We’ve had several good collections come in lately, one of which is teaching me things I was in no hurry to learn. A real plus of this job is that there’s always something new, something I haven’t seen before, but I’m a bit overwhelmed when such things come at me in swarms.
I’m learning that I know virtually nothing about the poetry of the last forty years. We’re getting a collection of small press chapbooks by poets whose names are apparently known to all true literati, men and women who have done great work trying to bring their vision of verse and its uses to the eyes of the reader. City Lights, particularly, did its best to highlight new poets of high quality. Many of their lines still echo in the minds of eager poetry lovers to this day. These were deeply earnest poets of vision and scope.
But I want to talk about somebody else. I have a book here which makes jaws drop. And, in his own way, the author did that with his own vision and scope.
Once upon a time, there was a man who was very sick, and hit upon the idea of doing a book of puzzles and jolly chit-chat to amuse people who had to spend a lot of time in a hospital bed. So he wrote a book called Fun In Bed, which sold very well in spite of, or because of, its title.
His name was Frank Scully, and he recovered to edit two sequels: More Fun in Bed and Bedside Manna. But this is not all he did.
Some years later, he discussed something in his newspaper column (like a blog, only on paper) and in 1950 expanded this into a book called Behind the Flying Saucers. This was very important in helping promote the UFO excitement of the fifties, and he was able to buy a new house on the proceeds. He is so important in the history of extranormal phenomena that they named a character after him on The X-Files.
And he wrote this book of poetry. Nursery rhymes were out of date, he said: irrelevant to modern children. They needed modernizing. So he rewrote classic Mother Goose rhymes from a Roman Catholic point of view, added a few new ones of his own, and had this published as Blessed Mother Goose.
It is a trip into another dimension. Here the Three Little Kittens pray to have their mittens reappear and Little Jack Horner, forgetting to say grace in his rush to eat his Christmas pie, finds that God had taken all the plums away. Old King Cole, a bygone pagan monarch, is entombed in Purgatory, missing his Fiddlers Three. And Jack and Jill are going up the hill for water to perform a baptism.
There is a touch in some of these of the man who produced “Fun In Bed”. I have a soft spot for “There was a little girl And she had a little curl, Which she wore like a robin’s nest. When she was good, She was very very good, But when she was bad – she confessed.” Not all of the book is up to that level (well, not MUCH of the book is up to that level) but one cannot deny the poet’s vision. In any case, he was knighted by the Vatican (Order of St. Gregory the Great), though I’m not positive it was just for his poetry.
By the way, the illustrations, which are amazing, are by none other than Keye Luke (Number One Son to Charlie Chan, Master Po to Kung Fu’s Grasshopper, Brak to Space Ghost). This COULD be the only book written by a Knight of St. Gregory the Great and illustrated by a man with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
How many of the poetry books from the City Lights Press can say that?