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Tobogganing in August

Last time, we remembered John Kieran. One of John Kieran's contemporaries was Franklin P(Pierce) Adams -  Columnist, Satirist, and Poet -  who served along with Kieran on a popular radio quiz show called Information Please! I've never heard recordings of the show, but always assumed that Peter Sagal's NPR News show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me was at least partly modeled after it, with a combination of regulars and guest panelists, and sharply barbed humor.

Adams was a columnist for several New York newspapers, most notably the World and the Tribune. His column "The Conning Tower" ran for nearly 30 years. He was a member of the Algonquin Round Table - a circle of playwrights, actors, critics and humorists that met and traded quips over lunch daily for ten years at the Algonquin Hotel.

Today he is perhaps best remembered for two things - helping start the careers of Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (among others), and for a concise little poem about baseball, written after the NY Giants loss in the baseball World Series to the Chicago Cubs, titled Baseball's Sad Lexicon ("Tinker to Evers to Chance") about a double-play that ended the Giants hopes of winning.

Baseball's Sad Lexicon

THESE are the saddest of possible words:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of Bear-cubs, fleeter than birds,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double --
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

-- Franklin P. Adams

Poems and other satirical pieces from Adams' columns were put together and published in several collections. One of them, Something Else Again appears here in The Poets' Corner collection in its entirety, including several pseudo newspaper articles that are parodies of well-known poems.

Adams enjoyed writing everthing from parodies of Latin poets Horace and Catullus to poems about his barber, waiter, landlord and grocery delivery boy. He even wrote an ode to his thesaurus. In Tobogganing on Parnassus he included this poem - which just may have been inspired by his friend Kieran, the naturalist.

The Amateur Botanist

A primrose by a river's brim
Primula vulgaris was to him,
  And it was nothing more;
A pansy, delicately reared,
Viola tricolor appeared
  In true botanic lore.

That which a pink the layman deems
Dianthus caryophyllus seems
  To any flower-fan; or
A sunflower, in that talk of his,
Annuus helianthus is,
  And it is nothing more.

By the way, while it is meant metaphorically (Tobogganing on Parnassus = a rough treatment of Classical Literature) you actually can go skiing on Mout Parnassus, so I suppose you could toboggan. I have only been there once, to visit Delphi, during a very hot August. As you might guess, there was no snow in sight.

Christopher Morley also used Parnassus as a physical metaphor in his short novel, Parnassus on Wheels (the text is readily available on the Web now). More about Morley, adn his 'Domestic Poetry' at a later date.

--Steve


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