The following beau présent, a poem written as tribute to a person by using just the letters of their name, is my humble attempt to pay honor to the wonderful Naomi Shahib Nye (in case you are not familiar with her fabulous poetry, lines 12 & 14 are intentional allusions to her poems “Bees Were Better” and “The Traveling Onion” respectively):
A Beau Présent For Naomi Shahib Nye
I am a boobish boy,
she’s a bonnie lass.
I am a baby, a bambino.
She’s a nanny, a mom.
I am a homeless hobo,
she is a shiny mansion.
I am a minion.
She is a boss.
I am an amoeba,
she’s an immense biomass.
I am honey (so messy).
She is a bee.
I am a banana,
she’s an onion.
I’m a noisy hyena.
She’s a mime.
I am no one,
she is somebody.
I’m a nebbish, an inane ninny.
She is my bohemian shaman.
By no means mean,
she eases my shyness,
minimises my mania,
banishes my insomnia.
I am me.
She is Naomi Shahib Nye.
Having received such an enthusiastic response to the two poems I wrote as examples of the relatively obscure French invented poetry form known as the beau présent on a recent post, I have been inspired to try writing an entire series dedicated to some of my favorite poets (warning: there are hundreds of poets I really adore so this may turn out to be a very long series). In case you have not read that particular post and have no idea what I’m talking about, the beau présent is a poem written to honor another person using only words made up from the letters contained in that person’s name. This very first one is my attempt at a heartfelt tribute to the brilliant Pulitzer-winning Serbian-American poet, Charles Simic (I hope you will enjoy reading it and be encouraged to try your own about your favorites):
A Beau Présent For Charles Simic
Charles Simic is so chill,
he’s as cool as chili-lime ice cream.
His smile is a classic semicircle,
his ears mimic small cameras.
I recall his earlier careers
as a clerical armchair researcher,
a Maharishi, a macrame messiah.
I cherish his mesmeric charisma,
I relish his harmless sarcasm.
He’s a shameless schemer,
a rare charmer, a seamless liar,
a serial rimer (all his similes are
sheer miracles). He’s a hammer,
a chisel, a seismic missile –
he smashes racism, he erases malaise.
His cashmere lies caress me,
his alchemical mercies shall heal me.
He is a real mishmash (as harsh
as Islam, as rich as Israel). He is America!
You might remember a post I wrote at the beginning of this month on the anagrammatic selfie, a poetry form I created (or at least honestly believed I did) almost 20 years ago for a children’s poetry workshop I was leading at a local library? Well, recently, I was surprised to discover another poetic form with which it shares many similarities. The beau présent (aka “present beau”, “beautiful in-law” or “beautiful gift”) is a French form interestingly invented by an American writer, Harry Matthews. It is best described as a short poem written as a gift or a tribute to another person using only the letters available in that person’s name. At first glance, these two forms may appear almost identical, but there are at least two major differences between the two. The first is rather obvious: the anagrammatic selfie is written about one’s self, and the beau présent is about another person. The other difference is the rules concerning the words that can be used to create the poems. With an anagrammatic selfie, a letter can be used in a word only as many times it appears in your name, while this does not apply to the beau présent. For example, I could not use the word pizzazz if I was writing an anagrammatic selfie, because the letter z appears 4 times there but only once in my name Paul Michael Szlosek. However, if someone else was writing a beau présent about me, the word pizzazz would be perfectly acceptable since it doesn’t matter how many times a letter appears in the person’s name. Thus you will have a larger base of words to write with when writing a beau présent than an anagrammatic selfie, which might make the task easier or harder (depending on your point of view).
Because it was originally meant to be written in honor of a person, I feel it is probably best (though it may be tempting) not to use the beau présent as a rant or tirade against people you dislike (like perhaps certain politicians or coworkers) since its tone should not be insulting or even critical, but affectionate and respectful (though also definitely whimsical and playful). Of course, you could write one about anyone you wish, but I highly recommend to write yours about people you genuinely like, love, and/or respect such as friends, family, or even favorite writers, poets, and artists. For example, I wrote the following beau présent was written for my cousin Dwayne:
A Beau Présent For Dwayne Szlosek
(My Cousin and Childhood Companion)
On lazy weekends, we’d snooze,
Awake woozy and dazed,
And swallow anise and seaweed soda,
We’d walk dense snowy woodlands,
Sneak down dank dead-end alleyways.
We’d saddle a seesaw, lasso a donkey,
Slay a dozen deadly snakes and eels.
We doodled and drew yellow yaks,
Woolly weasels, and walleyed koalas.
We yelled, yodeled and kazooed as
Annoyed newlywed ladies looked on.
Nowadays, we allow no nonsense,
No looneyness. We analyze essays
and lessons, know only a swollen
sense of loss, a deadness,
needless sadness and woe.
O Dwayne, we need a new deal –
Say we skedaddle, sail away
on a slow wooden yawl on
an endless odyssey and seek
new lands and zany old ways?
Yes? Okay? Okey dokey! Yay!
We’ll do so on Wednesday!
And here is another one about one of my favorite poets of all time, Robert Frost
(please note I included his middle name Lee so I would have access to words with the letter L):
A Beau Présent For Robert Lee Frost
O Br’er Robert, Frere Frost,
Let’s be footloose, be free.
Let’s rebel! Let’s loot stores-
Rob sellers of stereos or
Boost bottles of root beer.
Let’s flee streets bereft of trees
To stroll soft forest floors,
Offer steel toe boots to footsore settlers.
Let’s be referees for slobs, feeble fools,
Restore teeter totters, obsolete robots.
Let’s be better – be sober,
Be effortless, be Robert Lee Frost.
Like always, I hope you enjoyed and found this post useful, perhaps even be inspired to try writing a beau présent about your own favorite poet or writer. If you do, I’d love to see it so please don’t be afraid to share. Thanks so much for reading!