Poetry for Southern California
Amelie Frank Guest Editorial
Essay on October
You'd never know it from my poetry, but I had a pretty happy childhood. As an end-stage boomer, I managed to gaze at the world with an old school wonder at ordinary things that rendered those things remarkable—even if I experienced many of those things, including the Moon Walk, on an old black and white TV set. At the same time, popular culture took off, impelled by the discretionary spending of my generation and the generation to follow. Things that were brand new when I was a kid, like the Peanuts holiday specials, eventually became traditional. To think: I watched the first-ever broadcasts of A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. For little, tail-end boomer kids, that was serious event TV. Now, the shows are retro, and retro is my particular experience of nirvana, where everything is still all new and big and handsomely built and sturdy and lasts and lasts and lasts.
It's no small wonder that I have recaptured via eBay many of the playthings and books of my childhood to remind me of a time when commonplace things were imbued with a certain specialness, and the commercial tie-ins were far less cynical and irresponsible. This is pre-Reagan-deregulation America we're talking about here, before that grinning daddy figure sold generations of American kids to the highest bidder by making children's broadcasting a complete consumer feeding frenzy.
One particularly cherished and recently recaptured treasure from 1970 is a book of poems and short stories titled The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales. A wonderful Scholastic Book (the publishers who would reignite the awe for everybody 30 years later with Harry Potter), The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales came via the in-class auspices of the Weekly Reader (show of hands, folks?). The Weekly Reader was a cool paper journal circulated in public schools. It offered reasonably priced books (and that fit my 50-cents-a-week allowance). You could order the books in class, and they would be delivered back you in class a couple of weeks later. Spooky Tales of the Haunted House cost 35 cents and came with a companion record—a 45-sized 33-1/3 rpm that featured radio actors Paul Hecht and Carole Dannell reading selections from the book. At about the same time, Disney was unveiling the Haunted Mansion attraction and already had a popular album titled The Thrilling, Chilling Sounds of the Haunted House. The album featured no poetry or songs, but provided great sound effects (a few quite disturbing). At the age of 10, I had all three prizes among my toys.
Inside the book, edited by Gladys Schwarcz and Vic Crume and nicely illustrated with Gorey-style crosshatched sketches by Gerry Contreras, reside moody little pieces by Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, Theodore Roethke, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson, Goethe, and H.G. Wells, along with a passel of lesser-known, more recent poets. My favorite pieces included The Flattered Flying Fish by E.V. Rieu, Goethe’s The Erl-King, Roethke’s unforgettable The Bat, and editor Vic Crume’s unsettling title poem, The Haunted House. Imagine a house so evil that even the moon shuns it!
Here’s a Halloween treat for you right now. Click on this link to listen to MP3s of the selections from the little companion record:
This month’s Poetix brings you a goodie bag of fresh reviews from G. Murray Thomas as well as scene reports from San Diego, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, San Diego, and some admonitions to buy books from L.A.’s Mike the Poet. No candy corn, however.
Twelve years ago, when I was editing Matthew Niblock's book God: The Motion Picture, Matthew brought me a new poem to consider. It was sine nomine at that point. It went:
found in child's halloween sack:
wax paper. golden delicious
apples, with and without
razor blades. the dust
of a thousand pez.
mars bars. knucklebone
split and leaking.
trading cards. eye
of newt. butterfinger.
butterfinger. Charlie Brown's
Great Pumpkin Episode,
burned on the brain, etched
in wrappers, tasting of white sugar,
throats coated with milk,
with candies, taffy,
miles of licorice.
child stands on doorstep,
raps with knuckle,
"So what do we name it?" he asked me.
I immediately pictured Charlie Brown fruitlessly trick-or-treating in his sheet with all the holes cut out of it, holding out his bag, and I told him "We have to name it …I Got a Rock." And we did.
By the way, my mother got our pumpkin for the front porch yesterday. It's a gorgeous, smooth, candied-orange thing that looks absolutely perfect until you step behind it and notice that the lower back half of it is completely flat, as if it were the product of a harsh forceps delivery. Everybody sing now: It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Happy Halloween, y’all.