Wouldn’t it take an outsider to aptly critique the American scene, the American people, the American culture? Hugh Kenner, a Canadian, did this at the end of a section devoted to Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams in his book A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers. A book dedicated to Guy Davenport. A book on Donald Barthelme’s syllabus.
This is the alphabet q w e r t y u i o p a s d f g h j k l z x c v b n m. The extraordinary thing is that no one has yet taken the trouble to write it out fully.
–William Carlos Williams, “The Simplicity of Disorder” (1929)
A phenomena that happens to a computer’s keyboard when a human being is bored to death…
Bored to death in a cube a human decides to type qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm (all the keyboard buttons in an orderly way) to a search engine to see what comes up…
–urbandictionary.com (May 5, 2006)
Ah, those were the days!
In the Season Four SpongeBob episode “Fear of a Krabby Patty” (which was coincidentally nominated for a 2005 Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program), the dastardly Plankton disguises himself as a psychotherapist with the hope that SpongeBob will unwittingly divulge the secret recipe for the coveted Krabby Patties to him.
Plankton: I’ve laid out some words on cards here. These words are common kitchen ingredients. I want you to arrange them in any order you choose. It could be a poem or a secret formula. I don’t know…oh yes! A secret formula. Good, let’s do that!
In the end, SpongeBob arranges neither a poem nor a secret formula but an impossible piano that comedically falls onto Plankton’s tiny body.
But what if SpongeBob, taking Plankton’s cue, had actually “arranged” a poem based on these words and images of “common kitchen ingredients”? What would it look like?
I’d like to suggest that these questions implicit in “Fear of a Krabby Patty” index some of the most striking innovations in Twentieth-Century poetry. The first is the use of objets trouvés. While it may seem silly that one could build a poem using a list of words like “tomato,” “celery,” “pepper,” and “onion,” this is not at all unlike what William Carlos Williams did in his poem “Two Pendants: For the Ears.” Here is the oft quoted stanza in question:
2 Mallard ducks
a Dungeness crab
24 hours out
of the Pacific
and 2 live-frozen