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August 26, 2008

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You can also sing "John McCain" perfectly to "Over There." (Hey - you started it.)

You can also sing "John McCain" perfectly to "Over There." (Hey - you started it.)

Mostly, though, I'm intrigued by paragraphs that begin with "Just got off the phone with John Hollander..."

With all due respect, when I read the poetic line "Barack Obama," I hear iamb-amphibrach. Perhaps this is an acculturation thing: I am writing from a land of amphibrach (Italia) and I spend many of my hours with someone whose name is a double amphibrach (Damiano Abeni). Now, it's true enough that double trochees can be sung to many melodies, but it's also true that many many names to which we have grown accustomed in the U.S. are double trochees: Herbert Hoover. Harry Truman. Jenny Factor. David Lehman. Harry Connick. Stacey Harwood. Richard Wilbur. When I teach scansion, the first thing I have my students do is scan their names. Let's say the student's name is Mary. In English pronunciation, she's a trochee, no question. If her family had given a French spin to her name, and she were Marie, she'd be iambic. If this Mary girl were Italian, she would be an amphibrach: Maria. The big question weighing on my mind is whether America is ready to embrace the amphibrach.

Here's to the underrated amphibrach, with thanks, Moira, for your elegant Mary-Marie-Maria illustration. And yes, John McCain does march to the beat of that old George M. Cohan battle cry, Laura. I think it would be fun (as Charles Foster Kane liked to say) to write a book of poems in which each poem begins "Just got off the phone with. . ." I guess I'm an old-time land-liner who still gets energized through telephonic means.
BTW those double-trochees (Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, et al) seem, to my ears, singable to the most famous song in "Show Boat." But then "Old Man River" makes anything sound splendid.

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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
                   

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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