AG: Well, (John) Skelton is really interesting. (W.H.) Auden got on to Skelton also. I n much of Auden’s writing, there’s a little Skeltonics. I’ve been using Skeltonics for rhymed poems that I write fast on the instant, usually a series of the same rhymes or rhymes repeated, for a series of love poems that I’ve been working on over the last couple of years and two samples are at the end of a book called Mind Breaths, the last book I wrote. There are two love poems which are quasi-Skeltonics, that is done fast, on the spot, more or less untouched, the whole point getting the idea across with fast rhyme rapping. Generally, two accents to the line, and the real interesting thing about Skeltonics is that the… you shift your accents around real funny so that you can stumble around trying to read it but when you do read it the right way it sounds just right – like “Mistress (Margaret)“, like this. You know, it’s a little awkward to get “With solace and gladness/Much mirth and no madness”, but actually ” With solace and gladness/Much mirth and no madness” (you say “much mirth” – that’s what you say – “much mirth” – No-one would ever say “much mirth” (“You’ve got much mirth”), you’d say, “She’s got much mirth”.
So, ” With solace and gladness/Much mirth and no madness” (“no” would also be accented slightly) but still “solace and gladness” and “mirth and madness”. So the heavy accent in that line is basically a two accent line. That clear? or is all this confusing? Is anybody being confused by discussing these accents in detail? – or feel that it’s out of.. out of.. off the wall to think about it? The reason it’s not off the wall to think about it is..it’s actually pretty simple. What’s not simple or what’s interesting or funny is that you see in these great classic poems how the basic rule is constantly broken in funny ways, and how funny these guys are in breaking the rule, because their ears are so human – ” Much mirth and no madness” – “.. solace and gladness/Much mirth and no madness” – so that it doesn’t get too metronomic, so that it doesn’t get too dumbly repetitive, but, instead you’ve got all the prettiness of , like, a good jazz musician making.. making little variations every time he has a mind for it.
The variations forced on you by the fact that you’ve got something to say like “Much mirth..” “mirth and no madness” . It would be boring if it said – “Much mirth..” ” ” With solace and gladness/Much mirth and madness”, or something, ” With solace and gladness/ With mirth and madness”? – “With solace and gladness/And mirth and no madness”? – It still wouldn’t be any good – “With solace and gladness/And mirth and no madness” (that’d be interesting,, you see, doubling up on ” And mirth and no madness”, that little kink would be funny, but, when you get ” With solace and gladness/Much mirth and no madness” – da da-da da da-da, dat-da-da de-da-da – then it gets to a funny little gallop, horse gallop, much more da da-da, da da-da. Da da-da Da da-da, Da da-da-da, Da-da. Instead of the da-da-da-da-da da da-da-da-da-da, Da-da da da-da, da da-da, da da-da.
Are you following that? So anybody with any kind of heart-beat.. heart-ear, heart-ear rhythm get that funny skipping in his… just as a matter of humor, in talk, just to keep it going, just to keep it alive. Also because the mind keeps intruding funny extra ideas that you’ve got to squeeze them in somehow. That’s the real reason that.. Other ideas come up that have got to be squeezed in fast without breaking the gallop, without breaking the march ahead of the rhythm. So, instead of eliminating your thoughts as they rise when you’re writing in rhyme, you include them in such a funny way that they can be..included (so that they can be included in this funny way that will syncopate the line). My own theory is that variation and syncopation in lines comes from having a rich brain, where lots of thoughts rise, and have to be squozen into the line
AG: Squozen. Squozen. Sure. Because you got to do it fast, that’s why they’re “squozen”! It’s why they’re not squeezed properly, they’re never squeezed properly just squozen in! – Yeah?
Student: When you first started (working with short lines and then started rhyming, did you know then that you were working in Skeltonics – or did you find out that that was called that later?
AG: No. I’d known Skelton’s poetry for a long time and I’d read enough of it to get it in my bloodstream, bones, or something, into my nervous system. In.. I think I thought of it while I was writing. But the rhythm itself is more basic than the name of the rhythm. So you hear a run-along on the rhythm and you say, “oh yeah, that’s the Skelton, good ol’ Skelton, he’s back”, or, “he did it” – or, you know, while writing, you remember it, you remember the name, while writing. I mean, you might be running and remember, “Oh, I’m running”. You might be walking along the road fast and start going after the bus a little faster but not quite running. And as you’re running, you may remember, “Oh this is called a trot, I’m trotting”. In other words, you don’t think of Skelton, think of the name and then apply it. You think of the rhythm and then you remember that’s what it is. In other words, if you read this enough, aloud, say four or five times, you’ve got the rhythm. It’s like a pill you take, again, that permanently leaves an impression on the nervous system and that rises up again, so you hear it. I mean, just like any number of times in your life “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells”, some rhythm relating to “Jingle Bells” will arise or “Jack and Jill went up the…” – da da da-da, da da da-da, da-da da-da da-da – “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water” – that just comes. You might not even remember it was “Jack and Jill..” but you get that rhythm. So the Skeltonic rhythm is really useful if you want to do fast modern rapping writing .
Now for that kind of thing, for fast modern rhyming rapping Skeltonics, the temptation would be to do this funny, childish, television-commercial, ironic, whatever, dopey, stuff. The interesting thing is to take a serious subject and do it that way . That, in a way, was.. some of the poems in the imitations of “I Syng of A Mayden” that I got were tainted a little bit with that kind of a humor (which is basically sort of sophomoric) . I mean, in other words, the rhyme gives rise to satire and humor and goofiness, however, to have to keep a straight mind and use that mind to say something serious, is really interesting (because then it goes right through the heart). But if you’re trying to say something really serious with that kind of doggerel bad rhymes.. So if you’re doing these exercises, try not to make them funny. I mean, that’s easy. You know, in other words, you can make it funny by burlesquing the idea of rhyming and then just rhyme things silly anyway, but that.. sort of..the idea is…And also, try not to make them in archaic “wher e’re’s” and ors, and inversions, using archaic inversions. The thing to do is modern American serious vernacular speech fitted to these rhymes, or hearing the rhythms of vernacular speech that fit these rhymes (because some of these poems I got were making fun of writing the poem, rather than, you know, forgetting about you writing a poem but, you know, just actually write about something real and use that form. That’s one where it gets.. That’s where you can go into the anthologies and look at… (you can be immortal if you do that!) – get serious – to get serious, you could be immortal! – you could do (be in) the Norton Anthology! )
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-eight minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-seven minutes in ]