Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ira and I


Amanda rhymes with propaganda;
with miscellania Titania
goes well, but as for Angelas,
they only have Los Angeles
as rhyme words, although Ira didn’
realize this. I’m from Britain
which maybe gives me an advantage
when using weak rhymes as a bandage
to cover words that hardly rhyme:
if you’ve the license, it’s no crime;
if you with it can get away
you have the verbal right of way.

With badinage once Ira Gershwin
did this before the poet Gersh. Win-
some my rhymes. I can’t win all,
but in LA I have a ball
competing as I do in rhyme
with Ira, and it’s summertime
for me, as it was once for Porgy,
to wallow in a rhyming orgy,
though I don’t have a George to make
it stick, so when you see me fake
it’s easier to tell I am,
though strictly Jewish, a mere ham.

Inspired by Stephen Holden’s review of an Ira Geshwin review at the 92nd Street Y (“The Gershwin Brother Who Treasured His dictionary,” May 11, 2007):

Margot and embargo, Amanda and propaganda, Titania and miscellanea: those whimsical rhymes for women’s names are breezily trotted out in “A Rhyme for Angela,” a comic song from the forgotten 1945 Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin operetta “The Firebrand of Florence.” Its joke is that there is no usable rhyme for Angela. Performed on Saturday by Tom Wopat at the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists series, the song offered a prime example of Gershwin’s irrepressible verbal playfulness. Introducing it on Saturday at the first of five performances of “The Man That Got Away: Ira After George,” Rex Reed, the program’s artistic director, talked about how Ira Gershwin and his Lower East Side schoolmate E. Y. Harburg pored over dictionaries to develop styles of light verse patterned after W. S. Gilbert. As adventurous human rhyming machines, they were as competitive in their way as today’s rappers. A passion for effervescent high jinks is a lyrical hallmark of Gershwin, who remains overshadowed by George, his younger brother. That relative obscurity, alas, is the fate of lyricists in general. Because tunes cling to us more easily than rhymes, the composers in songwriting collaborations reap more of the glory. And so Ira, who died in 1983 (46 years after George), remains underappreciated.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 5/11/09

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