Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Plague on Light Verse

One thing that gets my goat: light verse, what's it all about? I can get humour in poetry - anyone who doesn't sometimes laugh out loud at Ashbery or Tom Raworth has had a humour bypass. But those little verses about cricket ("Play up! Play up! and Play the Game!") or trains or some other such petit-bourgeois enthusiasm, usually written in a rollicking metre with lots of "funny" rhymes and ending with a neat and over obvious punchline - I just don't get why everybody else seems to like them.

I must be missing a circuit in the brain: maybe the cucumber sandwich circuit that sees writing verse as a nice little pastime equivalent to macrame or darning socks. Ron Padgett's "Nothing In That Drawer" creases me up, though (it's the same phrase, 14 times - a sonnet I guess!) Kenneth Koch can have me in stitches, and so on.

"Light verse" just has the flavour of weak tea served in a vicarage, with doilies and little cakes. A really good funny poem has more of the Lenny Bruce about it; though how many people do write genuinely funny poems? Poems, that is, that are not just gags wrapped up in verse? Not many, I suspect. Much so-called performance poetry is essentially light verse. Oh, it sounds a bit punk because the poet is shouting it through a microphone, but it trots along on its little metrical feet in just the same way as a Pam Ayres poem.

And I like "rude" poetry even less than "light" verse. Stuff that thinks that it's funny to leave a gap where a swearword should be, or the word "cock" or something. If you're going to talk about sex, don't be so fucking coy. At least Chloe Poems, for instance, isn't coy about sex. She comes right out and says the words, doesn't hide under innuendo.

I'd like to see/read/hear some genuinely funny poetry sometime: but I don't think it's going to come from a mainstream still addicted to safety, or a performance scence addicted to giving the audience only what it wants. A performance scene that still appears to worship at the feet at that arch light-versist and sentimentalist, Roger McGough. (Well, he is Liverpudlian: what else would you expect but sentimental guff from the city that still hasn't gone past the Beatles?)

1 comment:

Rob said...

Yes, I pretty much agree with you. I can't stand jokes wrapped up in verse. The joke in itself is nearly always funnier.

I don't mind light verse when it is actually funny and makes me laugh, which isn't often.

And I like light verse when it has a darker side to it, when comedy and tragedy meet in the same sentence - but that's probably beginning to move out of true light verse territory.