Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Seinfeld Sonnets

[Skip directly to sonnets.]

Here's something odd from my pre-blogging past. I've mentioned many times that reading Douglas Hofstadter's Le ton beau de Marot awakened an unexpected interest in writing poetry - especially poetry that follows fairly strict constraints and that invites lots of wordplay. Two of my favorite MMmusing moments involve sonnetized versions of two of the more celebrated classical music stories from the last two years: the Hatto Sonnets and the Bell Sonnets.

I was reminded of them today when Terry Teachout twittered about Calvin Trillin's fantastic couplet-ized takedown of Roman Polanski, which you should go right now and read. It's short and brilliantly to the point. Pretty soon, my mind wandered back to a kooky project on which I embarked a few years back. The goal: summarize each episode of Seinfeld in sonnet form. After all, I'm certain there's no episode I've seen less than five times, so I've got all this knowledge floating around, just begging to be used. As with the Hatto and Bell sonnets, I chose to follow the delightfully varied rhyming/metrical pattern that Pushkin uses in his great novel-in-verse, Eugene Onegin. (Hofstadter devotes part of his wonderful book to the issue of translating Pushkin's rhymed Russian into effective English.)

Alas, as it happened, I only got around to finishing nine episodes before...well, I'm not sure what harebrained scheme drew my attention away, but I don't think I spent much more than a long weekend jamming these words together. I've always had the insane idea that I'd like to finish the project, but it occurred to me today that I probably never will and that I probably never should. So, where I once worried that presenting a few samples to the world would spoil the surprise (or perhaps inspire someone else to finish before me - delusional, though that thought may be), I decided today that I might as well post a few. They may appear as little more than gibberish to those who don't know the plots, full as they are of little quotes and allusions to as many details as I could manage in fourteen lines per show.

So, here are Seven Seinfeld Sonnets (complete with notes to self from way back), with enough enjambment and tortured rhymes to make you glad I never got around to the other 171 episodes:

16. The Chinese Restaurant

A Chinese restaurant is the setting
for dinner for a band of three.
The problem seems to be in getting
a table, so they wait and see.
Elaine is starving, George is waiting
to make a call; he needs sedating.
They try to bribe the maitre d'.
He takes their money cluelessly.
Elaine is offered fifty dollars
by Jerry to steal someone's food.
She chickens out. George scolds the rude
and antisocial payphone callers.
Despair sets in, they hit the door.
The clueless host says, "Seinfeld, four!"

[could still use references to "Skyburger" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Also, the interesting trivial fact that there is no Kramer.]

23. The Parking Garage

Like wand'rers in a desert, fretting
inside a Jersey mall garage,
our heroes search the maze-like setting
for Kramer's car. "Right there?" Mirage!
Elaine's new fish is slowly fading,
while George's folks back home are waiting.
The friends divide, search high and low.
Both George and Jerry have to go.
Behind some cars, they go discreetly,
but each is caught, though Jerry pleads
his Uromysitisis needs.
George finds a woman who quite sweetly
agrees to help, but George misspeaks,
insults Ron Hubbard; then she freaks.

[missing heavy AC unit and closing scene]

34. The Boyfriend, Part I
35. The Boyfriend, Part II

A friendship blooms with Keith Hernandez
for Jerry. Soon Elaine competes
for interest from this baseball man, des-
pised spitter, Newman says; repeats
a JFK-type tale that Jerry
dispels with evidence contrary.
The "magic loogie" must have come
from somewhere else: McDowell, that scum.
To get his benefits extended
for unemployment, George invents
a firm that Jerry represents,
sells latex. All goes as intended
'till Kramer answers Jerry's phone,
"No Vandalay!" George ends up prone.

George dates Ms. Sokol's girl to flatter
in hopes that he'll keep getting paid,
while Jerry thinks something's the matter
when Keith, who's moving, asks for aid.
Poor Seinfeld's doubly jealous knowing
Elaine and Keith are still out going.
Keith's smoking turns Elaine away
and Jerry balks on moving day.
The homely daughter dumps Costanza,
his only hope is to impress
by introducing Mrs. S.
to Keith, but once again the plans a
mistake since Jerry's quit the move,
though Kramer, Newman helpful prove.

[no dropping of baby by Kramer, although that's no big loss to me. Wish I
could fit in ". . . and YOU want to be MY latex salesman!"]

51. The Contest

Poor George's mother lands in traction
when she walks in on George, who's by
himself with Glamour; his reaction
is evermore to self-deny.
His friends do not believe him able
and so they wager at the table
to see who can the best abstain,
be master of his own domain.
First Kramer loses to temptation:
a naked neighbor. Then Elaine
meets John-John. Jerry can't explain
to virgin Marla his frustration,
while George must watch a comely nurse
sponge-bathe a patient. How perverse!

[I'm just happy to have gotten through this one!]

57. The Outing

Elaine starts trouble by pretending
That George and Jerry are in love.
A girl who hears had been intending
to meet with Jerry, subject of
her story for the college paper.
At first it seems that they'll escape her
intent to out them when they chat.
(Not that there's something wrong with that.)
A faulty phone undoes their doing,
and soon they're outed in the press.
Costanza's mom falls in distress.
As Jerry sets things straight by wooing
the girl, in George walks playing gay
to scare his clingy girl away.

[substitution of "something" for "anything" annoys me. No mention of
Elaine's refusal to take off coat, although I never thought that was very
funny. Wish I could've mentioned "Guys and Dolls" and/or Better Midler.]

78. The Marine Biologist

When Jerry meets Diane from college,
he lies, says George matured. Now she
thinks George is a marine biolog-
ist. Kramer golfs balls out to sea.
Elaine repeats, while in discussion
of "War and Peace" with an old Russian,
what Jerry'd said: the book once bore
the name, "War, What is it good for?'"
The Russian hurls her organizer,
its names lead right back to the fiend:
to sum up, twice Corrine gets beaned.
George saves a whale: frees "fish's" geyser
from hole-in-one 'midst angry man-
in-deli sea. Truth miffs Dianne.

[The angry old man's soup is left out, but I'm pretty pleased I got that
much in. I don't think I've got space to work in the tape-recorder in any
more detail.]

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