Saturday, July 25, 2009

"There's a Hole in the Bucket"

The other night, I began singing to Adam, “There’s a hole in the bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza...." (Full-force twang on bucket, of course.) We started scrambling to remember how the song went and eventually pieced it together. You need straw to plug the hole, an axe to cut the straw, a stone to sharpen the axe, water to wet the stone—and alas—a bucket to carry the water for the stone. In the end, Liza and Henry are the model of the dysfunctional couple and accomplish zilch-o. These types of songs, infinite-loop motifs, are fun, but there’s something beyond silliness to this song. Adam said what he loved about the song is how you know that Liza and Henry waste their days in this type of talk, that this infinite-loop is who they are. Adam being a fiction writer, it’s no surprise he would say that character development is what differs this song from such grand works of art as let’s say “99 Bottles of Beer.” But I think he’s right. The song is a great example of when “form follows content.” Liza and Henry are themselves loops that never go anywhere. Now, here’s what I was wondering. As I was poking around about this form, I found that songs, stories, and art all use it. (For art, it’s M.C Escher; for stories, it’s “It was a Dark and Stormy Night.) I can’t think of this form being used in a poem although I’m sure someone out there will offer up some example. Still, the point is that the infinite-loop form is not used in poetry as often as it is in other genres, and that makes me ask: why not? Is it contemporary poetry’s aversion to predictability? To fun? Its preference for private versus collective voice? Open form over received form? Whatever the reason, dear Liza and Henry are still water-less and work-less.

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