“I have seen the best minds of my generation —
destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical
forced to come up with STILL MORE rhymes for ‘Alison Lundergan Grimes’,”
as I think Allen Ginsberg wrote that one time.
The race for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate seat has been characterized by a much-higher-than-expected emphasis on rhymes. From the “What Rhymes With Alison Lundergan Grimes” ad (never forget) to this past Saturday, when Rand Paul emerged to spit some lines himself, it has showcased what is best and worst about the English language: the sheer number of words that rhyme with Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Paul’s verses follow, with annotations.
There once was a woman from Kentucky,
who thought in politics she’d be lucky
You would think, from this beginning, that we might have a limerick on our hands. You would be wrong.
So she flew to L.A. for a Hollywood bash.
She came home in a flash
with buckets of cash.
This is clearly not a limerick. What it is is unclear. Edward Lear used to end his limericks by just repeating the ending place word of the first line, but no “Kentucky” is forthcoming here.
Then again, “Rand Paul pens rude limerick about McConnell challenger” is probably not a headline you want, especially when you come from a state that shares its middle syllable with Nantucket.
To liberals, she whispers: coal makes you sick.
In Kentucky, she claims coal makes us tick.
To the liberals, she sells her soul —
the same ones who hate Kentucky coal.
This is not what I thought this was going to be about at all.
One thing we know is true, one thing we know is guaranteed,
she’d cast her first vote for Harry Reid.
Grimes’ real pledge is to Obama; her first vote is to Reid;
as for Kentucky, if that happens, it’s too bad indeed.
YOU CAN’T RHYME REID TWICE, RAND! Not like that. Especially with “indeed.” Indeed is a filler word.
Also the whole thing scans poorly.
If someone were making me study this for class and told me it was by Wilfred Owen, I would say that “the disruptive influence of World War I has created what appears to be an exploded sonnet, a poetic form collapsing in on itself, the mangled remains of a limerick tangled horribly with a string of almost Pope-like couplets, their apparent assurance of tone in a bold contrast to their failures of form, a failure that plangently reveals the ‘heartbreak in the heart of things’ ” and I would probably have gotten an A- on the grounds that I had not actually read the poem (nobody gets anything lower than an A- these days).
Look, last year I made a horrible horrible mistake and alienated every poet in America. Every so often, to this day, someone will come out with a new volume of poetry or a new magazine of poems, and the first paragraph will be dedicated to the pronouncement that “Contrary to what Alexandra Petri wrote in The Washington Post back in 2013, poetry is alive and well.” I know this now. I even bought a copy of Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. I am sorry that I ever brought it up, poetry.
I think it is not so much that poetry is dead so much as that political poetry is dead.
And maybe it was never alive to begin with. Woodrow Wilson is often assumed to be the author of the following limerick (apparently he wasn’t, but he recited it often enough that people assumed it was his):
As a beauty I’m not a great star,
There are others more handsome by far,
But my face, I don’t mind it,
Because I’m behind it–
‘Tis the folks in the front that I jar.
And Jimmy Carter published a whole volume of poems, admittedly after leaving office, in which he noted “My father’s touch would end my childish dream,/Fitful as it was,” which, I promise, makes sense in context. There is also a poem about how he could not tell the race of a ghost. I am not making this up.
If you can find a one-line slogan that sticks, that is where you should stop rhyming. Do not try to venture beyond “All the Way with LBJ” or “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” Maybe there is no such thing as really good topical rhyming poetry pegged to events. That’s much narrower than saying poetry is dead, but that is going to be the molehill I fight and die on.
Then again, it is no worse than anything written by William McGonagall, who was at work more than a hundred years ago. Here he is writing on a crowd crush at the Victoria Hall:
“Her Majesty’s grief for the bereaved parents has been profound,
And I’m glad to see that she has sent them £50;
And I hope from all parts of the world will flow relief
To aid and comfort the bereaved parents in their grief.”
It’s no Rand Paul, 2014. But it’s close.