Monday, October 17, 2016

Better in small doses

(Ogden) Nash has been applauded for his industry and his verbal ingenuities. Both are virtues, but they become vices with Nash. For one thing, he writes too much. At first his work seems amazing; then it becomes amusing; after too many repetitions of the same effects, it descends to the mechanical. The present volume contains almost three hundred pages; were it half as long it would be twice as good.
Louis Untermeyer, Saturday Review, June 4, 1938

I understand what literary critic Louis Untermeyer was talking about in his review of one of Ogden Nash's collections of light verse, but I disagree with him just the same. The problem was not that Nash wrote too much but that Untermeyer read too much at one time. Nash is one of those writers best appreciated in small doses.

This is why Nash's books are perfect for bedtime reading. By reading just two or three verses at a time before turning out the light and going to sleep, I find his poems delightful, as when he rhymes aristocrats with sophistocrats and clamoring with Gotterdammerung in I'm a Stranger Here Myself, which was published in 1938 and was probably the book Untermeyer was reviewing. Try to read more than that at one time and the poems gradually lose their charm, which is what Untermeyer found. Reviewing a book for a weekly publication, however, he couldn't very well have taken weeks to read Nash's book.

Ogden Nash sold his verses one at a time to various magazines, and every few years they would be collected into books. Untermeyer's complaint should have been with Nash's publisher, Little, Brown and Company, for waiting too long before putting a book together and thus making it too long for the critic's taste, not with Nash himself for making his living selling as many poems as possible to so many different magazines. For readers of those magazines, reading one Nash poem at a time was ideal.

But if Ogden Nash didn't write too much for his own good, what about certain other prolific writers? I'll get into that subject next time.

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