Monday’s Verse 11/8/2016

Dear readers,

While in Chicago last month, I was also very fortunate to catch up with some roommates and close friends from my very first days in college, among them some founding MV members.Colleen Shean took the photo (and we were foolish not to get an entire group shot!) of your editor, Mark Engel, Jim Breen, and member-for-a-day Javier Porras, outside a great korean bbq spot on Chicago’s north side. I enjoyed the company more than the spicy pork bulgogi, and that’s saying something. Thanks friends!

On a few occasions, we’ve read poems on this forum that are more properly known as, or first existed as, songs. John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Elvis Costello were some of the offenders, and I’d be surprised if there isn’t a Dylan cut in among them somewhere. But I can’t remember if there is. In any case, while we were away, the old man was awarded a Nobel prize in literature. Some commentators have taken issue with that choice. Their arguments have been pretty vacuous if you ask me, and kind of boil down to, I’m mad that songwriter Bob Dylan got this award, when there are so many other deserving "literary figures" worldwide who deserve it. People said the same thing about Dario Fo a few years back.

I liked the choice. And the tie-in to Mark, Jim, Javier, and Colleen, is that from approximately 1990-1994, you’d be hard pressed to get anything other than Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, or Neil Young on the turntable or jukebox, if I was anywhere nearby. My apologies about that.

Here’s an example of his writing that uses some standard poetic tools, and some typical Dylan devices. Slant rhyme, a short refrain, verses of varying length to suit the emotional need, and a perspective-shifting twist of the refrain on the final run-through. This piece was recorded in late 1963 for his 1964 album "The Times They Are A-Changin," and it was ripped quite directly from the headlines. This is a true story that occurred in 1963, in Baltimore. For me, it’s hard to get through those last 2 verses, whether listening or reading, without becoming emotionally involved. And for me, it’s also entirely timely. We often remind each other on this list that it’s very effective to read the poem out loud. In this case, there are several audio versions readily available, starting on youtube. Check it out if you need 5 minutes to take your mind off election madness, and have a great week. -ed.

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears

-1964

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