Monday, 25 January 2010

Lola Ridge

I just ran by accident - thanks, Janie L - into the works of Lola Ridge (1873-1941). From the biography:

Although Lola Ridge is relatively unknown to contemporary readers, she was a well-known poet and advocate of immigrants and the working class during the first half of the twentieth century. She wrote five books of poetry, edited for avant-garde magazines Others and Broom, and from 1908 through 1937 published at least sixty-one poems in magazines such as Poetry, New Republic, and The Saturday Review of Literature. Her first book, The Ghetto and Other Poems, was well received, and her poems appeared in anthologies edited by the respected William Rose Benét and Louis Untermeyer. Her obituary in The Publishers' Weekly characterized her as "one of America's leading poets," and that in the Wilson Library Bulletin stated that she was "one of the most completely sensitive of American poets" and "For her long poem called The Ghetto she was considered the 'discovery' of the year 1918."

Ridge's background and life is interesting; Irish-born Jewish, she was brought up in Australia and New Zealand before emigrating to America, where she experienced working-class ghetto life and became involved in left-wing and anarchist politics, pro-immigrant activism and proto-feminism: all of this is reflected in many of her works, which relate to a dark era in pre-WWII American history. (This was the Woodrow Wilson era with its government persecution of left-wing unions, notably the Industrial Workers of the World a.k.a. Wobblies, the First Red Scare and the Palmer raids).

In 1916 she supported the cause of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, convicted (and much later pardoned) after having been framed as "usual suspects" for the Preparedness Day Bombing; and she was arrested in the 1920s for protesting against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti (Galleanist anarchists who may or may not have committed armed robbery and murder, but either way didn't get a fair deal from a highly prejudiced court at a time of terrorism hysteria - one critic compared compared the chances of an Italian getting a fair trial in Boston to a black person getting one in the American South).

Two of Ridge's collections are online at Project Gutenberg: The Ghetto and Other Poems and Sun-Up and Other Poems. The autobiographical title poem of the latter first caught my attention; it's a powerful evocation of a difficult childhood, ranging through the lyrical to the poignant, as when - in probably the best-known segment, generally quoted incomplete and out of context - the troubled little girl takes out her anger on the doll she loves, then regrets it.

It's strange about stars....
You have to be still when they look at you.
They push your song inside of you with their song.
Their long silvery rays
sink into you and do not hurt.
It is good to feel them resting on you
like great white birds...
and their shining whiteness
doesn't burn like the sun--
it washes all over you
and makes you feel cleaner'n water.

: :

My doll Janie has no waist
and her body is like a tub with feet on it.
Sometimes I beat her
but I always kiss her afterwards.
When I have kissed all the paint off her body
I shall tie a ribbon about it
so she shan't look shabby.
But it must be blue--
it mustn't be pink--
pink shows the dirt on her face
that won't wash off.

: :

I beat Janie
and beat her...
but still she smiled...
so I scratched her between the eyes with a pin.
Now she doesn't love me anymore...
she scowls... and scowls...
though I've begged her to forgive me
and poured sugar in the hole at the back of her head.

: :

Mama says Janie is a fairy doll
and she has forgiven me--
that she's gone to the market
to buy me some sweets.
--Now she's at the door
and a little bag tied to her neck--
I run to Janie
and kiss her all over....
Ah... she is still frowning.
I let the sweets drop on the floor--
has told you a lie.

: :

singing in street:
gleen ledd-ish-es, gleen ledd-ish-es--
hot sun
shining on your face--
it must be a new day.
But why aren't you happy
if it's a new day?
Because something has happened...
something sad and terrible....
Now I remember... it's Janie.
I took Janie out
and tied my handkerchief over her face
and put sand in it
and threw her into the ditch
down in the black water
under the dock leaves...
and when mama asked me where Janie was
I said I had lost her.

: :

I'm glad it is night-time
so I'll be able to go to sleep
and forget all about it....
But mama looks at my tongue
and says she will give me senna tea.
When you smell the tea
you shut your eyes tight
and pretend not to hear
the soft, cool voice of mama
that goes over your forehead
like a little wind.
And then you lie in the dark
and stare... and stare...
till the faces come...
yellow faces with leering eyes
drifting in a greeny mist....
I wonder
if Janie sees faces
out there... alone in the dark....
I wonder
if she has got the handkerchief off
or if the water has gone in the hole
where the whistle was
at the back of her head
and drowned her...
or if the stars
can see her under the dock leaves?

- Ray

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Anatomy of a misattribution

Interesting misattribution spotted via Yahoo! Answers
Children wish fathers looked but with their eyes; fathers that children with their judgment looked; and either may be wrong.
- Shakespeare
A quick Google finds it widely attributed to Shakespeare on the web via the many quotation websites that don't vet quotes, but never with citation. It should be a matter for instant suspicion that it isn't in iambic parameter, and apart from my not recognising it, Google further confirms it's not in any Shakespeare play.

Google Books, however, reveals all. The first occurrence is in Capel Lofft's 1 1812 book Aphorisms from Shakespeare (foot of page 269, where it's cited to A Midsummer Night's Dream). It was a momentary puzzle that it definitely isn't in that play, but a closer look at the Introduction in Aphorisms from Shakespeare finds the explanation, that Lofft has in many cases rewritten the Shakespeare source material in aphoristic form, to make invented soundbites that Shakespeare never wrote.

This quotation, then, is ripped from the exchange between Hermia and Theseus.
Hermia: I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
Theseus: Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.
Lofft's aphorised form then got on to the quotation circuit via anthologisers, notably Tryon Edwards, who repeated it (for instance, in The world's laconics: or, The best thoughts of the best authors, Tryon Edwards, William Buell Sprague) while losing the crucial detail of it being altered.

1. Interesting guy, who wrote a deal himself as well as being patron of the poets Robert Bloomfield, Henry Kirke White and Bernard Barton. See bibliography.

Update, 24 March 2015:
It would be nice to think this kind of thing to be an aberration of Capel Lofft, but I just ran into a recent example of exactly the same phenomenon with the works of Tennyson, where the author of an educational worksheet has reworked a line from his poem On Poesy into the bogus quotation "I wish my poetry to startle the dull ears of humankind". See Tennyson: an educational compendium of misquotation.

- Ray

Saturday, 16 January 2010

New Maxwell Gray photo

"Maxwell Gray" - Mary Gleed Tuttiett. Click to enlarge

Newport Libraries - particular thanks to Brighstone Library - just kindly sent me a copy of the biographical page for Maxwell Gray in Poets of the Wight: an anthology of Vectensian poets, namely of poets native to or otherwise identified with the Isle of Wight, with selections from their work and prefactory introductions and portraits, Charles John Arnell, County Press, 1933.

I was actually looking for confirmation of some biographical details that I couldn't hack with Google Books, but a bonus was the photo of Miss Tuttiett (above right). It clearly was taken at the same photo-shoot as the previously featured one at the left, which comes from The Bookman, March 1896. They're approximately a stereopair.

Although primarily a novelist, Mary Tuttiett wrote a number of poetry anthologies: Westminster chimes and other poems (1890); Lays of the Dragon Slayer (1894); The Forest Chapel and Other Poems (1899), and England's Son and Other Poems (1910). They got generally lukewarm reviews, to the effect of "highly competent but not inspired". For instance The Times, Saturday, Jul 08, 1899, said of one book:

"Maxwell Gray" can hardly be proclaimed—if we are to judge her by The Forest Chapel and Other Poems (Heinemann)—so good a poet as novelist. Still, her book of verse is by no means without merits. She writes melodiously and occasionally with distinction, though she lacks the inspiration that gives fervour and life to really poetic utterance. She is at her best in such pieces as "The Hallowing of Westminster" which has positive qualities of beauty and imagination. All the verse is thoughtful and cultivated, and "Maxwell Gray" hardly does herself justice when she speaks of her "simple tedious strain." Tedious is too hard an epithet to apply to it.

I'm just reading England's Son and Other Poems, and they're highly variable, from astonishingly jingoistic poems about the Boer War (rather akin to Jessie Pope's pro-recruitment poems in World War I), via extremely polished Italian sonnets about love, bereavement and classical themes, to one in praise of her cat.

Update,  7th February 2011
See Poets of the Wight for an update on the book, which is now on the Internet Archive.

- Ray

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Camel poetry

Dr C - see Caravelles of the Desert - just posted a link about an unusual poetry competition: Abu Dhabi opens doors for poetry competition in camel beauty ("Poetry competition seeks best descriptive poems of camels as part of Al Dhafra Festival 2010"). The deadline being past is the least difficulty here. The skillset to tackle an entry is pretty specialised, the ability to write in a particular poetic register of Arabic:

Nabati poetry is frequently used to describe camels.

Regarding the conditions for participation, poems must describe camels using the Nabati rhythm, rhyme and style of 'Al Wanna', 'Al Radeha', and 'Al Taghrouda'.

(Al Wanna is essentially a reflective form used for love poetry or recollection, and Al Taghrouda is a riding form imitating the rhythm of the travelling camel - see Traditional songs. These are Bedu (i.e. Bedouin) forms with roots in pre-Islamic tradition.  Despite the competition being open to all nationalities, it's unsurprising that the winners tend to come from the UAE or Saudi Arabia, where these forms are best known.

Ask MetaFilter had a thread a while back with pointers to classical Arab poetry about camels, and the probably the definitive classic is The Ode of Tarafah by the great pre-Islamic poet Tarafa (aka Tarafa, or Tarafah ibn al 'Abd ben Sufyan ben Malik al Bakr). An excerpt:

Perfectly firm is the flesh of her two thighs--
they are the gates of a lofty, smooth-walled castle--
and tightly knit are her spine-bones, the ribs like bows, her
underneck stuck with the well-strung vertebrae,
fenced about by the twin dens of a wild lote-tree;
you might say bows were bent under a buttressed spine.
Widely spaced are her elbows, as if she strode carrying the two
buckets of a sturdy water-carier;
like the bridge of the Byzantine, whose builder swore
it should be all encased in bricks to be raised up true.
Reddish the bristles under her chin, very firm her back,
broad the span of her swift legs, smooth her swinging gait;
her legs are twined like rope untwisted; her forearms
thrust slantwise up to the propped roof of her breast.
Swiftly she rolls, her cranium huge, her shoulder-blades
high-hoisted to frame her lofty, raised superstructure.
The scores of her girths chafing her breast-ribs are water-courses
furrowing a smooth rock in a rugged eminence,
now meeting, anon parting, as though they were
white gores marking distinctly a slit shirt.
Her long neck is very erect when she lifts it up
calling to mind the rudder of a Tigris-bound vessel.
Her skull is most like an anvil, the junction of its two halves
meeting together as it might be on the edge of a file.
Her cheek is smooth as Syrian parchment, her split lip
a tanned hide of Yemen, its slit not best crooked;
her eyes are a pair of mirrors, sheltering
in the caves of her brow-bones, the rock of a pool's hollow,

It's hard not to disagree with the assessment that the tone is "weirdly erotic".  I'm not sure about that one. But another poster at Ask MetaFilter cites the poet Labīd's ode in which an old man praises his elderly camel:

Break ... with a lean camel to ride on, that many journeyings
have fined to a bare thinness of spine and shrunken hump,
one that, when her flesh is fallen away and her strength is spent
and her ankle-thongs are worn to ribbons of long fatigue,
yet rejoices in her bridle, and runs still as if she were
a roseate cloud, rain-emptied, that flies with the south wind

Outside Arab poetry, the camel isn't terribly valued, and tends to attract humorous verse and doggerel. It's not necessarily as low as

The sexual life of the camel
Is stranger than anyone thinks

but Ogden Nash's The Camel, Kipling's The Camel's Hump, and the certain Camel in Lewis Carroll's "The Pig-Tale" are par for the course.

So, given inability to write anything up to the Al Dhafra Festival's requirements, at Caravelles of the Desert we just went down the easy path in adding to the humorous genre. My effort (slightly copy-edited from the earlier version):

I don't need no elephant's trunk,
Or do gas warfare like a skunk,
I'm a ship that can't be sunk,
And I don't mean no Chinese junk.
My humps, my humps, my humps, my humps,
My lovely camel lumps.
(Check it out).

I've got an adaptation,
Controls my urination,
They love my ungulation,
To reach their destination,
On barchan and in wadi,
Across the Rub' al Khali
Without a drink of water,
Across the Empty Quarter,
My humps, my humps, my humps, my humps,
My lovely camel lumps.

A dromedary's lacking,
You send that creature packing,
The Bactrian is true-o,
Because it's got a duo.
My humps, my humps, my humps, my humps,
My lovely camel lumps,
In the back and in the front.

Admittedly I must be among the few doggerel writers in the known world who haven't previously done a camel-referencing parody of the Black-Eyed Peas' My Humps, but then again its title and simple rhyming scheme are bound to attract parody (perhaps undeservedly, as its role-reversed scenario is definitely a riposte to the sexist stance of rap). Talking of parodies, the Alanis Morissette spoof cover is lovely.
- Ray

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A punchy meme

In the comments to More fierce and most fierce of all ..., Felix and I have just been discussing addictive jingles, so as the inspirational rhyme
Good, better, best,
May I never rest
Til my good is better
And my better best.
and the jingle coined by Alfred Bester in The Demolished Man (the protagonist deliberately lets himself be infected with an earworm to prevent superficial telepathic scanning).
Eight, sir; seven sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.
Not so new. Mark Twain ran into the phenomenon in 1876, when he ran into a jingle written by Isaac Bromley and Noah Brooks, and colleagues, of the New York Tribune, who had been inspired by a streetcar sign.
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!


Punch brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Twain was badly infected. His story, A Literary Nightmare, tells of the experience:
I came across these jingling rhymes in a newspaper, a little while ago, and read them a couple of times. They took instant and entire possession of me. All through breakfast they went waltzing through my brain, and when, at last, I rolled up my napkin, I could not tell whether I had eaten anything or not. I had carefully laid out my day's work the day before a thrilling tragedy in the novel which I am writing. I went to my den to begin my deed of blood. I took up my pen, but all I could get it to say was, "Punch in the presence of the passenjare." I fought hard for an hour, but it was useless. My head kept humming, "A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare, a buff trip slip for a six-cent fare," and so on and so on, without peace or respite. The day's work was ruined I could see that plainly enough. I gave up and drifted down town, and presently discovered that my feet were keeping time to that relentless jingle. When I could stand it no longer I altered my step. But it did no good; those rhymes accommodated themselves to the new step and went on harassing me just as before. I returned home and suffered all the afternoon; suffered all through an unconscious and unrefreshing dinner; suffered, and cried, and jingled all through the evening; went to bed and rolled, tossed and jingled right along, the same as ever; got up at midnight frantic, and tried to read; but there was nothing visible upon the whirling page except "Punch! punch in the presence of the passanjare." By sunrise I was out of my mind, and everybody marvelled and was distressed at the idiotic burden of my ravings.
- Mark Twain; his life and work; a biographical sketch, c1894, Internet Archive

A Literary Nightmare (later republished as Punch, Brothers, Punch!) quotes the jingle. As described on page 422 of Mark Twain: the complete interviews (Mark Twain, Gary Scharnhorst, University of Alabama Press, 2006) this led to slight grief from the authors, as it rapidly become popularly assumed that Twain had written the verse. Brown himself wrote up the story of the creation of the genre of "Horse-Car Poetry", writing as Winkelried Wolfgang Brown in Scribner's Monthly, April 1876, and even inflicting a tune on the world.

It acquired such popularity that The Western, St Louis, produced a Latin spoof ...
Pungite, fraters, pungite!
Pungite cum amore,
Pungite pro vectere,
Diligentissime pungite!
... and a French version also appeared:
Le Chant De Conducteur

Ayant etc paye, le conducteur
Percera an pleine vue du voyageur
Quand il recoit trois sous un coupon vert,
Un coupon jaune pour six sous c'est l'affaire,
Et pour huit sous c'est un coupon couleur,
De-rose, en pleine vue du voyageur.


Done, percez soigneusement, mes freres,
Tout en pleine vue des voyageurs, etc.
A number of Twain biographies say that this is by Swinburne and that he "is said to have done" it for the Revue des Deux Mondes. As usual, I'll believe that one when I see the primary source, as Revue des Deux Mondes is well-covered on Wikisource and a Google site search doesn't find it (whether by Swinburne or not). reproduces a couple of 1915 New York Times pieces on the meme: Two Painful Poems and The Haunting Doggerel. See Acephalous for the full text of A Literary Nightmare.

PS: The NYT Two Painful Poems piece mentions another meme, "Is This Mr. Reilly?". This appears to refer to a song that appeared in variants including:
Is that Mr Reilly, can anyone tell;
Is that Mr Reilly that owns the hotel?
Well, if that's Mr Reilly they speak of so highly:
Upon me soul Reilly, you're doing quite well.
- Ray

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Unreal instruments

Clare just got an e-mail that Mr Know-it-all instantly spotted as a hoax:
Read this first, then watch.


Turn your sound on for this.

This is almost unbelievable. See how all of the balls wind up in catcher cones.

This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa ... Amazingly, 97% of the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft , Iowa ...Yes, farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment, calibration, and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it was WELL worth the effort. It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.
The accompanying clip was in the fact the above, Pipe Dream, minus the onscreen credits, from the music animation specialists Animusic. I've expounded a bit more on their lovely works at JSBlog: see Self-playing harps.

Maybe I've watched too much computer animation, but I can't see how anyone could think this to be real for more than a moment. Nor did I realise how ubiquitous the e-mail is: enough to be mentioned on a number of debunking sites such as Snopes. Needless to say, the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa do not exist. The discussion at The Blog of Phyz - Fooling our elders... - is enlightening if depressing; I know well the syndrome described, where the person who spots a hoax becomes cast as the bad guy:
The person who sends the hoax is regarded as a happy-go-lucky victim with a positive outlook on life, but the person who responds with the truth is regarded as a curmudgeonly killjoy.
The alternative, I suppose, is the recipient admitting being fooled. In this case, however, the hoax is doing down a remarkable piece of work, and by removing the credit may even count as video piracy. As the Hoaxslayer entry says:
There is no need to malign this fantastic animation by tacking on a foolish and totally fictitious cover story. Such clever work speaks for itself and needs no embellishment. Moreover, the real creators of the animation deserve credit for their genius. If you receive this email forward, please let the sender know the true origin of the "farm machine music" video.
- Ray

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Beware of the stockbrokers!

How easy it is to miss social context in old novels. I ran recently into Lord Henry's comment in the 1890 The Picture of Dorian Gray:

With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized.

The straightforward reading of this is that it's a sneer from the moneyed classes at those who have to make money by hands-on financial wheeling and dealing. However, it turns out to be deeper than that: there was good reason to consider 19th century stockbrokers uncivilised. There's an interesting passage in Joseph Kenny Meadows' 1841 Heads of the people: or, Portraits of the English, revealing how the Stock Exchange, open only to members, had a short way with strangers.

Should any one be curious enough to wish to see either these Bulls or these Bears, let him by no means enter their den in Capel Court, Bartholomew Lane. Lack of sedentary employment renders them sportive and frolicsome, and the prevailing humour pervades both old and young. They are all wags of the first water — practical Joe Millers. If kicking a stranger's hat about the Exchange were pleasant badinage, or unceremoniously shouldering the intruder, were agreeable banter, they night pass for wits. As it is, they are great in physical repartee; full of animal spirits — manual Sheridans.
- Heads of the people: or, Portraits of the English, Joseph Kenny Meadows, Carey & Hart, 1841

"Work hard and play hard" applied even then, clearly.
- Ray

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Maxwell Gray: Unconfessed

My project for 2010: to read the works of Maxwell Gray.

Over the Christmas holiday I read one of her later novels, Unconfessed, which wasn't at all bad. Unconfessed is one of her several novels set in a mildly fictionalised Isle of Wight (Newport, for instance, becomes "Oldport"), and the main action is set in the "Back of the Wight", the sandy farmland sloping down from the central chalk downs to the Island's treacherous south-west coast. The central location is "Brookwell", which seems to be a portmanteau of Shorwell and Brighstone.

View Larger Map

The cover blurb:
Andrew Thearle was rich and highly respected, but both wealth and reputation would have vanished utterly had the truth about the crime by which he had secured his wealth been known. As his wealth increased so did the burden of the sin he dared not confess. Back into his life came Kit, his younger brother and double the victim of Andrew's treachery for he had not only robbed him of his inheritance, but also of the girl he loved. But retribution was waiting for Andrew Thearle, and the story ends with Kit happy and prosperous. Unconfessed is a story that grips because of its realism and charm, and its admirable characterisation. Andrew in particular is a splendidly created character, and the whole book is readable in the highest sense of the word.

Revision: this post, in much expanded form, has now been incorporated into my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). See the official site,

- Ray

Crab collars

I just had to preserve this, recently posted on Wikipedia and not unnaturally speedy-deleted as a hoax.

Crab collars

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Collars have been recommended for people who have pet crabs of the following varieties:
  • Hermit (All Paguroidea varieties)
  • Halloween (Geocarcinus quadratus)
  • Japanese spider crabs (Macrocheira kaempferi)


Many people don't consider the importance of collars for pet crabs. Some key reasons collar users are listed below:
  1. Identification
  2. Protection
  3. Listed Medical Allergies
  4. Contact Number / Return Address
  5. Bling
  • Users have found peace of mind especially when having to ask their pets to be minded with the added support that a collar offers.


  • Carefully clean the pet before attaching to help provide a close bond with the collar.
  • Ensure that the collar is attached firmly to the to the crab's largest Merus as to stop the pet from being able to detach the collar with a cheliped.
  • Do Not attach a collar to a main shell for Hermit varieties as the pet can simply remove itself from the housing. Special collars made for these varieties are to be attached to the Cephalothorax
  • Tighten the collar just enough so that it cannot move or twist.
  • Choose a colour that compliments your crab, the delicate social structure of crabs can greatly be affected due to favourtism and rejection.


  • A fitted collar can provide a great deal of fun outside of the confides of your tank or aquarium. Well exercised crabs are happy crabs
  • When swimming with your pet, ensure you take an extended lead to ensure maximum freedom. As crabs are predominately land crawlers they may stress do to prolonged or restricted underwater activity.
  • When requiring your pet to be cared for temporarily by a friend or relative, ensure your collar is up to date with details.
- Ray