Wednesday, 29 October 2008

More about the carry on

So all this talk of love and sex...any new poems from it all yet? Well...I wrote one on Monday night and it's pasted at the end of this post. It's a sex/love relationship poem I suppose...about the ends of relationships (how you feel, what goes wrong, how and why it happens). It's not about any one relationship of mine in particular, I should point out. I read it at the folk club here last night (where the guests David Francey and Craig Werth were brilliant, by the way) and it seemed to go down well (especially for its first outing). Verona (my partner for music purposes) said it's her favourite of my poems so far...lots of reasons for that...they can go in her memoirs...

When I picked up the pen to write 'Looking for clues' (the poem in question) I thought it was going to be a serious know...heartfelt, tragic, maybe a little touching...but obviously the poem had other plans and it came out as a funny, if still somewhat tragic, number instead. I like it when the poems surprise keeps the whole process exciting (you see... it is just like sex...and love...).

Then once it was written I realised I haven't written many poems this year that could be called funny or humorous. I don't think there's any real reason for that. I've been a bit ponderous of late, I suppose...what with all this blog debate and all...but there have been periods when I've written lots of poems with humour in them and maybe I'm just coming back in to one of those. It's not something I have any control over, I don't think.

There are lots of good things about writing poems with some humour in them (and please note I am not using the term 'light verse' – more on that later). Funny poems help a lot when it comes to performance that's for sure. I usually do a mix of comedy and tragedy when I read poems in public partly because that's just the way I am (highs and lows, always with the highs and lows...) and partly because I think it helps people to focus on the more serious poems if they have had some chances to smile and laugh as well (human beings are capable of such a range of emotions – let's not waste them!). Personally I think expecting an audience to sit still and listen to a lot of very heavy/serious poems is awful lot. For a start you'd better be absolutely AMAZING at what you do and/or have something really interesting to offer because 'amazing serious' is one thing (great...breathtaking...what we live for) but 'boring, pretentious, deluded and/or half-arsed serious', on the other hand, that is just funny...but for all the wrong reasons.

I also like the fact that you can say things in a humorous poem that can be just too painful (or close to somebody's bone) in a humourless one. And most of all I just love humour – it is such a marvellous of the greatest gifts we have (well, most of us...if we're lucky). It gets us through so many difficult situations, it makes life bearable, I can't understand why any writer would not want to use it whereever and whenever they can. Most of all I feel almost sorry for people with no sense of humour at all...and didn't Germaine Greer once say on a very memorable 'Question Time' that such people should be registered as disabled (she was making a point about how too many people view 'the disabled' as just 'other' as 'nothing like the rest of us' – it was a good inspired my poem 'Pay heed to the special need' too).

There are of course down sides to writing funny poems now and again too. Here are some of them (any excuse for a list).

1. Some people will call anything you write 'doggerel' especially if some of it rhymes (and they'll say it with a sneer, you can be sure of that). Have you noticed, for example, how the word 'doggerel' is almost always preceded by the word 'just'? I don't use the word 'doggerel' very often because I think it has such negative connotations (poor word – not really its fault people are so stupid...bit like dogs and their owners) but I did use it in my short poem 'The adult response' which goes 'Oh, you can call it dog-ger-el/ But what do you know?/ Bug-ger-all '. It's short and not so sweet and it was anthologised by the admirable poet and publisher Helena Nelson in HappenStance's 'Unsuitable Companions' last year.

2. Some people will use the term 'light verse' in much the same way. I wrote a follow up to 'The adult response' called 'The adult response – and another thing' and it goes 'Light verse/ Better than shite verse'. Are some people so clueless that they think all humour is light? Of the poems with any humour that I have written I would say that the majority have more dark than light in them. You can say something very harsh with a twist of humour and you could look at many poets to appreciate that but I'm going to call on Philip Larkin and his best known poem 'This be the verse' (how bitter is the humour in that one?). It's his best known for many reasons – OK, it's short and rude but it's also using a cruel humour to deliver a huge whallop of a message (Hah! See how I am not scared of using that word! Maybe McMillan is right and I really am bold...).

3. Some stupid people with limited outlook will think you are only capable of one kind of writing and that you are 'not to be taken seriously'. Yeh, because that Shakespeare...he just wrote a few sitcoms, didn't he?

4. Some people who can't write a funny line to save their lives will think it's easy and that anyone can do it. Go on then, after you.

There are probably other points to add to that list but I think that will do for now (what was that I said in the last post about whingeing..?). I was out last night and I'm a little weary (and by the way...go and look at David Francey's tour page...he's in the UK for a few more dates and he's well worth catching – great voice, great songs, really lovely and interesting Scottish-Canadian bloke).

And's the poem. After all the above it'd better be funny, eh? Bits are, bits aren't...such is life.

Looking for clues

When we said 'I love you' and one of us lied
When I turned up early and you just sighed
When I found I didn't care if you lived or died
That's when I knew that it wasn't really working

When you wanted hot sex and I wanted less
When you didn't seem to know what to do with my caress
When you were feeling great and I was just a mess
I knew then, also, that it wasn't really working

When you said you liked blondes and I've always been brown
When I couldn't hear your name without fighting off a frown
When just the sound of my voice could bring you right down
Then again I knew, it wasn't really working

When I took your hand and you gave me mine back
When a day with you was just stretching on a rack
Then I knew our journey had reached its cul-de-sac
Obviously, you and me, it wasn't really working

RF 2008


hope said...

Bravo! You had me grinning by the second line and laughing at the conclusion of the first section.

Failure is universal. That we can fail at love is something we tend to overlook...part optimist, part prayer Don't-let-that-happen-to-me. You did the topic proud...perfect mix of bittersweet and humor. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Well it's good to know it works on the page (or on the screen...) as well as read aloud!

And yes, failure is one of the subjects I write about most, I think. And that takes me back again to the Beckett quote at the top of Sorlil's Poetry in Progress page...


Frances said...

I certainly agree that a poem with a lighter mood helps a lot in performance. There's a limit to how much chest beating an audience can cope with in one night.
Loved your poem.

Rachel Fox said...

Glad you liked it, Frances, thanks.

Yes - if you going to give a full night of chest beating (or any other version of serious) then, as I say, it had better be good, really really good! Any examples of poets who are really good at writing and/or performing humour or non-humour or a successful mix of the two would be interesting... if anyone wants to make suggestions.

Art Durkee said...

Something a lot of people miss about Beckett is that he's very funny. It can be bleak and hilarious at the same time. It's how Beckett shows his pity and hope for many of his characters, despite their impossible situations.

Rachel Fox said...

I can't pretend I am a big Beckett freak - I know lots of you are. I keep thinking maybe I'll grow into it as I get older (same goes for experimental jazz and lots of other things) but my tastes do change all the time so you never know. I'd hate to think I'm only going to like the same things for the rest of however many years I've got left here.

To be honest these days I don't go to the theatre much at all. I went loads in my late teens but since then not so much (lots of reasons to do with geography, transport, claustrophobia...). If I do go it tends to be something for Small Girl and I'm not sure she's ready for Beckett (although...she's...bizarre enough...maybe I should try her...). I did listen to some Beckett recordings that Jim posted but nothing set me on fire. Not yet anyway! Bit like Leonard Cohen...makes me want to shout 'oh come on...get on with it, do something!' And now, it's official...I am turning into my mother!

Art Durkee said...

I was thinking more of of the prose works, rather than the plays, but Beckett's work is all of a piece in some ways. I was also thinking of "Words and Music" and "Cascando," two short radio plays I've always liked. I wasn't thinking of the big theatre plays for which Beckett is best known, but for the smaller works like "Ohio Impromptu."

But back to sex: Sex can be funny, too. I used to get the magazine "Yellow Silk," which was a magazine of literary and artistic erotica. I recall quite a few poems in there that funny-serious in the way you talk about. Having recently moved, there are still things I can't find, but if I run across anything like this soon, I'll post it.

Rachel Fox said...

Maybe I should try some of that Beckett prose then. I'm reading James Baldwin's 'Go tell it on the mountain' just now.

So Art...does yellow silk have a meaning I don't know about?

Fiendish said...

Lovely. Reminds me of "Unfortunate Coincidence" by Dorothy Parker:

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying,
Lady, make a note of this —
One of you is lying.

As I think Parker was pretty much a genius, you should consider that a compliment ;)

Rachel Fox said...

Compliment well and truly accepted. Ta very much. I like her poems a lot. She was mean... but somehow honest and fair...a clever combination.

Jim Murdoch said...

I'm reliably informed by those who know about such things that humour is all about timing. A lot of funny poems rhyme. Rhymes are funny, even bad ones if we know they're done deliberately, but there's a throw-away quality about that kind of poetry in much the same way as a comedian would throw away a joke. Jokes can be very powerful but they don't tend to have lasting appeal. Jokes also fall flat on the faces where the comedian's timing is off. Why does Larkin's poem stay in the public's consciousness? Personally I think it is the dirty word – you don't expect a frankly austere person like Larkin to talk like that (unless you've read his biography) and that adds real power to the poem, in the just the same way as the single swear word Beckett inserts at the end of Rockaby knocks the feet from under you. Humour is also a very effective way of delivering powerful messages. None of John Cooper Clarke's poems were all sweetness and light; they were all funny with a bitter centre.

As for 'light verse', well, I have a number of CDs with 'light music', the kind that was popular during those filler films on the forties and fifties and it's fine as background stuff but most of it isn't very memorable apart from those pieces like Eric Coates's 'By the Sleepy Lagoon' which became the theme of Desert Island Discs. And 'light verse' is much the same, inoffensive and eminently forgettable. It may be technically accomplished – much of the music played whilst Tom and Jerry chased each other around the place was phenomenally difficult to perform but do you remember any of it?

I think rhyme – we're talking full rhymes here at the end of lines – is awfully hard to pull of and the poem not sound trite. Rhyme is something that invariably lightens the tone of a piece and so a poet has to raise their game to include it and it not scupper their hard work. Opting to use rhyme also forces a poet to pay much closer attention to rhythm and that's usually where weekend poets really show themselves up, they bung in an extra syllable or two, to get the rhyme right and twist the rhythm of the lines to compensate. No, the two go hand in fist.

Rachel Fox said...

Morning Jim.

Now...firstly everything is about timing! Love, war, history, isn't just humour that is about timing.

Next...I don't think rhymes are necessarily funny. A more academic mind would give you some examples...I might get to that later in the day. I like to (sometimes) make a rhyming poem really, really serious...just for fun.

I don't think funny poems are necessarily throwaway. Look at young Fiendish still reading old Parker. Some humour lives on (though possibly not Russell Brand's).

I think the 'fuck' does help 'This be the verse' and its popularity but I think mostly what people like about the poem is its simple honesty. Go out into the world and look about...people are still fucking up their kids on a regular basis!

My point about the term 'light verse' was more that people use the term if a poem is humorous without stopping to think whether the poem really is light or not. Humour can be light and/or dark but light is used to dismiss poems with any humour too often. Stuff being dismissed out of hand really pisses me off!

And, finally, of course rhyme is hard to pull off well but that's no reason not to try it. Not for me anyway.

Jim Murdoch said...

I didn't say that rhyme was funny. I do think that it "lightens the tone of a piece" which is what I said above. I think rhyme is an obstacle that needs to be overcome not simply because of its difficulty but because of the preconceptions that readers bring with them. And there's no need to go searching for serious rhymed poems. My favourite poem of all time (yes, you know the one) is in rhyme and it's perfectly balanced, just the right amount of dark and shade.

As for funny poems being throwaways, well, most jokes are, you've got it and then you want to move on. The best jokes transcend that and you sit there knowing what the punch line is before it comes but that doesn't matter. And that goes for the best funny poems usually because there is another element to the piece, it isn't relying solely on its humour but the humour is the leven.

Rachel Fox said...

I was referring to your first paragraph (not your third) with that point about rhymes and funniness. I was saying that yes they can be funny but they don't necessarily have to be. And I'm sure you know that...but not everybody seems to...and that is one of my main points.

I think we're clear now.

Art Durkee said...

Asian erotica is a lot more sensual than Western, and the poetry reflects it. Octavio Paz dedicates a whole chapter to this point in his book essay "In Light of India," I think I might have mentioned it earlier. He makes the point that Indian sensuality is langourous, not rhythmically thrusting, and many of the best-known and still favorite erotic poets in the Indian tradition were women.

Yellow silk is part of this Asian tradition of sensuality, although coming more from East Asia. Pillow books in Heian-era Japan, for example, such as Sei Shonagon's, are full of lists of things which make life more pleasant, but not just superficially. Silk is incredibly sensual on the bare skin, and is often recommended for wearing before and after trysting. The color yellow is associated with lust, that golden glow the skin takes on when aroused, with the yoni; and probably with more specific things, if I bothered to go off and do some research rather than just recite from memory.

Rachel Fox said...

I never knew that about yellow and lust. Interesting. But I did know about the Western-world-very-weird-and-awkward-about-the-sensual business...all too well!


Rachel Fox said...

Lost a couple of letters in that last one!

hope said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hope said...

Sorry, I "backed" up over a couple of words and that post made no sense. :)

Here's a short poem for your collection Rachel to illustrate that funny and rhyming poems stick for all kinds of reasons...[and I don't even drink] ;)

Save the lectures; I chose this because it makes the point succinctly.

Candy is dandy
But liquor is quicker.

Ogden Nash

Rachel Fox said...

Now, Hope, are you sure you didn't have brandy on your cornflakes?

hope said...

I skipped breakfast. But I did see Snow White standing behind me this morning at the grocery store. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Now that stress at work is really beginning to show!

I was just listening to the David Francey cd that I bought at the folk club this week. You would love it Hope. Francey hasn't lived in Scotland for years but he's still undeniably, tremendously Scottish.

hope said...

So turn up the volume. :)

And I did see Snow White...wait 'til you see my blog.