July 2, 2008

Billy Collins on Bugs and Company

Billy Collins writing in the WSJ:
I think what these animations offered me besides some very speedy, colorful entertainment was an alternative to the static reality around me that dutifully followed the laws of the physical world. The brothers Warner presented a flexible, malleable world that defied Newton, a world of such plasticity that anything imaginable was possible. Bugs Bunny could suddenly pull a lawn mower, or anything else that might come in handy, out of his pants pocket, and he wasn't even wearing pants. Flattened by a 500-pound anvil, Wile E. Coyote could snap back into shape in a heartbeat. A box containing a pair of Acme rocket-powered roller skates would arrive in the desert with no sign of a delivery service (though you suspected it would be called Ace Delivery).

Plus, characters could jump dimensions, leaping around in time and space, their sudden exits marked by a rifle-shot sound effect. Anticipating the tricks of metafiction, these creatures could hop right out of the world of the cartoon and into our world, often Hollywood itself to consort with caricatures of Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Monroe. Or Bugs would do the impossible by jumping out of the frame and landing on the drawing board of the cartoonist who was at work creating him. This freedom to transcend the laws of basic physics, to hop around in time and space, and to skip from one dimension to another has long been a crucial aspect of imaginative poetry. Robert Bly developed a poetics based on the notion of psychic "leaping," where the genius of a poem is measured by its ability to leap without warning from the conscious to the unconscious and back again. Bly's short poem "After Long Busyness" provides an example of leaping by association and captures the skittish motions of thought:

I start out for a walk at last after weeks at the desk.
Moon gone, plowing underfoot, no stars; not a trace of light!
Suppose a horse were galloping toward me in this open field?
Every day I did not spend in solitude was wasted.
I adored Looney Tunes as a kid and still find them the most entertaining cartoons on television.

The mailbox in front of the neat cottage
spells out the unfortunate name.
This morning the homebody
is singing in his sunny kitchen
dum-dee-dum, waiting
for the tea water to boil.
Later he will have his nap,
the enormous pink head
rolling on the pillow
dreaming again of the wabbit,
the private carrot patch.
Waiting by his bed
is the shotgun and the ridiculous hat
for he is the human.  

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