Saturday, October 26, 2013

ModPo 2013 #46 Forgive My Chopped Plums: On Koch's "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams"

Image of chopped plums from
Kenneth Koch, "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams"

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!


This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

"The Rape of Williams" was mentioned in the video discussion. And of course, that was all in jest, just like Kenneth Koch's poem which looks lightheartedly at the refrigerator note poem of Williams which takes itself too seriously.

As mentioned in the discussion on Williams' poem, there is a faux apology in "This Is Just To Say." Now, what would happen if we take that faux apology to extremes? The result would be the ridiculously funny poem by Koch.

He takes the Williams formula of:

  1. I did something dastardly 
  2. I did it knowing that it meant something to you
  3. Forgive me/ I'm sorry (but not really)
  4. The dastardly thing I did was so tempting to do

And he makes four variations of it, each one just as or more ridiculous than the previous one, emphasizing the unapologetic tone of the apology note. Stanza 1 goes through the entire formula. Stanza 2 inverts #2 and #1, goes through #3 and does not justify his act, skipping #4, and simply saying he didn't know what he was doing. Stanza 3 goes through #1, #2 and totally skips #3. He goes into #4 but in such a way that you can't even connect it anymore to #1, the dastardly act, since it's the March wind that's so firm, juicy and cold and not the act of giving away the money. Stanza 4 goes through #1, totally skips #2, goes through #3 and #4 (emphasis on #4 with the "you" as the temptation itself).

It was fun to go over the four stanzas and to recognize Koch's cheek in comparing himself with a legendary poet.

Forgive My Chopped Plums

I chopped down your plum, the one you congratulated yourself on.
Forgive me. It's almost ten o'clock.
And your lines look so inviting.

We laughed at Williams together.
And then I wrote this mocking plum.
Forgive me. I dreamt I knew what I was doing.

I gave away your plums for free, the ones that are under your copyright
for fifty years after your death. The Internet is just so delicious
and sweet and cold.

Last evening I danced to your lyrics and broke down
your plums. I was clumsy and I wanted you here
in my blog where I am the writer!

There...just joining the fray....since nothing is sacred anyway.

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