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"Poetification, A New Style" from Atlantic Monthly

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Atlantic Monthly
Poetification, A New Style
by Ellis Parker Butler

I went out to see Minch Pith -- or, as he prefers to have it printed, minch pith -- the other day, and found Flushing's new poet of passion hard at work and using a typewriter. He greeted me enthusiastically.

"I am glad you have come to see me," he said, "because I have just improved my soulyearns, as I call my poems, in a way that will practically revolutionize poetry throughout the world, and I want to tell somebody about it. You notice I have bought a typewriter."

"Always up-to-date, Minch," I said, "us new poets of passion should be."

"Almost up-to-date," he answered. "I bought it on the installment plan and I am two installments in arrears. But I want to show you my newest poems. What do you think of this one?"

He handed me a sheet of paper on which he had typed the poem.


life is a contract thrust at us
and all of us must sign
and all of us inscribe our names
upon the ..............

life is a river we must cross
to reach eternal thrones
the minutes are the ripples there
the days are ...........

"Don't you like it?" he asked anxiously, as I frowned over the poem.

"I don't just, understand it, I'm afraid," I said. "I think I get the meaning of the dots following the first verse. They mean 'dotted line,' don't they?"

"Of course!" said the poet of passion. "And at the end of the second line they are 'stepping stones.' That"s my invention. That's the improved poetification. It," he said vaguely, "it helps you get your money's worth out of a typewriter you have bought on the installment plan.

"It helps use up the punctuation marks," he said. "I saw as soon as I had bought the typewriter that I ought to do something about the punctuation marks to get my money's worth out of them. I don't use many writing these new-style poems of passion, you know," he added sadly. "We moderns don't."

"You might use them for a border around your poems," I suggested.

"I think my way is best," Mr. Pith said a little haughtily. "I call it imagist verse, because it uses the punctuation marks as images. This one shows what I mean."

He gave me another poem:--


man seeks to reach the distant *****
or mount and ride the )
he ends by riding trolley cars
and eating with a spoon

man longs to be a washington
a ford or davy crockett
alas when all his flight is done
he is a bursted ?

"You knew that final image was a rocket, didn't you?" the poet asked me anxiously. "My mother thought it was a sprocket; she had never seen a sprocket, you see, and did not know what a sprocket looked like. That's one of the greatest things about this imagist poetry of mine -- only the true cognoscenti can understand it. Their souls reach out and grasp the true meaning. The souls of the cognoscenti are always reaching out and grasping, you know. They know there are many meanings in everything. The moon is not always the moon. I mean, the same image may mean many things. As in this poem":--

rosalie diffenheimer

my rosalie my rosalie
shes not one of the highbrows
she hasnt any brains at all
behind her coal black ))

but o her heart beats strong and true
and seldom ever rests
but ever warmly palpitates
behind her snow white ))

"Don't her eyebrows run rather up and down in the poem?" I asked as gently as I could.

"That's the only way they run on the typewriter," said Mr. Pith. "How do you like this one?"


i kist her at eve
ere the swallows had flitted
and X

I suppose I looked at this poem rather too long, for Mr. Pith seemed to become rather nervous as I studied it.

"Don't you understand that one?" he asked.

"It seems to end rather abruptly, doesn't it?" I asked. "I'm afraid I'm not a full-blown cognoscentum, only a half-baked one, as you might say. The X stands for 'ten,' doesn't it?"

"Dear me!" cried Mr. Pith. "I do hope everybody does not think that. It wouldn't make very good sense, would it? Not that sense is important in the new poetry. But it doesn't even sound like sense that way:--

"i kist her at eve
ere the swallows had flitted
and ten."

"Does the X stand for a kiss?" I asked. "I recall now that my children sometimes put a whole row, to mean many kisses, when they write me letters."

"I"m afraid that poem isn't a real success," Mr. Pith said. "Not if a newspaperman like you can only make that out of it. A newspaperman ought to understand it. Don't you know that X always 'marks the spot where the deed was committed'?"

"Why, of course!" I exclaimed. "I'm a stupid animal, ain't I?" and I read the poem as it should be read:--

"i kist her at eve
ere the swallows had flitted
and X marks the spot
where the deed was committed."

"That's it!" exclaimed Mr. Pith joyfully. "It's a double-meaning poem, you see -- a triple-meaning poem. X stands for a kiss, and X stands for the spot where the deed was committed, and it, stands for the crossroads, too. It's lovely when you understand it, isn't it?"

"Mr. Pith." I said, "I cannot, even begin to tell you what thoughts that poem causes to arise in me!"

"Do you like this one?" he asked with eagerness.


i had a little fido once
his hair was full of fleas
he would have been unhappier
had they been ####

"Ah -- or --" I said as I studied I the poem.

"Now, please!" the poet, said earnestly, and with a great pleading in his voice, "please don't say the words ending that one are 'railroad crossings.' That is what my mother called them. Railroad crossings! How could a doggie have railroad crossings in his hair?"

"He couldn't very well, could he?" I agreed. "Not four of them, anyway."

"But he could have bumblebees, couldn't he?" asked Mr. Pith, in a way that indicated he desired no answer. "And bumblebees would have made him unhappier than the fleas did, wouldn't they?"

"I don't know how unhappy the fleas made him," I said.

"Not very unhappy," said Mr. Pith. "He seemed more resentful than unhappy. But if the bumblebees stung him he would have been unhappy."

"Particularly," I agreed, "bees like these, with double stingers."

"And here is the second verse about Fido," he said, handing me another sheet.

he never ran with any speed
but at a gentle jog
for he was not a hasty hound
he was a /

I laughed heartily as I read this verse.

"Of course," I laughed. "I understand this. It is

"he, never ran with any speed
but at a gentle jog
for he was not a hasty hound
he was a lazy dog."

"How did you know it was that?" Minch Pith asked me.

"I remember the old riddle as well as you do, Minch," I said. "'Why is an inclined plane like a lazy dog?' Answer: 'An inclined plane is a slope up; a slow pup is a lazy dog.'"

"You're wonderful!" he said. "You should become an imagist poet yourself."

"I thought to once upon a time," I said, "but my wife refused to take in washings."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:12:57am USA Central
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