Saturday, December 13, 2014

With Shifafa on the Side

Poetry in America is OK.

The state of formal poetry is rather grim these days. Poet laureates are named, nationally and at other levels, and are then mostly ignored. Books of poetry are indigestable, and progressive forms are militantly unreadable. The New Yorker and other magazines gamely continue to publish poems, but to me, it seems a vain pursuit. It is a sad tale of a vibrant form in the humanities being academi-sized, perhaps like philosophy and economics, to irrelevance. But perhaps there is more going on.

Some fields do extremely well in academia, particularly the hard sciences. But the softer the field, the less it can be transmitted by formal methods, and perhaps the more it is killed rather than nurtured by the conformity, the drive to explicit formulations, the competitiveness, the prosody of the logos.

Poetry, however, is doing fine outside of formal institutions. It lives as always most happily with its musical muse. And that great American art form, jazz, is one of its finer incarnations, with word play aplenty. An example is "The Frim Fram Sauce", a standard from the Nat King Cole era.

I don't want french fried potatoes,
Red ripe tomatoes,
I'm never satisfied.
I want the frim fram sauce with the ausen fay
With shafafa on the side. 
I don't want pork chops and bacon,
That won't awaken
My appetite inside.
I want the frim fram sauce with the ausen fay
With chafafa on the side. 
A fella really got to eat
And a fella should eat right.
Five will get you ten
I'm gonna feed myself right tonight. 
I don't want fish cakes and rye bread,
You heard what I said.
Waiter, please serve mine fried
I want the frim fram sauce with the ausen fay
With shafafa on the side. 
~interlude~ 
A fella really got to eat
And a fella should eat right.
Five will get you ten
I'm gonna feed myself right tonight. 
I don't want fish cakes and rye bread,
You heard what I said.
Waiter, please serve mine fried
I want the frim fram sauce with the ausen fay
With shafafa on the side. 
(now if you don't have it, just bring me a check for the water!)
- Redd Evans

Some singers (Diana Krall, I'm looking at you!) leave out the concluding line, i.e. the punchline, leaving the audience mystified. And then she has the audacity to intimate that it is all sexual inuendo! Anyhow, the song is a great example of poetry that looks pretty dry on the page coming alive with music, since as sung, it is smart, melifluous wordplay.

Perhaps poetry is not meant to be dry, to be subject to "readings", with apologies to Shakespeare. Country artists are another class of homegrown poets who know how to make a line sing.

No, we're not the jet set
We're the old Chevrolet set
Our steak and martinis
Is draft beer with wieners. 
-George Jones


  • Ten commandments, modernized version.
  • "However, Pakistan has a history of releasing jihadists who seek to destroy the Pakistani state if the government feels it will further its goals of destabilizing Afghanistan or India."
  • Obamacare is doing just fine.
  • Minimum wage increases are paid by customers, not through unemployment.

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