Wednesday, December 1, 2010

To Quote or Not To Quote

By Carola Dunn

One summer day--pre-Google--I was wandering around my garden admiring the colourful flowers tucked here and there in the jungle, when I noticed a wilting rosebud. I rushed into the house to grab a reference book from the shelf. No, not a gardening book; The Oxford Book of English Verse. I wanted to look up the rest of the poem that begins, "Rose, thou art sick..."

I couldn't find it, so I made a phone call, not to the Extension service but to the library. Ah, it begins "Oh Rose..." No wonder it eluded me.

Just today I had to discard a quote I wanted to put in--couldn't quite make it fit without a tedious explanation, and any quote that requires a tedious explanation is best left out. It's from Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. I'll give you the whole thing, as it's definitely related to crime fiction:
     Yesterday my gun exploded
     When I thought it wasn't loaded.
     Near my wife I pulled the trigger.
     Chipped a fragment off her figure.
     'Course I'm sorry, and all that,
     But she shouldn't be so fat!

Usually a couple of words are enough to place the quote for readers who are interested (though these days all you have to do is Google the phrase), and those who aren't interested can dismiss the whole business as an odd quirk of Daisy's. So if a quotation pops into my head, I let it pop into Daisy's too. I've never had a reader complain!

Daisy, when investigating murder, is apt to think to herself "Curiouser and curiouser!" (Alice in Wonderland) A suspect who talks too much is adding "Merely corroborative detail, intended to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." (Mikado) 

Lucy: "All her fury—what's that thing about hell
hath no fury?"
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," said
"'Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd,'" said Julia.
(from SHEER FOLLY—the 18th Daisy mystery)

The reason this subject is on my mind is that somehow I've been roped in to participate in a poetry reading this evening. I'm not a poet, though I've written one or two in my time (even had a haiku published on 25 local buses once!). Luckily I'm allowed to read other people's poems, and bits from my own mysteries.

One thing I'll definitely be reading is Anthem for Doomed Youth, which is a poem by Wilfred Owen and the title of the next Daisy book. Trouble is, it always makes me cry...


Unknown said...

On buses? LMAO, twice. Just when I'd recovered from the shooting gaffaw, you hit me with the bus. Now I gotta change shirts and wipe off my screen.

Bill Kirton said...

I have several poet friends whose works have appeared in public toilets - no, not scribbled on the walls but posted officially as part of a poetry initiative.

But I'm with you on quotations, Carola. There are some which just stick because they say whatever it is better than any other form of words could, and because their rhythms are just right.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I've been posting writer quotations for months on Facebook, trying to find both humor and sage observations but none as noteworthy as your "Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes." Where can I get a copy? :)

Carola Dunn said...

Jean, I'm afraid Ruthless Rhymes is probably virtually unobtainable. It was a staple of my childhood and I guess at some point I pinched it from my mum. It was originally my grandmother's. Published in the days when books didn't necessarily have a date at the front. Another favourite:

I was playing golf the day
That the Germans landed.
All our troops had run away,
All our ships were stranded.
And the thought of England's shame
Altogether spoilt my game.

Carola Dunn said...

I just googled Ruthless Rhymes and apparently Dover has reprinted.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Carola. I just ordered a copy from

Carola Dunn said...

Making toast at the fireside,
Nurse fell in the fire and died.
And, what makes it ten times worse,
All the toast was burnt with Nurse.

Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes.
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven't the heart to poke poor Billy.

I never deliberately learned any of these by heart--they just stick.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I believe you implied it well, Carola, that for quotes to be meaningful, the reader must first be familar with them. You can quote me on that:)

Jaden Terrell said...

Carola, I've got to get that book. I used to have several books of collected poems, and yours sounds like it's just twisted enough for me, LOL.