Berenice

There used to be a time when Newspaper’s regularly printed poetry. The poetry was of the greeting card variety (by today’s standards) mainly because the editors of the papers preferred to studiously pretend that modernism wasn’t happening. In a 1922 editorial, Harriet Monroe was to write of “newspaper verse”:

 “These syndicated rhymers, like the movie-producers, are learning that it pays to be good, [that one] gets by giving the people the emotions of virtue, simplicity and goodness, with this program paying at the box-office.”

Monroe’s fit of pique resulted in her founding The National Poetry Foundation, where the poet’s of the 2oth century could be liberated from the horrors of an appreciative readership. For the next 80 years (the rest of the 20th Century) Monroe and her coterie of poets, and their descendants, the babyboomers, triumphantly demonstrated to the world that their poetry deserved the same recognition for banal, venal, mediocrity as anything the Victorians had written. Their inaptitude was uniquely their own. They went home satisfied. The newspapers, in the meantime, decided poetry wasn’t worth it.

Up in New England, back in the early 20th century and late 19th century, nothing was wasted. When I remodel an old New England house, I’ll sometimes find old newspapers underneath floorboards or inside walls. It was used as a barrier for sound and air penetration. Whenever I find old papers like these, I always look for the poetry. Just before Christmas, I cut into some old boards (sheathing), in an old barn, underneath an old stairway that led to a dug cellar. There were two layers of boards and sure enough, between the two layers, I found layers of newspaper. Some old builder had put them in there to kill the air – cheaper than felt. The dates? Jan. 10, 1930. So, this stairway had been built in 1930 and hadn’t been touched since then. It just so happened that my skil-saw cut right through a little poem (you’ll see the cut in the scan). I saved it and am bringing this little poem, the kind that sent Monroe into paroxysms of indignation, back (and this time to the world). I hope the author, Francis Fuerst Quick, is smiling somewhere in the afterlife. She too wanted to be a recognized poet, I’m sure. I like to think that I’ve freed her voice, like a genie’s whisper, from the cold press of boards. I’ve searched for her name on the web and haven’t found it. So, it’s possible she appears on the World Wide Web for the first time. She speaks to you, tenderly and sentimentally, after a very long silence.

Berenice

Poems for your Scrap Book
Berenice

By Francis Fuerst Quick, in “Contemporary American Poets,” published by the Stratford Company, Boston

Such silly things my Baby sneaks to bed.
Sometimes a dolly or a crust of bread.
Sometimes a pencil with a blunty trend.
Tonight Dad’s hammer at the hammock’s end.

Such funny thoughts must flit about all night
From busy brain to active fingers tight
Clasping a book of storied fairy ream, —
“Oh mother, leave it—’cause it helps me dream!”

So, sadly, we—between sweet childhood and our Rest—
Clasping our old illusions to our breast,
Just as my Baby’s plea we also seem
To want to keep them—’cause they help us Dream!

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~ Up in Vermont • January 5 2014

7 responses

  1. Fascinating story on how you discovered (literally uncovered) this poem. At first, I expected a simple nursery rhyme about a child, but Francis took the reader deeper when she referenced the illusions we cling to as adults in order to live.

    • Yes, you know, it’s guilty of a few sins, but no more so than most of your contemporary stuff. I was pleased to find it. :-) I should mention that this is similar to a fragment I found several years ago. Look here. Forgot to mention this in the post/

  2. I loved this “liberated from the horrors of an appreciative readership” summerises some of what I feel about current Australian poetry, although I’ll admit I’m really only a neophyte poet.

    I spent last year writing poetry for publication ( had some small success). As part of my research I read a number of our (Australia’s) years best collections going back over the last 5 or so years 95% free verse, lots of avant-garde stuff, little to no form poetry. Seems to be split in our country along performance poetry / literature / japanese forms or that’s the sense I get. That being said I did manage to get a pantoum published in an online newspaper.

    I do wonder if there is a call for more widely understood and appreciated verse and that the poetry community has done itself a disservice. The Fall of Arthur apparently topped Goodreads poetry list but I suspect that people recognised the name rather than discovered a love for Anglo-saxon inspired verse forms.

    Thanks for this bit of archaeology :D, brought a smile to my face.

    • Well, if you haven’t read my posts, Let Poetry Die, you might appreciate them.

      // As part of my research I read a number of our (Australia’s) years best collections going back over the last 5 or so years 95% free verse, lots of avant-garde stuff, little to no form poetry.//

      Yes, and in my opinion it’s all readily forgettable and mediocre.

      //I do wonder if there is a call for more widely understood and appreciated verse and that the poetry community has done itself a disservice.//

      Yes to both. If novelists wrote novels the way poets write free verse, the novel would also be dead. The world is awash with mediocre poetry (and I include John Ashberry’s poetry in that assessment) and poets have no natural predators. This means that the utterly mediocre poet will be as successful as the great one. Used to be that if you wrote piss-poor poetry you’d starve and you certainly wouldn’t be published. Nowadays, writing and publishing is trivial.

  3. In England(not New!) we do not split our infinitives. I would hope American English has the same rules. Your prose is fluent and readable but there are those glaring split infinitives dotted throughout. Star Trek has a lot to answer for. B Benedict

    • //In England(not New!) we do not split our infinitives.//

      :-) Oh, yes you do. Honestly, Barbara…

      Here’s how Wikipedia sums it up.

      “As the split infinitive became more common in the 19th century, some grammatical authorities sought to introduce a prescriptive rule against it. The construction is still the subject of disagreement among native English speakers as to whether it is grammatically correct or good style: “No other grammatical issue has so divided English speakers since the split infinitive was declared to be a solecism in the 19c [19th century]: raise the subject of English usage in any conversation today and it is sure to be mentioned”.

      I personally, think it would be a disaster to say: “To go boldly where no man…” “To boldly *go*…” puts the emphasis where ought to be. I, for one, am a strong proponent of the split infinitive.

      “An editor once “corrected” Churchill’s writing to move a preposition from the end of a sentence. Churchill restored the original, noting that this was the sort of “bloody nonsense” up with which he would not put. After that, many versions of this story began to circulate. Churchill was again edited. This time by those who felt such a refined man as Churchill should not have used the term “bloody.” In many reference books you will see “arrant pedantry,” or “nonsense” or even “English.” “

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