Thursday, March 27, 2008

Two, Four, Six, Eight . . .

Vaguely, I remember our high-school's cheerleaders leading a cheer that began as follows:

Two, four, six, eight.
Who do we appreciate?

Somehow, it made sense back then, partly, I suspect, because I was on the football field (or the sidelines thereof) or the basketball court (or the bench next to it), and I regarded all cheers as background noise, which makes "sense" because it just has to be noise.

Now, of course, I realize that the first line has nothing to do with the second line, that we're dealing with some inexpensive word-play, and that, because I'm an accursed lifelong student of English, I think the second line should be "Whom do we appreciate?" Accursed is just the term for this condition. Those former cheerleaders probably have their feet up and are appreciating a glass of wine, watching a movie, and not thinking or blogging about subjective v. objective forms of a word.

Nor can I remember whom, exactly, our cheerleaders did appreciate, although I certainly still appreciate the energy they threw into their organized optimism. (When I was a sophomore, I ended up one night, after an athletic contest, in a car full of senior [wow!] cheerleaders--a Ford Mustang, no less--and the young women had a bottle of blackberry wine with them. I appreciate my dim memories of that evening as well.)

In any event, I thought of the cheer when I thought of Adelaide Crapsey [no jokes, please] (1878-1914), inventor of America's very rough counterpart to the haiku, the cinquain, which is a five-line poem in which line one has two syllables, line two has four, line three has six, line four has eight, and line five has two. So the form is both incremental and circular, in my assessment. Subsequently, those attempting, unwisely (in my opinion), to improve upon Ms. Crapsey's invented form, have tried to dictate not just syllables but parts of speech, so that a noun should go here and a verb there, or whatever. Nonsense. The simple elegance of 2-4-6-8-2 endures.

My cinquain this evening concerns cities, which depend for their existence upon convincing large numbers of people that they should live in cities. If people who live in cities (large or small) woke up one day and truly realized that they live in a crowded, dirty, noisy, over-priced place, and if they decided t do something about it, they'd leave, go to the dwindling countryside, and--start another city. Oh, well.

I do find it amusing when people positively swoon at the mention of this or that city--NYC, London, Paris, Rio, L.A. An individual's sense of identity and importance gets entangled with the mythologizing of urbanity, of the central market-place, of the alleged hub of civilization. (If we ponder that metaphor just a bit, we might speculate that the more interesting part of the wheel--the outside, where the rubber meets the road--is analogous to villages and small towns, far from the hub.)

I am as guilty as the next person, whoever he or she is, of a robotic acceptance of the notion that city = good. I've convinced myself I'm fond of San Francisco and Stockholm, for example. I also find it amusing when one city's residents pretend to be better than another city's residents. Seattle v. Tacoma. S.F. v. Oakland. Philly v. Pittsburgh. Rome v. Naples. Whatever! It's all just streets and sidewalks, sewers and towers, cars and dog shit, "bistros" and homeless shelters, retail and wholesale, smog and bad water. The bigger the city, the smaller the living-space for twice (at minimum) the rent/lease/mortgage. ("But the restaurants! The nightlife! The museums!" Uh-huh.)

Cinquain: Urbanity

will always tell
you that it’s grand, sophis-
ticated, as you stand over

Two, four, six, eight. Whom do we appreciate? Adelaide Crapsey.
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