The Friday Fillip

We’ve looked a poetry before on Slaw — “Law Firms Sponsoring Poetry“, “The Lawyer as Poet“, “Creative uses for law reports“, and another Friday Fillip about doggerel — so I thought that this might be of interest to the poetasters among us. I got on to the Poetry Foundation because of a piece in the recent New Yorker, “The Moneyed Muse” by Dana Goodyear. The article talks about Ruth Lilly, the old reclusive woman who was heir to the Lilly drug company fortune, and who gave a big chunk of her billion dollars to Poetry magazine, which, galvanized so to speak by this influx, transmogrified into the Poetry Foundation.

Very roughly, the notion is that the Foundation is doing what it can to bring poetry back to the masses and vice versa. Whether or not this is a Good Thing, it is interesting. The website still lacks the ginormous list of poems you’d think it would have. Instead, there’s a Poetry Tool, which lets you pick a poem or a poet by making a series of choices (an example of one path: poets/by school or period/fugitive/Randall Jarrell). You may want to roam around and see if there’s something here for you.

If you’d like to bring things closer to home, you might like to take a look at Library and Archives Canada’s Canadian Poetry Archive, which lists 100 poets and samples of their works (none, I think, more recent than 1950).

Where, for me, masses and verses come nicely together is in popular music. A good illustration of this, I think, is a song I just happened to hear today on CBC by Kurt Weil, lyrics by Ogden Nash (better than which it rarely gets, unless you look at Cole Porter, or, nowadays, at Tom Waits and Randy Newman — for my money, at least). The song is “It’s Him” and it’s from the 1943 musical, One Touch of Venus. Here are some excerpts, which you really have to hear Dawn Upshaw singing…

…He is as simple as a swim in summer,
Not arty, not actory.
He’s like a plumber when you need a plumber:
He’s satisfactory.

…He’s like a book directly from the printer,
You look at him, he so commenceable.
He’s comforting as woolens in the winter:
He’s indispensable.


  1. Are you sure it’s called that. My version has the original star Mary Martin singing Kurt Weill’s That’s Him – Weill with a double ll.


  2. Right on both counts. Double LL and “that’s him.” Thanks, Simon.

  3. The Poetry Tool is very fine. Ars Poetica (by MacLeigh) – somebody should write Ars Juridica maybe.

    Law & Poetry

    Maira Kalman
    bought a book
    in a yard sale
    on summer
    some years ago.
    ‘The Elements of Style’
    of Strunk & White,
    the timeless book
    that teaches how
    to write with
    authority and style.
    The book is all
    about rules
    and yet
    she say that
    there is an underlying theme
    that eventually
    you must break the rules
    to write anything
    that sounds just good.

    I went to our
    governmental website
    and read some laws.
    Rule of law
    translates to
    the law of rules.
    But everybody knows
    the great underlying theme
    – in real life what
    it is
    often about –
    to do good –
    or just to survive? –
    breaking the rules.