The Ditty

bird on head

by Kirby Congdon…….

Those of us who like to write poetry are almost always daunted by its history and its depth. A less intimidating kind of poetry is the ditty which lets us play with words in a casual way without abandoning standards. Light-hearted verse lets us forget that underlying obligation to produce something worth reading. The writing of it is not any easier but, like a crossword puzzle, doing it is its own reward.

As the following ditty illustrates, the rhyme can take over reason. On reading it a friend suggested that the conclusion of the last two lines out-weighed the rest of the piece. As in more serious poetry casual verse can turn up unexpected surprises. We can appreciate Dorothy Parker’s verse when it comes off as neat and finished. The ditty may even survive as part of our verbal lore.

My own introduction to poetry as a child was in hearing the light verse of the three journalists, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash and Don Marquis. They provided a relief in the difficult time of the Depression between World War I and II.

Small as a wren

but heavy as lead

inside my head

I’m brain-dead again.

How I yearn

to count to ten

Some day I’ll learn

but who knows when?

But wouldn’t you know it,

I’m only a poet.

A weak spot here is the slightly desperate reference to a wren as a measurement of size while lead is an over-used measurement of weight. Nor are the rhymes all that inspired. All of this relies on a very casual ending that is not all that clever and the humor is the only thing that saves the last lines as a conclusion. The three journalists mentioned earlier would have done a better job with the vocabulary and would have taken on a subject more interesting than themselves. The important thing however is that a ditty does not aspire to be a literary monument; its purpose is just to be amused without trying to achieve anything more than that. People have indeed achieved more than that but who wants to be a party-pooper?

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Kirby Congdon
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.

Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.

One thought on “The Ditty

  1. Kirby, I suppose the proof of what you are saying here is the fact that I liked the poem. Being a layman with regard to poetry, only something on this level could appeal to me. So yeah, when someone like you, who is not a layman, points certain things out, it makes sense to me. Whether this can make me any more literate with regard to poetry is still in doubt. Thanks, good stuff, Jerome

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