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.

“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
“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

Poetics and Politics: Notes on “Poets for Corbyn,” a Berfrois e-Chapbook

This MachineIs poetry a sturdy platform for political action? Aren’t poets the ones following rabbits down holes? Jumping into ponds to hug moons? Talking blather and twittering sentiments to one another across an inky night? Politicians often twist tongues, glossolalia filling their cheeks, but what they speak is not usually considered poetry.

Poets for Corbyn,” another e-chapbook from Berfrois, features 21 poems by 20 poets, edited by Russell Bennetts. The poems are unified by their support for Jeremy Corbyn (1949), a member of the UK parliament and of the Labour Party, and currently standing to be Labour’s Leader. US readers might be accurate in aligning Corbyn with their own Bernie Sanders.

Mixing poetics and politics reminds me of the note Woody Guthrie taped to his guitar in 1943: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” If music and culture critic Greil Marcus is right, and the guitar is not a machine and it does not kill fascists, then poetry is not a fit medium for political activism. But why does Marcus take Woody’s note so literally? Guthrie knew the difference between figurative and literal language, but he also knew that even the white lettered on red background STOP sign is an argument, even if only occasionally a driver passes through it with some disagreement.

Maybe one of the most politically effective signifying messages in “Poets for Corbyn” is Nick Telfer’s “For the Love of God.” A concrete poem, it evokes a rally chant where we hear the single slogan “No Blair” shouted repeatedly, 21 times in a black and white grid: noblair; no noblesse – shares of rights and duties are equal.

That Woody labeled his guitar a machine is more than a nod to labor and unions. Woody was a machinist, manufacturing messages in song – in song because song is what people (as in The People) hear and respond to and remember. And song is poetry. Poetry stirs pathos, and it’s pathos that gets politicians elected, pathos that goes to war, pathos that sacrifices, pathos that bangs the drum slowly and paddles the boat and joins the march and walks down the line.

How do the poems in “Poets for Corbyn” sound? What forms are employed? What characteristics of poetry are in evidence? Are the poems difficult to understand (i.e. modern or postmodern and such)? Are the poems all polemical?

Some of the poems might be considered polemical. From Michael Rosen’s “For Jeremy Corbyn”:

“celebrating an economic system
that was developed and finessed
with the use of child labour around 1810
…they tell us that socialism is outdated.”

Some of the poems sound traditional, employing stanzas with rhyme, as in Michael Schmidt’s “Until I Built the Wall,” a kind of ballad narrative:

“Until I built the wall they did not find me
Sweet anarchy! tending quietly
To wild birds or picking the blackberry.”

Some of the poems in “Poets for Corbyn” are clear and concise, but with irony spreading like tattoos, as in Helen Ivory’s “Doll Hospital at the Top of the Hill”:

“Take her to the doll hospital;
restring the limbs with slipknots
fill the skull with lint
clean out the craze lines on her face
and paint on a 1940s smile.”

Some of the poems are painfully forthright. Reminding me of the ruined hopes of George McGovern’s 1972 US Presidential campaign, is Andy Jackson’s “Unelectable”:

“I represent the things you want but cannot say,
the ideology of why the hell not; socialism redux,
neither new nor old, not clean or compromised
but human to its heart, and that could be enough.”

Of course, in 1972, the human heart was not enough. Will it ever be enough? A heart needs a voice, as illustrated in Nicholas Murray’s “J. C.”:

“Corbyn’s no knight in shining vest,
or bright Messiah from the West
(he’d say)
but someone who has found a way to voice
a fractured country’s need for choice,
to say we’ll make another kind of noise:
No way!

That “No way!” is a call for solidarity, expanded upon in Erik Kennedy’s (long-titled) “Growing Fears That the Leadership Contest Has Been Hijacked by Far-Left Infiltrators”:

“and if in your entire life
you’ve had
no-one to identify with
who wasn’t first and last
a danger to the good
through well-meaning compromise,

if you can agree to this,
resignedly but definitely,
you might be a socialist.”

The austerity buzzword is taken down by Becky Cherriman’s “Austerity”:

“Hear it scutter
along the guttering of offices
in the bins behind Waitrose,
the thorned bushes at the playground’s edge –
a language devised by the high-born
to parch the lips of those with less.”

In place of austerity, Josephine Corcoran suggests a “Coat” of hope:

“A woman filled with the gladness of living
refused to be suspicious of hope….
Deep inside the coat,
the woman held on to the goodness of people.”

And of opposing viewpoints, the kind that lead to divorce? From Erin Belieu’s “Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written in An Election Year”:

“And that’s what you call the realpolitik in action
when it comes to divorce, wherein the rubber hits
the ‘blended’ family’s road. But since I’m not…
…and I’m thinking
maybe I got it right this time…
…the obstinate and beautiful mystery
that every soul ends up being to every other.”

The poems in “Poets for Corbyn” are unified by their call for solidarity in support of a purposeful cause. For that call to be successful, the politics must not be subsumed by the poetics. There is tension here, no doubt. Woody’s machined message was made to defy backstabbing political machinations. At the same time, real machines made real weapons used in a real war, and a military industrial complex prevailed. But Woody knew that, even as Marcus does. “What did you learn in school today?” Tom Paxton sang.

Over at Berfrois, readers may download for free an electronic copy of “Poets for Corbyn.” There are several covers readers may choose from; I liked the one with the blue bicycle.

“Poets for Corbyn”, edited by Russell Bennetts, Pendant Publishing, London, UK, 2015. ISBN 978-09928034-5-2. V2.0. 34 pages, with poems by Tom Pickard, Michael Rosen, Pascale Petit, Ian Birchall, Michael Schmidt, Marion McCready, Nick Telfer, Rory Waterman, Helen Ivory, Iain Galbraith, Andy Jackson, Nicholas Murray, Alec Finlay, Erik Kennedy, Ian Pindar, Becky Cherriman, Josephine Corcoran, Natalie Chin, Ernest Schonfield, and Erin Belieu. Covers by Evan Johnston @evn_johnston.

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