August 11, 2009

Department of Hobos - Department of Bridges - Department of Hart Cranes

It would be an exaggeration to say we're working hard on the extensive endnotes for our illuminated poetry book Prophecy & Doggerel. But I got several e-mails wondering about the reference to "Hart Crane the Hobo" in the recent nonsense poem Evacuate the Species Prayer. The full line - "Flying over Brooklyn like Whitman or Hart Crane the Hobo" - is a reference to how both American poets wrote about crossing into Brooklyn, Whitman by ferry, Hart Crane by Brooklyn Bridge.

We had looked up Brooklyn Bridge poetry because for our William McGonagall projects. He famously disses the Brooklyn Bridge in his poem "An Address to the New Tay Bridge", which inspired us to set it to hot hip-hop beats & ignite a rap battle between Dundee's Tay Bridge (once the longest in the world) & the mighty Brooklyn Bridge. Turns out there's plenty of poetry about the latter, but none quite as doggerelesque as McGonagalls, & certainly none that call out challenges to lesser bridges. Gold Diamonds rapped a lyric by D. B. Steinem, Brooklyn Bridge at Nightfall. But Hart Crane's poem we deemed too good. The whole battle is at our Department of Bridges.

Hart Crane published The Bridge in 1930, two years before he jumped off an ocean liner at age 33. I was trying to echo
The Bridge's westward train trip in "Evacuate the Species Prayer", & I couldn't resist the hobo passage in "The River":

My father’s cannery works I used to see
Rail-squatters ranged in nomad raillery,
The ancient men—wifeless or runaway
Hobo-trekkers that forever search
An empire wilderness of freight and rails.
Each seemed a child, like me, on a loose perch,
Holding to childhood like some termless play.
John, Jake or Charley, hopping the slow freight

—Memphis to Tallahassee—riding the rods,
Blind fists of nothing, humpty-dumpty clods.

Yet they touch something like a key perhaps.
From pole to pole across the hills, the states
—They know a body under the wide rain;
Youngsters with eyes like fjords, old reprobates
With racetrack jargon,—dotting immensity
They lurk across her, knowing her yonder breast
Snow-silvered sumac-stained or smoky blue—
Is past the valley-sleepers, south or west.
—As I have trod the rumorous midnights, too...
I'm not sure is the breast is twelve-year-old Pocahontas's (as the symbol of Natural America), or some sort of Grand Teton. I wondered, considering the hobo connection, if John Hodgman had jumped on any reference in his "Here are the 700 Hobo Names You Have Requested". I don't see any Harts or Cranes, but there's plenty of Johns, Jakes, & Charleys. "Humpty-Dumpty Clods", from the poem, would be a good hobo name. You know there's a website called where people have been posting their illustrations of the 700 hobos. Here's #112 Lois "Charles" Ladyfingers:

Also, I just put up a another excerpt mini-book from Prophecy & Doggerel on Scribd, the poem Remember Artie Wongay, with illustrations by Grainne Proinseas (taken from her Beautiful to Forget travelogues) & Olaf Mary Mohammad:

No comments: