Friday, May 08, 2009

Reader's Diary #487- Colin Alexander: The Ghost of the Yellowknife Inn

Colin Alexander was off to a terrible start with his "Warning" on page 3:
Warning! This book is for people-- not critics! It's a book of verse, and critics hate verse.
You see what he's doing here. He's saying that if you don't like his book, you must be a critic, and by extension, not one of the people (as he most certainly is). And only stupid people who are unfit for their positions cannot see the emperor's new clothes. I'm familiar with that old tactic.

Besides, who are these verse-hating critics that we're all supposed to be spitting on? I've come across many limericks, ballads, and so forth in quite respectable anthologies. From where I sit, the only verse that critics hate is bad verse-- of the sort found in a Hallmark card. Or in The Ghost of the Yellowknife Inn.

In his warning, Alexander goes on to say he's "found that people love traditional verse that rhymes, scan and makes sense."

He's right. Unfortunately, Alexander's bias seemed always in favour of the almighty rhyme and the other two attributes often fell to the way side.

Okay, so I tolerate syntactical liberties in Shakespeare's plays. But Colin Alexander is no Shakespeare. He has no business writing such lines as "we want to know you our name will say." You just know, of course, there's a rhyme coming up and two lines later, there it is, "today." He's trying to say, "We want to know you will say our name" but does so in a terribly awkward and confusing manner.

How about this nasty grammatical revamping:

That silly old man of Quebec's
Has an organ he's urging to flex.

You see, without the 's, he couldn't rhyme with flex, and two lines later, with sex. When you have a limerick this golden, grammar be damned.

Here's one where scansion gets thrown out the window, unless you struggle with some really unnatural sounding rhythm:

The riff-raff must now be kept far away
Lest for excellence anyone might search
And by mistake discover with dismay
There's no such thing resides there to besmirch.

- from "La Déesse Et Nos Droits"

Being what it is, I'd probably not have been as harsh were it not for the obnoxious warning at the beginning. Aligning himself with the "people"? Please. I'm one of the people. And not all of us like bad verse.


Yat-Yee said...

I enjoyed your review very much. Nothing like a little rhetoric to put critics at bay. Thanks!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It sounds like a rather awkward book of verse, and knowing my reputation trying to read verse, I guess this makes me a critic. Yay!