About this Blog

The Coming of the Toads blog is written by Joe Linker.Joe Pizza Face by Emily

I attended El Camino College and California State University at Dominguez Hills, earning a BA in English, with a minor in 20th Century Thought and Expression, and an MA in English, while putting in six years in the ACNG. Over a decade of adjunct work bookends 25 years in what Han-shan called the “red dust” of business (CPCU, 1992). I was a Hawthorne Fellow at the Attic Institute from April to August, 2012.

“The Coming of the Toads” is the title of a short poem by E. L. Mayo (1904-1979):

“The very rich are not like you and me,”
Sad Fitzgerald said, who could not guess
The coming of the vast and gleaming toads
With precious heads which, at a button’s press,
The flick of a switch, hop only to convey
To you and me and even the very rich
The perfect jewel of equality.

(E. L. Mayo. Collected Poems. New Letters, University of Missouri – Kansas City. Volume 47, Nos. 2 & 3, Winter-Spring, 1980-81.)

The young toads were ugly televisions, but those eerily glowing tubes contained a lovely irony. The toads invaded indiscriminately. The bluish-green light emitted from the eyes of the toads emerged from every class of home, all experiencing the same medium for their evening massage. Mayo’s poem is a figurative evaluation of the effects of media on culture.

In Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy” (1926), the narrator says, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” But Mayo doesn’t seem to be quoting from Fitzgerald’s story. He seems to be referencing the famous, rumored exchange by the two rich-obsessed, repartee aficionados Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Hemingway wrote, in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936),

“He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Julian. He thought they were a special glamourous race and when he found they weren’t it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”

Did TV have a democratizing effect, or are its effects numbing? In Act 2, Scene 1, of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Duke Senior, just sent to the woods without TV, mentions the toad’s jewel:

“Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile, hath not old custom made this life more sweet than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court? Here feel we but the penalty of Adam, the seasons’ difference, as the icy fang and churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, which, when it bites and blows upon my body, even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say ‘This is no flattery: these are counselors that feelingly persuade me what I am.’ Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life exempt from public haunt finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in every thing. I would not change it.”

As you like it – it’s all good, Duke.

Poor Fitzgerald didn’t embrace television, but today he would cradle a metamorph tadpole in his lap. What would it convey? The toad’s jewel is more than a metaphor; the churlish shows of television are today the Duke’s counselors. We enter the space of the light box, and the toad’s jewel poisons us to the paradox of staying put, to electronic exile, but does it contain its own antidote (“rather ask the poet“)? The short Mayo poem captures the concerns The Coming of the Toads blog amplifies: the effects of media on culture; reading and writing; the technologically engaged sensorium encaged in light-show effects; the anecdotal essay; the poem as pun, metaphor as doubt; what to read, and how; and what to write, and how.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
The Coming of the Toads blog is Copyright 2007-2014, Joe Linker.
To contact, comment on any post, or email: thecomingofthetoads@gmail.com.

Read outside the blog:

Posts selected by WordPress editors for Freshly Pressed:
Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith” (6 Feb 2014);
Notes on the Difficulty of Reading a New Poem” (2 Dec 2013);
Notes on Experience, Story, and Voice” (22 Mar 2013).

Below: A page from Silent Quicksand: “Wailing Rail,” JAZZSKIN,” and “Amuse and Abuse,” appeared in Silent Quicksand, Fall 1973, #3 (a poetry and art magazine of El Camino College).

Recent Posts

The Ballad of the Happy Cafe: Mimi Pond’s “Over Easy”

Heart Shaped Rock on Windowsill

Heart Shaped Rock on Windowsill of Old House

Mimi Pond’s “Over Easy” (2014) made the Times graphic book bestseller list this Spring. “Over Easy” is another portrayal of a young woman working to define herself in a confusion of shifting cultural mores. Pond’s story is set in Oakland, around the same time as the first parts of Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis.” There are more similarities than the time frame, but in “Over Easy,” the risks are different, the scale closer-in. Pond’s theme is the counter-culture revolution. Bit of a pun there, for the stage is the “Imperial Café,” where Madge, like Marji of “Persepolis” an art school dropout, works her way up from dishwasher to waitress. In Madge’s view, the flower children have wilted, and we know what comes next, wintery thorns and fed-up punks and stones and drunks. The tone is set in comic book humor, in turns bawdy and raunchy, tough and touching. There’s less history, a smaller stage, than we find in “Persepolis,” but like Satrapi, Pond is a wit aiming at cultural targets.

I wrote about Marjane Satrapi and graphic writing in a post last week over at The Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha’s blog. Rakha is a journalist and novelist. The Kenyon Review featured an interview with him in their “The KR Conversations” in June 2012. Regular readers of the Toads may note a bit more clarity and less ambiguity in style in my piece on Satrapi, not to mention shorter paragraphs, thanks to some nimble editing, but the dry sentence that skews and curls like the branches of a twisted cedar cypress remains my aim. That is the kind of sentence you don’t often find in graphic writing, though, where brevity of breath is necessary to allow the drawings to speak. Readers expect writers to conform to conventions encased in the style of a recognizable venue. Menu changes at the cafe can be disruptive. But graphic books challenge the experience and definition of literature.

“Over Easy” contains a few sentences that function like concrete poems, a coffee cup twirl, for example – you have to turn the book around in circles to read the sentence, a dizzying effect. And a sentence clothed, literally, in a dress. And another that wafts and waltzes across Oakland. The book is drawn in one color, the pale green of the 50’s and 60’s grammar school classroom. But the pacifying, school purpose green is thwarted by the counter-culture themes. Yet the tone is natural and realistic, in spite of the drug-hazed setting. There’s not much of a plot, unless you consider moving from the café to the bar for an after work beer a plot development. The book succeeds on its characterization and illustrations, and on the strength of the observations and reflections of the main character, Madge. Those reflections are limited though to her immediate environment. There’s not much engagement of life beyond the boundaries of the café. The war is over, and now this. But the close details of life within the café, the walks and bus rides to and from, in which we get a feel for life in Oakland, amid observant comments and informing dialog more than make up for the day-to-day storyboard episodic plot.

The realism and close-in detail of the drawings suggests an affinity with Edward Hopper, a link given the reader by several references in “Over Easy” to Hopper’s work. Hopper was not a cartoonist, but maybe he was, Madge seems to be saying, because the cartoon draws us into an atmosphere of assumptions and signifiers, the effect also of Hopper’s work. The idea of the signifier as a key to understanding Pond’s technique is also made explicit:

“It’s a busy weekend morning, and it’s very crowded. The crowd that piles up waiting for tables is a cavalcade of hipsters. And if you know anything about hipsters, you know that their signifiers tell you everything.”

Hopper’s paintings are significant in one aspect by their focus on the ordinary, the working class, the underclass, and how a crowded urban landscape can hurriedly empty out at night, leaving the focus on the light from a streetlamp or a neon light on a lone person or two, maybe sitting in a café or a bar or a small motel room, or standing on a corner waiting for a late night bus. This can be realism or nostalgia, naturalism or pastiche, and writing about it can lead to complex characters or caricature. Certainly parts of “Over Easy” are exaggerated, usually for comic effect. In places, the satire devolves to farce, particularly with the themes of drugs and sex, where no one seems to burn out and even free love can still be discounted to a quickie in the bathroom off the kitchen counter at the Imperial.

Lazlo, Madge’s boss, has four children, the oldest a 14 year old daughter, but children or old people don’t figure prominently in the book. Each character is well drawn, in illustration and dialog. The strips flow. Madge seems somewhat conservative compared to her peers, thus her attitude reaches toward a kind of desired normalcy based on reactions to her environment. She doesn’t like hippies. She makes fun of Patty Hearst, whose problems surely resulted, Madge thinks, from her choice to be an art history major at Berkeley. There are foil characters, each waitress highlighting another, the cooks playing off one another. Lazlo knows Latin, is “over-educated,” and the book ends with a sudden idea for a poetry reading at the café. The poetry surprises everyone in one way or another. It’s hard to hide behind a poem. Something gets revealed. The book ends in a poetic vision, where poetry is a kind of felt atmosphere that suggests longing and quiet in a particular light.

“Over Easy” is a kind of comedy of manners, or a satire on the comedy of manners. One might assume, given the setting, no manners, but the counter-culture creates its own rules of respectability and values. Besides, Madge says:

“I need approval. I need respect. I want it to be clear: I’m not just a waitress.”

She is an artist, but she wants recognition in some established venue.

How should a story be told? Madge’s observations are keen, the interior of a bar, for example, “lit only by the juke box.” In another example, the Hopper like details convey tone and atmosphere and signify or trigger assumptions as Madge describes her rented, old house (which in today’s gentrified markets she couldn’t afford to rent):

“In these old houses, you will find, on old paint-flaked windowsills…tiny bronze hands, dried rosebuds, crystals, dead butterflies, heart-shaped rocks…old medicine bottles….”

Gentrification removes those items from the house and replaces them with a real Edward Hopper hanging from a refinished wall. Where does Madge get the idea that to be a waitress is to be “just a waitress?” Like Marji’s predicament in “Persepolis,” there are parents still at work in the background of one’s influences. Is the graphic book the recognition Madge was looking for as a waitress? Is the graphic novel gentrifying into literature?

“Over Easy,” by Mimi Pond. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, April 2014. 271 pages in a sturdy hardcover edition, thick paper, sewn and bound.

  1. Abaft the Blues Fest 4 Replies
  2. Baseball and the run-on sentence 6 Replies
  3. Sidewalk Chalk Pastel with Haiku 7 Replies
  4. Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” 5 Replies
  5. Allotment of Melancholy 6 Replies
  6. Sea Chanty at the Wave Door Inn 2 Replies
  7. Baseball Poem with Hidden Asterisk 6 Replies
  8. Fickle Moon 10 Replies
  9. Chatterbox 2 Replies
  10. On Discussion 8 Replies
  11. Walking thru the park one day 17 Replies
  12. On Setting and Narration 8 Replies
  13. On Description 14 Replies
  14. After the Last Snow 8 Replies
  15. Juice and Joy 5 Replies
  16. Cat Settings (a graphic novel) 5 Replies
  17. Argument in the Time of Apples 8 Replies
  18. Seven Variations on a Sentence 8 Replies
  19. Word Put Upon Word 8 Replies
  20. Notes on n+1’s “MFA VS NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction” 10 Replies
  21. A Shuck of Stone 9 Replies
  22. Lenten Surf Season 12 Replies
  23. An Imperfect Imposition 2 Replies
  24. Badges 2 Replies
  25. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place 8 Replies
  26. Amid a Bevy of Red Roses in the Bed of a Twaddle Truck 9 Replies
  27. A Lyrical Poem of Vast Beauty Reluctantly Revealed Ridiculously; or, Possibly the Widest Poem Ever Written 5 Replies
  28. Flarf Factorial; or, Epiphany Needed 7 Replies
  29. Favorite Recipes from “An Eminent Poets’ Cookbook” 9 Replies
  30. B Flat Minor Seventh Flat Five 12 Replies
  31. Roddy Doyle’s “The Guts” 6 Replies
  32. The Audience 11 Replies