Monday, May 3, 2010

Weekend Assignment: National Poetry Month

This week's Weekend Assignment is all about poetry.
Weekend Assignment #316: National Poetry Month

As April wraps up, let's not let it get away without celebrating National Poetry Month. For this assignment, please share with us something about poetry. Tell us about your favorite poet, or quote us a few lines of your favorite poem, or if poetry doesn't happen to be something you enjoy, tell us why!

April (and the weekend) wrapped up before I could get to the assignment, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

When I first saw the assignment, I was all set to start a diatribe about how much I really don't like poetry.  I studied it enough in my younger days that I understand the concept, but as Heinlein would say, I don't grok it.  I don't get it on some basic level of understanding.  If you want to tell me about something important, give me a few solidly written paragraphs of prose and I'll understand it better.

But after thinking about it some more, I realized that I do like poetry.  Just make it rhyme (even if just a little), put it to music and sing it, and I'll get it.

When I was a young tyke, my mother went back to school.  One of her textbooks treated some of the pop and rock lyrics of the day -- Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, Bob Dylan songs -- as poetry.  As I leafed through the book and picked out songs I knew, it gave me a deeper appreciation of them -- that they were important enough to be considered "poetry."  Even now, I sometimes have the crazy notion that some of our greatest poets are not exactly poets after all -- they're songwriters.

Continuing on that idea, I'll tell you about a favorite poem, the Baby Boomer generation's "Beowulf "(or maybe it's their "Rime of the Ancient Mariner").  In the late '70s, the rock band Jethro Tull released the album Aqualung.  Ian Anderson, the leader of the band, was dismayed that rock critics were calling it a concept album, and said, "If the critics want a concept album we'll give the mother of all concept albums and we'll make it so bombastic and so over the top."



Jethro Tull - Thick as a BrickThe next album really was over the top -- a parody of the progressive rock album from groups like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, one long, continuous, seamless 44-minute song that stretched over both sides of an LP.  In addition to their standard guitar, drums, piano, Hammond organ and flute (yes, flute), they added the harpsichord, xylophone, lute, trumpet and string section.  The concept was that the lyrics were a poem written by a fictitious eight-year-old English schoolboy named Gerald Bostock.

The album cover was another parody, a spoof of an English community newspaper.  The main story was about young Gerald being disqualified from a literary competition "following the hundreds of protests and threats received after the reading of his epic poem 'Thick as a Brick' on B.B.C. Television last Monday night." 


The entire epic poem, "Thick as a Brick," actually written entirely by Ian Anderson, is after the jump if you're interested.  You can hear the song by Googling "Thick as a Brick."





THICK AS A BRICK

Really don't mind if you sit this one out.
My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT.
I may make you feel, but I can't make you think.
Your sperm's in the gutter -- your love's in the sink.
So you ride yourselves over the fields
and you make all your animal deals
and your wise men don't know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.

And the sand-castle virtues are all swept away
in the tidal destruction -- the moral melee.
The elastic retreat rings the close of play
as the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.
But your new shoes are worn at the heels
and your suntan does rapidly peel
and your wise men don't know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.

And the love that I feel is so far away:
I'm a bad dream that I just had today
and you shake your head and said it's a shame.

Spin me back down the years and the days of my youth.
Draw the lace and black curtains and shut out the whole truth.
Spin me down the long ages: let them sing the song.

See there! A son is born
and we pronounce him fit to fight.
There are black-heads on his shoulders
and he pees himself in the night.
We'll make a man of him, put him to a trade
teach him to play Monopoly, not to sing in the rain.

The Poet and the painter casting shadows on the water --
as the sun plays on the infantry returning from the sea.
The do-er and the thinker: no allowance for the other --
as the failing light illuminates the mercenary's creed.
The home fire burning: the kettle almost boiling --
but the master of the house is far away.
The horses standing -- their warm breath clouding
in the sharp and frosty morning of the day.
And the poet lifts his pen while the soldier sheaths his sword.
And the youngest of the family is moving with authority.
Building castles by the sea, he dares the tardy tide to wash them all aside.

The cattle quietly grazing at the grass down by the river
where the swelling mountain water moves onward to the sea:
the builder of the castles renews the age-old purpose
and contemplates the milking girl whose offer is his need.
The young men of the household have all gone into service
and are not to be expected for a year.
The innocent young master -- thoughts moving ever faster --
has formed the plan to change the man he sees.
And the poet sheaths his pen while the soldier lifts his sword.
And the oldest of the family is moving with authority.
A-coming from across the sea, he challenges the son who puts him to the run.

What do you do when the old man's gone?
do you want to be him?
And your real self sings the song.
Do you want to free him?
No one to help you get up steam --
and the whirlpool turns you way off-beam.

LATER.
I've come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways.
My father was a man-of-power whom everyone obeyed.
So come on all you criminals! I've got to put you straight
just like I did with my old man -- twenty years too late.

Your bread and water's going cold. Your hair is short and neat.
I'll judge you all and make damn sure that no-one judges me.

You curl your toes in fun as you smile at everyone.
You meet the stares; you're unaware that your doings aren't done.
And you laugh most ruthlessly as you tell us what not to be.
But how are we supposed to see where we should run?

I see you shuffle in the courtroom with your rings upon your fingers
and your downy little sidies and your silver-buckle shoes.
Playing at the hard case, you follow the example
of the comic-paper idol who lets you bend the rules.

So! Come on ye childhood heroes! Won't you rise up from the pages
of your comic-books, your super crooks and show us all the way.
Well! Make your will and testament. Won't you join your local government?
We'll have Superman for president, let Robin save the day.

You put your bet on number one and it comes up every time.
The other kids have all backed down and they put you first in line.
And so you finally ask yourself just how big you are --
and you take your place in a wiser world of bigger motor cars.
And you wonder who to call on.

So! Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?
And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you though?
They're all resting down in Cornwall, writing up their memoirs
for a paper-back edition of the Boy Scout Manual.

LATER.
See there! A man is born and we pronounce him fit for peace.
There's a load lifted from his shoulders with the discovery of his disease.
We'll take the child from him, put it to the test
teach it to be a wise man, how to fool the rest.

QUOTE
We will be geared to the average rather than the exceptional
God is an overwhelming responsibility
we walked through the maternity ward and saw 218 babies wearing nylons
says here that cats are on the upgrade
upgrade? Hipgrave. Oh, Mac.

LATER
In the clear white circles of morning wonder,
I take my place with the lord of the hills.
And the blue-eyed soldiers stand slightly discoloured
(in neat little rows) sporting canvas frills.
With their jock-straps pinching, they slouch to attention,
while queuing for sarnies at the office canteen.
Saying -- how's your granny and good old Ernie:
he coughed up a tenner on a premium bond win.

The legends (worded in
the ancient tribal hymn)
lie cradled in the seagull's call.
And all the promises they made
are ground beneath the sadist's fall.

The poet and the wise man stand behind the gun,
and signal for the crack of dawn. Light the sun.
Do you believe in the day?
Do you believe in the day?

The Dawn Creation of the Kings has begun.
Soft Venus (lonely maiden) brings the ageless one.
Do you believe in the day?
Do you believe in the day?
The fading hero has returned to the night
and fully pregnant with the day,
wise men endorse the poet's sight.
Do you believe in the day?
Do you? Believe in the day!

Let me tell you the tales of your life
of your love and the cut of the knife
the tireless oppression, the wisdom instilled
the desire to kill or be killed.
Well, let me sing of the losers who lie
in the street as the last bus goes by.
The pavements are empty: the gutters run red
while the fool toasts his god in the sky.

So come all ye young men who are building castles!
Kindly state the time of the year
and join your voices in a hellish chorus.
Mark the precise nature of your fear.
Let me help you pick up your dead
as the sins of the fathers are fed
with the blood of the fools
and the thoughts of the wise
and from the pan under your bed.
Let me make you a present of song
as the wise man breaks wind and is gone
while the fool with the hour-glass is cooking his goose
and the nursery rhyme winds along.

So! Come all ye young men who are building castles!
Kindly state the time of the year
and join your voices in a hellish chorus.
Mark the precise nature of your fear.
See! The summer lightning casts its bolts upon you
and the hour of judgment draweth near.
Would you be the fool stood in his suit of armour
or the wiser man who rushes clear.

So! Come on ye childhood heroes! Won't your rise up from the pages
of your comic-books --your super-crooks and show us all the way.
Well! Make your will and testament. Won't you? Join your local government.
We'll have Superman for president, let Robin save the day.

So! Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?
And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you through?
They're all resting down in Cornwall -- writing up their memoirs
for a paper-back edition of the Boy Scout Manual.

OF COURSE
So you ride yourselves over the fields
and you make all your animal deals
and your wise men don't know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.





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3 comments:

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Whoa. I gave up on Ian Anderson's lyrics here shortly beyond the word "Later." Way too much to take in on a Wednesday night!

But I had a co-worker in my record store days whose prize possession was a bloody towel used by Anderston after he whacked himself in the face with his own flute!

fdtate said...

Definitely an epic poem!

After the album was released, they used to perform the whole thing, but later -- on their greatest hits album and in concert -- they edited it down to mostly the stuff before the first "Later."

I think my favorite part of the rest is the part about the childhood heroes: "We'll have Superman for president, let Robin save the day."

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