H U M O R
In times of turmoil we turn toward Will Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for there’s the rub: the tale has friendship, deception, humor, love found and love lost, a ghost and murder most foul.
Saint Anselm English Professor Gary Bouchard has penned the entertaining What News Horatio? Dispatches from Beyond the Castle Walls. The book cleverly takes a real newspaper headline such as “Missing Brains Found in Texas” and uses it as a portal for verse that attempts to tell the story behind the headline in a “What dreams may come” style. In other words, he makes it up. Add a pinch of there’s something rotten in Denmark to the telling and the result is both classical and comical.
One Amazon review has said the book is “Wendell Berry meets Dave Barry.”
“Nobody needs to read backstories to enjoy these,” Bouchard explained. “No one needs to have read Hamlet to enjoy these. If you’ve read Hamlet, it has a Where’s Waldo? effect. If you haven’t read Hamlet, I come off a lot smarter than I actually am.”
“I would say the theme of this little book is the same as the theme of Hamlet, which is the same as the theme of our lives,” Bouchard said. “Sin, grace and all the madness in between.”
Bouchard penned many of the poems in 2014 and let them percolate in his sock drawer for seven years so that he could get on with professorial things like sewing elbow patches onto a tweed jacket and negotiating for a better parking space. Bouchard has been teaching at Saint Anselm for 36 years. When he fished the poems out, he still liked his “fits of creative distraction,” and his opinion was corroborated by several other tweed jackets. Toss in a few former students for copy editing and layout and the missing Texas brains finally find a home, at least in print, though the situation is well past Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” According to Bouchard, a brain sans body is absent-minded. “Where do thoughts go when the grey matter’s gone?” he writes. Abby Normal indeed.
The brain from Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein is one of the few objets d’comedy not found in Bouchard’s visitor-friendly office.
“Even if Dr. Seuss has the last poetry you read, I want these to be accessible and available,” Bouchard said. “This would be a great book for people who don’t like poetry and would never go near it.”
Professor Bouchard estimates he’s taught Hamlet 25-30 times over the years as he now generally teaches a course on Shakespeare once a year.
“At the center of what I do is finding the common in our everyday lives and giving it good breath in metaphor,” Bouchard explained. “It’s the best of what poetry does. It makes us stand still. I would liken poetry to a painting in a museum. It’s the opposite of binge-watching. How do you ever get past certain phrases? I’m a very slow reader. The advantage I have is that I’m a slow reader. I hit upon a passage and I want to linger there for a week.”
Ponder this: Hamlet’s father, the King, dies unexpectedly and sooner than one can say “dark nepotism,” his mother, the Queen has taken the hand in marriage of the King’s Brother, conveniently bypassing Prince Hamlet, causing him to wander about the castle and mumbling to his friend Horatio things like, “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” Or perhaps Frank Sinatra’s “do be do be do.”
The amusing answer for Hamlet is saying “Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meat did furnish the wedding table.”
What News Horatio? Is divided into three sections of eight poems each.
From “Guilty Creatures” comes the headline “Remorseful Bank Robber Waits for Police After Heist.”
Professor Bouchard writes: “Then Traffic. Then laughing clouds. Then a voice/I hadn’t heard since Honors English C,/the smug lascivious lilt of Mrs. P:/’Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.’”
Comment: Life’s slings and arrows can be self-directed.
The section “Quintessence of Dust” offers us “While Exeter Woman Meditates, Her Car Rolls into Stratham Pond.”
Bouchard writes: “It’s always an envious sliver-/A very fine line as they say- between/what we did and what we intended while/willfully seeking our own salvation.”
Comment: To assure stillness, engage the parking brake.
A headline from the section “Fortune’s Finger” gives us “Kissing Transfers 80 Million Bacteria, Scientists Say.”
Bouchards reaction: “Who would not in haste to a nunnery go/if they beheld the secret sins they secrete/in love’s small taste sipped by lips indiscrete/from whence infections might smolder and grow.”
Our comment comes from W.C Fields: “Gotta take a chance in life, my boy.”
Proof that I can’t write poetry: “Alas, poor Yorick!/Buried Horatio/in Central Park in New Yorick.”
Can a tweed jacket be far behind?
“What News Horatio?” is available through Amazon or Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.