An Infinite Number of Monkeys

After all the Shakespeare, the book
of poems they type is the saddest
in history.

But before they can finish it,
they have to wait for that Someone
who is always

looking to look away. Only then
can they strike the million
keys that spell

humiliation and grief, which are
the great subjects of Monkey
Literature

and not, as some people still
believe, the banana
and the tire.


-- Ronald Koertge
A superbly odd little poem, with a splash of pathos thrown in, the allusions are clearly similar to E2’s sweet mayhem with its surreal vision colliding with the sadness of everyday life. One writes what one knows, and a thousand monkeys captive before a thousand typewriters would have a more intimate knowledge of those two emotions than of bananas and tires. For those unfamiliar with the infinite monkeys meme, Professor Pi defines it very well in his write up Infinite Monkeys Theorem:
    This theorem states that if you put an infinite number of monkeys behind typewriters, eventually one will write the script for Hamlet. Alternatively a finite number of monkeys with infinite time will also accomplish this. The implication is that a problem or task of any complexity can be solved using brute force trial-and-error, even without intrinsic knowledge of a system, nor the intelligence to adapt to a situation.
This piece was first published in Ronald Koertge’s Making Love to Roget's Wife (1997). There is scant information about the author on the web, though he is well respected enough as a poet that his work is regularly used in literary classes. He currently resides in South Pasadena, CA where he is professor of English at Pasadena City College. Here is a selection from a student essay that explains who inspired Koertge. It was a bit of a surprise:
    I read Cummings in graduate school when I was supposed to be reading somebody else. He was fun to read. Not only did he write great poems like “Buffalo Bill's / defunct" but he wrote lines like "my Uncle Sol's farm / failed because the chickens / ate the vegetables so." He wrote a lot about kissing -- a subject I wanted to major in…In "I sing of Olaf" he used the kind of words I used every day, but he used them better. Naturally I used to write as he did which was about as successful as any drum-and-bugle corps rendition of [end page 44](sic) "Ave Maria." But more than nearly anyone from those days he gave me a sense of permission to be foolish and carnal in print; he taught me to value the off-hand, and to listen attentively to any messages from the kingdom of the off.
In fact a metaphor can be exposed if one simply scratches the surface. Writing on E2 resonates with the same run of steady and frank humanity, a voice that chuckles at itself, often prodding the reader a bit, but it’s forever stunning and enlightening when the one discovers something of themselves.

An Infinite Number of Monkeys is a pointed and insightful observation on the funny side of life while evocative of the more painful facets as well. The notion that the monkeys are just waiting for the "Someone who is always looking" to turn away for an moment so that they can create their work of art, complements the stories that harkens back to youthful fantasies of toys coming to life in the unknowable recesses of the imagination. Indeed the poem is very redolent of Billy Collins. Its expressions on how art and poetry relate between the author and the readers, along with a brilliant "what if" suspension of disbelief. The poem creates a kind of magic realism that draws the audience in and invites them to participate in the process. And who can say for sure - perhaps humiliation and heartache really are the grand subjects of Monkey Literature.

Sources:

THE INFLUENCE OF CUMMINGS ON SELECTED CONTEMPORARY POETS:
http://www.gvsu.edu/english/Cummings/issue2/Locklin2.htm

Making Love to Roget's Wife: Poems:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/155728461X/104-2155686-2408708?v=glance

The Wondering Minstrels:
http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1483.html

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