Wednesday, October 16, 2019
I’m not a regular poetry reader. I dip into poems now and then, but it is not my customary fare. However, the recent death of Mary Oliver (January 17, 2019), whom (it may surprise you) I didn’t know, reading her obituary in The New York Times, and a collection of her poems I discovered—thanks to a book club—in a volume with an evocative title—Devotions—all spoke to me. I like her poems. Or at least the ones I’ve read. I especially like “Hum” and, inspired by it (and Sherlockian motifs I read into it), decided to try something a little bit crazy and slightly radical, at least for me, especially as I’m not a poet: write a prose poem that says a lot of what I want to say about the Sherlockian world from my perspective as curator of a significant Holmesian collection.
So that is what I’m about to do. Read you my poem, a riff on “Hum.” If not a poem, consider it a meditation on all things Sherlockian, broken up into little chunks and pauses and wonders.
But first, let me read you my inspiration: Mary Oliver’s “Hum.”
What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them—haven’t you?—
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout—sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.
And now, my piece. I’ll echo lines from “Hum,” usually at the top of each section. And improvise, groove, or dance to her words.... Her poem is short. I read it in less than two minutes. I have twenty-five minutes for mine. Yikes! Are you ready? Here we go.
What is this dark hum among the roses?
We dabble in poetry, but Canon came first—or did it?—
even if Doyle tried his hand at verse.
Did you know he published nearly ninety poems
in three volumes? Maybe more. I’m not sure I counted them all.
I hear a little spark in this,
two stanzas he wrote in 1902,
titled “The Empire”
They said that it had feet of clay,
That its fall was sure and quick.
In the flames of yesterday
All the clay was burned to brick.
When they carved our epitaph
And marked us doomed beyond recall,
"We are," we answered, with a laugh,
"The Empire that declines to fall."
Would Doyle, were he alive today,
be a Brexiter? Or a Remainer?
Would he decline to fall?
I think being a fan of Holmes
allows me to ask the question.
And this one:
Did he ever think the sun would set
on his empire?
Or on the empire of Holmes and Watson?
Is Sherlockian fandom an empire that declines to fall?
There’s too much humming at present.
It’s hard to hear,
hard to see,
what’s swirling all around us. It’s
not all good.
Some of it is downright destructive.
What is this dark hum?
Are you allergic to beestings?
I don’t think Doyle was a very good poet.
Or is not known for his poetry.
But who am I to judge?
Poet that I am not.
We may never have had Holmes
if ACD deduced in rhyme. Still,
it is poetry in Canon that often grabs me,
even in prose.
“Over the wide expanse there was no sound and no movement. One great gray bird, a gull or curlew, soared aloft in the blue heaven. He and I seemed to be the only living things between the huge arch of the sky and the desert beneath it. The barren scene, the sense of loneliness, and the mystery and urgency of my task all stuck a chill into my heart.”
‘Whose was it?’
‘His who is gone.’
‘Who shall have it?’
‘He who will come.’
(‘What was the month?’
‘The sixth from the first.’)
‘Where was the sun?’
‘Over the oak.’
‘Where was the shadow?’
‘Under the elm.’
‘How was it stepped?’
‘North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under.’
‘What shall we give for it?’
‘All that is ours.’
‘Why should we give it?’
‘For the sake of the trust.’
[The trust has been co-opted. But I’ll set that aside for now. It’s my private battle.]
Poetry outside of Canon has its moments.
I’m not a huge fan of
Schweikert’s “A Long Evening with Holmes” (1984)
but it has its time
and tender moments,
and starts out strong, grabs my attention.
“When the world closes in with its worries and cares
And my problems and headaches are coming in pairs
I just climb in my mind up those seventeen stairs
And spend a long evening with Holmes.”
On the other hand,
I love Starrett’s “221B” (1942)
and close every presentation I make
—except, maybe, this one—
with a recitation.
and is buried in Chicago.
I share a few things with him—
living and working and Chicago.
The buried bit is as yet undetermined.
But I was stirred during a visit to his grave in Graceland.
You really must visit, see his memorial, if you’re
ever in the Windy City.
It’s an open book,
waiting to be read.
“Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die.
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.”
We have gone a bit awry.
I won’t say
Just a bit.
At least from where I see things.
From where I sit.
The bees have gone simple.
Let me say it near the top:
I am a “big tent” Sherlockian.
There’s plenty of room in the tent
to quote a little song
I once heard on the radio:
“All god’s creatures got a place in the choir.
Some sing low and some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on a telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they’ve got now.”
But it should be a safe tent,
a tent that keeps out the rain,
and the wind,
and...whatever else wicked this way comes...
and keeps us dry,
or at least moderately comfortable.
Is that too much to ask?
But, even in the tent, I wonder what it means
to share space,
to be friends. It doesn’t seem that
everyone in the tent
Or wants to.
is better than no Holmes.
We had little to no Holmes
in the 60s and early 70s.
No Holmes. No Watson.
and Civil Rights
took care of that.
Addie Mae Collins (14)
and Cynthia Wesley (14)
and Carole Robertson (14)
and Carol Denise McNair (11)
were more important
than climbing seventeen stairs.
At least to some of us.
I was just a kid. I didn’t know Holmes,
But I saw
both home and abroad.
Too many things
bubbled to the surface,
too many bombs,
too many killings,
too many riots,
too many lynchings,
things that we’re still dealing with. I
won’t go into details. You know
what I mean.
The Norwegian Explorers
almost folded up shop. But they were a
drop in the bucket.
A very tiny drop. But important to a few.
I wonder how many scions
ceased to exist? How many
All of this happened
before some of your times.
I don’t hold that against you. You had
no choice in the matter.
But how much do you
value the societies
you belong to? Take them
and treat them as a gift,
something to be cherished
And planted again.
This is your garden. These are
your flowers. You are
You haven’t gone simple.
And then came
and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.
Off to the races—again.
The game was afoot!
We’re riding a wave.
I know you know this. How long
will it last?
Let’s enjoy it while it endures.
I haven’t seen Ferrell and Reilly’s
“Holmes & Watson.” So we might be
stretching things a bit
is better than nothing. That some Holmes
is better than no Holmes.
That we’re riding a wave.
Maybe the wave is crashing?
No. It can’t be.
I know a Peorian—is that what they call themselves?
—who is crazy about this movie.
At least I think he is,
judging by the number of times he’s seen it.
And posted about it.
That’s a good thing.
We need crazy. Within bounds.
And I really should see the movie
(and buy a copy for the Collections).
“Your majesty, would you mind if we had a picture together?”
Surf’s up! Ride the wave! Say cheese! Watch out for that camera!
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness
There’s really no need for divisions.
You name it. There’s room.
There’s room. There’s room.
“No Holmes barred.”
There’s always been room.
There always will be room.
Although, I will admit:
We’re generally a pretty white bunch.
I don’t run into many Sherlockians
What’s up with that?
The devotee side of the ledger
is pretty gray,
with an average age of 103.
I’m kidding. But they’re quite old.
I’m almost in their bracket.
But not quite.
Fandom is pretty young
and really different than me.
Different is okay. Actually, better than okay.
And is it really different?
Or something else? I’m not sure.
I don’t know.
SherlockSeattle exposed me.
It was an amazing,
Which reminds me—an aside—
destinationtoast and strangelock’s Sherlockian Fandom Stats presentation
Blew. Me. Away.
It really was something. I don’t know if I ever said “thank you.”
Seattle is where I learned
to attend to the rules
and pay attention to who wants their picture taken
and who doesn’t.
Who wants to be noted, or not.
Tweeted, or not.
Thanks to the kind soul
who tapped me on the shoulder
while sitting in the audience behind me
and reminded me.
I was embarrassed.
got the better of me. I learned something
new. It was good.
I deleted posts and pics
But back to people of color and age and preference and whatever...
We can do better.
We’re a welcoming, if sometimes
Moriarty must never ever
gain the upper hand.
In anything we do. We need more color,
We don’t talk politics much.
That’s probably a good thing. Maybe.
In this context.
I recently attended a dinner.
It was a nice dinner,
an elegant dinner.
I was seated near the end
of a very long table.
Trumper to the left of me.
Trumper to the right of me.
Stuck in the middle with you.
For whatever reason
(maybe it was the wine),
I blurted out:
“Well, I’m particularly fond of Scandinavian socialism.
I still have family there. They seem to be doing all right.”
Shut those Trumpers up proper it did.
Thought they might fall right out of their chairs?
They didn’t. Because they’re still friends with me.
we weren’t there
to talk politics. We were there
to celebrate the Master. And so,
the dinner conversation
went in a different direction.
Probably a good thing. We
broke bread together. Dinner
and conversation mingled with wine
An occasional debate broke out,
rooted in Canon.
The entire company joined in,
taking this side or that. It didn’t end
in a food fight.
A memorable evening.
It is good to share food
and love around the table.
How many of us
include food or drink or love in our
delectable, deducible delights?
Communities have similarities. But they’re also
We should celebrate both.
Or all. And we should be
Easy, maybe for you to say. Or for me to say.
I’m an introvert. I’ll probably
sometime this weekend
Just be sure to knock.
I’m not a big fan
But I’ll confess:
I’m a Hound in Chicago,
a Norwegian Explorer up north,
a Pondicherry Lodger in New York,
and I think I’m still in good standing
as an honorary member
of the Sound of the Baskervilles.
Christopher Morley seems to
have liked clubs. I like
the names he chose for his clubs.
“Three Hours for Lunch Club.”
“Grillparzer Sittenpolizei Verein”
“The Baker Street Irregulars.”
I am not an Irregular. I don’t know
if I ever will be,
or want to be.
I am, perhaps,
not “clubbable” enough.
It makes no never mind.
I’ve been to ten of their dinners.
As a guest.
That may be
I need to lose weight anyway.
How could they not moan in happiness?
After all, this is supposed to be a game.
The Great Game.
A Grand Game.
And games are supposed to be fun.
“The game must be played with one’s tongue
firmly in one’s cheek,
but with all the seriousness of a game of cricket at Lords.”
So said Dorothy L. Sayers.
So, a game.
Or a hobby.
Or an avocation.
Or a distraction or diversion.
on our own terms,
with our own devices and desires,
our own wishes and wants and needs.
Are we having fun yet?
It should be fun.
It is fun.
Most of the time.
We need not cause
we might admit,
or must admit,
that some of us
are a little more
when it comes to playing games.
How many books in your library?
How many fics have you written?
How many letters can you put after your name?
How many groups do you belong to?
Games have rules.
Or do they?
Can’t we just make up the rules
as we go along?
Or bend them?
Or break them?
I still don’t know a lot
But I’m learning.
We have a whole raft of resources,
things to float on
as we’re playing the game.
Decades of “Writings on the Writings.”
Over a century’s worth, the last time I looked.
Piles of Baker Street Journals.
Or Canadian Holmes.
Or The Sherlock Holmes Journal.
Books and puzzles and
restaurant menus and beer glasses and
wine bottles and candy and videos and pictures and
art and this,
and the other.
You can blame another
master or two
—S. C. Roberts,
John Bennett Shaw,
Shaw loved (and collected)
that had to do
with Sherlock Holmes.
And yet it is a bit surprising.
25,000 or so items created between 1887 and 1994
that had something to do with Holmes
or their world.
Last time I checked,
AO3 had about
five times that number of things
in their amazing online platform.
Congrats, by the way, on your Hugo nomination and award.
It’s a really big deal.
A. REALLY. BIG. DEAL.
You should be proud. Very proud.
I hoped you would win.
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose.
I love what Holmes says about the rose.
“What a lovely thing a rose is!. . .
There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary
as in religion....
It can be built up as an exact science
by the reasoner.
Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence
seems to me to rest in the flowers.
All other things,
are all really necessary for our existence
in the first instance.
But this rose is an extra.
Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life,
not a condition of it.
It is only goodness which give extras,
and so I say again
that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
Have you seen the wonder
in a child’s eyes
when they see something special
in an exhibit or a book or a picture or a movie
about Mr. Holmes?
Have you watched parents and children,
grandparents and friends
slowly bent over a case
viewing an original manuscript from the hand of
Watson (or Holmes or Doyle)
and sensed the wonder in their face?
Or stood near a young girl
as she examined an original page from the Hound,
her favorite story, and cried tears of joy?
Or stooped close to examine
or . . . pick your favorite artist
We sometimes forget
about music or art,
either of which
speaks to us in ways
impossible for a text.
Some of the most profound moments in my life
came through music.
Sometimes music says what needs saying
when words alone fail.
There’s not a lot of Sherlockian music out there,
beyond the soundtracks to Brett’s series,
or BBC Sherlock.
I’d like to see, and hear, more.
Harry Officer tried some music earlier.
And so did
Richard Burton (or Harris, I forget which).
To be honest,
it is forgettable music.
Or music from another time.
I’d like to hear
the music of the bees.
Or Mary Russell.
Or Charlotte Holmes.
Or Enola Holmes.
Or Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes.
some steampunk Holmes music.
or a Queen/Holmes mashup.
or Emerson, Lake and Palmer on Baker Street, in the mode of
“Fanfare for the Common Man.”
Did Holmes or Watson like Country Music?
Am I showing my age?
I’m sure I am.
The little worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
“Here, though the world explode, these two survive. And it is always eighteen ninety-five.”
to remind us of this universe.
This strange and
I pick up my phone
in the midst of writing.
It is 2:21 in the afternoon.
I like poet Mary Oliver
and prose author Annie Dillard
because of the way
they look at the world.
They see and observe.
I think Holmes
would enjoy their company.
Together these three
help me see.
Life is too short.
We shouldn’t spend it
There’s too much good that needs doing.
“sweet, dancing bee.”
Holmes would approve.
In this century or the next.
Long enough, I suppose, to understand that life is a blessing.
I know I’ve missed some things
as I’ve poured out words
this past few minutes.
The nice thing to remember
is that you’re there (and here)
to point out
what I’ve missed.
Or where I am mistaken.
We are all Boswells
to our own Holmes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed
what I’ve said.
Or am provoked
I told you
at the beginning
that I wasn’t a poet.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge might agree,
given his little “Epigram,” which reads
Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.
Or as Mary Oliver
(or the bees)
asked at the beginning
“What did you expect? Sophistication?”
Allow me to end,
not with more poetry,
or attempts at poetry,
but with these words from Sir Arthur,
taken from The Stark Munro Letters.
“I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something.”
Copyright © 2019 by Timothy J. Johnson. All Rights Reserved.
 Songs of the Road (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1911)
 The Hound of the Baskervilles, Chapter 11, The Man on the Tor. Hat tip to Margie Deck for this reference.
 “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual,” The Strand Magazine, 1893
 Bill Staines, “A Place in the Choir” (1979)
 Shakespeare, Act 4, Scene 1 of Macbeth
 Collins, Wesley, Robertson, and McNair died on September 15, 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
 Evers, June 12, 1963, Jackson, Mississippi
 November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas
 February 21, 1965, Manhattan, New York City
 April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennesse
 June 6, 1968, Los Angeles, California
 Hampton, December 4, 1969, Chicago, Illinois
 New York: E. P. Dutton, 1974.
 My thanks to Paul Thomas Miller, aka BaronVonBork, for this line and Doyle’s Rotary Coffin.
 "Stuck in the Middle with You, " written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, performed by their band Stealers Wheel, released in 1972.
 I am of Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish extraction and still have family in all three countries, some of whom I’ve yet to meet. Go back far enough and I’m sure you’ll find Vikings. Skol!
 The Book of Common Prayer, and also the title of a novel by P. D. James.
 The Naval Treaty
 Also the writings and studies of James Montgomery, Guy Warrack. Alas, Gilbert and Sullivan are not mentioned in the Canon although Bert Coules has Watson as a fan in his BBC audio series. Scott Monty and Burt Wolder discuss music in the Canon as part of their “Sherlock Holmes: Trifles” podcast.
 I wrote some of this while watching “Country Music,” the latest documentary film from Ken Burns. Take the Burns film and Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” and you’ll tap into a lot of my musical interests.
 Especially Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1974).
 Attributed to Coleridge, date uncertain.