Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
As I begin to consider the next phrase of Roving Eye Press, I have been researching more of Bob Brown‘s poetry, including a lot of poems not included in some of his books. For Tuesday’s post, I shared the poem “Lest We Forget,” a fun list that blends the best of Brown’s life and style: food and drink, travel, poetry and politics.
This post, I wanted to share “ROBERT CARLTON BROWN Emits a Few Bubbles,” a poem inspired by Brown but actually written by American poet and critic Louis Untermeyer.
In addition to writing poetry, Untermeyer also contributed essays to socialist publications like The Masses (where he probably met Brown) and The Liberator, and in 1916 he co-founded the magazine The Seven Arts. Contributors to latter magazine included Theodore Dreiser, Robert Frost, Kahlil Gibran, D. H. Lawrence, and Amy Lowell. In his lifetime, Untermeyer collected over 30 anthologies of poetry and a number of essay collections, including The Forms of Poetry (1926), The Lowest Form of Wit (1946), and The Pursuit of Poetry (1969). In 1961, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
In addition to serious poetry, Untermeyer published two volumes of “critical parodies”: — And Other Poets (1917) and Including Horace (1919). “Bubbles” was published in the first collection.
In the biography The Amazing Adventures of Bob Brown (2016), Craig Saper notes,
“Untermeyer succinctly captured Brown’s maniac and inspiring energy as a poet. Precisely because Untermeyer thought to include Brown as a poet worthy of imitation and parody, Untermeyer recognized that Brown had great and lasting significance for cultural history” (85).
Prior to Saper’s work, Untermeyer’s faux Brown actually fooled a number of critics, who thought this was a Brown poem! Yes! And this is where my own interests emerge: in the appropriation, in the faux pseudonym, in the hoax, and in the inside joke! (When I read Saper’s manuscript prior to the publication’s release, I smiled, feeling like I was part of this group!)
Selected correspondence between Brown and Untermeyer are housed in the Bob Brown Papers at Southern Illinois University, but I think Untermeyer best summarized “B.B.” in a 1932 issue of Contempo:
“I’ve known him ever since the days we were fellow contributing editors on the old Masses. I’ve been saying privately and I’m willing to say publicly that Bob Brown is the sort of phenomenon that this country needs far more than a good five-cent President. B. B. is uncompromising. He is salt after a diet of saccharine. He is the welcome opposite of pink pincushion preciosity. He worships nothing except malt and Malthus; if he has any god it is Gusto. In short — and I can think of no more characteristic praise for him — he is unpredictable.”
I can think of no better description of Brown, no better qualities to emulate as a writer and thinker.
Now watch the bubbles!
ROBERT CARLTON BROWN
Emits a Few Bubbles.
I AM the king of the rats.
And all my thoughts are little mice.
They have a great way of running every
And a greater hunger.
Nothing will satisfy their ferocious appetite—
Not even when they have devoured the world,
And gnaw on the thin, gray rind
Of the mouldy skies.
Is this China?
Something tells me it must be.
It may be the fantastically-colored Chop-Suey
Above the Child’s restaurant at the corner.
Or it may be the lone traffic policeman
Standing like a blue Buddha
With his one eternally upraised arm.
Or it may be the mass of amber electric lights
Dropping from the sign boards,
Like globules of gold perspiration
From a Chinaman’s yellow brow.