So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Cultural Slag

Cultural Slag by Felicia Lamport
Published in 1966, this collection of poems and short essays reflects the time in which it was written. Portions of the book previously were published in publications like The Atlantic, Harper's, Life, McCall's, The New York Herald Tribune, and The Saturday Evening Post. In addition to being a freelance author Felicia Lamport wrote the "Muse of the Week in Review" column for The Boston Globe. Cultural Slag is the third collection of her work all of which were illustrated by Edward Gorey.

For this collection Gorey created a series of full page drawings featuring striped insects and piles of stones that appear on the title page and introduce each chapter. In addition each poem or essay has its own pen and ink drawing. The combination of short poems and Gorey illustrations makes this book a quick and enjoyable read. Lamport had a sophisticated command of the English language and was often creative in her use of puns.

The short pieces of the book are clustered into chapters based on broad categories. Most are one page poems with a facing illustration, but there are also several essays as well.


THE NEW YORK PEDESTAL SET pays poetic homage to the statues and busts that grace public spaces in this city. These monuments are meant to pay homage to famous people, but what if the famous people of the past are no longer household names? That is the subject of one of the poems in this chapter called "Who He?" that begins:

One expects the mind to trigger
When one contemplates a figure
Cast for sempiternral fame,
But the brainpan starts to joggle
If the viewer starts to boggle
At the name.

This is followed by verses that remind the reader of some of the not-so-famous people who have commemorative statues in New York.


ALARUMS AND DIVERSIONS is a series of satirical poems on various performing arts and literature. My favorite is a poetic review of Edward Albee's 1964 play Tiny Alice called "DAS IST ALICE". I have never read a drama review written as a poem before. In one verse of this poem Lamport asks:

Was it turgid dramaturgy meant to vent on law and clergy
All the author's rage against the world today,
Psychopathia sexuAlice, or an allegoric chalice
He was raising in a reverential way?

This chapter also contains the first of Lamport's essays, a six page piece on non- and anti-book-reviews entitled "The Hypocritics". Anyone who writes book reviews will find much food for thought here.


POLITICAL CLINKERS is a collection of political poetry which has mostly aged badly as yesterday's politicians are largely forgotten quickly and with good reason. However her Viet Nam War era poem 'EMBATTLED OXYMORON" has some universal appeal even today. Here is a sample verse:

One grows strangely apprehensive
When one contemplates the sense of
Peace offensive,
Which, aggressively commanding
That which passeth understanding
Turns the sentiment it rouses
To: A pax on both your houses."


JOTS AND TITTLES is a collection of poems and an essay on travel and social interactions. The poem "SOUTHERN COMFORT' addresses that time in spring when the north is covered in snow while the south is in bloom:

No meter can measure
The infinite pleasure
Of people in tropic resorts
who squirm with delight
Through the sweltering night
At their home town weather reports.


ANIMAL SPIRITS is a short chapter of four poems about the Animal Kingdom. "ICHTHYOLOGIC" asks the question:

Why do fish, who get no pleasure out of mating,
Top all mammals in the rate of propagating?


PARTY LINES is another short chapter of five poems describing the urban party-going scene. The poem "DENSITY PROPENSITY" starts:

From five to seven every night
The party-goers coalesce
Participating in the rite
That equalizes social debts
In all the best sub-bourbon sets.


SWEET AND SOUR SERENADE TO CAMBRIDGE is a set of poems dedicated to Cambridge Massachusetts. The poem "EDUCATION INFLATION" ends with the verse:

Corporations vie to buy queues of the higher bracket I.Q.s
That were lately held in rather low esteem:
All of Cambridge now is reeling with such wheeling Ph.Dealing
As has never graced the grooves of academe.


SOCIAL SPINOFF is a chapter on social issues of the day. The preference for plastic cards over paper money is the subject of "YON CASH HAS GOT A LEAN AND HUNGRY LOOK". It opens with the verse:

It's funny what's happening to money:
It seems to have gone out of fashion.
The flashing of cash is considered so brash
That it turns any headwaiter ashen.

While the book is 52 years old, it can still provide some amusement, and the drawings of Edward Gorey fill the pages with art worth seeing.

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