Sunday, December 17, 2006

Conor O'Callaghan, from "'Hello'"

1 Antediluvian

Those where the days
when Gladstone and Disraeli
were locked on the hustings,
and the Pianola
was all the rage,
and Wild Bill Hickock
was outdrawing the gallows,
and impressions of Mr Longfellow's
The Song of Hiawatha
were selling like hot cakes,
and a fellow's cell number
was a different affair.

Up until that point
our shipshape antecedents
graded the mornings,
the evenings, the afternoons,
'good' heedless of the day
in question, the season,
and were kind enough
to say so, hail or snow,
if only in herringbone tweeds,
in furs, as a matter
of courtesy or course,
if only in passing.

2 It's for You

Blame the blower,
since some kind of formula
for an opening exchange
had to be agreed upon
to get the ball rolling.
And not only for the ears
of polite society,
its upper echelons,
but to trip as readily
from the lips of gigolos
and babes and heathens
and saints and regular Joes.
So, think of the host
of suggested possibilities
grown yellow around the gills
that were dusted down
and duly given the elbow,
that might just as well
have been Hebrew
to the likes of you and me.
Then, think of the 'hillo'
Hamlet shares
with Horatio,
and you're in the general area.
Think of the huntsmaster,
think of the hounds
and a hare's breath,
and you're there or thereabouts.
Think of the troubadour 'hola',
the Huguenot 'salut',
and you're in the same ballpark.
Think of yola as if barked
by the hoodlums of Hanley,
the zealots of Sacramento,
and you're on the right track.
And think also
of Tristram Shandy's "Hollo! Ho!—
the whole world's asleep!—
bring out the horses—',
and you're getting warmer.

4 And the Winner Is...

The finale
failed to draw
enough hoopla
or more-than-usual hullabaloo
to overshadow,
say, the annual grudge match
of Eton and Harrow.
What would follow
the trawl high and low
as good as amounted
to a classless straw poll
whereby it feel to,
laughably, the hillfolk,
the phoneless hoi polloi,
to swallow a winner.
And the word? Oh, you know...
A brace of syllables,
phatic and simple,
like the mating call
of your average hoopoe,
although originally
aspirated as if with an ah
that wasn't just plummy
but ever so.
Imagine inasmuch
as imagination will allow
something as holy
and wholly empty
as any halo,
a halfway house between
a hiccup and a holler,
an alloy
of the heavy-hearted
'halloo, halloo'
Poor Tom howls at the Fool
and an old-fashioned
Honolulu aloha,
a domesticated version
of the hallowed Hallelujah,
only secular and ringing hollow.


From Fiction (2005)

This week's theme: Leftovers Round-up, or, Titles the Second. I'm traveling a bit, and won't have access to even the decimated current version of my library, so rather than pick a theme that would require such resources, I thought I'd start a precedent of ending this month at TPQ with a hodge-podge week of poems considered for previous weeks but which, for whatever reason, didn't make the cut. This time, they mostly come from last week's title theme - for the other weeks I had alternative poems by the same poets which I had considered using, but I've decided that I won't repeat a poet within four weeks, so that excluded those.
A couple months ago I went to a reading at NYU by Conor O'Callaghan and his wife Vona Groarke, and it was today's poem that won me over. I love the acrobatic rhyming circling around the titular 'hello' - O'Callaghan said that the H section of his dictionary was well-thumbed by the end of working on it. It could also fit in the first week's category, being a study on one of our most daily words, re-enchanting it through imaginative attention to its anthropological backstory, and by being clever good fun. If you have access to a library or bookstore that would stock such things (unlikely, unfortunately) I highly recommend checking out the rest of the eight sections.

(More on Conor O'Callaghan:§ion=1
three poems:

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