5 Funny Poets You Need to Read

22 Mar

Poetry, for most of us, is like an embarrassing aunt. The one we want to avoid at social gatherings, the one we nod at absently when she grabs us and talks nineteen to the dozen, the one we are reluctant to be seen with in public, for fear that she will bore or embarrass the living daylights out of us!

Because, for most of us, poetry seems to belong to a different generation – seems to be concerned with things too grand for us, and speaks of them in a language that make little sense. We believe poems are always about nature, or undying love, and unending sorrow. And poets are a perverse lot that speak with a twisted tongue.

There’s no arguing that poems are written on love, life, death, and all those grand themes. But poems are also about going to the dentist, arguing with your lover, and sheer nonsense. Poetry can speak with a high, ringing voice; but it can also whisper and chuckle and even guffaw!

Don’t believe us? To prove our point, we bring you 5 poets who are great laughs.

1. Edward Lear (1812- 1888)

To Lear belongs the singular achievement of making nonsense a literary genre. Lear excelled at the limerick – a humorous five-line poem. When he first started writing, it was to entertain children, but he found that adults enjoyed his works too.

And his poems must have been a breath of fresh air in the Victorian era, which believed there was no good entertainment which did not educate. So, readers found Lear’s nonsense liberating. Most of his limericks focus on a single, unusual individual inhabiting an odd universe.

“There was an old man of Thermopylæ,
Who never did anything properly;
But they said, “If you choose, to boil eggs in your shoes,
You shall never remain in Thermopylæ.”
(There was an old man of Thermopylae)

“There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared! —
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard.”
(There was an Old Man with a Beard)

There is no other agenda than to be silly and amuse. And we could all do with that from time to time.

2. Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898)
“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves.
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

These well-known lines are from “Jabberwocky”, a poem from “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There”. And although it seems doubtful, they are in English.

Lewis Carroll, who wrote the Alice books, was also a mathematician and an Oxford don. His verse and prose show a lively imagination, a keen ear for rhythm and a childlike delight in language.

That is why they have achieved cult status.

Another great example is “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from the same book. Carroll is a master of sticking up his thumb at the reader who goes looking for meaning.

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
There were no birds to fly.”

3. Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)
Nash said his field was “the minor idiocies of humanity.” As you can easily imagine, it proved very fertile. Nash’s poems often take everyday situations, characters and phrases and showcase their innate silliness. He exaggerates a problem, makes the reader laugh, and so diminishes it.

Take, for instance, this stanza from his poem on the common cold.

“A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare’s plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!”
(Common Cold)

Nash also has a great gift for using clichés in a way that surprises meaning. Like all poets, he has fun with language – challenging its meaning and use. For Nash, no subject is too big or small. Here’s an example:

“A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
“Let us fly!” said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.” (A Flea And A Fly In A Flue)

4. Theodor Geisel “Dr. Seuss” (1904 – 1991)
Entertaining generations of readers with his zany nonsense, Geisel is probably the best-known name in the genre. His best-selling books, include “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “The Cat in the Hat”, “Horton Hears a Who!”, and “The Lorax.”

Interestingly, he wrote his first book, “And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” to amuse himself. It also amused readers and critics, many of whom think it is his best work.

Rollicking verse, fantasy animal characters and first-rate imagination characterize the work of “Dr. Seuss”.

That, and a keen ear for music. You can find an example in his poem about a woman who has 21 sons and names each one Dave. Geisel suggests options –

And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn
And one of them Hoos-Foos.   And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot.   And one Sunny Jim. . .
And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate …
But she didn’t do it.   And now it’s too late.”
(Too Many Daves)

5. Wendy Cope (1945 – )
The only woman poet on our list, Wendy Cope, is also the only one who can be considered a contemporary poet. Her light-hearted, often comical poetry, talks about things that concern all of us – falling in love, arguing, breaking-up, and family get-togethers, even mansplaining.

He tells her that the earth is flat —
He knows the facts, and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long
She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well.
He calls her arguments unsound
And often asks her not to yell.
She cannot win. He stands his ground.
The planet goes on being round
. (Differences of Opinion)

Cope also has a talent for parody. Here is an excerpt from “The Wasteland: Five Limericks.”

“In April one seldom feels cheerful;
Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
Clairvoyantes distress me,
Commuters depress me–
Met Stetson and gave him an earful.”

What she does with one of the most serious poems of all time is a marvel. And you can enjoy it even if you’re not familiar with the original!

Do you have a favourite funny poem or poet you would like to share with us? Email or leave a comment below!


By: Skendha Singh

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