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Risible Rhymes?

June 18th, 2015

MGPic-blogI’m never quite sure what to call this stuff we sometimes write.  Comic verse?  Humorous verse?  Both adjectives sound presumptuous.  (You can hear the readers/audience shout, We’ll be the judge of that!)  There’s always the more humble sounding light verse – concocted for a family celebration perhaps, with guests well inebriated and correspondingly appreciative.  But what will they think the morning after?

Maybe it’s the word verse that’s at fault – it has that quaint, old-fashioned ring and also brings to mind the modern, cringeworthy greeting card.  But then humorous poetry has slightly chilling overtones too.  I often imagine it in the deadpan voice of Peter Cook’s wonderful E.L. Wisty character, “Good evenin’, I write humorous poetry, you know.”

There are many permutations of these words that we could choose to label our work.  And they all seem somehow apologetic.  Or a bit of a put-down.  Perhaps I’m being over defensive.  But I’ve never felt that a poem had to shed light on the human predicament in order to qualify for serious consideration.  I find writing comedy both hard and satisfying, and feel we should stand up for the form.  (Anyway I reckon the human predicament has been distressingly well illuminated already by others – it doesn’t need my two penn’orth).

In her collection If I Don’t Know, Wendy Cope includes A Poem on the Theme of Humour,

which is an amusing response to the stern, and rather ambiguous, prescription, from Rules of the Bard of the Year competition 1994, that ‘Poems can be in any style and on any theme (except humour).’  Her ironic take on this issue ends with the line ‘Real poetry is no fun at all.’  Obviously it can be, just as fun poetry can be of real merit.

Of course there are plenty of counterexamples.  It’s quite possible to write ‘funny’ material poorly, just as it is to write anything poorly.  And of course we have individual tastes, which change over time.  I find the approach of Edward Lear for example, who popularised the limerick in the 19th century, totally baffling.  He seems to be aiming for a comedic effect.  But his habit of almost repeating the first line for the final line seems to violate the most basic rule of comedy – which affords a high priority to economy of words.  It’s like telling a joke, then pausing after the punchline before adding, “So that’s what happened when the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman went into a pub!”

So, what’s it to be?  Recreational lyrics Jovial odes?  It doesn’t matter.  A comic poem by any other name would be as hilarious, or wince-inducing.  We should call it anything we like, but aim high.

 

Mike says: For many years I was a lecturer in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University, where I looked after the undergraduate Physics & Music course.  I’ve been on the judging panel for the annual sciart awards – funding for collaborations between established writers, musicians and visual artists, and scientists.  My interests still centre around the Arts-Sciences boundary.  I’ve had quite a few comic short stories and poems published in anthologies.  I ski and sail.

 

 

 

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