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Winter Reigns -- Mary Youngquist

Guest poem sent in by Ajit Narayanan
(Poem #1429) Winter Reigns
 Shimmering, gleaming, glistening glow--
 Winter reigns, splendiferous snow!
 Won't this sight, this stainless scene,
 Endlessly yield days supreme?

 Eying ground, deep piled, delights
 Skiers scaling garish heights.
 Still like eagles soaring, glide
 Eager racers; show-offs slide.

 Ecstatic children, noses scarved--
 Dancing gnomes, seem magic carved--
 Doing graceful leaps. Snowballs,
 Swishing globules, sail low walls.

 Surely year-end's special lure
 Eases sorrow we endure,
 Every year renews shared dream,
 Memories sweet, that timeless stream.
-- Mary Youngquist
The most important criterion for good wordplay has always been 'transparency'
-- how good the content is when it's viewed independent of the structure. I'm
told that Georges Perec's book 'La Disparition', for example, garnered rave
reviews from Parisian critics[1], who praised it as a modern masterpiece, many
of them not realizing that Perec had composed the entire book without a single
'e'. I don't read French, however, and consequently, _my_ standard for
transparency in wordplay is set by this poem by Mary Youngquist. An elegant,
very readable and very naturally constructed poem which masks a surprisingly
difficult structure that the poet has most skillfully imposed on it. Can you
guess what it is?

I wish I could find out more about Mary Youngquist. I've read only two of
her works, one of them being this one, and have been very, very impressed.
The other is a poem about California (sort of), which is part of this
article (another ingenious exercise in wordplay, by the way; read it)
[broken link] http://wordways.com/crazy.htm
Any further information, or links to other works of hers, would be most
appreciated.

:ajitQ

[1] [broken link] http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/ASIN/X/ contains some, but you
have to know French, of course.

The answer: Each word -- including the title and the author's name --
begins with the last letter of the preceding word. Sounds like an easy
constraint? -- try writing even one complete sentence that way and you'll
realize the amount of skill it took to make this poem as coherent as it
is.

[Martin adds]

Not the easiest typographic constraint to observe, even neglecting grammar,
rhyme, equal line extents, scansion, name[1] etc. Craftsmanship,
poetry - Youngquist's stanzas - sonorous, smooth - highlight them
marvellously.

[1] Nice extra.

39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Alkemygirl said...

While I do not usually enjoy poems that rhyme as much as others, this was
just pleasant to read and brought a much enjoyable smile to my face.....Clever
and I love how the last letter of each word is the first of the next....CLEVER!

Ian Baillieu said...

Well done Martin!
Is there a name for this particular word constraint?

David McKelvie said...

Just a little clarification about Perec's La Disparation. At the time it was
published it was well known what the constraint was. Many reviewers refused
to review it, and there was lots of hostility amongst other writers and
critics. Roland Barthes, the famous academic and writer, refused to read it.
However, one reviewer *was* unaware of the books e-lessness.

The book itself is very good and the lack of a single e was done for a very
good reason. I recommend David Bellos' biography of Perec. And more
importantly I recommend Perec's masterpiece "Life A User's Manual".

David

edro said...

Mary Youngquist was my sister. She died of cancer January 31, 2004. Besides a long career as a research chemist for Eastman Kodak, which evolved into her being their editor of scientific materials, she was a member of the National Puzzlers League. The following reflects the times and events given in memorialization of her life.
First is an introductory note from Helen, another sister:
Subject: Fwd: Tribute to Nightowl (aka Mary) == Date: Monday, July 12, 2004 11:12 PM == Hi All: == I thought you would like to read this about Mary! What a tribute from Will Shortz (he writes for the New York Times and has written several books . . . many or all were in Mary's collection of 4000+ books in her home!!) . . . Love, Helen
Next is Helen's letter from Ron Dines. He mentions Will Shortz, of whom Helen made comment. Will had attended a memorial luncheon for Mary held in Rochester, NY, in May. . (A memorial gathering and service for family and friends was also held at Balaton, MN on July 3, 2004). == Ron Dines writes: "This year's NPL convention was held in Boston from July 7-11th. One of the evening events was a tribute to Nightowl. It started with Will Shortz giving us a summary of her history with the league including some facts that I certainly wasn't aware of - namely that she had invented two puzzle types which are still very popular today. This was followed by several people getting up to express their remembrances of Mary. Having regrettably missed your memorial, I took this opportunity to speak for 2-3 minutes of some of the things that I so enjoyed with her. == I think it was very good for many of the newer members who not only hadn't met her, but really didn't know anything about her. I recall the collective "ooh" when it was mentioned that she edited the Enigma alone, without a computer and now it takes up to 11 people to do the same thing (and often, entre nous not as well). == It finished with the entire group solving 12 of her puzzles (beautifully selected by Will Shortz from so many to choose from). Each table solved and it became a very informal race to see who got each one first. There were 165 people totally absorbed with this activity, and I can think of nothing that Mary would have liked better. == Best regards, Ron (aka R/EDS) == Ron "
(I am the sender, Mary's Brother, Edmund R. Youngquist. , MN 55057. My appreciation for making available her poem!)

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Anonymous said...

True and great. I'm grateful for her.

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