Holy Tango of Literature

Alison Morris - March 28, 2007

While it's true that I mostly read books written for children and young adults, I do sometimes find time to read "grown-up" stuff. I'd like now to call your attention to a book published for adults that is well-worth knowing about, even if your primary focus is books for the younger set.

Holy Tango of Literature by Francis Heaney is a brilliantly funny, terribly clever book of poetry that belongs in the home library of every word-lover, poetry-lover, humorist and middle school or high school English teacher. Here's how publisher Emmis Books describes it:

"Holy Tango of Literature is a unique and captivating collection mimicking the great writers of literary history. This devilishly witty book has a twist: Each writer's name is rearranged as a title, creating the subject for a parody rendered in the author's style."

Confused yet? I don't blame you. Perhaps an example will help to clarify things.

Heaney took Emily Dickinson's name and out of it created (found?) the anagram "skinny domicile." He then wrote a poem called "Skinny Domicile" in a perfect parody of Emily Dickinson's distinct writing style. It begins like this:

I have a skinny Domicile—
Its Door is very narrow.
’Twill keep—I hope—the Reaper out—
His Scythe—and Bones—and Marrow.

There's William Carlos Williams (I Will Alarm Islamic Owls), e. e. cummings (nice smug me), Dorothy Parker (Dreary Hot Pork), and many, many more — each of them the perfect homage to their subjects.

Now that you are opening another window to order a copy of this book via Booksense.com or calling me to reserve a copy at our bookstore, you may be both pleased and surprised to learn that the entire text of Holy Tango is available (gasp!) online. In a move that seems both crazy and (I have to say) rather brilliant, Heaney has convinced Emmis Books that he can sell more copies of his book by allowing everyone the opportunity to read it. The idea is that you will read these poems and become so enchanted by them that you will want to own the physical book AND want to purchase copies for your friends.

I'm fascinated by this notion, because it presents an interesting twist to the e-book concept that has some booksellers quaking in their boots, wondering if there will soon be anything left for us to shelve. Heaney's theory suggests that the physical books may still exist, but (in the case of authors who accurately predict their own reader-appeal) they may by and large be bought by the people who've already read them.

Is this the wave of the future? You tell me. And would you take this sort of risk with your own book?

I will say these things for the actual book-form copy of Holy Tango: it features high-quality French flaps, an excellent font, and wonderfully clever caricatures of the featured poets, all drawn by Richard Thompson. If you were given an actual book-form copy of Holy Tango, you should look under the front flap to discern whether or not the friend who gave it to you has (like me) discovered a terribly addictive Web site called the Internet Anagram Server (or "I, Rearrangement Servant").

When I first discovered Holy Tango and bought copies for poetry-loving friends, I included an inscription in each that began with an anagram of my friend's name and ended with an anagram of my full name (Alison Louise Morris) — Our Slim Rose Is a Lion. In the course of generating such inscriptions, I stumbled (thankfully) upon the Internet Anagram Server which considerably shortened the amount of time I had to spend scrambling letters, even if it did in some cases generate hundreds of possible combinations. If your own name yields such unwieldy results, I recommend clicking on the Advanced Anagramming link and limiting your options to two- or three-word combinations or combinations that include a specific word you'd like to be sure is part of your anagram. If you're lucky, your results might include a new name as befitting as that of our buyer and resident knitter, Lorna Jean Ruby (Unreal Yarn Job), or a campaign slogan as entertaining as that of our events coordinator, Janet Michelle Potter (Elect John Mitt, A Leper). If they do, be sure to share them with the rest of us here, online, and not just in your finished book.

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