A Maltreater of Meter

The newly-discovered Dr. Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?, was published on July 28 of this year.

On July 20, Michiko Kakutani's advance review appeared in the New York Times. Written in rhyme, it aimed for homage and missed. Here was one of the most prominent literary critics in the world, flaunting her ignorance of English prosody in print. Again. (Her attempt to lampoon Calvin Trillin in 2012 was even worse.)

The morning of July 21, I sat down with a cup of coffee and rapidly drafted a reply to Kakutani's review, in rigorous amphibrachic pentameter.* Friends urged me to send it to the Times as a letter to the editor, which I promptly did. I received no reply, and the Times did not publish it.

The subject is a few weeks out of date, but my little poem may still be of interest to students of literary nose-thumbing:

When Ms. Kakutani sat down to compose her review,

I'm sure that she didn't take long to decide what to do.

Like one who, reviewing a Rose, strives to be Rosicrucian,

She thought: to review Dr. Seuss, well, the tone should be Seussian.

So Ms. Kakutani set out to display her own prowess,

In quatrains that maybe (she hoped) soon would bring down the howess.

It grieves me that I must point out to the great Kakutani

Her doggerel seems to be missing some hey-nonny-nonny.

It's literate, yes, and I'm pleased that the rhymes are all pure,

But what could the meter be? Dang it, I'm still not quite sure.

The stylish review that I'm sure she took pains to compose

Still fails. What she meant to be poetry came out as prose.

In order that future reviews suffer not from this lack,

I'd like her to meet my old friend, the esteemed Amphibrach.

Together with Anapest (though some may think them abstruse)

He made life a little bit easier for Dr. Seuss;

Because, if you write all your lines with a rigorous rhythm

And rhyme, they will carry a certain profundity with 'em,

Imbuing your comments, whatever the theme you're pursuing,

With some kind of sense that you know what the hell you are doing.

(If all else should fail, they hide nonsense beneath a wide cloak,

As happened above with my bad "Rosicrucian" joke.)**

So, though she should never diminish her vaunted verbosity,

Ms. K. would be wise to develop a knowledge of prosody.

Please chalk my intemperance up to the force of my pass-i-on.

(And note that my tone has not been that of Seuss. It is Nashian.)***

* There are occasional syncopations (Nabokovian "tilts") for emphasis. The choice of pentameter rather than echt-Seuss tetrameter was deliberate. (For non-prosody nerds: amphibrach = "ba-DA-dum"; anapest = "ba-da-DUM.")

** The next day I realized that I could have referred to The Comedy of Errors, and rhymed "Seussian" with "Syracusean." Oh, well.

*** The mood is Nashian; the meter is not. Nash's metric verse is mostly iambic.


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