Craig Kurtz has vexed aesthetic circles since the 1981 release of The Philosophic Collage. Recent work appears in Dalhousie Review, The Madras Mag Anthology of Contemporary Writing, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Sheepshead Review, and Tower Poetry; many others would just as soon string him up. He resides at Twin Oaks Intentional Community.
The Science of Insult by Craig Kurtz
RECRUITMENT FOR THE SCHOOL OF SCOWERING
Forsooth, the science of insult is mathematical,
There’s protocols and formulas: it’s intellectual;
sure, in the country, some bumpkin can merely slap a face,
but in refinéd London, quarrels’ rules fill a bookcase;
there’s etiquette and precedent and how to do it well,
there’s statutes and concordats in the art of raising hell;
good man, your coming in’s indeed an act fortuitous,
the Captain here is certified a quarreling genius.
I’ll tutor you on the insult disguised as compliment,
I’ll teach you querulous accosts both deft and elegant;
I’ll demonstrate the churlish dehort and the reproof curt
and if these will not prevail ye, there’s kicking shins overt;
the counter-check’s effective, the suave slander’s de rigueur,
the quip intense is trendy, the snide jeer is debonair;
all these prim conventions can be taught to you until
you are advanced to flatter glitterati with ill will.
I would speak according to the phrase triumphant, if you please,1
enucleating the kernel of my scabbard with ease;2
I’d like to roar out challenges to all my well-bred foes
but do so with assurance that no one will slit my nose.
Forsooth, the science of insult requires scholarship --
how to salute haunches, when to box ears without slip;
there’s tropes and figures to map out how you should taunt and goad,
and, according to Fastidious Brisk, dueling in the mode;3
now, in the countryside, breaking windows after dark
may be the latest rage but we’ll expect more of you, spark;
we’ve got a certain tenor here, we’ve got a subtle touch,
and being Furious Inland is going to be too much.4
I’ll tutor you on feizing servants and nose-tweaking gents
and why it’s a faux pas to ever mix these variants;
your thump, your wherret, and your doust, essential to ache joints,
tugs on the hair, bobs o’ the lips, I know the finer points; 5
I’ll demonstrate the niceties of truncheons and knife stabs,
but, more importantly, I’ll show you how to dodge bar tabs;
when I am done, the people you’ll love best are enemies,
since friends or family won’t fight you, who needs these base sissies?
I would insult courtiers and justle cavaliers --
anyone can brawl with peasants, I’ll hassle compeers;
but, maybe prior to my transformation to gallant,
you might also provide me with some weapon unguent.6
1. Fletcher and Massinger, The Little French Lawyer, Act II, sc. I.
2. Middleton and Rowley, A Fair Quarrel, Act IV, sc. I.
3. Ridiculous anecdote about a challenge in which two antagonists succeeded in only injuring their foppish attire, from Jonson’s Every Man Out of his Humor.
4. Buffoonish country ruffian in William Davenant’s News From Plymouth.
5. Middleton’s A Nice Valor, Act III, sc. III.
6. Magical salve which, placed upon a weapon, prevents injury to its victim; mentioned in Henry Glapthorne’s The Hollander.