Tag Archives: light verse

Short Poem: ‘The Logophile Picks a Fight’

By the spots of shame with which your life is spattered,
Your position, sir, is grossly overmattered –
Overmattered, sir, or greatly undermined;
And I cannot help but find
That the lot of humankind
Would be bettered, not embittered, were you battered!

After having kicked around for years, this short piece–which has no purpose other than wordplay–finally got an explanatory title (instead of just the first few words) and was published in this month’s Lighten-Up Online in the section ‘Words, Words, Words’. Thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Picking a fight for net neutrality #ind12” by Kalexanderson is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo has been cropped.

Review: Max Gutmann, ‘Light and Comic Verse’

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) at maxgutmann.com

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Melissa Balmain, ‘Fluffy Weighs in on the Baby’

It’s hairless as an egg—
why bother petting that?
It doesn’t purr or groom your leg,
and yet you feed the brat.

Instead of catching mice,
it grapples with its socks.
It’s never taken my advice
to use the litter box.

It can’t climb up a tree,
it can’t chase balls of string,
it leaves you zero time for me—
just eat the wretched thing.

‘Fluffy Weighs in on the Baby’ is reprinted from Walking in on People (Able Muse Press)

Melissa Balmain writes: “The great light poet Bob McKenty calls himself ‘an editorial cartoonist who can’t draw.’ Given my fondness for writing persona poems, I think I qualify as a method actor who can’t act. As you might guess, adopting a persona lets me try on fresh points of view and say things I might not think to say (or dare to say) as myself. Plus, it can be a fun vehicle for mockery—as in ‘Fluffy,’ which aims its claws at new parents who ignore their pets. (Yes, I was one of those new parents…) Over the years I’ve attempted to channel not just animals and fellow humans in my poems, but also cartoon characters, plants, water, Satan, a dictionary, and, in my latest book, fairy tale characters. It’s the closest I’ll get to a SAG card.”

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length verse collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award; and the shorter collection The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults, new from Humorist Books. She is a recovering mime.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Bruce McGuffin, ‘Why It’s Important To Take Your Saxophone Hiking’

Whenever I go for a walk in the wood
I carry a saxophone, everyone should.
You need it in case you get caught unawares
By a band of unruly and ravenous bears.

When the bears leap from bushes intending to eat you,
You won’t have the time that it takes to retreat, you
Had better be ready to pull out your sax
If you don’t want to finish your day as bear snacks.

Play a song they can dance to, try Latin or swing.
Dancing bears like to rhumba, they might highland fling.
But beware, every bear is a dance epicure.
If you play Macarena they’ll eat you for sure.

https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/winter-spring-2020/Bruce McGuffin writes: “A respected poet1 once described Light Verse as “a betrayal of the purpose of poetry”. All I can say is whatever gave him the idea that poetry only has one purpose? With almost 8 billion people in the world there must be 8 billion plus purposes for poetry. Everybody wants to feel a little light and laughter now and then, and for me that’s one of the purposes of poetry. This silly poem (which originally appeared in Light Poetry Magazine, February 2020) about dancing bears, with its driving, almost chant-like, rhythm makes me happy whenever I read it. I hope it will make other people happy too.”

[1] Robin Robertson in Guardian Interview, September 28, 2018. 

Bruce McGuffin writes all kinds of poetry, but meter has a way of sneaking in even when it’s not invited, sometimes bringing rhyme along for the ride. His subjects range from the profound to the utterly frivolous with a decided tilt toward frivolous, which he justifies by claiming he writes for his own amusement. He divides his time between Lexington Massachusetts, where he has a day job as an engineer at a radio research lab, and Antrim New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife and pretends to be practical (when he’s not writing poetry). At work the practical engineers think he’s a theorist, and the theorists think he’s a practical engineer. His poetry has appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, The Asses of Parnassus, Better Than Starbucks, and other journals.

Short poem: ‘Subduction’

All human nature, conflicts, nations, and all races
will be washed as by tides on beaches, all loves and lusts
will with Time disappear, all human traces
washed under as all plates are washed
by the subduction of Earth’s crusts.

This poem was published this month in Lighten Up Online – an excellent place to read light verse on subjects both light and heavy. Every issue has a mixture of longer and shorter poems, and a competition. This March 2021 edition concludes with the results of the eco-crisis competition, headed ‘The Airing of the Green’; ‘Subduction’ was one of the winners. Other sections of the magazine were also focused on the environment. Pollution and climate change are twin disasters, and you can express outrage, despair, or (more usefully) proposals for action. The million-year view of my poem isn’t useful but it’s low-hanging fruit, there to be taken.

I’m delighted to be in a magazine along with poems by fellow Potcake Poets Martin Elster, Michael R. Burch, D.A. Prince, George Simmers, Nina Parmenter, Gail White, Chris O’Carroll, Tom Vaughan, Jane Blanchard, Jerome Betts, Martin Parker and Melissa Balmain, as well as two poets who will be appearing in the next Potcake Chapbook, Bruce McGuffin and Julia Griffin, and the ever-anomalous Max Gutmann. Several of us have more than one poem in this issue.

“File:Tectonic-plates-subduction-zone-17280738.jpg” by Benjilrm is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Review: ‘Old and Bookish’ by George Simmers

George Simmers has chosen a title for his latest collection of poems that describes it very well: “Old and Bookish”; and also–if being merely in our 70s isn’t premature–self-deprecatingly describes himself. But though he writes with understanding about oldness and bookishness, he makes it clear that he is not being autobiographical: The first section is called “from The songs of the Old Man”, the title immediately followed by: “Note: The Old Man is not me, but I know how he feels.”

The Old Man Walks his Dog; The Old Man Visits a Very Old Woman; even The Old Man’s Song About the Crematorium… poems about the kind of thoughts the Old Man has:
Both the slutty and the proper,
Both the crooked and the copper,
Those who decorate interiors,
And the very very serious,
Both the fervent Corbynista
And her fashionista sister
Who’s obsessed by the length of a hem –
They’ll all end up at the crem crem crem
They’ll all end up at the crem.

That gives a sense of Simmers’ work–smooth and amused in rhythm and rhyme, in tone and in message. Or take The Old Man’s Heaven–how would a music lover imagine eternity in the afterlife? Discounting the “hoity-toity… operatic… Bayreuth-y” and the alternative punk “one long mosh pit”, the Old Man with gentle amusement envisages an older blonde in a piano bar:
With a voice of smoky yearning,
A lady who has seen too much,
But she keeps the old torch burning.

She sings that life is made for love,
And time will kill the pain.
She sings that though your love’s gone bad
You still should love again.
She sings that there is always hope
And those who love are wise.
Yes, I could spend eternity
Hearing those lovely lies.

The second section of the book moves away from the internal view of the Old Man to the external view of Some Oldies. It begins with Rachel, the most energised:
Old Rachel’s fierce and heavy-browed
Her views are strong; her voice is loud.
She says the councillors are crooks;
She says the mayor cooks the books.
She says the government’s a mess –
Don’t start her on the NHS –
While London, which survived the Blitz,
Is being bought by foreign shits,
By criminals and sheiks and sharks,
And kleptocrats and oligarchs…

and ends with Christopher, aware of his life winding down, dozing off with a smile
For he is entering a dream –
A joyous dream where he’s pursued
By several plump and laughing women
In the pink bumgorgeous nude.

The third, final, and largest section of the book is where we get to Bookish. Here are poems on poetry, on poets, on words, on English. There is a 26-line Elsinore Alphabet that starts at the beginning of Hamlet:
A is for armour, which kingly ghosts wear.
B is for battlements, where the guards stare.

and works its way through to the very end:
Y, they’re all dead as Yorick, once such a great hoot.
Z’s for zero plot left. Bid the soldier-chaps shoot.

There is two-page book review in limericks of a book of limericks. And there is my favourite poem of the book, ‘Poets in Residence’. Simmers having been a schoolteacher, he takes obvious delight in his tale of a headmaster who invites all the best English poets to the school. Here are eight of the 33 couplets:
Geoffrey Chaucer came first, on an equable horse,
And Spenser, and Marlowe, and Shakespeare, of course…
Keats arrived coughing, Kipling marched vigorously;
Matthew Arnold began to inspect the school rigorously…
Vaughan was ecstatic, though Clough was more sceptical.
Ernest Dowson puked up in a litter receptacle.
Coleridge sneaked off to discover the rates
Of an unshaven person outside the school gates…

Unfortunately for the Headmaster, there is a Romantic Revolt:
Shelley’d gathered the students out in the main quad,
And roused them to rise against school, Head, and God…
The bards of the thirties were equally Red,
And Milton explained how to chop off a head…
Soon the School was destroyed. Eliot paced through the waste,
And reflected with sorrow and learning and taste,
Which he fused in a poem, an excellent thing,
Though rather obscure and a little right-wing…

And the Head is left amidst the rubble, cursing all poets and poetry.

It all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the many aspects of ageing, viewed both internally and externally; and the consolations and disconsolations of poetry itself. It is an easy read, the ease belying the breadth and depth of Simmers’ thought, his lifetime of experience including the 25 years he has spent editing and publishing that excellent monthly online poetry magazine, Snakeskin.

Old and Bookish is an excellent and memorable collection of verse.

Even the cover illustration gets a little write-up at the end of the book, including a last poem by Simmers:

“I am very grateful to Bruce Bentzman for permission to use again his ‘Raven’ drawing, which made an earlier appearance in our Animals Like Reading collaboration. I approve of this bird, both for his obvious appetite for reading, and for his air of scepticism, which once inspired this rhyme:
‘Human nature? Bloody chronic!’ Raven caws in tones sardonic,
And adds: ‘I’ve read some rubbish as I’ve studied human lore,
But I’ve read no book that’s dopier than Sir Thomas More’s Utopia,
Which imagines human harmony and man (that carnivore!)
Being so nice to his neighbour he abjures all thoughts of war.’
Quoth the raven: ‘Never, More.’

And as for that Raven’s comment about warfare: it should be noted finally that George Simmers also authors a blog called Great War Fiction plus which focuses on fiction of the First World War, but also goes off on whatever tangents seem interesting.

Odd Poems: Thomas M. Disch, ‘A Child’s Garden of Grammar’

Thomas M. Disch (1940-2008) was a New Wave Science Fiction author, poet, theater critic, computer game designer, and much else. Not surprising, then, that his Grammar is a strange book. Sadly, it’s not really informative for either the grammar-beginner (it’s too obscure) or the grammar-expert (there’s nothing new). It has odd poems, some nice and simple like ‘Either/Or’:

Either and Or came to a door.
Either would enter, but not before Or,
So still they stand outside that door,
But now their names are Neither and Nor.

Some playing little games, as in the explanation of ‘The Indirect Object’:

I have to hand it to you, dear:
You’re the indirect object here–
Along with Thelma, Hank and Hugh.
I tip my hat to all of you.
You’ve set a fine example to me–
But I don’t get it, and I’m gloomy.

OK, so “to you” is the indirect object… and “I” can’t be an indirect object, it can only be a subject… Cute, but rather spoiled for me by the rhyme of “to me” (which I unthinkingly stress on the last syllable, as with all the previous lines of the poem) but then, having to rhyme it with the next line’s “gloomy”, have to go back and reread to get the rhyme…

And every poem is illustrated with simple cartoons by Dave Morice. If you’re addicted to strange, by all means buy it. To me it’s just an oddity, and without either the visual or verbal charm of other cartoon-illustrated short poetry collections such as Piet Hein’s Grooks. But after all, Disch is best-known for his SF, not his verse.

Odd Poem: ‘The Skipping Rope’, by Tennyson

Sure never yet was antelope
Could skip so lightly by.
Stand off, or else my skipping-rope
Will hit you in the eye.

How lightly whirls the skipping-rope !
How fairy-like you fly !
Go, get you gone, you muse and mope —
I hate that silly sigh.

Nay, dearest, teach me how to hope,
Or tell me how to die.
There, take it, take my skipping-rope,
And hang yourself thereby.

This odd little poem appeared in the 1842 ‘Poems by Alfred Tennyson’, and was reprinted in every edition until 1851 when it was suppressed. I’ve italicised one of the two speakers in order to make the poem easier to understand on first reading. There is no visual indication, otherwise, that this is a conversation between an admirer and the irritated rope-skipper.

The very simple structure, very regular iambics, and very repetitive rhyme scheme are perfectly in keeping with the monotonous activity of skipping. I’ve always found the poem charming and amusing in its bizarre way.

(The photograph is “Girl with skipping rope, Albert Lomer studio, Sydney” by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies.)

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Edmund Conti, “My Son the Critic”

Edmund Conti

Edmund Conti

Read me a bedtime poem, said my son.
So I read him this:

We say hippopotami
But not rhinoceri
A strange dichotomy
In nature’s glossary.

But we do say rhinoceri, he said.  Look it up.
So I read him this:

Life is unfair
For most of us, therefore
Let’s have a fanfare
For those that it’s fair for.

I smell a slant rhyme, he said, sniffing.
So I read him this:

While trying to grapple
With gravity, Newton
Was helped by an apple
He didn’t compute on.

My teacher says that’s not poetry, he said.
So I read him this:

René Descartes, he thought
And therefore knew he was.
And since he was, he sought
To make us think.  He does.

That made me think, he said.  But not feel.
So I read him this:

My hair has a wonderful sheen.
My toenails, clipped, have regality.
It’s just all those things in between
That give me a sense of mortality.

Did the earth move?  I asked.  Anything?
Nothing moved.  He was asleep.

Ed Conti writes: “I sent the following quatrain to John Mella at Light and he accepted it (those were the good old days).

We say hippopotami
But not rhinoceri
A strange dichotomy
In nature’s glossary.

I don’t remember what the title was but I’m sure it didn’t hurt the poem.  A few weeks later dis-accepted the poem.  He had consulted with a fellow editor (I didn’t know they did that!) and found out you do say ‘rhinoceri.’  Now what?  I didn’t want to trash the quatrain, not with ‘t those felicitous rhymes.  So how to keep the verse and note the error. That was it, link a whole bunch of poems with their shortcomings (and I have a lot of those) and do a learned dissertation on what their problems were.  And who better to do that than one of my two sons.  Which one? It wouldn’t matter, I wouldn’t name him.  That way if one of them said he didn’t remember that happening, I would say it was the other son. Besides they were too young to worry about personas (personae?) And I wasn’t sure if I actually knew what they were.

So what does the reader get out of this poem?  Probably nothing. I write for myself because it’s fun.  If the reader chooses to enjoy this poem, that’s his problem.”

Edmund Conti has recent poems published in Light, Lighten-Up Online, The Lyric, The Asses of Parnassus, newversenews, Verse-Virtual and Open Arts Forum. His book of poems, Just So You Know has been recently released by Kelsay Books.
https://www.amazon.com/Just-You-Know-Edmund-Conti/dp/1947465899/

http://www.short-humour.org.uk/10writersshowcase/10writersshowcase.htm#EDCO

https://www.facebook.com/edmund.conti/

Review: “The Funny Side – 101 Humorous Poems” ed. Wendy Cope

Funny Side

Wendy Cope dislikes the term “light verse” because she feels it implies the included poetry can never be serious. Presumably she doesn’t take the matter lightly, given that she is considered (or dismissed as) a brilliant (but) light verse poet, with works such as Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis to her credit. Flippant is fine with her, but that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of “humorous” poems. Her choices for this anthology range from the frivolous to the suicidal; light or dark in subject, they are all amusing in their expression.

The poems are strung together in unobtrusive clumps of themes. The anthology kicks off with Richard Armour’s Money:

That money talks
I won’t deny.
I heard it once,
It said goodbye.

followed by Hilaire Belloc’s Fatigue:

I’m tired of Love: I’m still more tired of Rhyme.
But Money gives me pleasure all the time.

And so you leap in – you’ve just read the first two pages of the book. But in case you think that all the pieces are going to be so short, the next is the anonymous Strike among the Poets:

In his chamber, weak and dying,
While the Norman baron lay,
Loud, without, his men were crying
‘Shorter hours and better pay.’

and so on for seven stanzas of young Lochinvar and the boy on the burning deck and other worthies all demanding shorter hours and better pay.

Segue to the next poem, Harry Graham’s two full pages of Poetical Economy:, this being an example:

When I’ve a syllable de trop,
I cut it off without apol.:
This verbal sacrifice, I know,
May irritate the schol.;
But all must praise my dev’lish cunn.
Who realize that Time is Mon.

Most of the poems will be known to aficionados of, yes, light verse – the older pieces by Thomas Hood and Lewis Carroll and so on are relatively well known. But I found several delightful surprises: the excerpts from D. J. Enright’s Paradise Illustrated: A Sequence:

‘Why didn’t we think of clothes before?’
Asked Adam,
Removing Eve’s.

‘Why did we ever think of clothes?’
Asked Eve,
Laundering Adam’s.

Kit Wright’s (lengthy) The Orbison Consolations:

Only the lonely
Know the way you feel tonight?
Surely the poorly
Have some insight?
Oddly, the godly
Also might,
And slowly the lowly
Will learn to read you right.

And then there’s Edwin Morgan’s The Mummy, on the arrival of Ramses II at Orly airport in 1976… but that one’s too complicated for this post. You’ll have to find it yourself.

It seems that Faber put out other books in this series in the late 1990s: By Heart – 101 Poems to Remember, edited by Ted Hughes, and Sounds Good – 101 Poems to be Heard, edited by Christopher Reid. I need to get them as well.