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. Going on two decades 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. Adjunct in Humanities at Warner Pacific since 2007.

“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.

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“The Coming of the Toads” Blog by Joe Linker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, and Copyright 2007-2015 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

What is Hidden: “A Shadow in Yucatan,” by Philippa Rees

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Work often conceals as much as it reveals. This is true whether the work is made by the corporation, at the construction site, in the art studio, or on the page, in writing. The metaphor is the great human hiding place. The poet stores nuts in poems buried in clay pots. Reading is an anthropological dig. A writer often spends as much time working on what to cut or shut out as what to include, to hold within. Readers are seduced by hidden artifacts, by craft and handiwork, also through secrets, gossip, whispers, and shadows. Can the writer trust the reader? Can the reader trust the writer? Writers have the advantage, since they can hide behind the narrator, while the narrator may hide within the story. The narrator may provide a voice-over. There may be other voices.

“A Shadow in Yucatan,” by Philippa Rees, begins with a secret that Stephanie, the protagonist, won’t be able to keep for long. She lives in Florida, calls her mother in Brooklyn, and explains her predicament, asking for help. Abortion is an existential question for the community, but it comes down to an existential question for two, Stephanie and her child. The theme of shame falls with its wet curtain, but Stephanie transcends the community’s efforts to use shame to control her decision. Who or what is the antagonist?

The writing in “A Shadow in Yucatan” is experimental and mesmerizing, experimental because it wrestles simultaneously with both what should be told, when, what kept hidden, and how the story should be told, mesmerizing because the language seems to have been distilled, its poetic form and novella length (divided into two parts and 21 chapters over 109 pages illustrated with 31 black and white photographs) resulting in a potent mixture of page turning pleasure. This is a book the reader falls into. I read the hard copy, having started with an e-edition, and the reading experience is simply different with the hard copy, more satisfying, both the text and the photographs, though there are of course the advantages of e-editions to readers who prefer them. But somehow, with the hard copy in hand, I could better hear the cadence and symmetry of the sentence structure, see the overall layout of the short chapters, hear the strategy of different voices, understand the purpose of the use of italics throughout, appreciate the fall of the black and white photographs, almost all suggesting something hidden as much as something shown.

Stephanie works in a beauty salon, where her story opens and closes in the symmetry of everyday conversation infused with irony; everyone seems to know something someone else does not, but all the knowing is connected. And of course a beauty salon is where people go to prepare a hidden course of action, to prepare hair and face and nails to improve circulation in the community. The tones of sarcasm and irony that shade Part One give way to a slight risk of sentimentalism in Part Two that is quickly washed away by inflexible socio-economic demographic persistence, where the demographic form is the child’s story, a nursery rhyme, told with the cadence of a lullaby interrupted by an inscrutable language only those properly initiated comprehend. Stephanie is a member of several communities throughout the book, and the nonjudgmental Miriam is something of a “smithy” of an angel.

I very much enjoyed reading this patiently crafted book. The form and content (the how and what) are perfectly blended. The writing is clear and concise, the diction carefully wrought, the sentence structure always varied and interesting, the dialog compelling, the text artistically cast and purposefully divided to invite reading. The dominant impression is of a sculpture, because what could have been a huge novel has been pared down to its essential shape, but the novel is still there, at once exposed and hidden.

“A Shadow in Yucatan,” a novella by Philippa Rees, Cover Design by Philippa Rees and Ana Grigoriu, Book Interior by Philippa Rees, First Print Edition 2006. Collabor Art Books.

Note: The slide show at the top of this post contains photos from my collection. These photos are not connected to Philippa’s book except through the theme of something hidden.

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