i have two things to tell you; i dont know if they meld together that well, yet will i write.
i have in my hands, or at my side, rather, since I’m typing now, a book, the physical codex, published in 1953. Still with the paper wrapper we used to call, I think, the ”dust jacket”. It’s been awhile since i read from a codex. I’m totally seduced by the ease and speed of access to books on my Kindle. But aside from finding myself tapping the margin of the right hand page when im ready to move on, it’s going fine.
i had forgotten how, as you progress in the text and pages fan out in a cascade to your left, the delicate slightly roseate color of the very edge of the leaves manifests itself.
And this is an old book (i ordered it in Amazon, Kindle doesnt have it) so it has the indescribable smell, woody, presciently mouldy…new books smell, too, kinda like a sawmill—i thought of that the last time i entered a Barnes & Noble store: will future generations even know how books smelled?
Enough about the form, now for the substance: This book is Beauty for Ashes, by Christopher LaFarge (1953). It’s a novel in verse. And its about—wait for it—a zoning hearing.
As you know, I’m a land use lawyer, so finding out that someone wrote a long epic poem about my métier is exciting! A revelation!
Now let me tell you how i came to discover this book. im hooked on Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, they’ve become my go-to when i cant sleep or experience some other enforced idleness. And at one point, the great detective’s sidekick reports that Wolfe is reading Besuty for Ashes by LaFarge. So i was curious.
i imagine that Lafarge was well-known when Rex Stout was writing, there’d have been no point in mentioning the book unless his readers would know enough about it that it would flesh out the Nero Wolfe character for them.
its mostly free verse. im ordinarily not crazy about that, and my first thought was, the poetry isnt as good as Spoon River Anthology —but ive found it hard to put down since i started it a few hours ago. That has to mean something.
Desr readers, i dont expect anybody to try to get a copy of this book. Life is short, we have to ration our time.
But spare a thought for LaFarge and the many other poets and writers who labored and strutted in the sun of public attention in their day, only to vanish into oblivion.
“Full many a gem of purest ray serene/ The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;/Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/And waste its fragrance on the desert air.”