Wow, look at that! My 1ooth post, and it’s devoted to the output of my hardened, bitter soul. What a stunner!
But I digress: you may not know the name Adam Mansbach, but you surely will recall the sensation he created with his “kids” book, Go the Fuck to Sleep (listed here on Amazon, where you can see the cover design’s clever concealment of a naughty, naughty word in the title).
Now, you may think that I might object to this book because of the fact that a) I didn’t write it, and b) it went on to sell a gajillion copies and has probably now been translated into 117 different languages, including Danish, Tamil, and ancient Etruscan. Of course, you’d be right on both counts. You may also guess that I’m especially put out by the fact that this book was written in verse (in other words, poetry) by a well-known, hip-as-can-be fiction writer, who has earned more money and publicity from this single poem than most of the world’s poets will see in several millennia. Right again, Fickle Readers! I’m sour-grapesing this puppy all the way to the bank (or Tin Pan Alley, as it were).
these are not my primary concerns about Mansbach’s book.
No, the thing that really, really, REALLY cheeses me off about this quaint little frustration ballad is that Mansbach DOESN’T WRITE THE FRIGGIN’ THING IN METER.
It’s like he sat at his kitchen table one night, bleary-eyed after getting a mere three hours’ sleep in the last week, and vented his frustration on a scrap of a playfully shredded Trader Joe’s bag. Then, in the morning, he realized he had this Monumental Piece of Literature on his hands, called up his publisher, and shot what he’d written directly into the printer somehow (don’t ask me how; Famous Fiction Writers clearly have some sort of magic publishing mojo going for them) without so much a second glance at the crumpled brown kraft paper he’d scrawled it on.
Here’s one of the more egregious examples of Mansbach’s unmetered meter:
All the nursery kids are in dreamland.
The froggie has made his last leap.
Hell no, you can’t go to the bathroom.
You know where you can go? The fuck to sleep.
But wait (you might say): isn’t that the whole point of the book? That the dad is getting so frustrated he can’t hold it together anymore? Isn’t the breakdown of the meter in the book (that is, the fact that the number of syllables and the pattern of stresses don’t match from line to line) evocative of his mental disintegration at the hands of his innocent-yet-unknowingly-sadistic toddler?
To that I would respond: nope. Sorry. Novelists don’t get to write sloppy poetry and call it an aesthetic choice. Not when impoverished poets spend years and years slaving away in their squalid hovels so that they can lay down a sweet villanelle while they’re slurping up their beef jerky ramen.
As an Unknown Writer who’s devoted large chunks of her life to writing non-bestselling poetry, I still managed to write the poem below in about half an hour. It is an example of a little something called Regular Meter. Does it scan? You bet your ass it does. That’s because I didn’t devote my youth writing award-winning prose. I lived my iambic pentameter, goddammit.
For the record, my evil-hearted poem was written when Mansbach’s (how do I abbreviate the title? Fuck?) when Mansbach’s Fuck was published in 2011. Tonight, I just learned that the author has a new book forthcoming, a sequel called You Have to Fucking Eat. So we’ll see what Mansbach has learned about formal versifying in the past three years. My guess: not much.
You know how to write in meter, Mr. Mansbach? Prove it.
(Also, my kid is six and voluntarily eats broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, and three different colors of bell pepper. In your face, Famous Rock-Star Writer!)
To Adam Mansbach
So, your new book is pretty neat.
You know what would be neater?
If well-established novelists
Would learn to write in meter.
We poets are a surly bunch
And nothing makes us teeter
Upon the brink of madness more
Than lines of hacked-up meter.
Exhaustion likely made you want
To find a muse and greet her
With words that shriek your pain. Too bad
She can’t hear crappy meter.
Of course, there are rules you can break—
God knows we’ve all been cheaters.
But first, you really ought to learn
The rules of rhyme and meter.
So please, for all us underpaid
Poetic scribes and readers,
Next time you write a cute kids’ book,
DO write the fuck in meter.