Hot wings on a paper plate

In my comics feed for the day, this One Big Happy from 6/15, featuring a Dad Tall Tale, DTT for short (here an elaborate poetic burlesque):


The original: Joyce Kilmer’s famous (and famously sentimental) poem “Trees” — also famously parodied, most notably in Ogden Nash’s “Song of the Open Road”.

DTTs. From my 4/28/18 posting “Dad’s tall tales”, on the social routine (with a collection of cartoon exemplars):

A form of parental kidding, almost always performed by a father rather than a mother, and most commonly directed at a boy — here a deliberate scheme of messing with the kid’s mind.

The posting gives some further analysis of the phenomenon, its several varieties, and its social functions, especially with reference to the construction of masculinity.

#1 provides a very gentle variant, designed to be seen as a playful performance — a kind of make-believe — that Ruthie is intended to see through and appreciate.

The Kilmer. Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”, originally published in the 8/1913 issue of Poetry magazine, reprinted in the 10/1913 issue of Boys’ Life, and then in his 1914 collection Trees and Other Poems:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Metrical notes on the Kilmer. The poem is resolutely, bouncingly, iambic tetrameter, almost to the end, where lines 10 and 11 (of 12, in couplets) diverge, only to return to an absolutely regular final line — nicely illustrating the Zwicky & Zwicky generalization about “Patterns First, Exceptions Later”, plus a return to regularity at the very end for closure.

Line 11 is especialy interesting — SWSWSWS — in that it could be understood as iambic (in line with the rest of the poem), with a short first foot:

S | WS | WS | WS

or as a brief breakout into trochaic meter, with a short last foot:

SW | SW | SW | S

(trochaic tetrameter being pretty much the standard metrical scheme for folk poetry of all kinds in English). The succession of front-accented feet in trochaic meter is iconically “strong” in English, as opposed to the more conversational effect of iambic meters (associated with the generally back-accented pattern of French). Through a succession of metaphorical understandings, front-accentuation (trochaic, dactylic) is perceived as “masculine” (and “strong”), back-accentuation (iambic, anapestic) as “feminine” (and “weak”).

Back to the metrical ambiguity of SWSWSWS lines in just a moment.

Notes on Joyce Kilmer. From Wikipedia:

Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918) was an American writer and poet mainly remembered for a short poem titled “Trees” (1913), which was published in the collection Trees and Other Poems in 1914. Though a prolific poet whose works celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his Roman Catholic religious faith, Kilmer was also a journalist, literary critic, lecturer, and editor. At the time of his deployment to Europe during World War I, Kilmer was considered the leading American Roman Catholic poet and lecturer of his generation, whom critics often compared to British contemporaries G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) and Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953). He enlisted in the New York National Guard and was deployed to France with the 69th Infantry Regiment (the famous “Fighting 69th”) in 1917. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 at the age of 31. He was married to Aline Murray, also an accomplished poet and author, with whom he had five children.

While most of his works are largely unknown today, a select few of his poems remain popular and are published frequently in anthologies. Several critics — including both Kilmer’s contemporaries and modern scholars — have dismissed Kilmer’s work as being too simple and overly sentimental, and suggested that his style was far too traditional, even archaic. Many writers, including notably Ogden Nash, have parodied Kilmer’s work and style — as attested by the many imitations of “Trees”.

… The popular appeal of this simple poem is likely the source of its endurance despite the continuing negative opinion of the poem’s merits from scholars and critics.

Inevitably, there’s a memorial forest: you celebrate trees, you get a forest. From Wikipedia:

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is an approximately 3,800-acre tract of publicly owned virgin forest in Graham County, North Carolina, named in memory of poet Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918), best known for his poem “Trees”. One of the largest contiguous tracts of old growth forest in the Eastern United States, the area is administered by the U. S. Forest Service. The memorial forest is a popular family hiking destination and features an easy two-mile, figure-eight trail that includes a memorial plaque at the juncture of the two loops.

(#2) The plaque (Wikipedia image)

In 1975 the memorial forest was joined with a much larger tract of the Nantahala National Forest to become part of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.

The great Ogden Nash parody. Ogden Nash’s “Song of the Open Road”, originally published in the 10/15/32 issue of The New Yorker:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.

I believe that I was subjected to the Kilmer poem in grade school, in one of the little booklets of poems we were expected to memorize for their uplifting moral messages. There were some fine poems in there, but even at the age of 8 I recognized the high level of bullshit in the material, and almost immediately after experiencing “Trees”, I discovered the Nash and committed it to memory for my own pleasure.

(There are many many varants of the Nash, including some from Nash’s own hand; in one, he replaced the perhaps of line 3 with the more assertive indeed.)

But, yes, the jogging rhythm and fatuous sentimentality of the Kilmer just beg for perversion, and many have put their hands to the task.

Frank Lombard’s DTT version. (That’s Ruthie and Joe’s father, Frank Lombard. Mostly, we just know him as their father.) Frank starts out (and ends up) quoting the Kilmer, but then strikes out into a cultural riff on what he sees as wonderful things — from which I’ve selected for my title just the one line, Hot wings on a paper plate (we could easily take a day explaining all many bits of popular culture in it that collaborate to make it a vivid image).

But the details of Frank’s version. He starts with the first two lines from Kilmer (panel 4), and then strikes out into other territory for 4 panels, returning to Kilmer (panel 9), with Kilmer’s last two lines. The stuff in the middle  has one iambic couplet:

Some other things may seem as sweet,
Like heated plush recliner seats,

And then it rolls with SWSWSWS lines that could be understood as iambic (with short first foot) or trochaic (with short last foot), as above — three couplets of them:

Tools that run on cordless power,
Dish TV, the billable hour,

Food court lines without a wait,
Hot wings on a paper plate

NASCAR, golf, remote controls,
Sugar, Cotton, and Super Bowls;

After which it returns to Kilmer’s final couplet, one metrically anbiguous line and one straightforwardly iambic one:

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

This strikes me as a very nice use of English metrical conventions: iambic set-up, probably trochaic interlude, and brief return for an iambic finale. The sweetness of Kilmer’s effusions, interrupted by a blunt inventory of items from American popular culture.

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