Saturday, February 03, 2007

A difficult matter

Only one day late (give me a break - I'm still in Austin and don't have constant access!), I bring you the post I wanted to make yesterday - my contribution to the Brigid's Day silent poetry reading. Had I been more together, I might have posted something of my own; instead, I'm taking you on a short trip down (my) Memory Lane.

I used to be a shy person. While I didn't exactly have a hard time making friends when I was young, I did so slowly and carefully, and was very quiet most of the time. At the beginning of my 10th-grade year, I had to make a last-minute elective change, and my mother insisted that I make it a public speaking class. I'll save words by telling you that I was Not Happy about this, but it happened anyway.

By my senior year, I'd been elected president of the speech and debate team. While it didn't turn me into a boisterous, exuberant social butterfly, performing began bringing me out of my shell. Since my mid-20s, I've had several people laugh when I tell them I was once a shrinking violet, though plenty of folks still notice my reticence in new situations and with unfamiliar groups.

I won't say the change is all due to speech tournaments - the older I get, the less I worry about what people think of me, which is the important factor - but it certainly helped. In honor of this, I'm going to share one of the two poems I performed together that first year. T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is oddly whimsical and (particularly to those of us who have cats...including 'Jellicles' such as mine) fantastically real. I paired the poem below with "The Naming of Cats" to meet length requirements for performance...but this one is my favorite.

[Disclaimer: I do not share Eliot's apparent dismissive disdain for the canine mentality; in fact, I adore most no hate mail, please. ;) ]

The Ad-dressing of Cats

You've read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
to understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse -
But all may be described in verse.
You've seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
How would you ad-dress a Cat?

So first, your memory I'll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.

Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course I'm not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He's very easily taken in -
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He's such an easy-going lout,
He'll answer any hail or shout.

Again I must remind you that
A Dog's a Dog - A CAT'S A CAT.

With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don't speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that -
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPSA CAT!
I've heard them call him James Buz-James -
But we've not got so far as names.
Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste -
He's sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he's finished, licks his paws
So's not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat's entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.

So this is this, and that is that:
And there's how you AD-DRESS A CAT.

No comments: