Yesterday afternoon, I spent a little time teaching my better half’s 6-year old nephew a silly rhyme that I loved as a child. I believe it was written by that most famous of authors, ‘Anon’, and goes like this:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy,
Given ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ is the only such rhyme I can really remember from childhood, it’s not hard to see where my preference for irreverent poetry stems from. Sadly, it didn’t feature in the book, ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’, although a similarly short work regarding the author’s consumption of peas with honey (so as to stop them falling off the knife) did. I had never come across this poem before, but enjoyed it to the extent of sharing it with several people in the days after reading it.
For a reason I can’t properly articulate, it came as something of a surprise when a friend said they remembered it from their own childhood, and it got me thinking how certain things can sometimes stick with us, hence the appreciation for Fuzzy Wuzzy. As a result, it’s no real surprise that TNFCP featured a diverse selection of work, not all of which – to these eyes at least – necessarily met the brief of being ‘comic’.
This ‘review’ is long overdue, for well over a month has elapsed since reading TNFCP. However, in some respects the delay has been beneficial, particularly in giving me time to reflect on the book, and not least in the context of having now been to a meeting of a poetry group (‘A Night At The Leopard’).
I’ll be straight with you – there were some poems I skipped right over; mainly those that brought to mind those interminable pages of verse that litter novels like ‘The Lord Of The Rings’. Some were simply impenetrable, and while a voice deep inside suggested I ought to be better than simply dismissing something for being ‘a bit difficult to read’, any inherent ‘comicness’ (something quite different to outright comedy) was never going to be evident when the words made no sense in the order they were written.
Of course, there is every likelihood that I was, in some cases at least, being a bad reader. Too often my brain would be searching out the rhyming scheme, or examining the way the poem had been structured, to properly concentrate on the story being told. But when there were poems that revelled in simplicity and made me laugh at the same time, I knew where my interest lay. Perhaps I should go and get the book again and re-read it, just to see if my take on any of them has changed, particularly since some of the revelations I had thanks to attending the poetry group at the Leopard.
At one point I hit a run of four or five consecutive poems that were silly, funny and had something of an emotional impact; all were written by Roger McGough. The name was vaguely familiar but no more, and I have since sought out his ‘Collected Poems’ from the library to be my next poetry read. When you see the size of the book, and reflect on the fact that it is essentially a ‘best of’, it scares you to think just how prolific someone can be. Nevertheless, I am excited to explore more of his work, and will report back in due course.
Finally, special mention must be reserved for one poem in particular that got me really frustrated, if not downright angry. In a desperate effort to maintain a rhyme scheme, it resorted to ending lines with ‘-O’, even when such a device did not really fit the line being concluded. Part of me wonders if it was intended as ironic, but there was no real evidence to support that theory. The very fact that it appeared in the book almost convinced me that I was missing something, but I couldn’t for the life of me work out what. If I ever resort to anything similar, take my pen away from me, won’t you?
So there we go – ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’. Some wonderful moments and some woeful moments, but then maybe that is what anthologies are all about. I’m starting to get to the stage where I can’t conceive of ‘an individual poem’ being universally liked or disliked. That shouldn’t really be as surprising as it seems, for isn’t that the essence of any art form? Was I really naïve enough to think I might enjoy every single poem in a collection of comic poems? Maybe I was!