Reading Tristram Shandy

This poem was inspired by Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Written in the eighteenth century, Tristram Shandy is an ambitious, in-depth study of nothing in particular and everything in great detail; indeed, if there is a stone left unturned, it is only because that stone came into being after the book was completed and the author was laid to rest. Tristram Shandy is a feast of words, a lesson in patience, and a refreshing attack on conventional literary wisdom, which isn’t and has never really been wisdom at all, but, rather, a set of rules from which timid writers and readers draw comfort while the world passes them by.

Note: A short review of Tristram Shandy can be found in Favorite Books & Authors.

Reading Tristram Shandy

Beseeching me with weary eyes,
my loving bride once said,
why not make yourself handy
instead of reading Tristram Shandy?

There is plenty you could do:

     the walls need paint
          the floor has holes
               the drawers won’t roll

yet you scoff and take yourself off
to read Tristram Shandy.

Ah, but you don’t understand,
I patiently explained,
Tristram Shandy is like unto a riddle:
no sooner does one arrive at the middle
than he feels compelled to fiddle

     or faddle
          or dawdle
               or groan

for ’tis the mystery of Tristram’s prose
that once unraveled will leave the criminals exposed;
’tis the model of his ingenuity that moves the incongruity
of this tired old world to a higher, nobler plane;
and if ’twas not enough, he echoes the celestial laugh
that first brought us here — and in such a way

     (I continued with warmth and enthusiasm)

as to level the rocky field of which our meager yield
does little to reveal the extent of our sweat and labor;
and even if we set aside the glorious distractions you deride,
even then, I maintain the pleasant jumble of his words
does act as salve for the soul.

Does this mean, said she,
the color rising in her cheeks,
that you would rather see the house a shambles
and the children go unclothed?

     have ye yet to tire of beans
          and stains upon your jeans
               and shoes that reveal your toes?

for ’tis the mystery of your wholesome hearty nose
buried in Tristram Shandy’s prose
that irks me beyond repose;
nor can I understand the foolishness you embrace
on behalf the sorry human race
when that race has long been over and run;
not to sound gloomy

     (said she with stains upon her apron)

but ’twas my mother once warned me thus:
that a man who reads in the middle of the day
from him ’tis best to keep away;
verily, I can hear her voice as if ’twere today.

What your mother didn’t know,
I declared in self-defense,
and what you might well learn yourself
is that Tristram felt the same way about noses
and upon the subject expostulated thus:
that his father once plumbed the ancients’ archives
for the wisdom they contained

     (the noses, not the archives);

how, then, I ask, should I set aside
what you so carelessly deride?
moreover, I warn you thus

     (and perhaps you have not considered):

that being handy has never been,
and can never be,

     a cure

for a man who reads Tristram Shandy.

Note: Poems, Slightly Used, a growing collection of work first published in my blog, Recently Banned Literature, can be found here.

Available from Cosmopsis Books of San Francisco

Winter Poems
by William Michaelian

Winter Poems (click to view cover)

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
US $11.95; $8.95 at Cosmopsis Books
52 pages. 6x9. Paper.
Includes one drawing.
San Francisco, June 2007
Signed, numbered & illustrated copies

Winter Poems displays the skills and abilities of Mr. Michaelian at their most elemental level, at the bone. Wandering amidst a barren world, a world scraped bare, he plucks the full moon like fruit from the winter sky, goes mad and befriends a pack of hungry wolves, burns his poems to keep warm. He is a flake of snow, a frozen old man, a spider spinning winter webs. Spring is only a vague notion of a waiting vineyard, crocuses, and ten-thousand babies. The author is alone, musing, reflecting, at times participating. But not quite alone, for he brings the lucky reader along. I’ve been there, to this winter world, and I plan to go back.

                                                            — John Berbrich, Barbaric Yawp

Another Song I Know — Short Poems
by William Michaelian

Another Song I Know (click to view cover)

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
US $13.95; $10.95 at Cosmopsis Books
80 pages. 6x9. Paper.
Includes Author’s Note.
San Francisco, June 2007
Signed, numbered & illustrated copies

Another Song I Know is a delightful collection of brief, resilient poems. Reading them, one by one by one, is like taking a walk through our common everyday world and suddenly hearing what the poet hears: the leaves, a coffee cup, chairs — and yes, even people, singing their songs of wisdom, sweetness, and light.

                                                            — Tom Koontz, Barnwood poetry magazine

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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