Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

Dim Lady

I certainly see nothing wrong with parodying old, famous poems–one of my last publications was a reworking of one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets (mine began “Batter my arteries, trans-fatty globules”)–so when I was leafing through an anthology I’m considering adopting for a class this fall and I came across Harryette Mullen’s “Dim Lady,” I wanted to give it a closer look.

She’s adapted Shakespeare’s sonnet 130, recited at the end of this clip by the British comic Catherine Tate:

Mullen’s treatment is also irreverent–she’s dumped the sonnet form, which is good because the overall transformation is really more one of style than substance. Mullen makes it a prose poem, and tries to make it sound like Lord Buckley has risen from the dead to put his hipster spin on the poem.

My honeybunches peepers are nothing like neon. Today’s special at Red Lobster is redder than her kisser. If Liquid Paper is white, her racks are institutional beige. If her mop were Slinkys, dishwater Skinkys would grow on her noggin.

Et cetera. The overall effect, however, leaves me a little limp, because it reads more like a cutesy translation than a transformation. We don’t really gain anything new from this poem that we can’t get from the Shakespeare, and it seems to me that the obligation of any imitation or updating is to add to the original.


June 10, 2008 - Posted by | Dim Lady, Harryette Mullen

1 Comment »

  1. It is completely true that an updated version of something should add to the original, but I disagree with your assertion that there is nothing added by Mullen in her "Dim Lady" adaptation. She adds humor. The original was sweet, and so is hers, but she adds humor to the proceedings, something that is almost necessary today in the acquisition of good romance. She takes an otherwise beautiful (albeit somewhat dated) romantic piece and turns it into a more modern romantic comedy.

    Comment by Christopher | September 22, 2009 | Reply

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