I had some time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner at Veggie Galaxy in Central Square (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and stumbled upon a wonderful little used bookstore on Mass Ave. Rodney’s Bookstore. Maybe I didn’t realize how little time I actually had, because I ended up showing up late for my dinner date, but suffice it to say, I found some really great stuff that made that lost appetizer totally worth it.
I think I picked up two or three books that day. And oddly enough, all were collections of poetry. My favorite, and the one that I’d like to recommend to you all, is Zany in Denim, a poetry anthology by Michigan-born poet, John Frederick Nims. I was unfamiliar with both author and work, but the quirky title and cover art were honestly what grabbed my attention and inclined me to purchase.
Having been unfamiliar with Nims and any of his work, I decided to do some research. The poet received his Ph.D from University of Chicago in 1945, and taught English at Harvard, the University of Florence, the University of Toronto, Williams College, and the University of Missouri. Nims was also the Editor of Poetry Magazine from 1978-1984, and the Poetry Foundation annually awards the John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for poetry translation. Nims died in Chicago in 1999.
Growing up in Chicago, and having considered Boston home for what is now the better part of three years, the work of John Frederick Nims has begun to take on a new world of meaning for me.
Published in 1990 by the University of Arkansas Press, Zany in Denim speaks to a diverse range of audiences, and in that regard, is uniquely refreshing.
The greatest thing about this little book is its wit. It’s fun, it’s sarcastic. It’s essentially everything that great, entertaining poetry should be. It’s also incredibly smart. Nims has succeeded in striking the balance between comical and clever, and has managed to enlighten his craft with the use of hilarious themes, odd scenarios, adult motifs, and honestly, stuff that pretty much all of us can relate to.
One of my favorites from the collection:
As Goethe Said
Once, at a party, a taciturn prof
Met hordes of new people, but soon hurried off.
When asked how he liked them, their manners, their looks,
Said, “I wouldn’t read them, if they had been books.”