“I will keep you, Suzy, busy…”

December 7, 2011 @ 7:31 pm | Filed under: ,

Freshman year of college, my Voice and Diction instructor assigned a very long poem for memorization. I don’t think we had to recite the whole thing (she’d have had to spend the entire rest of the semester listening to us) but I do recall cramming a massive chunk of it. This came up in the car the other day in a conversation with my girls about words with confusing pronunciations. Without thinking about it, I found myself chanting,

“Dearest creature in creation, studying English pronunciation…”

I didn’t get much farther. Remembered a few more fragments. “Something something who can tell/ Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.”

Today, to my astonishment and delight, my friend Anne Marie Pace happened to share this very poem on Facebook.

Strangely, the Pall Mall line isn’t included. But I vividly remember the instructor staring disdainfully at us students over the tops of her enormous dark glasses, and blowing cigarette smoke out of the side of her mouth before informing us that the London Street was pronounced ‘pell mell.’ We were a bunch of Colorado kids who only knew the name as a cigarette brand and didn’t understand why “tell” was rhymed with “Mall” in that couplet.

The poem is called, I believe, “The Phonetic Labyrinth.” Really quite delicious, when no one is breathing smoke at you for flubbing a line.

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5 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    Love it! Can’t wait to try in out on my girls tomorrow.

  2. tanita says:

    I am delightfully horrified at the imagery of that fire-breathing harridan. She has got to show up in a book. (And voice and diction class??? How fun.)

    And I’ve been to London and mispronounced street names, and everyone laughs. But, sans smoke. Fortunately.

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    Tanita, she absolutely ought to be in a book. When I shared this poem on Facebook yesterday, a collective shudder went up from former Loretto Heights College theater majors. Not at the poem—at the memory of those v&d classes and the even more infamous Stage Movement course. S’s students spent much of the semester learning and performing a very very very very long series of exercises she called the Floor Barre. These contortions were set to a Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits soundtrack, and it’s a crying shame that to this day certain Stevie Wonder songs make me wince. (He deserves better.) On one particularly memorable day S. silenced Stevie mid-note and ordered my classmates to gather around and look at the arch in my back as I lay on the floor. “You could drive a truck through that tunnel,” Herself intoned. A dire future was prophesied for me unless I followed to the letter a new series of back-straightening exercises she assigned me as homework. (I lasted about three days on the regimen before I realized, oh, it’s just that my tailbone pokes out a bit, making it hard to lie flat on a hard surface. Future perhaps not quite so dire, since I had no ambitions to be a carpenter’s level.) 😉

  4. Kathryn N says:

    Here’s the (much) longer version that doesn include Pall Mall. http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html

  5. Joanna says:

    Thank you so much for the poem – as a true English pedant it was a delight for me to read.

    Oh wow – just seen in your comments there’s a longer version. Just off to check the link 🙂