Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Scam, Spam, Jolly FlimFlam

I should have been rushing about, demanding that doctors sign camp forms. I should have been rummaging up tiny containers of soap and shampoo and many to-be-lost flashlights. I should have been marking undies with a Sharpie.

But instead, I was reading splendidly awful poetry by Teresa Nielsen Hayden and her fans, written about a scam and for an anti-scam: as she says, "I can’t believe I keep forgetting to mention this, but some months ago I actually managed to come up with a poem so bad that the International Library of Poetry, to which I submitted it, neither declared it to be a semifinalist in one of their contests, nor offered to publish it in one of their pricey yet unreadable anthologies."

That was what I was doing instead of what I should have been doing. Things done and left undone. Mea culpa. And you can do the same time-wasting thing by hurtling forward into Yo, Wocky Jivvy, Wergle Flomp— at If you have heard from Mrs. Miriam Abacha of Nigeria as often as I have--sometimes she has given me her friendly epistolary attentions two or three times in a single day--you will enjoy the spam poems as well as the heartfelt letters from the dear importunate unfortunate.

It's interesting that the Abachan clerihew and villanelle and sonnet and the others are far more engaging than most of the free verse I bump into. Even the free verse Abachans are about more than most free verse poems these days: tragedy, collapse, risk, danger, money. When NPR's Writer's Almanac spouts out a contemporary poem that begins with a cup of coffee, a dog, or a newspaper, I cartwheel from the room, shrieking all the way. Occasionally one of the poems has all three.

Miriam Abacha,
Widow of former
Nigerian chief,

Seeks your assistance to
Hold thirty mil for her
Family's relief.


Tiel Jackson ::: ::: July 01, 2005, 12:23 PM:
How about a villanelle?
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.
I am a widow, under house arrest.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

Before our family fortunes cruelly sank,
My husband was a general, powerful, the best.
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.

My son's arrested. They will make him walk the plank.
I assure you this is truth and not a jest.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

My daughter left, 'fore all the loopholes shrank
She'll come to meet you, whene'er we think is best.
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.

Your account number here___ Fill in the blank.
The money I will transfer, egg to nest.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

You may think that I am crook or crank,
But heed the family Abacha's sincere request!
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

And if you're like me, still avoiding digging up the sun block and last year's water shoes, you can hold your nose and leap to and read some more: "See our Wretched Poems the National Library of Poetry deemed Semi-Finalist Worthy."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.