Thursday, September 24, 2009

Alfred Corn: “Contemporary Culture and the Letter ‘K’”

First inroads were made in our 19-aughts
(Foreshadowed during the last century by nothing
More central than "Kubla Khan," Kipling, Greek
Letter societies, including the grotesque KKK –
Plus the kiwi, koala, and kookaburra from Down Under)
When certain women applied to their moist eyelids
A substance pronounced coal but spelled kohl,
Much of the effect captured on Kodak film
With results on and off camera now notorious.
They were followed and sometimes chased by a platoon
Of helmeted cutups styled the Keystone Kops, who'd
Freeze in the balletic pose of the letter itself,
Left arm on hip, leg pointed back at an angle,
Waiting under klieg lights next a worried kiosk
To put the kibosh on Knickerbocker misbehavior.
Long gone, they couldn't help when that hirsute royal
King Kong arrived to make a desperate last stand,
Clinging from the Empire State, swatting at biplanes,
Fay Wray fainting away in his leathern palm
As in the grip of African might. Next, marketing
Stepped up with menthol tobacco and the brand name
Kool, smoked presumably by models and archetypes
Superior in every way to Jukes and Kallikaks.
By then the race was on, if only because
Of German Kultur's increasing newsworthiness
On the international front. The nation that had canned
Its Kaiser went on to sponsor debuts for the hero
Of Mein Kampf, Wotan of his day, launching thunderbolts
And Stukas, along with a new social order astonishing
In its industrial efficiency. His annexing
Of Bohemia cannot have been spurred by reflecting
That after all Prague had sheltered the creator
And in some sense alter-ego of Josef K.,
Whose trial remained a local fact until the fall
Of the Empire of a Thousand Years, unheard of in 'Amerika"
Of the Jazz Age. But musicians Bix Beiderbecke and Duke
Ellington somehow always took care to include the token
Grapheme in their names, for which precaution fans
Of certain priceless '78’s can only be grateful.
They skipped and rippled through a long post-war glow
Still luminous in the memory of whoever recalls
Krazy Kat, Kleenex, Deborah Kerr, Korea, Kool-Aid,
And Jack Kennedy. Small wonder if New York had
A special feeling for the theme, considering radical
Innovations of De Kooning, Kline, and Rothko. This last
Can remind us that bearers of the letter often suffered
Bereavement and despair (cf. Chester Kallman) and even,
As with Weldon Kees, self-slaying. Impossible not to see
Symptoms of a malaise more widespread still in a culture
That collects kitsch and Krugerrands, with a just-kids lifestyle
Whose central shrine is the shopping mall - K-Mart, hail to thee!
To "Kuntry Kitchen," "Kanine Kennels," and a host of other
Kreative misspellings kreeping through the korpus
Of kontemporary lingo like an illness someone someday
(The trespass of metaphor) is going to spell "kancer.”

True, there have been recidivists in opposite
Direction (a falling away perhaps from the Platonic ideal
Of to kalon*) like "calisthenics" and Maria Callas,
Who seem to have preferred the less marblelike romance
Of traditional English. This and related factors make all
Supporters of the letter "k" in legitimate forms
And avatars cherish it with fiery intensity -
All the more when besieged by forces beyond
Anyone's control, at least, with social or medical
Remedies now available. Dr. Kaposi named it,
That sarcoma earmarking a mortal syndrome thus far
Incurable and spreading overland like acid rain.
A sense of helplessness is not in the repertory national
Of our national consciousness, we have no aptitude
For standing by as chill winds rise, the shadows gather,
And dray light glides into the room where a seated figure
Has taken up his post by the window, facing away from us,
No longer bothering to speak, his mind at one with whatever
Is beyond the ordinary spell of language, whatever dreams us
Into that placeless place, its nearest image a cloudless
Sky at dusk, just before the slow ascent of the moon.

* to kalon: Greek, "the beautiful"

2 comments:

  1. Kool, Kreative!
    How about Krispy Kreme?
    (Kaffee und Kuchen)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked this. It wasn't what I thought it would be. Gave me some good ideas.

    ReplyDelete