Saturday, March 19, 2005

MAD Poetry

Like most Americans, I went through the public schools. And like most Americans, my public school education (in the 60s and early 70s) was sadly bereft of poetry. My Kindergarten teacher probably read us nursery rhyme, or maybe my parents did, I don't remember. The only public school exposure I remember was Junior High. My seventh grade English teacher had us find a poem to read and explain to the class. Those being my lazy days, I, along with some other classmates "borrowed" the poetry book one classmate had actually gone to the library to get. Being the last one in line, all of the short poems were taken. I ended up having to read many stanzas of verse. I remember stopping at one point and asking if I should continue reading the entire thing. I probably didn't get a very good grade. In eighth grade, we were encouraged to use a rock or pop tune as our poetic presentation. I chose War Pigs, from Black Sabbath's second album, Paranoid. I felt so radical, man!

Fortunately for me, I was an avid reader of MAD Magazine. It was there I received my childhood poetry education. For years I read and laughed at poetic parodies of formerly famous poems by Frank Jacobs. Over time I read the poems he's parodied and I still chuckle reading them, because I remember the parodies. I think my favorites were his rewriting well known poems as if another famous poet had written them. He redid Casey at the Bat numerous times. He toyed with Poe, Kipling, Kilmer, Longfellow, and others I should have been reading in school. I think MAD ran The Rime of the Ancienct Mariner as written, but it was illustrated by Don Martin

I was thrilled when I saw PITILESS PARODIES, and Other Outrageous Verse, by Frank Jacobs, the purveyer of MAD poetry for all those years. Even more exciting was that it's put out by Dover books so it's cheap. I have a fantasy of one day meeting Frank Jacobs and thanking him for helping me learn a little about and appreciate poetry, although probably not in the way the poets intended.

I have a theory that you can trace the decline in American culture by the decline in the quality of MAD targets of satire. But that's another post.

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