HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. -- The Orange County Sheriff's Department has broken up what is believed to be central North Carolina's largest doggerel ring, an operation that officials believe may have been operating undetected in Hillsborough's literary underground for decades.
Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass said that the department’s big break in the case came when one of the Hillsborough ring's seasoned professionals, Elon G. "Jerry" Eidenier, " got a little careless" when he allowed his tennis and poetry circles to become conflated.
The sheriff's department first became aware of the illicit organization when the ring’s ringleader "slipped up" and gave a public poetry reading for his tennis team. Several members of the team with humanity degrees from liberal arts universities recognized that the literary product that they had been exposed to was a subpedestrian form of poetry commonly known as doggerel.
The leak came through William "Bill" (aka "Loose Lips") McCaskill, Eidenier’s sometime tennis partner, who is said to have told "some of the guys" that Eidenier had written a "team poem." This report sent up an immediate flag when received by sheriff’s department detectives.
Initially implicated as a principal in the operation was G. Douglas Gaddy, a local "writer" most well-known for his transparently faux "news" stories and slightly more than slightly out-of-kilter opinion pieces. Pendergrass said Gaddy was taken in briefly for questioning and then released on his own recognizance.
Eidenier, according to Pendergrass, runs a front-operation as an "actual poet," writing what the area's literary community holds to be "actual poetry." Said Pendergrass, "This gives Eidenier a cover for carrying around tiny notebooks where he is always scribblin' little sayin's and stuff without nobody suspectin' nothin'," he said. "I can't tell no difference myself," said Pendergrass, "except maybe the doggerel rhymes better."
The primary foci of the doggerel ring are wagering events known as Poetry Smackdowns, which pit one poet against another in mano-a-mano competitions.
The sheriff said he was a "little at a loss" as to why the reportedly boisterous and sometimes bloody affairs had never drawn one disturbing-the-peace report, but thought perhaps it was because they were usually held in the subterranean basements of large estate homes, "typically near the wine cellars."
According to criminologist I.C. Hunter, who heads NC State University's Criminology Curriculum in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, each community is susceptible to different criminal vices according to its character, or characters, as the case may be.
"For example, Charlotte tends toward financial crimes such as embezzlement and wire fraud, while Chapel Hill gravitates toward intellectual property theft," said Hunter. "I wouldn't leave even a half-baked idea laying around unguarded on Franklin Street. It would last about as long as an untethered laptop in Davis Library," he added.
Prof. Hunter said that Hillsborough, as a "literary village," is prone to language-based crime such as "criminal uttering, con artistry of various sorts and, of course, doggerel rings."
"While poetry ring has a quaint sound to it, in the modern era literary rings are not of the innocuous sort that you might imagine with tea, crumpets and lace doilies. When it comes to the acrimony among these poetry rings, they act more like Crips and Bloods," said Hunter.
"If you don't think this is so, just mention Doug Marlette, or Allan Gurganus, in the wrong Hillsborough literary circle, as I did once, and see if you escape with your eyebrows unsinged," said Hunter. "Somebody may still think it's sticks and stones that break your bones, but not me. I'd rather face a stone-hurling mob than face that gauntlet of flame throwers with their withering verbal fire," he added.
Eidenier, on the advice of his attorney, said he would decline comment on the charges against him but could not resist making one. "I rhyme all the time," said Eidenier. "Is that a crime?" he asked.
A court hearing set for October 12, Dr. Hunter mused, may answer that question.
Gary D. Gaddy, who is a lyricist, not a poet, lives in the periphery of Orange County.A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday September 18, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy