The Ecphorizer

Vintage Kimberlaken
Lewis Burke Frumkes

Issue #18 (February 1983)

PERGOLA IN PARAMUS

There's a pergola in Paramus there
Close by the river Schnapps;
Where fish and fowl and Bacchus prowl,
Cast stones down chimney tops,

Where Rimbaud played And Sappho laid;
Where full the grapes are sewn
In dusty bin, across the din
The birds have lately flown,

There's a pergola in Paramus there
Close by the river Schnapps;
And who's to say
Why wolves do bay
When wind blows in the copse.

If John Henry Kimberlake were known only for this poem reprinted from "Les Jeux Sont Fait And Other Curious Poesie," one might justifiably paint doubt upon the metal of his literary reputation. But he is also a superlative jogger and waxer of words, a man of the times; a man for two possibly three seasons. I believe it was the great Marshall Herrick who once said of his arch rival, "He's dead wood, nothing but dead wood. What do they see in him? The man has nothing, do you hear me, nothing!" He was clearly jealous of his friend.

John Henry Kimberlake was born an impoverished merchant near the little fishing village of Mamaroneck, which flanks the Long Island Sound for several sequestered miles on one side and the demi-towns of Harrison, Larchmont, and Rye on the other.

His early lack of success lay mainly in his attempt to market war canoes during the great fishing conflagration of the late thirties and forties. Other merchants concentrated on fishing boats which, while less imaginative, proved of more lasting practicality.

Discouraged and feeling the sting which often accompanies irreversible hardship, John Henry turned his polymathic talents to journalism, founding and editing "Harbinger," a weekly tabloid which printed pernicious editorials about local political candidates. Sometimes he would smear their families as well. This practice did not endear him to local residents, who at a town meeting decided to put a contract out on his life.

Ironically, it was after the appearance of an editorial in the fall 1965 number of "Harbinger," that one of his phrases "devious little bastard" used to describe the mayor of the town caught on and attracted some overdue attention to the feisty editor of this relatively obscure journal of opinion.

From that point in his life John Henry Kimberlake's literary career took off like a banshee, screaming across the intellectual skies of America, dropping load after load of tendentious prose and poetry wherever the need existed.

A complex figure, he has been called variously "The Peahen of Poesie," "America's Enfante Terrible," and "Drunken Sot," the latter term referring to his well known penchant for low proof alcoholic beverages which transfuses nearly all of his writing.

If we examine "Pergola in Paramus," for example, this leitmotif becomes apparent when after changing Pergola to the anagram 'Lo Grape' we discover Kimberlake is alluding to a wine still in Paramus. Notice 'Lo Grape in Paramus,' 'Schnapps,' and 'Bacchus' particularly. It is a clarion call to those who love good drink to join the poet in Paramus for a grape gathering, "where full the grapes are sewn." Together, says Kimberlake, we will "cast stones down chimney tops," a reference to the time he was picked up in South Orange on Christmas Eve dropping stones down chimneys and going "Ho, ho, ho, got ya you old gut piper."

Students of Kimberlake's early poetry will remember the famous line from "Melons in Heaven," "gather round ye crocked and craven" which further illustrates this theme. The development of the word 'sips' into 'piss' later in the same poem again hammers home his love of drinking and anagrams.

John Henry Kimberlake may just be the best poet the drinking class in America has ever turned out and I expect little argument in this quarter, but he is also a philosopher in the only sense of the word. The lines "And who's to say, why wolves do bay" hauntingly asks the question why wolves, who do not drink, bay at the moon. We know why those who have had a few too many bay at the moon, but why wolves? This question has never to Kimberlake's satisfaction been answered. De Kampf in his book "Lunus Wolvus" tries to deal with this question but becomes so bogged down in his own logic that he ends on a note of despair, "aaaaaach." Kimberlake himself does not fully answer the question, instead leaving us in a veritable metaphysical tumescence "when wind blows in the copse."

Kimberlake's newest volume is not as some have called it "a frivolous exercise in windbaggery" nor a "cattle prod," rather it is a symbolic effort on the part of the poet to bay at the moon.

©1983 Lewis Burke Frumkes  

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