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

Whispering under the floorboards… send out the sun.

In my most recent job, I replaced a rotten sill on an old New England house. Since I’m not the one with claustrophobia, my job was to crawl into the crawlspace, through an opening too small for inhalation. What did the sill look like? It didn’t take long to decide. A very, very bad decking installation under a standing-seam eave meant that all the roof’s water was redirected into the wall and onto the sill. A solid old 6×6 sill had been reduced to mulch.

But while I was under there, I saw some very old fragments of a newspaper still glued to the bottom of the building’s old hemlock or pine floorboards. There was just a slender scrap left. All the rest had fallen off and disintegrated in the dirt of the crawlspace. I carefully pulled off the remaining fragments and brought them, perhaps for the first time in a hundred years, into the light of the sun. We had all wondered how old the building was – when it was built.  Anything that might have identified the paper itself, or the date, was gone. Some other scraps hinted at news from New York or Boston. But here was the fragment of a poem – a little clue.

The fragment praises the sun. How quieting to think that a song like this had been hidden away in a dank darkness for so long.

Send out the sunlight it sings again and again.

So, as a kind of gift to this little fragment, here is some sunlight (and as a gift to the song’s author, surely long since received by a different kind of light).

Send out the sunlight! ’tis needed on earth,
…                                       afar in scintillant mirth
…     more than gold in its wealth-giving worth!

And it’s last words before it vanishes…

…send out the sun…

There will surely be some librarians among my readers. Take a look. If you ever discover the name of the poem or the author, leave a comment. In the meantime, a little fragment for the sun – after so much darkness.

From up in Vermont
June 5, 2010