Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ghod Bless Edgar Guest...

He is almost forgotten these days, but if he had not existed, the Bad Poets Society would have to invent him. No other "legacy bad poet" is quite so trite, self satisfied, banal and unctuously corny even by the standards of 1928 than was the late Mister Guest.
In his day though, he was a big deal, syndicated into hundreds of newspapers and magazines, collections of his poetry sold very well although today he is an absolute obscurity.
the reason for that is simple, lyric poetry is no longer a popular art form, one hundred years ago, even lowbrow publications like the Hearst newspapers all had full time poets on their rosters to compose suitable poetic copy - these days zilch nada.
A comparable will to poetry these days in a popular vein is exclusively founds in song writing, rap lyrics etc, no one writes odes to Mom's Apple Pie or their favorite overalls anymore, not at least the way Edgar Guest did.
Let us have a look at a typical Guestian effusion:

Hard Luck

Ain't no use as I can see
In sittin' underneath a tree
An' growlin' that your luck is bad,
An' that your life is extry sad;
Your life ain't sadder than your neighbor's
Nor any harder are your labors;
It rains on him the same as you,
An' he has work he hates to do;
An' he gits tired an' he gits cross,
An' he has trouble with the boss;
You take his whole life, through an' through,
Why, he's no better off than you.

If whinin' brushed the clouds away
I wouldn't have a word to say;
If it made good friends out o' foes
I'd whine a bit, too, I suppose;
But when I look around an' see
A lot o' men resemblin' me,
An' see 'em sad, an' see 'em gay
With work t' do most every day,
Some full o' fun, some bent with care,
Some havin' troubles hard to bear,
I reckon, as I count my woes,
They're 'bout what everybody knows.

The day I find a man who'll say
He's never known a rainy day,
Who'll raise his right hand up an' swear
In forty years he's had no care,
Has never had a single blow,
An' never known one touch o' woe,
Has never seen a loved one die,
Has never wept or heaved a sigh,
Has never had a plan go wrong,
But allas laughed his way along;
Then I'll sit down an' start to whine
That all the hard luck here is mine.

Edgar Albert Guest

I love the phony midwestern cadences, dialect poetry was very very big one hundred years ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote in a chest bursting barracks dialect for some of his best war-poems and the rest of the pack followed suit, James Whitcomb Riley being a notable Amercan practitioner as well as Edgar Guest.
These two lines are particularly significant:
An' growlin' that your luck is bad,
An' that your life is extry sad;

"Extry sad"?
Deliberately deploying bad english is always a sign the author wants to conceal something, or so George Orwell once reasoned. Here though, Guest is just slavishly desperate to rhyme in a fashion seemingly familiar and unthreatening to his audience.
Rest assured Guest churned out dreck like this on a daily basis for forty or more years and never once varied from his formula theThree S's "schmaltz, sentiment and self satisfaction". Like many of the other A-List bad poets down thru the years. Guest never ever betrayed the slightest artistic growth or even wavered in his perpetual interest in writing ever more lyrics in praise of his old fishing hat or some shoes he wears to do the gardening.
While Edgar Guest is technically proficient (compared to lyric ineptoid like William McGonagall), the sheer cataract of triteness that is his work marks the man down as unintentionally hilarious even at his most solemn.

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