Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Poets and Novelists: A Land Use Conflict

I've been growing increasingly aware that poetry and novels have incompatible operating systems.

It’s not that people aren’t trying to make universal programs.

Of course they are.

For example, this shot from the early days of the invasion of Iraq:

A Poet and a Novelist Try to Puzzle Out their Differences in Iraq


No, no, no no no, no, no.

That can’t be it. ( I do think that’s two novelists. Notice the matching glasses.)

OK, let’s try again:

Sports fans! In the left hand corner of the ring, there’s a frock-coated novelist, laced up tight on coffee, or at least on all the lovely petrochemicals that make it come out with a real kick.

Samuel Richardson, Novelist,
With His Gloves off, and
giving his best imitation of God.
(Note the Itty Bitty Novelistic characters on the mantle.)
This is called the Omniscient Point of View.

Thanks for stepping into the ring, Samuel.

Putting the old omniscient point of view into play, you will note that in the right hand corner of the ring there’s a poet, wearing nothing more than nothing less than what your imagination cares to add or take away, or at least trying to convince you that that’s the case.

OK, ok. That’s the romantic version, English style.

For the romantic version, German style, try this:

The Poor Poet (Der Arme Poet), by Spitzweg
Maybe he’s starving to death, but, hey, he can still do a passable imitation of Mary Poppins!
Who knew!

The problem is going to be even getting these characters in the middle of the ring!

I mean, notice how the novelist has china figurines, while the poet has a battered umbrella and some old (battered) books. Notice that the novelist doesn’t need any books.

One presumes he writes them instead?

Oh, how passé.

One is, sadly, left only with presumptions.

Such as this:

I do think there’s just not a good fit between a way of thinking that sets up dominos in a line and then knocks them down and claps its hands at the end when they all come out right, and one that lets its eyes go out of focus so it can see every ant in an anthill at the same time.

Whoa! Wayyyyy too much coffee. Let’s try yet another tactic.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I have deconstructed a novel and a poem just for you.

Here’s the novel: let’s say The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann.

The Magic Mountain
Notice how Mann’s plot get’s a little rough in the middle, although he does hold pretty well to the Napoleonic form of War and Peace.

Mann’s got a pretty clear sight of his goal, doesn’t he. I’d say he wins the first round.

I mean, here’s what Napoleon had to say about Tolstoy’s novel about him at the battle of Borodino:

Napoleon himself was not very sure that what he had was a victory or not, but the sight of the retreating army reassured him.
(Source: that link just under the magic mountain.)

Compare this sly ambiguity with the poets:

Poets at The End of the Road
Heck, they’re completely off the road.
Looks like they’re blocking the road, actually.
Looks like they’ve been there a while, too.

Do note the novel with its door open in the background.
Source: University of Nevada, Reno, Seismology Department.

Did any poets crawl in?

One does, as you can see, wonder.

And that brings me to the point of my concern.

A couple weeks ago, which is to say in early May, I was enjoying an hour of early spring sun, when I came across the Battle of Borodino, being played out in slowwwwwwwww time.

Here it is, with the French and Russian cavalry and everything:

The Straight People and the Round People
Land Use Conflict on the Cariboo Plateau.

Notice that the round people have to cross the line in the sand. Most of the time they’re going to get away with it, but occasionally there’s going to be a dirt bike.

Harold’s First Rule for Land Use Conflicts:

When you encounter a dirt bike on the trail, get out of the way.

Oh, yeah, that coffee that the 18th Century gave to the novelists, who, in turn, gave it to us as their greatest starbucking gift?

In their honour, I respectfully submit the Found Poem of the day.

Poem for Samuel Richardson

A six-legged, soft-bodied
insect called coffee
green scale can

plague gardenia,
ginger, and a host
of other

crops — including citrus
and, of course, coffee. The insect,


known as Coccus viridis,
stunts growth and causes leaves to yellow.


The adults are
oval and greenish
yellow. Various

species of ants befriend them,


chasing away predators and parasites
that might otherwise
make a quick
snack of the scales.


In return,
ants get to nosh on honeydew.

By the ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, perhaps?

Novelists Feeding on the Poets?

Or is it Just Cocchus Viridis vs. Ecophylla Smaragdina?

Have a look.

(To be continued!)


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