In my junior year at Goshen College, a small, liberal arts Mennonite school, I took an American Literature Survey course. Our big project for the end of the semester was a term paper (I wrote mine on E.E. Cummings), a timeline, a few other things I can't remember but which seemed important at the time, and a creative piece. In the class, there was a quiet guy who had transfered to my college as a senior, although I didn't know it at the time. When it was time to share our creative projects, he pulled out a series of poems based on the nursery rhyme, "Jack Be Nimble" as if it had been written by different American authors and poets.
I thought it was funny. I thought it was brilliant. I wish I had written it myself. So did my classmates! When the English department newsletter printed it, I stuck it to my bulletin board. The following year, I found out that the American Literature professor had everyone in his class write parodies in a similar vein.
Years later, I looked for the Jack Be Nimble project among my papers, but couldn't find it. I wanted to share it with other people, but I couldn't remember more than the gist of the Walt Whitman section followed by Emily Dickinson and Gwendolyn Brooks. I couldn't even remember the name of the guy who wrote it-- all that I knew was that he had shown up one year, and was gone the next.
Then, K.Jay of Amish Guitar wrote to me after finding the chords to a Mennonite hymn I had posted, and pointed out that we were English majors together for a brief time. I didn't really remember him, but we had enough in common that we struck up an online friendship. Earlier this week, after discussing poetry, K.Jay wrote, "As a treat I pulled out a old assignment from American Lit. I hope you find amusement in it."
It was the Jack project! Suddenly, I remembered K.Jay perfectly, and told him how much we all enjoyed his poems. K.Jay gave me permission to publish them here for Poetry Friday:
The Mother Goose rhyme:
Jack be nimble.
Jack be quick.
Jack jump over the candlestick.
* * *
Jack and Jane, Bill and Sarah
Mike, Lisa, Fred and Barney.
All of us
We are nimble, quick, and agile.
Lively, spry, deft and dexterous.
For the impulsion to lift ourselves over the candlestick.
We can. We can do it.
The challenge is ours.
That Jack. He
Be nimble. He
Be quick. He
Jump stick. He
Fall down. He
e. e. cummings
@jack is jump
nimble, bimble, up, down.
all over town%(>>
candlestick over jump he
nimble, bimble, up, *down.
J. D. Salinger
Well, you know, Jack. I mean, Jack, He is quick and all. I mean quick and nimble and all. God. I mean he jumps over candlesticks and everything. That is, a candlestick. I mean Jack could, if he wanted to, jump over the candlestick and all. God.
THE STORY OF JACK AND THE CANDLESTICK
I looked at the candlestick and I think it looked back at me if you know what I mean. At first I tried to be nimble. But soon I found that I also had to be quick. But then I took another look at the candlestick as it dared me to jump over it. I jumped over it. And then the candlestick and I became friends.
* * *
©K.Jay 1993, 2008
By the way, there is an unofficial saying among the Mennonites, based on a potato-chip commerical: "Mennonites. You can't meet just one." Although there may be only one and a half million Mennonites in the whole world, chances are that if you (1) are Mennonite (2) meet another Mennonite, you will find out that (a) you are cousins (b) someone in his or her family dated and/or is married to someone in your family. As far as we know, K.Jay and I are not cousins, but one of his wife's ancestors broke his engagement to one of my ancestors! (We don't harbor any hard feelings about the matter.)
This week's Poetry Friday Round-up is at The Well-Read Child.