OTTERVILLE, Missouri. Hazel Flange, the self-proclaimed “Poet Laureate of American House Pets” who used her marketing skills to turn the art of poetry into a business, died in her sleep here yesterday. She was 91.
Hazel Flange, receiving the Young Poets Award of the Smith School of Business & Stenography
“Without Hazel, a lot of poets would still be making sub-poverty wages, instead of just ordinary poverty wages,” said Philip Rehn, an chiropodist who promoted her work when she was still unknown. “She was the one who came up with the slogan ‘Poetry doesn’t cost–it pays!’ that helped versifiers get in the door of so many middle-market companies.”
Smith School of Business & Stenography
Flange grew up in this small town of 454, then moved to the big city, Sedville, a county seat of 23,000, where she attended the Smith School of Business & Stenography. She parlayed her shorthand skills into a job at the Sedville Bazoo, where she would write couplets as “squibs” to fill unused column space.
“Hazel was on fire right from the start,” says her former editor Wes “T.J.” Scally. “I don’t want to compare her to any living poet and hurt somebody’s feelings, but she was like an Edgar Guest and Rod McKuen rolled into one, if that’s legal in the state you’re calling from.”
Flange turned her day job into a career, visiting the homes of advertisers to write human interest stories on their wives, then writing poems about the cats, dogs, parakeets and goldfish she met there. Pet owners would bask in the reflected glory, and order laminated copies of the poem written in the poet’s flowery script.
A typical “Pet Poem” was this tribute to a miniature poodle:
I love that little Poodie,
He really is so cute!
With sparkling eyes
and furry coat
and waggly tail to boot!
In time Flange expanded to larger commercial accounts such as Muckerman’s Funeral Home in Knob Noster, Missouri, for which she wrote this quatrain:
We’re trained in cosmetology
your kin will look real nice.
You won’t be able to smell a thing,
We keep the corpse on ice!
In time, her success produced a horde of imitators and more than a little envy in the hearts of less successful poets such as Con Chapman, author of the poor-selling The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head (and other Wayward Women). “Hazel was top dog, that’s for sure, although I suppose since she’s a female I should call her top bitch,” he says grudgingly. “She lost her fastball in her later years, however, and I was able to best her in a poetry slam that they’re still talking about like it was the epic triple overtime battle between Brandeis and the University of Chicago on College Bowl.”
“You’ve undone three out of five buttons on your date’s blouse in 30 seconds, and curfew is in ten minutes. Will you be able to cop a feel, and if so, one hooter or two?”
More objective observers confirmed that Flange’s poetic powers declined in the autumn of her career, although others found her late departures from the more conventional verse of her youth to be a striking improvement over the ump-de-dump-de-dump meter that her readers came to know and love. “Hazel developed a technique that came to be known as ‘run-on’ meter,” says Etaoin Shrdlu, the Orthwein Farm Implements Professor of Midwestern Literature at the University of Missouri-Chillicothe, citing her Ode to Salisbury Steak as an example:
When I come home each night after work
and I find I’m not hungry for pork,
I reach into the freezer compartment of my fridge for a Salisbury Steak TV dinner
which I eat with a knife and a fork.
*sniff* She loved every living thing!
Flange is survived by her dachshund Fritzi, her two cats Snowball and Fluffernutter, and 237 ants, who inherited her ant farm.
Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collections “Fauxbituaries” and “poetry is kind of important.”