March 09, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Friday whirl

The kids and I dashed off to the Goodwill shop yesterday after lunch to find a few things to add to the kids' "Fiddler on the Roof" wardrobes. In addition to two vests for the boys, and a polyester lace tablecloth from which I plan to cut a shawl for Laura, I found a small paperback, The Arrow Book of Funny Poems, collected by Eleanor Clymer (whose books we love) and published by Scholastic in 1961. It includes some poems that probably wouldn't be included in modern children's collections, if only because you would have to explain to most children about shipping clerks and dry goods (though not, in this case, pneumatic tubes). One of the milder ones is

The Revolving Door
by Newman Levy (1888-1966)

This is the horrible tale of Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall,
Who left his home one winter's day
To go to work, and on his way
In manner that was strange and weird
Mysteriously disappeared.
He left no clue, he left no trace,
He seemed to vanish into space.
Now listen to the fate of Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall.

He worked, did James, as shipping clerk
For Parkinson, McBaine & Burke,
Who in their store on North Broadway
Sold dry goods in a retail way.
And at the entrance to their store
There was a large revolving door
Through which passed all who went to work
For Parkinson, McBaine & Burke.

Upon this day, accursed of fate,
MacGregor James, arriving late
Dashed headlong madly toward the store,
And plunged in through the spinning door.
Around about it twirled and whirled
And Paul was twisted, curled and hurled,
And mashed, and crashed, and dashed and bashed,
As round and round it spun and flashed.
At times it nearly stopped, and then
It straightaway started up again.
"I fear that I'll be late for work,
And Parkinson, McBaine & Burke
Will be distressed and grieved," thought Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall.

He raised his voice in frantic cry,
And tried to hail the passers-by.
He tried in vain to call a cop,
But still the door refused to stop.
And so he spins and whirls about,
And struggles madly to get out,
While friends, heartbroken, search for Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall.

You can find more Newman Levy and other fun stuff in one of my favorite poetry books, American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, an American Poets Project. Online, there's a fascinating account by Stewart Hendrickson from the website of St. Olaf College (familiar to my late grandmother, a Golden Girls fan) about Newman Levy:
an interesting man who lived a double life. He was a former Assistant District Attorney of New York City, trial lawyer, and a writer of light verse who loved opera and theater. His father, a highly successful lawyer, insisted that his son become a lawyer, but Newman really wanted to become a writer, lyricist, and a musician like his cousin Richard Rogers. In fact he studied music composition with Deems Taylor and composed musicals as a college undergraduate before going to law school.

In the course of a successful law career, he also became a writer of light verse for The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines of the early 20th century. He also wrote several books of light verse including Opera Guyed, Theatre Guyed, Saturday to Monday, Gay But Wistful, and an autobiography, My Double Life – Adventures in Law & Letters. ...

Newman is said to have replied to George Gershwin's question, "I wonder if my music will be played a hundred years from now?" with the answer, "Yes, if you're around to play it!" Quite a wit, he deserves to be better known to a later generation.
Another page from Dr. Hendrickson with a number of Newman Levy's longer works is here. Levy was also a contributor to Franklin P. Adams' celebrated "Conning Tower" column, and, according to this 1931 article in Time,

Author-Lawyer Levy ("Flaccus") wrote in 1923 what has since become the Conning Tower's "most requested" poem for reprinting, a rollicking narrative called "Thais".
But I digress (and even more than usual)...

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The day's roundup is over here at Big A little a -- thanks, Kelly!

1 comment:

Cathryn Jackson said...

Hi Becky! I know you wrote this a looong time ago but I just found it as I was searching for this poem 'from my childhood'. I always remember saying, 'Magregor James D. Cuthbert Hall' with a little wiggle and twist of the body as I said it and was entranced as a child by the imagery of the poem. Thanks for posting it and I hope you find it interesting that such a poem should make it across the Atlantic to a primary classroom in a small town in Northern England. Have you come across Michael Rosen? Check him out reading his own 'Chocolate Cake' on Youtube.