January 27, 2010KR BlogKR

In Uffish Thought

Humpty Dumpty preferred unbirthdays to birthdays. (There are more of them, you see. Or, as Humpty put it, “There’s glory for you!”) But on this side of the looking glass, we celebrate birthdays — and today marks the 178th of Charles Dodgson. Without the arrival of the future Lewis Carroll, we wouldn’t have the young Alice, the old Caterpillar, or various Madmen (Hatters, Gardeners). We’d have no idea how to chortle or galumph. Our days — and certainly this day — would be much less frabjous.

This morning I read that Avatar is now the highest-grossing film in history. James Cameron’s colossus is scheduled to remain in Imax theaters until early March — at which point Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland replaces it. So we’ll trade a blue warrior for a Red Queen, which is fine by me. And we’ll hope that Burton’s vision of the tale is closer to, say, Jan Svankmajer’s than to Walt Disney’s.

Carroll has been on my mind all week. My students are writing Mad Gardener’s Songs — honing their metrical skills by way of associative logic. The Mad Gardener’s stanza may be Carroll’s greatest invention: like a well-built engine, it just goes. I wrote forty of them around this time last year, in preparation for a celebration at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. After a while I began to think in the terms, and the rhythms, of the stanza. Here are the last dozen lines of the original poem; note how Carroll plays the role of both mathematician and magician:

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
“And all its mystery,” he said,
“Is clear as day to me!”

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
“A fact so dread,” he faintly said,
“Extinguishes all hope!”

(And speaking of hope: Hasn’t the political landscape seemed a bit looking-glass, of late? Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, while Republican I-Got-Mine-ism controls the national agenda.)

A final riff, then, in the spirit of birthdays and, well, darker days:

Mad Magician’s Song

He thought he’d sawed a two-by-four
To make a futon frame:
He looked again, and found he’d sawed
Madame Oh-What’s-Her-Name.
“Her laughter kept me up,” he said;
“I can’t be held to blame.”