Donkey, show me your big boy teeth, show me expensive dentistry. Mine are NHS wonky, but you’re a donkey.
Donkey, show me your pearly hooves, stomp them down on my two-bit shoes. Mine are M&S clonky, but you’re a donkey.
Donkey, show me your government car driving to where the dollars are. Mine is a wee bit shonky. You’re still a donkey.
Donkey, show me your public school, show me your passport to ruin us all. You think it’s your right, but you’re wrong, see, cos you’re a donkey.
Nina Parmenter writes: “As the world looks on, bewildered, the political stupidity in the UK continues to know no bounds. The title of this poem is borrowed from a group of political activists – they, in turn, borrowed it from a First World War phrase describing British soldiers as ‘Lions led by donkeys’.
Today we have different threats – hunger, a declining health service, fuel poverty – but our leading class of donkeys remain seemingly blinkered to ordinary people’s welfare. Money, after all, is their master.
All this is build up to a rather silly poem in which donkey is proudly rhymed with wonky, clonky and shonky. A quick terminology guide for non-Brits: NHS = National Health Service, M&S = Marks and Spencer (a Very Ordinary Store), and ‘public school’ in the UK means a private school – no, don’t ask, I don’t understand why either. 😉”
Nina Parmenter has no time to write poetry, but does it anyway. Her work has appeared in Lighten Up Online, Snakeskin, Light, The New Verse News, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and the Potcake Chapbook ‘Houses and Homes Forever’. Her home, work and family are in Wiltshire. https://ninaparmenter.com/
Bizzy lizzy will win by a.mile She has got a lovely smile Brians to match her lovely face. She will win this pm race Sunaks a snake A back stabbee he is He turned on boris And will turn on liz She will be a great pm Not as good.as maggie but no one could be Mrs thartcher mach 3 Liz will stand proud over our lands Holdinh out her hand If we wotk to gether we can Get rid of the woke And watch them. Cry into there cornflakes As liz makes our country great. In liz we trust god speed to our new pm
Jimmy does a good serious job of discussing modern political poetry… sort of. But he fails to note that the quoted “poem” by “Bill Sutton” originated as a post to the Facebook group ‘Liz Truss Supporters (no trolls)‘ which is loaded with sarcastic commentary on the British Conservative Party in general and Liz Truss in particular.
So the answer to Jimmy’s question is No, of course. Scathing poetry, good or deliberately bad, has long been used as a political weapon. Bill Sutton’s post may be amusing, but is unlikely to resonate for as long as, say, Shelley’s rant the year before George III died: “An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king, –“
Oh, St Patrick he drove out the snakes With his prayers but that’s not all it takes For the snake symbolises An evil that rises And hides in your heart, as it breaks
And the evil has risen my friends From the darkness that lives in some men But in sorrow and fear That’s when saints can appear To drive out those old snakes once again
And they struggle for us to be free From the psycho in this human family Ireland’s sorrow and pain Is now the Ukraine And St Patrick’s name now Zelenskyy
OK, first of all I recognise that the Saint Zelenskyy artwork by Liliya Rattari is a complimentary parody of either St Michael or St George, not St Patrick – but who cares? Putin is a big enough snake to rate as a dragon, and Zelenskyy is heroic enough to be any saint you want.
U2 frontman Bono‘s three-limerick poem was sent by him to Nancy Pelosi for her to use on St Patrick’s Day this year, and she read it at the Annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon in Washington to the assembled guests including the particularly Irish Joe Biden. The poem may not be good enough to be revered eternally, but nor is that snake Putin. Hopefully St Zelenskyy will chase Putin out of the country soon, and the sorrows of Ukraine will become as distant as the sorrows of Ireland.
Julius Caesar, Antony, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth – corrupted, vain, impure, Irrational, bombastic, insecure – He’s no more clarity or veritas Than the deceptions of a covert war, All morals blurred.
That tyrant rant, Tyrannosaurus roar, Forecasts he’ll suffer a dictator’s fate: His proud obsessed confusion first seems great, Then grates, unravels at the seams, slips gear, Loses its moral metaphors, grows crass; He dies absurd.
Octavius, Malcolm, Edgar, Fortinbras, Comes from the wings and strides to centre stage – Competent, measured, reasonable, sane – To rule the wreckage of the tragic reign; Restores some structure, closes out the age, Speaks the last word.
This archetypal character’s strong thump Will get his nation out of the morass; The raucous self-styled hero being dead, A truer leader takes the throne instead. (How Shakespeare’d end the Tragedy of Trump Can be inferred.)
The common fate of Shakespeare’s flawed protagonists–death, and replacement by a more worthy ruler–is a story that humans enjoy and wish applied in their own times and countries… although they may naturally disagree on which ruler is disgraceful and which would be more worthy. Speaking for myself, I don’t need to see a death–I’d be happy for Putin and Trump to avoid assassination or jail by going into comfortable exile at a golf hotel in southern Russia. (You read it first here.) But Shakespeare would deal with them more definitively.
This poem is the third of the five poems published this month in The Brazen Head. Its four stanzas are in iambic pentameter with a short 6th line. The rhymes largely carry over between stanzas–the 6th lines only rhyme with each other. The rhymes and the stanza structure are designed to create a sense of satisfactory achievement–exactly what I feel with Biden taking over from Trump. (Similarly I would love to see Navalny take over from Putin, and almost anyone replace Boris Johnson.)
He ran the State in a daze, he did, In a daze he ran the State: In spite of howls and obnoxious jeers And those who said it would end in tears In a daze he ran the State! And when the daze became a rout That turned the country inside out The Bumbly cried, I’m much too big! I’m Alpha male, I’m never-fail, the biggest gig and vig! In a daze I’ll run the State! So vast and vain, so vast and vain Is the bog where the Bumbly brays; His face is green, to think a strain, And he ran the State in a daze.
He carried on in a daze, he did, In a daze he carried on, With carrion eaters on his staff, Perpetual sneers and snickery laughs, And predators stalking prey; And though they said they’d legislate They knew too little and much too late, And worse, they could not stand up straight! For in their skin was a powerful hate That chewed them up till dawn. So vast and vain, so vast and vain Is the bog where the Bumbly brays; His face is green, to think a strain, And he ran the State in a daze.
And while he ran the State, he did, And flew far over the seas He incurred great debt and was bought by a bro With a host of spies and some quid pro quo And a hive of slithery sleaze. And he bought a city or two, and some laws, And when he was fitted with monkey claws His climbed a tree, shrieked Chee-chee-chee! And his arms reached down to his knees. So vast and vain, so vast and vain Is the bog where the Bumbly brays; His face is green, to think a strain, And he ran the State in a daze.
In twenty years they all were dead, In twenty years or less, And the people said How good they’re gone! For they’d been through the muck of the Swamp-a-Thon, And the dung of Fakery Cess. And they feasted and drank at the Bumbly grave With homemade wine and a weeklong rave, And everyone sang, We shall live in chalets! If only we live! We’ll attack and raze The ruins of Fakery Cess! So vast and vain, so vast and vain Is the bog where the Bumbly brayed; His face was green, to think a strain, And he ran the State in a daze.
Terese Coe writes: “Writing this was more fun than I can say!”
Terese Coe’s poems and translations have appeared in Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Moth, New American Writing, New Writing Scotland, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, The Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, and the TLS, among many other journals. Her collection Shot Silk was listed for the 2017 Poets Prize. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terese_Coe
Quirkily-workily Jorge Bergolio, On a career path with Quite a steep slope,
Unostentatiously Worked as a janitor, Then as a bouncer, and Then as the Pope.
This elegant double dactyl on the life of Pope Francis is representative of ‘The Hearthside Treasury of Light and Comic Verse’: interesting, witty, technically perfect. The poems include limericks, clerihews, varieties of ballades, and are purported to be written by a variety of poets, several of whom are claimed to be the first-ever winner of the prestigious Blackfrier Prize for Poetry. The book’s veneer of being ‘edited by Max Gutmann’ is worn even thinner with the bio of his least likely poet, Ed Winters… “A devotee of Hemingway, Hart Crane and Sylvia Plath, Winters shot himself in the mouth while diving from a ship with his head in an oven.”
The book includes two pages of riddles in rhyme, of enjoyable difficulty: half were guessable for me, half not. There is also a full-length Poe parody (‘Quoth the Parrot: “Cracker. Now!”); scenes from The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Titus Andronicus rewritten by W.S. Gilbert; outrage at the Trump presidency, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the US Supreme Court’s appalling excuse for subverting the 2000 Presidential election; a poem appropriately written in the form of a dozen eggs; and various puns, off-colour jokes and random surprises. Many of the poems have previously appeared in Light poetry magazine, many others in a range from Asses of Parnassus to the Washington Post.
As for “The Hearthside Treasury” part of the book’s title… though there was (or is) a Hearthside Press, active from the mid-1950s to mid-70s; and an unrelated Hearthside Books, active from the mid-70s to the present, sort of; this “Hearthside Treasury” appears unconnected to anything. Indeed, it’s not even available on Amazon. It doesn’t have an ISBN. All this is a pity, as it is as enjoyable a book of light and comic verse as you can find anywhere. If you want a copy – and if you enjoy comic verse you really ought to have one – you’re going to have to contact the author directly through his website (which mostly focuses on his plays) atmaxgutmann.com
Restless he rolls from whore to whore, A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.
When King Charles II was restored to the British thrones in 1660, eleven years after the execution of his father by Cromwell under the Commonwealth, the people were generally happy to have the Puritan government replaced by a king who was affable, witty and a patron of the arts and science. He founded the Royal Observatory and supported the Royal Society whose members included Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton. His Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, had several miscarriages and failed to produce children, but the “Merry Monarch” had over a dozen children that he recognised from seven mistresses including “pretty, witty Nell” Gwyn (and he likely had another half dozen mistresses). This life, together with various foreign wars and the fact that he was not a good administrator, left the king constantly short of cash. Hence the couplet above by John Wilmot, poet and Second Earl of Rochester.
Wilmot / Rochester also wrote:
Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King Whose word no man relies on; He never said a foolish thing Nor ever did a wise one.
For this the king had a relaxed answer: “Perfectly true, for my words are my own, but my actions are my Ministers’.”
Posterity will ne’er survey a Nobler grave than this: Here lie the bones of Castlereagh: Stop, traveller, and p*** !
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh(which rhymes with “pray”, if you choose to have that, rather than “piss”, as the last word of Byron’s little poem) was an Anglo-Irish politician who managed to make himself throughly hated.
Though generally in favour of concessions to the Irish he did not support Catholic Emancipation from the discrimination and civil disabilities they suffered under as disenfranchised second-class citizens. He took the lead in suppressing the Irish Rebellion of 1798; he advocated leniency to the common people but had leaders executed – including a Presbyterian minister who had canvassed for him in an election. From 1812 to 1822 he was the British Foreign Secretary, instrumental in managing the alliance that defeated Napoleon; and then at the Congress of Vienna, with the conservative Bourbons back on the throne of France, he advocated leniency for France and non-intervention by the UK in European affairs – which was seen as siding with the repressive Eastern European powers. This is from the ‘Dedication’ to Byron’s ‘Don Juan’:
Cold-blooded, smooth-faced, placid miscreant Dabbling its sleek young hands in Erin’s gore, And thus for wider carnage taught to pant, Transferred to gorge upon a sister shore The vulgarest tool that Tyranny could want, With just enough of talent, and no more, To lengthen fetters by another fixed, And offer poison long already mixed.
Castlereagh’s suicide in 1822 further occasioned this from Byron:
Oh, Castlereagh! thou art a patriot now; Cato died for his country, so didst thou: He perish’d rather than see Rome enslaved, Thou cutt’ st thy throat that Britain may be saved! So Castlereagh has cut his throat!–The worst Of this is, – that his own was not the first. So He has cut his throat at last!–He! Who? The man who cut his country’s long ago.
First: a warning: I haven’t seen the printed version, but I have modified a transcription to try to catch the essence of the various types of wordplay that the poet engaged in, with bold for rhyme and italics for alliteration and repetition. These excerpts are from the earlier parts of her poem, skipping some less poetic portions.
When day comes we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice. And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. … And yes, we are far from polished, far frompristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried that will forever be tied together victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to her own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade the hill we climb if only we dare. It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. This effort very nearly succeeded.
Amanda Gorman’s poem for President Biden’s inauguration was an extremely well received performance of Spoken Word. As the Wikipedia entry states, Spoken Word focuses on “the aesthetics of recitation and word play, such as the performer’s live intonation and voice inflection.” With its roots in preliterate societies, it searches for all possible tricks for both capturing the audience’s attention, and making it easier to memorise the words. Amanda Gorman did this extremely well in her recitation, with clarity and with effective pacing, pausing and emphasis, carrying the thoughts along in a chant-like flow of rhymes, half-rhymes, puns and alliteration. It was a superb piece of Spoken Word, and left listeners enthused and uplifted. It was perfect for the mood of the inauguration.
But it wasn’t flawless. In places either the transcription is flawed or the poet has sacrificed meaning for the sake of a rhyme. Take “even as we tired, we tried that will forever be tied together victorious”. There is a flow of suggestion that imparts a meaning, but looked at under a bright light the words sound like those of a drunk.
Or take the rhyme sequence “afraid, blade, made, glade”. OK, but I stumbled over “That is the promise to glade”. Perhaps she means “the promise to make an open clearing through the forested hill we are climbing.” My bias is that I think of a glade as a flat clearing in woodland–I didn’t see the meaning of the verb she created, I didn’t think of a hill being climbed as being forested, but that may all be my problem. Similarly, I like the rhyming of “inherit” with “repair it” and “share it”; but what does this mean: “We’ve seen a force that (…) would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.” This is clumsy. It’s not clear exactly what is being said. If “would” means “is intended to”, then presumably she should have inverted the phrase: the force wanted to delay democracy, even if it meant destroying the country. Yet it is clearly all part of a political message: the end of Trump’s deliberate White America divisiveness, a return to the modern world’s multiethnic inclusiveness. As she triumphantly ends her piece:
The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.
So we have an inspiring piece of performance art, of spoken word, by a 22-year-old who has a lot of talent and a great stage presence. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more from her. But I suspect that if her words are to last, she will have to develop a stronger control of meaning. The jagged nature of her lines is not a problem; the lack of structure to her rhyme is not a problem; in some ways she seems close to Old English and other Germanic poetry with their emphasis on a heavy beat (rather than a set number of syllables), and a long way from the “modern poetry” that, without metre or rhyme, tries to get an effect by being laid out provocatively on a page.
It’s coming through a hole in the air From those nights in Tiananmen Square It’s coming from the feel That it ain’t exactly real Or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there; From the war against disorder From the sirens night and day From the fires of the homeless From the ashes of the gay Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming through a crack in the wall On a visionary flood of alcohol From the staggering account Of the Sermon on the Mount Which I don’t pretend to understand at all; It’s coming from the silence On the dock of the bay From the brave, the bold, the battered Heart of Chevrolet Democracy is coming to the U.S.A
It’s coming from the sorrow in the street The holy places where the races meet From the homicidal bitchin’ That goes down in every kitchen To determine who will serve and who will eat; From the wells of disappointment Where the women kneel to pray For the grace of God in the desert here And the desert far away Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
Sail on, sail on O mighty ship of state! To the shores of need Past the reefs of greed Through the squalls of hate Sail on, sail on, sail on…
It’s coming to America first The cradle of the best and of the worst It’s here they got the range And the machinery for change And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst; It’s here the family’s broken And it’s here the lonely say That the heart has got to open In a fundamental way Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming from the women and the men Oh baby, we’ll be making love again We’ll be going down so deep The river’s going to weep And the mountain’s going to shout Amen! It’s coming like the tidal flood Beneath the lunar sway Imperial, mysterious In amorous array Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
The United States is a “flawed democracy” (as defined by The Economist Intelligence Unit, see below). “Democracy” was written by the Canadian poet/singer/novelist Leonard Cohen over three years in the early 1990s. The song as we have it was boiled down from some 60 verses, scattered through seven or eight notebooks. In his book “Songwriters On Songwriting” he explains, “This was when the Berlin Wall came down and everyone was saying democracy is coming to the east. And I was like that gloomy fellow who always turns up at a party to ruin the orgy or something. And I said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen that way. I don’t think this is such a good idea. I think a lot of suffering will be the consequence of this wall coming down.'”
There are so many strong lines in this poem that, although written 30 years ago, resonate today. I particularly like
It’s coming from the sorrow in the street The holy places where the races meet
and the mention of America as
The cradle of the best and of the worst
as well as the timeless, human dynamic of
From the homicidal bitchin’ That goes down in every kitchen To determine who will serve and who will eat;
Photo: A map of the world showing the results of The Economist’s Democracy Index survey for 2016. This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The USA has been stuck in the third tier for the past few years, scoring below 8 on a 10-point scale. Those in the first tier, scoring above 9, are the five Nordic countries plus New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Note that almost all of the top tier countries use some form of Proportional Representation (PR) to elect their governments. Several of their parliaments include parties with Trump-style xenophobic parties, because it is important to include representatives of all opinions in a democracy. But with PR the most extreme parties of right and left are unlikely to be included in a government, let alone dominate it. With PR the parliament gets the benefit of hearing all concerns and points of view, and the voters get the opportunity to vote more closely for who they want: a choice of libertarian, fundamentalist, green communist, as well as more mainstream conservative, liberal or social democrat. Voter turnout is naturally higher than in a two-party system which fails to address the interests of a large percentage of the population.
Other points that can be made from looking at the truest democracies: 1) Unicameral structures score best, meaning the US could have just the House, no Senate. 2) There is no need for separation of the Executive and Legislative functions; separating them doesn’t provide any benefit, despite the holy mantra of “checks and balances”, it merely destroys efficiency and obfuscates responsibility and encourages confrontation. 3) The Judiciary should not be appointed by the government, it functions best if it is developed with true independence within its own legal system.
The American system is an interesting historical artifact, but long outdated and highly counterproductive to good government. When Americans have written new constitutions for countries that they have taken over, the results have not been good. They should let the Scandinavians do it.
I recommend watching the Danish TV series ‘Borgen‘ (it has English subtitles) for a practical view of a single-chamber, multiparty system of coalition government.