Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Richard Stilgoe in da house

Dreadful moment of self-realisation this week. Nige posted something about Australians writing ‘Onegin stanza’ or ‘Pushkin’ sonnets. So as is my curious proclivity, I had to bang one out myself as follows:

Drinking twelve tinnies a day
counts as practically teetotal
in Australia, they say,
(though that's purely anecdotal),
But it's true they like a bet,
And keep crocodiles as pets,
And they've never heard of rain,
And they all cry "Bowling, Shane!"
And they're never heard to whine
(unlike the bloody pommies,
who all cry for their mommies
and cheat with Bodyline),
Now since it's an Aussie poem 'n all,
It must end in a rising terminal?

(Technical note: The Onegin stanza rhyme scheme is aBaBccDDeFFeGG, where lower-case = feminine rhyme (penultimate syllable stressed) and upper case = masculine rhyme (last syllable). Eagle-eyed readers will observe that the above goes AbAbCCDDEffEGG where the last couplet is actually dactylic (antepenultimate syllable) so it’s far from a perfect Pushkin, but then it did only take 20 minutes so some slack can be cut for chrissakes).

Bish bash bosh, press post. Ha ha aren't I clever. But it was upon reading it back a few hours later that the terrible realisation occurred. Consider Flanders and Swann, of whose work this Aussie sonnet is more than a little reminiscent. They were basically a poor man’s Noel Coward (and Noel Coward was a poor man’s WS Gilbert.) Richard Stilgoe was a poor man’s Flanders and Swann and I am a poor man’s Richard Stilgoe. So the chain goes: Gilbert, Coward, Flanders/Swann, Stilgoe....gap ..... Brit.

Yep, I’m a rhyme jockey. If I was black I could possibly get away with being a hip hop free-stylist along the Biggie Smalls line. But instead I’m a half-arsed operator in the most unloved, unsexy and unfashionable art form known to man: whitey doggerel.

Take The Blogger’s Lament. It pops up every now and again – Andrew Sullivan linked to it not long ago – but only as an ‘amusing’ commentary on what bloggers think it’s like being a blogger. But dammit, nobody has ever mentioned the only thing that’s really worth mentioning, which is the technicality of the internal/external rhyme scheme, eg.:

His skill: to find the perfect snippet,
To metaphorically paperclip it
To another view or bent,
Find the balance of the argument,
Then, with his pithy comment, tip it.

It was a right old headache making that work, and for such a feeble pay-off. That's rhyming for you: a preposterous imbalance in the effort to reward ratio. No wonder everyone writes free verse.

Now Duck, on the other hand, really did appreciate a rhyme jockey. If there’s any doggerel anywhere with a rhyme-scheme more headachingly intricate than Do it Yourself, I’d love to shake the author by the hand, for we are the sub-Stilgoes, the literary brotherhood of the laboriously banal. And we need our Ducks. Like David, I resent this one, and more than makes sense.


Nige said...

Dand Brit that's some rhyme scheme you've got there in Do It Yourself...

Brit said...

Tell me about it, Nige. It's probably some sort of world record. Depressingly futile or gloriously pointless, depending on your mood.

Hey Skipper said...


Not depending upon my mood at all.

And despite my being immersed in the Stygian darkness of ignorance about the details.

Brit said...

The details, Skipper, are utterly irrelevant to anyone but poetry nerds. The whole point of poetry is the general effect anyway.

But thanks - also for the Sparks CD which has just arrived, I will enjoy that.

David said...

Now imagine that, as a writer of doggerel, you were doomed to a life of "Brit [Atlantic Ocean sized gap] David."

Stephen Fawcus said...

I always thought, in my ignorance, that Flanders and Swan were a poor man's Flanagain and Allen for some reason. Who says the internet isn't educashional?