A Truckle full of Chuckle: The Poetic Buffoonery of Ogden Nash

‘In chaos sublunary

What remains constant but buffoonery?’

asked Ogden Nash in one of his last poems. I agree.

For when things around us turn dark, we can either sit and mope

or light up our lives with some humor and hope…

Whoa! That was an impromptu and rather unexpected rhyme by yours truly! But then, that’s the effect Ogden Nash has on you once you start reading his poetry. In some ways, his poems have the same effect on me as Bill Waterson’s comic strip -Calvin and Hobbes.ch080329

I discovered Ogden Nash way back when I was still in school… and believe me, I was hooked to his poetry. However, back then, there was no Internet to search out more of his poems and the British Library seldom stocked anything that did not originate from Britain… even if it was good literature/poetry. So I had to wait a long, frustrating wait before I found a copy of ‘Candy is Dandy’, his poetry omnibus, in a bookstore. Since then though, the book is always by my side and every time I’m feeling down or angry or frustrated or perhaps even feel the onset of Armageddon, all I have to do to put me back in an upbeat mood is flip open the book to any page. I repeat… any page. Want a demo?

Well, that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to type out for you the poem that appears on any random page that I flip open in the book.* But before that, I must also share what Ogden Nash did to the poet/writer in me… well, to put is as succinctly as possible so as not to bore you an keep you from reading his poems – he taught me to not take myself too seriously.

With that, here you go…

Flip 1:

The Ant

The ant has made himself illustrious

Through constant industry industrious.

So what?

Would you be calm and placid

If you were full of formic acid?


Flip 2:

First Child… Second Child (I can so relate to this as a parent of two children!)

FIRST

Be it a girl, or one of the boys,
It is scarlet all over its avoirdupois,
It is red, it is boiled; could the obstetrician
Have possibly been a lobstertrician?
His degrees and credentials were hunky-dory,
But how’s for an infantile inventory?
Here’s the prodigy, here’s the miracle!
Whether its head is oval or spherical,
You rejoice to find it has only one,
Having dreaded a two-headed daughter or son;
Here’s the phenomenon all complete,
It’s got two hands, it’s got two feet,
Only natural, but pleasing, because
For months you have dreamed of flippers or claws.
Furthermore, it is fully equipped:
Fingers and toes with nails are tipped;
It’s even got eyes, and a mouth clear cut;
When the mouth comes open the eyes go shut,
When the eyes go shut, the breath is loosed
And the presence of lungs can be deduced.
Let the rockets flash and the cannon thunder,
This child is a marvel, a matchless wonder.
A staggering child, a child astounding,
Dazzling, diaperless, dumbfounding,
Stupendous, miraculous, unsurpassed,
A child to stagger and flabbergast,
Bright as a button, sharp as a thorn,
And the only perfect one ever born.
SECOND

Arrived this evening at half-past nine.
Everybody is doing fine.
Is it a boy, or quite the reverse?
You can call in the morning and ask the nurse.


Flip 3:

The Fly

God in His wisdom made the fly

And then forgot to tell us why.


Flip 4:

Away From It All

I wish I were a Tibetan monk

Living in a monastery.

I would unpack my trunk

And store in a tronastery.

I would collect all my junk

And send it to a jonastery;

I would try to reform a drunk

And pay his expenses in a dronastery.

And if my income shrunk

I would send it to a shronastery.


Flip 5:

To A Small Boy Standing On My Shoes While I’m Wearing Them

Let’s straighten this out, my little man,
And reach an agreement if we can.
I entered your door as an honored guest.
My shoes are shined and my trousers are pressed,
And I won’t stretch out and read you the funnies
And I won’t pretend that we’re Easter bunnies.
If you must get somebody down on the floor,
What in the hell are your parents for?
I do not like the things that you say
And I hate the games that you want to play.
No matter how frightfully hard you try,
We’ve little in common, you and I.
The interest I take in my neighbor’s nursery
Would have to grow, to be even cursory,
And I would that performing sons and nephews
Were carted away with the daily refuse,
And I hold that frolicsome daughters and nieces
Are ample excuse for breaking leases.
You may take a sock at your daddy’s tummy
Or climb all over your doting mummy,
But keep your attentions to me in check,
Or, sonny boy, I will wring your neck.
A happier man today I’d be
Had someone wrung it ahead of me.


Flip 6:

Ok, there are too many long ones and it’ll take me for ever to type them out, so I’m just going to share some really funny short ones now.

The Parent

Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore.

And that’s what parents were created for.


Reflection on Babies

A bit of talcum
Is always walcum.


The Lama

The one-l lama,

He’s a priest;

The two-l llama,

He’s a beast.

And I will bet

A silk pajama

There isn’t any

Three-l lllama.


The Abominable Snowman

I’ve never seen an abominable snowman,

I’m hoping not to see one,

I’m also hoping, if I do,

That it will be a wee one.


The Python

The python has, and I fib no fibs

318 pairs of ribs.

In stating this I place reliance

On a seance with one who died for science.

This figure is sworn to and attested;

He counted them while being digested. 


With that, it’s time to say goodbye.

I hope you’ve all been chuckling through this post

and if you did, you know why I love Ogden’s poems most 🙂

 

And hey, here’s one of my favorites… for the road.

The cow is of the bovine ilk;

One end is moo, the other, milk.

 

 *I’ve made sure all these poems are already in the public domain before sharing them here. You can find these and many more at https://www.poemhunter.com/ogden-nash/poems/

**If you’re wondering what the ‘truckle’ in the title is, then here’s where I put you out of your misery. A truckle is a low bed to be slid under a higher bed!

 

 

 

Less is More: The Poetry of William Carlos Williams

When I discovered the poetry of William Carlos Williams, I did a waltz in secret. His poems are an expression of a concept I strongly believe in – talk less, say more. Only, I still struggle to execute it while he had, in his lifetime, no doubt mastered the art.

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, an architect whose work I admire, coined the phrase ‘Less is More’, way back in 1947. In my opinion, William Carlos Williams’ work could well be the poetic manifestation of the phrase. This is not to say he did not write long form poetry; just that the short ones were what taught me some valuable lessons as a writer.

What I love about William Carlos Williams’ poetry is that it talks to both the designer and writer/poet in me. Minimalism is about the only ‘ism’ in design that has resonated with me through my years as a student, practitioner and teacher of design. For me, design has been about breaking down a problem to the bare essentials and seeking out that core that would simultaneously be both ‘enough’ and ‘monumental’. I have had varying levels of success with the ideal, given that you need a client with a similar, if not same, mind-set; but the process of discovery has almost always been gratifying.

Similarly, when writing picture books for children, I need to limit myself to a word count of 500-600 words. I also need to remember that, difficult as it is, I have to leave certain things unsaid so they can be conveyed through the illustrations… or perhaps the imagination of my young reader. I struggled with this when I was working on Srinivasa Ramanujan: Friend of Numbers, my picture book biography of the mathematical genius. My challenge was certainly about distilling the content of all the books and papers I’d read on Ramanujan and produce a 1000-word story that was as compelling a read as say, an 80,000 word book. But more importantly, it was about finding the heart/essence of my story. This meant, I had to re-read everything I had read and written thus far to re-evaluate what to keep and what to let go of. During this rather frustrating journey, poetry was something that I kept going back to, specially William Carlos Williams’.

Why? Well, you can read some of the poems below and see for yourself!IMG_0903I clicked this pic a long time ago in a tiny hamlet near Alibaug… it so reminded me of The Red Wheelbarrow!

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon 

a red wheel

barrow 

glazed with rain

water 

beside the white

chickens.


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold


Complete Destruction

It was an icy day.

We buried the cat,

then took her box

and set fire to it

in the back yard.

Those fleas that escaped

earth and fire

died by the cold.


To a Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand 

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand 

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her.


Winter Trees

All the complicated details

of the attiring and

the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon

moves gently among

the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.


To Waken an Old Lady

Old age is

a flight of small

cheeping birds

skimming

bare trees

above a snow glaze.

Gaining and failing

they are buffetted

by a dark wind—

But what?

On harsh weedstalks

the flock has rested,

the snow is

covered with broken

seedhusks

and the wind tempered

by a shrill

piping of plenty.


The Great Figure 

Among the rain

and lights  

I saw the figure 5  

in gold  

on a red  

firetruck  

moving  

tense  

unheeded  

to gong clangs  

siren howls  

and wheels rumbling  

through the dark city. 


The Gentleman

I feel the caress of my own fingers

on my own neck as I place my collar

and think pityingly

of the kind women I have known.

 

Well, that’s it for today. Whom will I be discussing next? Come back tomorrow to find out!

 

*all poems have been sourced from the public domain via http://www.gutenberg.org

 

Of Songs & Stories: The Poetry of Walt Whitman

Today is World Poetry Day. What’s more, I’m at home and relatively free to indulge in some poetry thanks to the social distancing we need to practice in these tough times of the COVID-19 scare. Being a poet myself and having read a lot of poetry, I believe that poetry, unlike any other form of writing, can help you discover yourself, can help clear your brain when you’re uncertain or confused and can help bring closure and heal when your heart hurts. Of course, poetry can also bring a smile to your face and perhaps make you laugh too if you’re in the mood for it.

Over the next few days (starting today), I will be sharing the work (all from the public domain) of some of the poets I adore and that I feel should reach more people. I shall also throw in a bit about how I connect with a particular piece or with the poet and hopefully, you too will find your own personal connect.

I’m going to start with a few verses from Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’.

Image result for leaves of grass walt whitman
pic source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/4404530246

This collection is close to my heart for many reasons, the most important being that it made me realize there is poetry beyond rhyme. I have been writing poetry since I was in school; but all the poetry I was exposed to back then were strictly rhyming and the few people I discussed my poems with encouraged only rhyming poems. I didn’t and still don’t have a problem with rhyme, but it does get frustrating when you can’t write what you want to because it doesn’t rhyme! Perhaps I should blame my vocabulary for it? It was a restriction that almost made me give up writing poems.

Then, I discovered Whitman. And I discovered that more important than rhyme is rhythm… a discovery that changed the way I consumed and wrote poetry. I also realized that poems can get over in just two to three lines or run into several pages, that poems can ask questions and not answer them, that a poem can be a story and it can be a song, that you don’t need to follow rules to write poems… you need to follow your heart.

With that, let me leave you with a few verses from the book that I often go back to for inspiration:

Image result for leaves of grass walt whitman
pic source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iip-photo-archive/27102624032

TO YOU.

STRANGER, if you passing meet me and desire to speak

to me, why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?

WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER.

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns

before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,

divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured

with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


O YOU WHOM I OFTEN AND SILENTLY COME.

O YOU whom I often and silently come where you are

that I may be with you,
As I walk by your side or sit near, or remain in the same
room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake
is playing within me.

A SONG FOR OCCUPATIONS. (excerpts from Part 3 & 4)
Have you reckon’d the landscape took substance and
form that it might be painted in a picture?
Or men and women that they might be written of,
and songs sung?
Or the attraction of gravity, and the great laws and
harmonious combinations, and the fluids of the
air, as subjects for the savans?
Or the brown land and the blue sea for maps and
charts?
Or the stars to be put in constellations and named
fancy names?
Or that the growth of seeds is for agricultural tables,
or agriculture itself?

Old institutions—these arts, libraries, legends,

collections, and the practice handed along in
manufactures—will we rate them so high?
Will we rate our cash and business high ?—I have no
objection;
I rate them as high as the highest—then a child born
of a woman and man I rate beyond all rate.
We consider bibles and religions divine—I do not
say they are not divine;
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow
out of you still;
It is not they who give the life—it is you who give
the life;
Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees
from the earth, than they are shed out of you.
All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it,
(Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the lines of
the arches and cornices?)
All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded by the
instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets, it is not the oboe nor the
beating drums, nor the score of the baritone singer singing
his sweet romanza, nor that of the men’s chorus, nor that
of the women’s chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.

TO THE SAYERS OF WORDS. (excerpts from Part 4 & 6)

The song is to the singer, and comes back most to
him;
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most
to him;
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most
to him;
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him;
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him;
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him
—it cannot fail;
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor
and actress, not to the audience;
And no man understands any greatness or goodness
but his own, or the indication of his own.
This is a poem for the sayers of words—these are
hints of meanings,
These are they that echo the tones of Souls, and
the phrases of Souls;
If they did not echo the phrases of Souls, what were
they then ?
If they had not reference to you in especial, what were
they then?
31I swear I will never henceforth have to do with the
faith that tells the best!
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the
best untold.

I hope you enjoyed these verses as much as I have, perhaps even more. Do come back tomorrow for more!

Psst:  The poet I’ll discuss tomorrow is someone whose work made me realize how  how, to quote one of my favorite designers, Mies Van der Rohe, Less is More …and perhaps even profound in poetry.

 

 

Ramanujan: He who had the Pi & ate it too!

March 14th is celebrated every year as the International Day of Mathematics or alternately, the Pi Day  (3/14 in the month/day format… as you know 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π which goes 3.14159265358….. and so on).
 
Pi (π), the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, is a transcendental number whose decimal extent is infinite. It has been a fascination for mathematicians since time immemorial:
 
– in the 7th century, Brahmagupta declared it to be the square root of 10, giving it the value 3.16
 
– Archimedes took a geometric approach and arrived at a value between 3 10/70 and 3 10/71
 
– from the 16th century onward, western mathematicians including Issac Newton used calculus to develop several infinite series that converged to π.
 
Predictably, Ramanujan too wasn’t immune to the mysterious charm of π.
national-pi-day-march-14-750x350
When Ramanujan started his romance with mathematics, the approximate value of π was already known. To him then, the joy was in discovering newer ways in which one could express π and developing formulae that would give more and more precise values of π.
 
He began with expressions that gave the approximate value to a modest number decimal places such as:
r-pi-1
which gave the value of π up to 9 decimal places : 3.14159265380
 
r-pi-2
which gave up to 14 decimal places : 3.14159265358979265 and
 
r-pi-3
which gave up to 30 decimal places : 3.141592653589793238462643383279
 
 
One of the pages from his famous ‘Notebooks’ carries the following entries (highlighted in red):
Inkedramanujan-notebook-pi-1_LI

Then, in 1914, the Quarterly Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics carried Ramanujan’s publication, titled “Modular Equations and Approximations to π” that contained not one, but seventeen different series that converged rapidly to π. Two of these were:

circular-constant-pi-ramanujan-formula-1.jpg

which gave 8 correct digits for the decimal places for each term of ‘n’ and

circular-constant-pi-ramanujan-formula-2.jpg

which ‘spat out’ 14 correct digits for every ‘n’, allowing one to calculate to thousands of decimal places in a very short time.
 
While Ramanujan’s formulae were progressively more and more accurate, what is more important to us today is his approach to the calculations, which provided the foundation for the fastest- known algorithm that, in 1987, allowed mathematician and programmer Bill Gosper to use the computer to churn out the value of π to around 17 million decimal places. Later, mathematicians David and Gregory Chudnovsky used his formulae as the basis of their own variants that allowed them to calculate the value of π to an astounding 4 billion decimal places using their homemade parallel computer.
 
Of course, today, with the advent of super-computers, it has been possible to get the value of π with an ever-increasing precision. In January this year, Timothy Mullican successfully calculated the value to a record 50 trillion decimal places after 303 days of computing!!
 
When Ramanujan was a child, he liked to rattle off the numerical value of π and another transcendental number ‘e‘ to any number of decimal places. In my recently published picture book biography of Ramanujan (you can read more about it here), I’ve mentioned how he had been fascinated with calculating the length of the equator – an exercise for which he would certainly have had to use π.
ill5
In 1914, around the time he indulged in developing formulae for π, he calculated the length of the equator to be 40,078km. Today, with supercomputers at our disposal, we know the length to be around 40,075km.
 
Now, if that isn’t genius, what is?!!
 
 
Psst… want to read the picture book mentioned above? Here’s where you’ll find it: