A Literary Tie to Rodney Dangerfield?

  1. The rodney-dangerfieldIt’s true, and you’ve probably seen it.  In the movie Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield’s character recites and is inspired by Dylan Thomas’s famous villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”  The poetic form known as the villanelle is a tough one to write, requiring two regularly repeating lines, or refrains.  The greatest challenge lies in creating refrains that are strong enough and flexible enough to be worked into the poem over and over without becoming tiresome, stodgy, or insensible.  Oh yeah, and they have to rhyme.


When I set out to write a villanelle, I took as subject matter the unadorned architecture of strip malls and used it to reflect on the general blandness of day-to-day suburban life.  So my poem is not as lofty as Thomas’s, but I believe I stayed true to the form.  Here is my attempt:





As featureless as dried mud, dull and beige,

and failing to attract my loyalty,

two strip malls squat, wherein bides this malaise


that has no cure.  It’s not an every-place

but a paean to mediocrity,

as featureless as dried mud.  Dull and beige


storefronts house businesses of middling taste.

We frequent only one of them, maybe

two.  Strip malls squat, wherein bides this malaise


that Walker Percy calls the modern state

of mind, its exterior equally

as featureless.  As dried mud, dull and beige,


absorbs despair in fissures, like numbed rage,

convenience dictates that we visit the

two strip malls.  Squat.  Wherein bides this malaise,


the sting of reality dissipates.

Markers of class are difficult to see.

As featureless as dried mud, dull and beige,

two strip malls squat, wherein bides this malaise.



*photo courtesy of www.ericgarland.co/2013/12/02/u-s-colleges-keep-football-team-ice-pick-english-department/


Yielding: A Sequence of Modern Sonnets

A sequence of modern sonnets.  They actually constitute what’s called a crown:  each poem begins with the final line of the previous one, and the final poem ends with the first line of the first poem.  Thus, the crown–a completed circle.  Read these aloud!




The kind of people who flock to this beach

Are those attracted to distractions, like

Infants, spellbound by color and bright lights.

Skeeball machines and go-kart tracks across

The street.  A few blocks down, a video

Arcade with its wraparound marquee

Covered in thermoformed plastic carnival

Signs.  “Life is Good,” a club’s billboard insists.

(Why the errant capitalization?)

Sunburned arms from playing miniature

Golf.  Oh yeah, did I mention that there’s

A beach?  //  Adolescence brings disdain, and

Like a sugar rush yielding to ennui,

The beach became lesser:  a sordid strip.






The beach became lesser—a sordid strip

Of sand set aside for intemperance

And little else.  A sense that, somehow,

The water had waxed inane.  Laughing gulls

Had yielded much, forfeiting feeding ground

To scavenging herring gulls who, in turn,

Forced them to beg for breadcrumbs:  the oppressed

Of the postcolonial bird world.  Lost

Innocence, dead like the shredded, viscid

Chunks of sea nettle and moon jellyfish

Punctuating the beach’s declination,

Rotting in thick and pungent coastal breezes.

By the time I returned, bearing sorrow’s weight,

The beach had become a locus of despair.






The beach had become a locus of despair

At its worst, and at its best, a kitschy

Relic of working-class ambition, like

Coney Island without the irony.

My parents leased a condominium

For one whole month but only stayed three weeks.

Why not, we thought, and drove I-65

South to finish what they’d started.  Bright

Yellow ginkgo leaves at the state line;

Rocket at the rest stop.  Oak and maple

Yielding to pines.  Gaudy clapboard oyster

Shacks shuttered for the annual desertion.

Sunset on an empty beach is just like

Standing alone at the edge of the world.






Standing alone at the edge of the world,

Watching waves, rolling mirrors of the deep,

Rich copper dusk—against a sliver of

Protean coastline, stubborn yet yielding

Incrementally.  Melancholia

Has its day.  Distant depths register in

The chest, like a savory homesickness.

Salty wind stirs longings—a mystery.

The restaurants have no wait.  Pesticides

Create dead zones; sea life at risk, reads

The article.  Tell that to the eagle ray,

Whose joyous leap eludes the fisherman.

I don’t feel like a redneck.  They say that’s

The kind of people who flock to this beach.