December 18, 2010 § 5 Comments
I don’t usually write about poetry, because I mostly hate it. Detest. This is probably due to extreme overexposure to the same three war poems all the way through school. The effect is a sort of long-term trauma resulting in a shudder of pure horror at the mention of the very word ‘poetry’.
The fact that I am thinking about poetry at all is the fault of Andy, who is probably off feverishly exploring about eighteen large tomes of sober brown verse as we speak. The good stuff, naturally, complete with ample soul-searching and no doubt a healthy dash of misery. I’d love to be able to ‘engage’ with serious poetry (note my accomplished use of a literary buzz-word there: feels good). Alas, I cannot.
In my world, if we’re going to do poetry at all, it really ought to be about purple cows.
It starts with this brief but famous piece from Gelett Burgess in 1895:
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.
Followed up by the same in 1897:
Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!
Showing some small signs of frustration there. Indeed, who would ever expect an absurd four-line poem about purple cows to become widely popular?
Then came the 20s and a whole slew of purple cow parodies, the best of which (in my opinion) are those of Carolyn Wells, parodying the style of several very famous poets including Milton, Shelley and Wordsworth. Read them here. I’m not sure whether the parody or the subject matter amuses me more. Possibly it is both: there’s a decided incongruity about elevated poetic styles applied to something so essentially nonsensical. It’s perfect.
On the topic of cleverly absurd nineteenth-century poetry, it’s also well worth mentioning that perennial favourite, Lewis Carroll, and the genius Jabberwocky. The genius is in the construction of an evocative narrative out of nonsense words that somehow ring true. Words like ‘mimsy’ and ‘tulgey’ create their own meaning – and how else would you describe a borogove anyway? Though I have never arrived at a satisfactory definition for ‘outgrabe’. Any suggestions?
My stock of good humorous poetry is on the thin side, all told, which is disappointing, so I’m going to ask for recommendations. Forget anguish: purple cows and jabberwocks are much more in my line.