Saturday, 15 January 2011

Yet More Comic & Curious Verse


Poems selected by J.M.Cohen

In 1959 Cliff Richard was number one in the charts with Living Doll. Was it a coincidence that the year also saw the birth of the Barbie Doll? I think not. Sadly for music, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash that year, too. But happily for poetry, this book was published. With its distinctive Penguin cover, designed by Stephen Russ, presaging the “Swinging Sixties” it is for me a veritable treasure chest of comicality, an Aladdin’s Cave of reading pleasure, a cornucopia of chuckles and as such is, in many ways, the same as, although also quite different to, its precursor The Penguin Book of Comic and Curious Verse. Unlike its older brother however, many of the poems were written specifically for the book and therefore it has a much more contemporary (as in 1959-ish) feel.

It contains moral instruction, as in this cautionary story by J.A. Lindon:
My tale begins with Junior Tom
Who made his own Atomic Bomb…

Word play: 
I asked the maid in dulcet tone
To order me a buttered scone

The silly girl has been and gone
And ordered me a buttered scone

Table manners, as in John Betjeman’s How to get on in Society:
Phone for the fish-knives, Norman,
As cook is a little unnerved…

And, in full, in all its glorious and turgid awfulness, William McGonagall’s excruciating Saving a Train:
’Twas in the year of 1869, and on the 19th of November
Which the people in
Southern Germany will long remember…

I bought my copy from a market stall for £3. A bargain. Although not quite as big a bargain as its older brother was. (See my previous entry.) Buy yourself a copy. And if by chance you already have one – take it down from the shelf, blow off the fine layer of dust and treat yourself again to some of the fine, comic and curious treasures that lie within.

3 comments:

Russell 'C.J.' Duffy said...

I love books like these for the very reason you speak of here; taking them down from your book shelf, brushing away the cobwebby dust and then leafing through them, browsing really, each page while stopping occasionally to re-read an old favourite.
Poetry has gone out of fashion but so has Rock and Roll. I miss them both but they can still be found if you look hard enough.
More articles like these please Roger as they are splendid.

wastedpapiers said...

I must look out for this one next time I'm in the Oxfam shop.

Roger Stevens said...

If you listen quietly you may hear it calling to you.