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Kitten-Cat: We Only Scratched the Surface

Another entry is heard from in the kitten-cat verse question. Who was first? Ogden Nash ( “The trouble with a kitten is THAT/Eventually it becomes a CAT” ) or Richard Armour ( “One dreadful truth I rather wish /I did not know is that/The woman who is kittenish/May one day be a cat” ).

Now Ruth Merriam Spaeth comes forward with one by Carl Van Doren, which she thinks antedates both:

Gather ye kittens while you may, For time brings only sorrow. And the kittens of today Will be old cats tomorrow. “Probably Van Doren was before your time (1885-1950)” she says. “Not mine. I’m 93 now.”

I suspect that the observation is as old as cats and man.

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By the way, Blanche Campbell says she always thought that Richard Armour’s verse “Going to Extremes” ( “Shake and shake/The catsup bottle/None will come/And then a lot’ll” ) actually read “none’ll come” instead of “none will.”

Armour tells me that “none will” is correct, explaining that “none’ll” would have weakened the surprise of “a lot’ll” in the last line.

The writing of light verse is a passing affliction. Few master it as Nash, Armour and Dorothy Parker did.

Merle Wollman offers her first effort in a poetry class:

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The sun goes down, The tide drifts in. Now I can start My glass of gin . Light verse is often employed in amorous pursuits. Screenwriter Melville Shavelson confesses that he courted his wife with this one:

Of course we should do what is proper to do/And act as we’re told we must; And the world will say we are wise, and true,/And the world will say we are just. But couldn’t we wait for another year To prove to the world our worth? Oh, think of the terrible taxes, dear, If we should inherit the Earth. Shavelson notes: “The lady continued to resist, but she did have a sense of humor. She married me.”

Shavelson also recalls a verse he wrote “in the Middle Ages” as a humor columnist for the Cornell Daily Sun:

Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses So Dorothy Parker has writ. But they pass at the lasses Who empty their glasses, Eh, Dorothy--isn’t that it? Joe Ansen contributes a verse he wrote for a dinner in honor of Leon Kaplan, Hollywood entertainment lawyer, last month:

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We are here to pay tribute to Lee, But my brief will be brief as can be, A Lawyer like Leon Comes one to an eon, He’s as rare as a reasonable fee . Dick Pettit of Laguna Beach, who says he has little time for correspondence because the 1989 bikini season is open, recalls a verse by another of my favorites, Samuel Hoffenstein:

You have a most attractive pan And I’m a very foolish man And in between the two I fell As deep as Dante into hell . My favorite Hoffenstein is this one:

The ocean spills upon the sands Water with a thousand hands And when the ocean all is spilled The sand is dry, the ocean filled . I discovered Hoffenstein in my teens and bought his book, “Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing.” Their nature can be guessed from some of his chapter titles: “Songs to Break the Tedium of Riding a Bicycle, Seeing One’s Friends, or Heartbreak”; “Poems of Passion Carefully Restrained So as to Offend Nobody”; “Poems Intended to Incite the Utmost Depression”; “Poems of Fairly Utter Despair.”

A few years ago I found a copy of the 1928 first edition (autographed to Mrs. Ann Baum) at Smith’s Acre of Books in Long Beach. It still had the jacket, in almost mint condition, with a blurb by Dorothy Parker: “Were I to be cast alone on a desert island (this) would be the book I should wish to have along with me!” H. L. Mencken said: “Incomparable.”

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What happened to light verse? Here’s a clue from Ogden Nash:

I’d rather flunk my Wasserman test Than read the poems of Edgar Guest .


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