Recently I’ve taken to carrying a notebook while on my morning “run” around the reservoir. The quotes around the word reflect the fact that (a) my knees can’t take the pounding they did when I ran cross country in high school, (b) that I tend to do interval running for the cardio and, (c) I’m just an out of shape old man. After a bit my brain sort of shuts down the hardcore thinking and I start to get ideas. That’s what the notebook is for.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how much fun it was to Tweet poems during National Poetry Month but how it seems like everyone and their pet parakeet is doing haiku. Certainly there has to be another format that fits the Twitter limitations that could be fun. I initially thought of the Limick but those aren’t as easy to do on the fly (or on the run, as it were) and then I found myself sort of grunting out the rhythm of the old Burma Shave roadside poems. You know, stuff like:
the grass has riz
where last year’s
careless driver is
raced 80 per
they hauled away
For 36 years, between 1927 and 1963, Burma Shave advertised its “brushless” shaving cream on a series of roadside rhymes along American highways. Divided over six planks on posts spaced out along the road, they served not only as an advertisement but as a roadside attraction that banked on poetry and humor to give motorists something to remember the product by. Many of the messages had to do with driver safety and staying neatly shaved to win over he babes, though occasionally they plied their humor toward current trends or general auto humor.
Rhythm is a tricky thing to parcel out, especially when you’re trying for the attention of a driver who also needs to keep their eye on the road. These signs were primarily along open stretches of road where there was little competition for eyeballs (besides the landscape) and invited passengers to read along.
I’ve seen a few attempts by people to capture this in Twitter, sending each line as an individual tweet, but the problem is that the Twitter road is crowded with other messages. The rhythm can be broken or interrupted by other mini posts along the way, sort of like having billboards in the middle of the Burma Shave posts. Without a dedicated, unbroken stream of lines the “Burma Tweet” gets rudely interrupted and is difficult to follow.
But the format is still good. Mostly it’s a rhyming couplet broken into five parts (the sixth was always the words Burma Shave), and generally each line of the couplet was eight syllables. There were exceptions that played with the five lines or that altered the meter by adding or subtracting a foot here and there, but overall what mattered was humor and flow.
I managed two of my own this past week, which oddly both utilized a seven syllable line.
will claim his spot
a den of skunk?
I keep thinking there’s one about the end of the school year tumbling around inside my head. Ever get that feeling, like you can tell something in up there moving around but you can’t quite see it? Anyway, as a change of pace from the haiku, I’m digging the Burma Shave.
Poetry Friday this week is at Carol’s Corner.