Tag Archives: wordplay

Odd poem: Samuel Johnson on wordplay

If I were to be punishèd
For every pun I shed
There would be no puny shed
For my punnish head.

Strictly speaking, of course, this isn’t a poem–it was merely an apparently spontaneous reply (but how many “spontaneous” remarks have been thought of and prepared in advance?)

The story was told in the following way:– “Sir,” said Johnson, “I hate a pun. A man who would perpetrate a pun would have little hesitation in picking a pocket.” Upon this Boswell hinted that his “illustrious” friend’s dislike to this species of small wit might arise from his inability to play upon words. “Sir,” roared Johnson, “if I were punishèd for every pun I shed, there would not be left a puny shed of my punnish head.”

The moral of the story was presumably for Boswell and others to guard their possessions when Doctor Johnson was around…

“statue of Samuel Johnson outside St Clement Danes Church” by ell brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

Odd poem: Mathematical limerick by Leigh Mercer

That may not look like a limerick to you, but if you read correctly it can be!

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

Leigh Mercer was a very odd character. Born the son of a Church of England pastor in 1893, he said “I have been taught to regard myself as the fool of the family, a professional ne’er-do-well.” From 1910 to 1959 he held between 60 and 85 different jobs: in the engineering shops of 30 motor car companies including Rolls-Royce and Ford, as a nurse to a wealthy invalid, as a Post Office Savings Bank clerk, a pavement artist, a carnival sideshow assistant, an English tutor in Paris…

He loved puzzles and wordplay, especially palindromes. He is best known for creating “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama.” There is an 8-page biography of him here, including 100 palindromes. Leigh Mercer died in 1977.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Max Gutmann, “Onset”

Max Gutmann

Max Gutmann

ONSET

Remember with my sitting parents I
at napkins red with cloth a table high
things struggling out to figure how these thin
(which home I knew at bags came plastic in)
potatoes were, and hamburger my how
to a connection have could any cow.

Twist change and blithely we our world: we light
and pave like soft, good day the earth, the night.
We wonder so that find what easy it
twist well ourselves as to? We still can sit
for desks behind long money hours for bland
and nation hate on any can command.

Hard shapes for make can strange it us our new
recall in shapes the which we born were to.

Max Gutmann writes: “Onset is probably my most unusual poem, and it tends to inspire strong reactions. In an online competition, it was the favorite of the host, a well-published poet I respect, who commented that she could see it becoming widely anthologized, and it came close to being the readers’ top choice. At the same time, it got far and away the greatest number of negative comments, some of them pretty strong. That combination of reactions is something I’ve been proud of ever since.

The host’s anthology prediction hasn’t come to pass, but Onset is, at long last, forthcoming–in Raintown Review.”

Under the pseudonym Noam D. Plum, Max Gutmann has published in The Spectator, The Country Mouse, Light Quarterly, and elsewhere including, of course, in the Potcake Chapbook Wordplayful. Having won two $500 prizes, as well as some smaller ones, Noam is a more successful breadwinner than the man for whom he fronts.

Given the mental gymnastic similarities between Noam’s Preopr Splelnig and Max’s Onset, however, I think it is reasonable to treat the poets as the same writer… You can see more of his work at https://www.maxgutmann.com/