Thursday, December 25, 2008

Touched by an Angell

[Creativity] Yay! Roger Angell has penned yet another of his celebrity-name-based, poetic, Christmas tributes in sparkling trochaic tetrameter. (That is to say, Angell's "Greetings, Friends" for 2008 is now available online.)

Angell--at the age of 88--wrote this annual New Yorker feature every year since he took it over from Frank Sullivan in 1974 until he gave it up in 1998. I'm happy to see its return. Angell has a unique gift for composing humorous, benevolent rhyming lists from the names that saturate American media--rendering harmless, through light verse, the menaces of the past year. Here's an excerpt:
We’ve mistletoe, in hope it helps
To waft good will to Michael Phelps,
And myrrh (spell-checked) to make the Day
For Charlie Crist and Tina Fey.
Come Christmas, gang, we’ll ask St. Nick
To not forget Nathaniel Fick;
Then drop requested toys and games
On Lolo Jones and LeBron James,
Plus lumps of coal from deepest pack
For Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac [...]
I vividly remember that the first of Angell's "Greetings" poems I ever read--sometime during the 1980s, I think--contained the line "Pickins? Samuel? (Slim to Nunn)." I wracked my brain all last night trying to figure out what was the previous line with its rhyme for "Nunn." (It made a brilliant couplet, I recall.)

I've often wondered exactly how he accomplishes this--say, by sitting down the day after Thanksgiving to start compiling a list of names from Google News? Nah, it's just too big of a project. I theorized he must periodically jot down ideas for his file throughout the entire year--and, according to a piece in The New York Times, that seems about right--he says he started jotting down lines way back in the summer while on vacation in Maine.

Now my New Year's resolution is to develop that kind of creative discipline and foresight.

(Brandon Burt)

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