cannot understand it because it is below him. The author made no effort to reach up towards the mind of You or Me, to crystallize his vague ideas in a way that would be even understandable, let alone convincing. Proponents of things like this give very elaborate explanations for why their work is so stiflingly self-absorbed, discontinuous, and random; but mark our words: what they are really saying is, “We want to be hailed as geniuses without possessing the talent or expending the effort.”


          Like thousands, I took just pride and more than just,
struck matches that brought my blood to a boil;
I memorized the tricks to set the river on fire—
somehow never wrote something to go back to.

Lowell might have had something interesting to say in there somewhere, something to suggest that he had something worth listening to, but we search in vain to find it. It combines the boredom of prose with the awkwardness of bad poetry, and no one can stand to read much of it. But find a writer who really can use English to its best effect, and the light shines in!

          In a theme where the thoughts have a pedant strut,
   In a changing quarrel of 'Ayes' and 'Noes'
In a starched procession of 'If' and 'But,'
   There is place and enough for the pains of prose;—
   But whenever a soft glance softer glows,
And the light-hours dance to the trysting-time,
   And the secret is told "that nobody knows,"
Then hey!—for the ripple of laughing rhyme!
        (—Austin Dobson.)

We concern ourselves with English poetry, since that is more along our line of specialty, but any reader can recall other areas of art, such as music and architecture, where the same problem applies. Common man, do not believe all who call themselves Artists. The inner witness of the spirit is the only test of art—which is as much as to say, Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.

JIPW arrives back on the air, after a nearly two-year absence. Simplify and improve: those are the watchwords, friends. This site now loads more quickly and makes better use of the screen. Away with PHP and JavaScripts! Away with excessive graphics and pretentious layout! Let there be ASCII!

Re: Those Empty Altoids Tins

Since the original issue of this finite set, our mercurial readers have submitted a number of supplementary suggestions and anecdotes regarding further uses of the indefatigable Altoids Tin.

Chris W. writes with a suitably dubious and fairly obvious addition: “Cover up the -OIDS and mount it onto your keyboard creating an easy-access Alt key! With convenient storage unit!” Why didn't I think of that? If only there was a brand called Ctrloids, we could make a keyboard all those old Emacs users would just love.

Eclectus posted another good idea to the message board: “We have a white board that was not metallic, and we needed it to be able to stick magnets to it, so we superglued 81 altoids boxes to the back to the board, making it quite useful, if not quite heavy.” Not to mention that it will now float if you accicdentally drop it in a lake.

Shawn Rutledge, a true hardware hacker, alerts us to the feat of his power supply housed in an Altoids tin.

In another message board post, Sugarboots responds to my query regarding Cooking with Altoids in item 75: “I was on a Slim Fast diet about four years ago and thought my chocolate shake could use a peppermint altoid zip as I am quite fond of the chocolate/mint combo. I used the blender to mix everything, but was disappointed with the taste. I drank it anyway, because as you can imagine I was pretty hungry and grouchy. At that time cinnamon was not available, but I think cinnamon would be tastier since they seem to be sweeter (Werther’s hard toffee candies taste pretty good in the shake though).”

This is disappointing news, but perhaps there are other approaches, such as leaving the Altoids unground and using them in pastries, or in place of crutons in salads. After some other comments, Sugarboots adds another idea: “If your sinuses are tightly closed from a cold or allergies, eating about 10 peppermint altoids at one time will open them up in no time.”

Says Graham Bartlett:

“And where do you get cinnamon Altoids from? I’m in the UK, and it’s hard enough finding somewhere that sells mint ones. I think it’s actually all a conspiracy run by the French, who hate both of us…”

It turns out I was not being as original as I thought when in item #27 I suggested using a tin to present an engagement ring. Mark Pettigrew writes:

“You may be amused to know that I actually did # 27 on your list. It helped to create a perfect surprise when I proposed to my wife (of course, she loves Altoids too). I proposed at an eventin Providence, RI called the ‘WaterFire’. They lit small bonfires in the middle of the river cutting through Providence, music in the background, etc. Very beautiful at night (see Anyway, I brought her out on a bridge overlooking the fires and asked her if she wanted an Altoid. She said yes to the Altoids and me.”

In a seperate message, Mark noted that the Altoids tin was not actually empty at the time; but we are willing to overlook this. Note that if you plan on imitating this example, take extra care not to drop the ring in the river as he almost did :-)

Joel Dueck

The Ride

Half the creaking crickets ’twixt the poplars and the pine
Own the frog their master yet they fear with him to dine.
Wherefore the fear? The reason’s clear: the crickets have no spine.

Wild crows are always hungry for they hate all that they scour:
Apples make them pucker and they think the grapes too sour.
So with empty plates they crow ’till late, long past the supper hour.

The squirrel in the hollow has a mind that’s very shallow,
His cheeks are very puffy, for he oft forgets to swallow;
Ere autumn ends, he downs it then, and sleeps on leafy pillow.

Robbins every morning have to wrestle with a hassle:
In the summer all their feathers scratch their throats like little thistles;
Do these rusty-coloured feathers cause their early-morning whistle?

Taming of the Tigger

Dramatis Personae

  • Rabbit, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • PIGLET, Bishop of Ely
  • TIGGER, Pistol
  • POOH, Ensign
  • CHORUS, Narrator

Act I

Vouchsafe to those that have not read the story
That I may prompt them; and of such as have,
I humbly pray them to admit th’excuse of things
Which cannot in their huge and proper life
Be here presented. Now we bear Rabbit,
Piglet, and Pooh toward Rabbit’s porch.
There is the playhouse now, there you must sit,
And thence to the forest shall we convey you safe.


I’ll tell you, that self Lord Tigger is urged
That yesterday was like to have bounced against us
By zany hazard and unnatural humours
Which him constrain to bouncing acts,
Scambling, and unquiet time.
But my lord, how shall we resist him now?
It must be thought on. If he bounce against us
We’re like to lose the better half of our possession:
For all the temporal lands and carrot gardens
Which by testament are given to us,
He would rend the harvest thereof in a twinkling
A ruin and unprofit.
This would drink deep.
’Twould drink the cup and all.
But what prevention?
The courses of his youth promise no change.
Never came desolation in a flood
With such heady currents scouring all good,
Nor never features of landscape so soon lose their seat
As in the case of Sir Tigger.
He ne’er did harm that I heard of;
O pardon, since that a crooked figure may
In little place attest a million
Or, so says good Christopher Robin.(1)
Hearest thou not these weighty things
That task our thoughts concerning Tigger?
The air, a chartered libertine, is still
And the mute silence lurketh in mine ears
For bunch of fusty fluff hath therein lodged
Some whiles since.
It must be so, for miracles are ceased,
And therefore we must needs admit the means
How Tigger shall be perfected.
Doth he incline to it or no?
He seems indifferent,
Or rather swaying the more upon our part;
For I will make an offer to him
As touching the Hundred Acre Wood
To hike and march a greater distance
Than ever did his predecessors depart withal
At the end of which, by my design
His bones, a woe, a sore complaint
He’ll drop his heart into the sink of fear!
Now we go, to bring our embassy
To this Tigger same.
We’ll wait upon you.


Act II

Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmer and the poring fog
Fills the wide vessel of the Hundred-Acre-Wood.
The hum of frog and cricket stilly sounds
O now, who will look and behold
The pair of travelers in their pacing sad:
Pooh and Piglet at th’appointed time
Present themselve by the gazing trees.
The confident and over-lusty Rabbit
Does the low-rated Tigger play at dice
Proud of his planning and secure in soul,
Hastens impatiently, and poorly ruminates
The evening’s danger.
Cry bother, and chide this cripple, tardy-gaited mist
Who like a foul and ugly hag
Doth limp so tediously away:
A pity this, an approved waste
For honey bees cease their work in damp,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom:
The civil citizens kneading up honey
Lay down their burdens, whilst sad-eyed drones
Stand close together with surly hum.
Rabbit may show what outward courage he will, but I believe, as cold a day as ‘tis, he could wish himself afore of a stoken hearth, and so I would he were and I by him at all adventures, so we were quit here.

[Enter RABBIT]

Now sits the fog fair, and we will away!
(Hushed) Here comes Lord Tigger; good friends, offer nothing here.

[Enter TIGGER]

Ah, an outing shall we have, and present leave!(2)
Holdfast is the only dog, my ducks,
The word is ‘pitch and play,’ yoke-fellows in arms
Let us to the Forest, like Tartar-squirrels, my boys!
Prithee Tigger, stay; the damp is too cold, and for mine own part I have not a case of lives. The humour of it is too cold, that is the very plain-song of it.
Let floods o’erswell and fiends for food howl on!(3)
Come, Piglet, imitate the action of the Tigger!
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood
Disguise small nature with hard favour’d rage;
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. The game’s afoot.
Follow your spirit, and upon this, Charge!
On, on, on, on to the breach!

[Exit TIGGER — bounds off stage; RABBIT, POOH, PIGLET hide behind some object; TIGGER bounds back in search of them, but, seeking, finds them not]

The plain-song is most just, for humours do abound.

[Continues seeking]

My lords, Sir Tigger, jealous of our absence
Seeks through the camp to find us.
Doth Fortune play the huswife with me now?
Note have I within my bearing bones
That here my rendezvous is quite cut off.(4)
Well, home I’ll turn, this hunt resign
To suck, to suck, the very Extract of Malt to suck!

[Exit Tigger]

[Looking after TIGGER]
I give you leave to depart, and if a merry meeting
May be wished, God prohibit it!
[Turning again to friends]
The game’s afoot! To the forest, and hearthside then,
Where ne’er from Borealis’ frosty soup arrive’d more happy men.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood
And teach them how to march, for we’ll flee this dewy flood.
Hence! I am qualmish at the smell of leek.

[All exit stage right, reappear sometime later as though lost]

As manhood shall compound, these phantom paths
Have got the voice in heaven for twistiness;
Fair and fortunate are we
That these our native pastures be
Else, being lost, naught but these boding trunks
Could we ever hope to see…
[Aside] They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But bearlike I must fight the course.(5)

[All exit stage right and appear again in the same manner]

Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod;
But here is that selfsame sand-pit again.
Though ‘tis no wisdom to confess so much,
My directional sense is much enfeebled.
By our travels, late and circuitous, I this infer
That many paths having full reference
To one arrival may work contrariously
Without defeat; therefore, good Rabbit
Let us conversely search for this sand-pit
And thus come home in safe array,
Where before we sought the home and found th’other.(6)
If we with such just logic prepended
Cannot gain again guide our footsteps thither
Let us be worried, and our titles lose
All name of hardiness and policy.
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Prithee, peace!
I dare do all that may become a rabbit.
Who dares do more is none.
Defend your glove, my liege: therfore
Divide we our happy company into two,
Whereof take you twenty-pace from this spot
And thence, sand-pit seeking, return again.
What beast was’t then
That made you break this enterprise to me?
Come, I shall about it.

[Exit Rabbit. Long pause whiles they wait for him.]

By the white hand of a lady, let us be going,
That we find ourselves safe once more,
Secure at home and in good compass.
Swear by her foot, that she may tread out the oath,
For you must needs be out of all compass
In more acceptations of th’phrase than one.
Know you the predestinate path, of which Rabbit despaired?
Despair thy charm
That palterest us in a double sense:
But scaly vessels of stored-up honey
Hath rung the night’s yawning peal;
My gaping maw doth taste the sound of it
Tht once was drown’d by Rabbit’s voice.
All his senses have but human conditions.
Yeah, such an antic does not amount to a man,
And the gaffer says true “The empty vessel
Makes the greatest sound.”
It is now eleven o’clock. Let me see, by twelve,
We shall have us each three honeypots.
Come, shall we about it?



[Enter RABBIT]

RABBIT (cold, spooked):
Is this a sand-pit which I see before me?
I’ve passed thee thrice, yet I see thee still!
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight, or art thou but
A picture of the mind, a false creation?
Thou marshals’t me the way that I am going.
It is this circular business which informs thus
To my mind. Now o’er the one-half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked sights abuse.
O Lord, think not upon the fault
I made in design against Sir Tigger,
For I have issued more contrite tears
Than his bouncing crimes would tally,
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all
Imploring pardon. Hark!

[Noise off-stage]

Peace, ‘Twas the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman
Which givest the sternest good-night.

[Enter TIGGER, bounces RABBIT by jostling him in a stagey sort of way]

Permafoy! I have and do hold the only Rabbit,
As truly, but not as duly - as bird doth sing on bow;
Woulds’t thou have me fold up Parca’s fatal web?(7)
Never did faithful pilgrim more rejoice
At the discovery of most dangerous distress
Than I do at this hour rejoice myself,
Prevented from an endless enterprise.
Pauca verba, there’s enough8. Go to,
A dinner shall we have, and present pay,
And friendship shall combine and brotherhood.
I shall live by Rabbit, and Rabbit shall live by me.
Is not this just? Give me thy hand.


Thus far, with rough and all unable pen
Our bending author hath persued the story
In little room confining as little men
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most strangely lived
Though the world’s best garden he’d achieve
By unbouncing Tigger, Rabbit did not succeed,
But learned a lesson, though his soil fill with weeds,
Which here our stage hath shown; and for their sake
In your fair minds, let this acceptance take.


  1. The original, literal meaning is that “a nought or zero (a curved figure) is able to signify a million (i.e., by converting 100,000 to 1,000,000).” —Craik. I use it in the sense that Rabbit may be misjudging Tigger’s character. Pooh must attribute this logic to C. Robin to be consistent with his own lack of arithmetical ability.
  2. I am loosly matching Tigger with Henry V’s Pistol. His lines loose some sensicality in the conversion, but even the originals are obscure to any modern audience. If spoken in the proper mood, the desired effect and meaning will be made somewhat clear.
  3. I.e., ‘We are going, come what may!’
  4. Tigger may suspect treachery, but this should not be emphasized. He is here, as in the book, carefree and too shallow for much thoughts of conspiracy, not inclined to hold grudges.
  5. By this aside to the audience, Rabbit means us to believe that none of this is his fault.
  6. Here, as in the original, Pooh suggests that if, when searching for home, they keep finding the sand-pit, they should search for the sand-pit and thus they might find home.
  7. Latin, “few words,” part of the proverbial “few words are best.” Used elliptically by Pistol in Henry V, 2.1.80.