by Heather McHugh, Poetry Editor
The first "sonnagram" I ever saw—a perfectly rhymed and metered anagram of a Shakespeare sonnet—was Kasey Mohammad's masterful and hilarious reworking of Sonnet 3 ("Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest"). Kasey's version began: "Go softly to the Disneyland Hotel,/Its simulacral threshold grown sublime:/The bedrooms all emit that new car smell,/Like nothing else in bourgie Anaheim."
A fitting introduction to a brilliant new genre, it combined ingenious invention, respect for the sonnet's formal convention, and utter irreverence for the currencies of our own 21st-century culture. That same sonnagram goes on to read: "Where leftist brownies get our mothers high,/Humanity is poorly led, forsooth—/In Eisenhower's shadow lies the lie;/In Soviet-run brothels lies the truth." This poet is no simple party-liner. That's refreshing in itself.
But an anagram as scrupulous as it is full of slang and sass? That's a real achievement. If I hadn't attempted a Shakespeare anagram myself, at painful length, by hand—endlessly missing one letter or adding an extra—having to correct—losing count—wasting hours—I'd never have known how thorny a job it is to compose the damned things. Kasey's not only the best anagrammarian I've ever run across, he's also found an inspired expedient: He fashions the poems to his taste, and then uses leftover letters for the title—the part of a poem that is most conventionally free to bear a floating or flirting relation to its meaning. The result? These amazing, salty, hilarious pieces, as precise as they are surprising.
And the guy has a heart! He's appearing with other iconoclasts at an event on October 5 at 7 p.m. at Hugo House to honor long-term family caregivers of the severely disabled. And there's a bonus: an auction of a rare signed Samuel Beckett novel, as well as a 1790 edition of Holbein prints and other delicacies. This benefit will raise money to continue the work of Caregifted, an organization I established to provide retreats for caregivers (more details at www.caregifted.org). Donate something (write firstname.lastname@example.org). Or just show up. Students admitted for $7; the rest of you get to romp for a slightly larger contribution. Get your tickets here.
Come revel with riffraff and cognoscenti alike, as Kasey Mohammad and assorted other rebels pick a few locks and hold a lot of sway.
Who? What? When? Where? Why? N-nothing? Then H-hold On...
Diggety-damn it, Hamlet rightly dug
The horny thighs of Catherine the Great:
Oh, Aristotle, hit that ladybug!
Let thirty deathbeds groan beneath her weight!
The axis of orgasmic orange undies
Is evil port and starboard, fore and aft:
It's filled with Dahmers, Gacies, Geins, and Bundies,
And pamphlets urging God to vote for Taft.
If prostitutes destroy the Matterhorn,
And crypto-Buddhist lasers blind our eyes,
Will anyone remember Baptist porn?
Will someone tell the handsome kittens lies?
On foot to NYC the rotters creep:
Beyond Phnom Penh, the honky-tonk is cheap.
Sonnet 28 ("How can I then return in happy plight")
Hell Weed (With Def Def High Effect)
It's wrong to hit on yea-tall cute brunettes
That mill around in April in Ohio;
It's wrong to think of keeping them as pets,
As wrong as mispronouncing brio "bry-o."
It's weird to feed a Delaware flamingo
A regimen of welfare cheese and starch;
It's odd to talk in Ubbi Dubbi lingo,
Or get a hysterectomy in March.
It blows to visit Washington in June;
It's worse to live in Oregon per se;
It's twee to read the Smothers Brothers Dune
(The Smothers Brothers? Who the eff are they?).
The damn hot G-men heed my queer behest:
They feed me kung fu weed, then shave my chest.
Sonnet 45 ("The other two, slight air, and purging fire")
WTF, WTF, WTF, WTF? Seven GQ Hopfrog Thongs? THC Songs? THC Ghosts?
I don't believe in being nice to cops;
I don't regret the ones I filled with lead.
I wish I had a pet triceratops.
The alphabet is sexist. Hell, it's dead!
The three United States where owls can vote
Are South Dakota, Maine, and California.
The appletinis there'll slit your throat
(Oh Baby Sis, don't say I didn't warn ya).
Bill Clinton took his secretary swimming
And had her take dictation underwater.
She thought his memorandum needed trimming;
He thought her classic forwards could be tauter.
The government's a very funny show:
So funny, so so funny, ho ho ho.
Sonnet 60 ("Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore")