At the 42 group this month (glad we made the most of it as it’s probably going to be a while…) by special request of one of the regulars we had an evening of poetry which makes us smile or laugh. It was just lovely: a different kind of light in the darkness. Wendy Cope featured a lot, as you might imagine, and her ‘Poem on the theme of humour’ reminded us of how po-faced it’s possible to be about Serious Literature and the Function of Art. ((I’d love to give you a link to the poem, but I can only find it on The Telegraph‘s site and I’ll to leave it to you as to whether you want to get involved in those particular strong toils…)
It was so good to enjoy some poems simply for their silliness, or playfulness. Most of us had noticed how comic poetry often uses rhyme and rhythm either splendidly to fulfil or to subvert our expectations (as in Cope’s ‘Verse for a Birthday Card‘, which so wonderfully wrong-foots us and which was my go-to starter poem when I was involved in teacher education and wanted to shock the Sports Science students into realising that poetry Could Be Fun). I took some Ogden Nash to the group, too, because I find his shameless word- and line-bending a sheer delight (you can read ‘A Clean Conscience Never Relaxes’ here). Like most comedy, the humorous poem is often saying something serious, winning our consent by the laughter it provokes.
The other laugh we found ourselves enjoying throughout the evening was the laugh of recognition. And so the last poem I want to share today is ‘Pls, stop sendg msg2ths’ by Charlotte Fortune, which took third in The Guardian‘s competition nearly 20 years ago and which you can find here (scroll down a bit) (I think it should have won). The use of text language and layout is part of how it so cleverly creates a whole situation which, surely, we can all recognise? I once received an email from a colleague telling me about the department meeting at a village called Underbarrow; only the spellcheck intervened and invited us to get together in underdrawers (which would have been a much more interesting meeting). Haven’t we all pressed “Send” on texts or emails only to have a Homer “D’oh!” moment of regret a second afterwards? Fortune’s poem invites us to remember that we’re not alone in this; and embarrassment shared is so much better that embarrassment solo. It’s tremendously reassuring to know that I’m not the only person in the history of the world who’s stepped out of the bathroom back into the crowded party/restaurant/theatre/whatever without knowing she had her skirt tucked into her knickers. I’m uncool at times, and so are the rest of us. What a relief.
… and I’m curious: if you’d been there the other evening, which poem would you have brought along? Let’s huddle round some poetry, virtually if not in the flesh. It’s gonna be important…