As some of you may already know, a massive project has been undertaken called The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. The goal is to create, accretively over time, the largest database of women poets in the world. We know it took thousands of workers almost 200 years to build the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The Mezzo Cammin timeline is the same idea. Think Sappho to Sapphire. It will be an intellectual edifice built by many hundreds of contributors.
A panel was convened again at the West Chester Poetry Conference this June to discuss the progress of the Mezzo Cammin timeline. The project was launched in March 2010 by the poet Kim Bridgford, who is also a professor and director of the West Chester conference. Here’s how it works. Each entry on the timeline includes a photo or drawing, a data sidebar and an essay written specifically for the project by accomplished women poets and scholars. Whenever available, poems or links to poems by the author are included. The timeline project was originally sponsored by Mezzo Cammin, the online journal of formalist poetry by women, also spearheaded by Kim Bridgford. Many essays have been generated for the timeline through seminars held from 2009 through 2013 at the West Chester conference. There are now 46 essays up on the site, with 26 more in the works. The database includes canonical poets such as Sylvia Plath but also lesser-known figures such as Enheduanna (arguably the first recorded poet in history) and Christine de Pizan. Many of the essays, especially those on non-English speaking poets of the past, require original research and translation. The importance of the Mezzo Cammin timeline was illustrated recently by a discussion on the poetry board Eratosphere, prompted by Wendy Sloan's essay on Gaspara Stampa.
Then there’s the poet George Green. At the West Chester Poetry Conference this June, George read from his new book, Lord Byron’s Foot. His collection aptly won the 2012 New CriterionPoetry Prize. George blends technical skill with pop-culture literacy, the vinegar of satire, literary literacy, the chipotle sauce of unblinkered wit, and sphincter-loosening humor. The poet and regular BAPster David Yezzi posted an entry here in May suggesting that George Green had composed, perhaps, the funniest poem ever written, “Bangladesh.” David’s post was called “The Greening of Bohemia.” I recommend it, and I agree with David to a point, but I would propose that “Bangladesh” is the second most comical poem ever written. The funniest poem ever written in the Age of Man is “Lord Byron’s Foot.”
When George read this poem to a packed house at West Chester, I saw respectable people and estimable poets bent over from wheezing, unable to sit up in their chairs, brought to the brink of tears. Some auditors—with cardiac conditions—looked to be at death’s door. The power of this poem is mighty. It’s about Lord Byron and his friggin’ foot. I can do no further justice to the poem than quote it in full, but this, I tell you, is nothing compared with hearing George Green read it live:
Lord Byron's Foot
That day you sailed across the Adriatic,
wearing your scarlet jacket trimmed in gold,
you stood there on the quarter deck, beglamored,
but we were all distracted by your foot.
Your foot, your foot, your lordship’s gimpy foot,
your twisted, clubbed and clomping foot, your foot.
Well, Caroline went half-mad for your love,
but did she ever try to make you dance?
No, never, never, never would that happen;
no, never with your limping Lordship’s foot—
your foot, your foot, your lame and limping foot,
your limp and lumbering, plump and plodding foot.
We see you posing with your catamite,
a GQ fashion-spread from 1812,
but one shoe seems to differ from the other.
Is that the shoe that hides your hobbled foot?
Your foot, your foot, your game and gimping foot,
your halt and hobbled, clumped and clopping foot.
And why did Milbanke sue you for divorce?
T’was buggery? I really do doubt that.
It was your foot, and everybody knows it.
It’s all we think about—your stupid foot.
Your foot, your foot, your clumsy, clumping foot,
your limp and gimping, stupid, stubby foot.
And after you had swum the Hellesponte,
“A fin is better than a foot,” they’d say.
Behind your back they’d say, “a fin is better,”
meaning your Lordship’s foot was just a fin.
A fin, a fin, your foot was just a fin;
your flubbed and flumping foot was just a fin.
And when you went to Cavalchina, masked,
with Leporello’s list (only half male),
what were your friends all whispering about?
What had they been remembering—your foot?
Your foot, your foot, your halt and hampered foot.
Your hobbled, clubbed and clopping foot, your foot.
When Odevaere drew you on your deathbed,
with laurel on your alabaster brow,
he threw a blanket on your legs—but why?
Could it have been to cover up your foot?
Your foot, your foot, your pinched and palsied foot,
your crimped and clumping, gimped, galumphing foot.
It’s best if we just contemplate your bust,
a bust by Thorvaldson or Bartolini,
and why is that you ask, and why is that?
So no one has to see your friggin’ foot,
your foot, your foot, your clomping monster foot,
your foot, your foot, your foot, your foot, your foot!
Great work, George.
Many, many thanks to Stacey Harwood and David Lehman for inviting me to blog here this week!
I hope readers will visit my new website: www.johnffoy.net.