On Reading John Hollander’s Poem “Breadth. Circle. Desert. Monarch. Month. Wisdom. (for which there are no rhymes)“

By George Starbuck 1931–1996 George Starbuck
“Breadth. Circle. Desert. Monarch. Month. Wisdom. (for which there are
No rhymes)” was just the title, and I only read that far.

That was because I felt like some old agent-of-the-Czar   
When a new plotter swims within the scope of his exertions,   
And I was scared this hothead would start hedging his assertions
Before I had him dead-to-rights. (A Chekan’s or a SMERSHian’s   
Lot, you know, is not an happy one.) He might retract.

A liar is a liar is a liar. That’s his act.
But six distinct demonstrable defiances-of-fact
Before he hits line one? That’s taking aim at the World’s Record.
I wanted this quark-colored tangerine-flake double-deckered   
Omnibus of absurdities to make it to the checkered
Flag. He had started fast, but could he forge on? Was he serious?

He had the Grand Prix style all right. Intense. Composed. Imperious.
And lies to burn. Poor lies, in no wise deep or deleterious.
He drove them home like thumb (or rather tooth nail fist and chin) tacks.
He planted Cosmic Glints to make you whimper for a glint-axe.   
“Unconstellated words rain down ... inexorable syntax”   
Etcetera etcetera.

                           It’s not that I’d set up,
Like Carrie Nation beating back the drunkard from his cup,   
To scourge the world of liars. I’d as soon be Offissa Pup.
I’d sooner hassle fetishists and call myself a bra-narc.

If I were Lord of All (or even constitutional monarch)
I’d send a Deluge down, with one-way tickets on the Non-ark   
For lying priests and pedagogues. They make a feller’s fez hurt.   
But whom does Keats’s whopper about corpulent Cortez hurt?   
Or any poet’s whopper? If he wants to say the Desert
Is made of pea-green Camembert, hell, welcome to the circle.

We listen to a Bard the way a certain kind of jerk’ll   
Listen to leaves or listen to a percolator perkle.
As long as he can grind em out, a dozen-or-so a month,   
We’ll praise him to the nth degree, and to the n-plus-1th
He could have called the thing “Fifth. Sixth. Eighth. Ninth. Twelfth. Baker’s dozenth”
For all we care. We’ll cheer him to the w-x-y-zedth
As long as his flimflammeries have brio and have breadth   
And don’t come on like nursery-nannies pushing early-to-bedth
To three-year-olds with jingles about Health and Wealth and Wisdom.

He should look out, though. He might take himself in, and that is dumb.

Do that, and sure as malheur is the better part of Msdom,   
Sententiousness will sidle in with snapshots in his wallet   
To lay a little something on us camels: some small strawlet   
Of Wisdom, say, or Beauty. Take this poem now. I call it   
“Width. Rhombus. (see Lozenge.) Glacier. Despot. Fortnight. Bilge.”
I told myself: “No overkill. Go easy on the bilge.”
But then. Tueur is human. And what rhymes with bilge is bilge.

George Starbuck, “On Reading John Hollander's Poem ‘Breadth. Circle. Desert. Monarch. Month. Wisdom (for which there are no rhymes)’ ” from The Works: Poems Selected from Five Decades. Copyright © 2003 by University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa). Reprinted with the permission of The University of Alabama Press.

Source: The Works: Poems Selected from Five Decades (2003)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet George Starbuck 1931–1996

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 George  Starbuck


George Starbuck's songs of protest are usually concerned with love, war, and the spiritual temper of the times. John Holmes believes that "there hasn't been as much word excitement . . . for years," as one finds in Bone Thoughts. Harvey Shapiro points out that Starbuck's work is attractive because of its "witty, improvisational surface, slangy and familiar address, brilliant aural quality . . .," and adds that Starbuck may . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.