Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my guest, JonArno Lawson. Yesterday I posted our Q/A bio of JonArno but here’s another site where you can see some of his selected work. Thanks again to our friend Tricia Stohr-Hunt for making me aware of JonArno and his work. http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2010/04/poetry-makers-jonarno-lawson.html
By JonArno Lawson
Lately, under the influence of Michael Heyman’s brilliant introduction to his collection of Indian nonsense THE TENTH RASA, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of nonsense in life and literature.Tom Bombadil, in Tolkien’s THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, is a nonsense poet. He’s much else besides of course, but clearly he loves singing and making up silly verses. For instance – “Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!/ Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow! /Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!” I think it’s noteworthy that he’s also the only character in THE LORD OF THE RING over whom the Ring of Power has no power.
In Beatrix Potter’s GINGER AND PICKLES, the Dormouse family sells bad candles to customers who become very disgruntled. How does Mr. Dormouse deal with his customers?:
”. . . when Mr. John Dormouse was complained to, he stayed in bed, and would say nothing but “very snug;” which is not the way to carry on a retail business.”
See also Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s WIND IN THE WILLOWS:
“Hold up!’ said an elderly rabbit at the gap. `Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!’ He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. “Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!” he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. “How stupid you are! Why didn’t you tell him — — “ “Well, why didn’t you say — — “ “You might have reminded him — — “ and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.
“Very Snug” and “Onion Sauce” in the face of reprimand and confrontation seem like very clever ways of muddling the issue in what might otherwise have become more difficult (even dangerous) situations. . .is it also a way of putting things back in their proper perspective?
Nonsense for the purpose of creating confusion (for socially beneficial reasons, or simply out of wiliness) seems like a very English strategy, but I’m wondering if these kinds of scenes appear in children’s books in other traditions?
In Robert Chenciner’s book DAGHESTAN: TRADITION AND SURVIVAL, he writes about what almost became a violent confrontation between groups of Kumyks and Laks back in the 1990s. A policemen, who was trying to keep the groups apart, finally said “If you’re going to beat somebody, why don’t you beat me?”.
This is nonsensical, of course, and it put an instant end to the tension – the two sides stopped, thought again, and finally decided to resolve things by negotiating.
This reminds me too of a psychologist my mother told me about, who advised parents with children who wouldn’t listen to them to behave in a bizarre manner – for instance, let’s say Michael’s Mom has come to pick him up and says over and over “Come on Michael, we have to go” but Michael never listens. Michael’s mother, instead of shouting, should start to tap-dance and sing loudly. Michael, baffled, and possibly embarrassed, now wants to leave as quickly as he can.
To me, writing nonsense poetry has always been very much about playing with (or being played with by) words. For instance, two sets of words with a similar sound start to repeat over and over in my mind, like “bare knuckles” and “barnacles”. Any sensible person might notice this for a moment, and then forget all about it. But my mind, for whatever reason, refuses to let it go. It has to be more than just a coincidence! Why are they suggesting themselves to me, over and over again? There must be a reason. They refuse to see it as a chance meeting, and my task is to find out what their relationship is – what do they mean to each other? A character emerges, a woman who swims to the bottom of the sea in search of treasure, who “barks her bare knuckles on bevies of barnacles” – now they’re satisfied, and I can forget about them. They end up in a book (which could also be seen as a set of formulas to neutralize my word obsessions), and now my mind can move on to other things.
This kind of work renders me harmless, in general, and I suppose that’s one of the valuable aspects of it. While I might be doing some sort of large scale world-damaging work, instead I’m playing about with (or being played about with by) words.My thanks to JonArno for today’s guest appearance. Please post your comments below. Everyone appreciates a little feedback.