Thursday, July 10, 2014

Whimsy with Teeth

Since I'm so often a cranky curmudgeon, it seems important to mention when I find something that I like outright.  Right now I'm reading Pot Shots at Poetry by Robert Francis (1901-1987), whom I discovered when May Sarton quoted some of his poems in her journal After the Stroke.  I was taken by them, which doesn't happen to me often enough with poetry these days, so I looked him up on the local library catalogs.  I decided to start with Pot Shots, which is a collection of short essays on poetry (plus a tale and an interview) published by the Michigan Poets on Poetry Series in 1980.  Some of the essays are apparently from an earlier collection, The Satirical Rogue on Poetry; the second half of this collection, The Satirical Rogue Again, is the sequel to that one.

The essays charmed me right away.  The Poetry Foundation bio calls Francis's poetry "often charmingly whimsical," and that describes these essays, though I'd add "often mischievous."  Here's one of them in its entirety (page 39):
Somebody -- Nobody

Somebody, hearing that Emily had called herself a Nobody, decided to be a Nobody too -- not just any Nobody but a Nobody who really was a Somebody, like Emily.
His tone is always (deceptively) light, and his barbs are often directed at himself, as in "The Satirical Rogue" (85):
I asked the Irish poet if he would be surprised to hear that I was one-quarter Irish myself.  Could he tell by looking at me?

After scrutinizing me for a moment, he remarked: "There's something humorous in your right eye."

"My right eye?" I cried.  "What about my left?"

"That one's more serious," he assured me.
Obviously Francis isn't for everybody, but I feel he's a kindred spirit.  Cute, too.  Odd I've never encountered his work before.