Who writes your favourite light verse?
July 13, 2006 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Ogden Nash made quite a splash. And somewhat darker, Dottie Parker. Silverstein was near divine, And all revere old Edward Lear. But now I suffer from a curse: My thirst for rhyme has grown perverse! I need a doctor or a nurse; My problem is becoming worse. So lest I end up in a hearse, Please point me t'wards some more light verse!
posted by Robot Johnny to Media & Arts (59 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Aww man, that looked fine on preview. Stupid line breaks.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2006

I can't think of any names offhand, but this is the best-written AskMe ever.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:24 AM on July 13, 2006

You would think me quite a meanie
If I didn't mention Francis Heaney.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:29 AM on July 13, 2006

You may find some verses to your liking in this anthology, sandwiched in among other things. ("Similar Cases" has long been a favorite of mine.)
posted by Wolfdog at 8:30 AM on July 13, 2006

I agree....best composed question ever. Made my day. Great list, too. Some of my other light verse favs are Shel Silverstein, Edward Gorey, Alexander Pope, and A.M. Juster.
posted by iconomy at 8:30 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Much older, but you might like Thomas Hood. Some of his stuff was pretty pun-ny.
posted by JanetLand at 8:32 AM on July 13, 2006

End yer naghts a' tosses and turns,
ye be cravin' ol'Bobbie Burns.
posted by ontic at 8:38 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Don Marquis; This one is pretty well-known, I guess, but still a good 'un.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:39 AM on July 13, 2006

(Oh, and my apologies to anyone who speaks or reads proper Scots dialect.)
posted by ontic at 8:40 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: I suspect you might fall in the love with Rhyme's Reason by John Hollander. (You wouldn't be the first.) It's a guide to rules and forms of verse across the centuries, most of it written in witty pastiche of the various forms under discussion. Here's a little example. Much of it is just plain laugh-out-loud funny - and you're guaranteed to learn something.
posted by waxbanks at 8:47 AM on July 13, 2006

(I bought the book for three dollars on a remainders table a few weeks ago. Should be dirt cheap in plenty of places.)
posted by waxbanks at 8:48 AM on July 13, 2006

You may find Judith Viorst to satisfy
(Though not all of her work will qualify)
posted by j-dawg at 8:54 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: You NEED to read Richard Wilbur's translations of the Mollier plays...

"The Misanthrope"



You will fall instantly in love.

Really. Get them. Get them now. I don't want to hear any exuses, or (believe me, sir) I will inflict upon you all sorts of abuses!
posted by grumblebee at 8:55 AM on July 13, 2006

He's certainly not a stodgy cleric,
one of my favorites, Robert Herrick
posted by caddis at 9:00 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: The Anthology of Light Verse that W.H. Auden put together for Oxford is considered a classic of poetry anthologizing, and it pretty much lives up to its reputation. OTOH, it is perhaps less urbane than what you might be looking for, and also goes a lot into song and other such things which might not be strictly considered "verse". Still, anyone interested in light verse at least has to reckon with it, and even if you don't like all of it, Auden will definitely give you some new alleys to bark up.
posted by nflorin at 9:06 AM on July 13, 2006

If a child with you dwells behind your door
obtain Poems Children Will Sit Still For
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Edmund Clerihew Bentley, originator of, well, the clerihew.
posted by Gator at 9:08 AM on July 13, 2006

@waxbanks: Thanks;I'm going to grab a copy just because I love pastiche for it's own sake...
posted by baylink at 9:20 AM on July 13, 2006

I second Edward Gorey, Amphigorey and Amphigorey Too are great collections.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:30 AM on July 13, 2006

Don't let Britain remain a mystery;
read this rhyming history.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:30 AM on July 13, 2006

Light and heavy both.
Haiku often fits the bill,
for meditation

Amazon caries
A plethora of titles
Quite the selection
posted by Chickenjack at 9:43 AM on July 13, 2006

One of my favorites is Robert Service (The Cremation of Sam McGee arguably the most famous of his poems.)
posted by nightwood at 9:46 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Odes to Deleted Crap

(Self Link)
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:47 AM on July 13, 2006

I think it's pronounced silversteen
posted by GeekAnimator at 9:52 AM on July 13, 2006

Response by poster: I think it's pronounced silversteen

Oops... well then, it's also prounounced diveen!
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:08 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: I quite enjoyed Calvin Trillin's verse from The Nation, collected in Deadline Poet. The introduction in prose is worth the price alone.
posted by mzurer at 10:11 AM on July 13, 2006

There was a young robot named Johnny
Who hungered for poems that are funny
Would Asimov
Be enough
Or are limericks too punny?
posted by forrest at 10:19 AM on July 13, 2006

I second the Calvin Trillin recommendation. A taste can be had here (and more than a taste with a sub: http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/calvin_trillin
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:22 AM on July 13, 2006

You'd really like Edward Lear, who reads like the Jabberwocky poem in Alice but who Eliot compared to Mallarme! Selected randomly:

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 Person from Gretna,
Who rushed down the crater of Etna;
When they said, 'Is it hot?'
He replied, 'No, it's not!'
That mendacious Old Person of Gretna.

See also: his drawings!
posted by kensanway at 10:23 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: There's Gellett Burgess, author of the famous "The Purple Cow":

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one!

He later wrote "The Purple Cow: Suite":

Ah, yes! I wrote The Purple Cow
I'm sorry, now, I wrote it!
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'll kill you if you quote it!

(Fortunately for me, he's been dead since 1951, so I should be OK.)
posted by cerebus19 at 10:34 AM on July 13, 2006

How about Dr. Suess?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:37 AM on July 13, 2006

But kensenway, Robot Johnny's ear
is already attuned to Edward Lear.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:40 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Hilaire Belloc! His poems sing
Of pica-sufferer, Henry King,
And famously, of dear Matilda
Who told such whopping lies they killda.
posted by unSane at 10:55 AM on July 13, 2006

Response by poster: Unto the green, I made my plea:
"It's poets that I summon!"
With answers great, you came to me.
I beg you -- keep 'em comin'!
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:24 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: If you like the poems Dot Parker did,
and also most of Auden's,
something fresher from the vine
could be a bit of Maggie Robbins?

"Suzy hails from Indiana,
land of crops, of Fords and farms.
Suzy lives in New York City,
land of cops and car alarms.
Suzy lives six blocks from Harry.
Touch him and she'll break your arms."

posted by redsparkler at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2006

(It's a whole book!)
posted by redsparkler at 12:28 PM on July 13, 2006

Seconding Hillaire Belloc. (And if you happen to find a copy of The Bad Child's Book of Beasts / More Beasts for Worse Children, do scan the pages and put 'em up somewhere, eh?)
posted by Gator at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Spike Milligan wrote some fun light verse... I see you're in Canda, might be able to get some of his books there... near impossible to find in the US, near impossible to avoid in the UK.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:42 PM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: Canadians will remember Dennis Lee's
as children's stuff from the seventies
but he also wrote Civil Elegies
and The Difficulty of Living on Other Planets
for which I'm having a hell of a time finding a rhyme.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:46 PM on July 13, 2006

Response by poster: joannemerriam, I love Dennis Lee, and was about to answer my own question just to name check him for others who may want to benefit from this post!
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:50 PM on July 13, 2006

This month saw the release of Poetry magzine's humor issue.
posted by penchant at 12:54 PM on July 13, 2006

Henrich Hoffman! It was he
Discovered hyperactivity
Then, for which his fame grew greater,
He also wrote the fabled Struwwelpeter

(aka Shock Headed Peter)
posted by unSane at 1:14 PM on July 13, 2006

darn, got the scansion wrong in the last line

should read

"He wrote the fabled Struwwelpeter".

posted by unSane at 1:31 PM on July 13, 2006

John Hegley. I wouldn't say he was lazy but the way he
Uses internal rhyme all the time is a pardigm that
I suspect even John Betcheman would wretch at.

posted by dogsbody at 4:28 PM on July 13, 2006

I am lazy....

This month's Poetry (titled Peotry) is the humor issue. Everything is light verse and funny as all hell.
posted by rabbitsnake at 4:53 PM on July 13, 2006

damn, stupid preview
posted by rabbitsnake at 4:54 PM on July 13, 2006

For poesy that's truly fine,
Consider Samuel Hoffenstein:
“Babies haven't any hair; Old men's heads are just as bare; between the cradle and the grave lie a haircut and a shave.”
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:09 PM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Jack Prelutsky.
posted by musicinmybrain at 5:38 PM on July 13, 2006

According to a recent Seed magazine podcast, the world's funniest joke has been determined and it's one of Spike Milligan's. Having been brought up listening to his peotry and jokes I'm inclined to agree. So I totally second Spike and there's a bunch of poems on his site to get you started. The books are worth tracking down too though, hand written poems and drawings and a stuff, all put together in Spike's usual mad style.
posted by shelleycat at 5:45 PM on July 13, 2006

Stevie Smith, I say to you,
Will make you laugh, and sorrow too.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:55 PM on July 13, 2006

wolfdog is so swell, for reminding me of mehitabel -

"do you think that i would change
my present freedom to range
for a castle or moated grange
wotthehell wotthehell
cage me and i d go frantic
my life is so romantic
capricious and corybantic
and i m toujours gai toujours gai"
posted by vronsky at 7:19 PM on July 13, 2006

@unSane: thanks for giving a crap about the scansion. I seem to spend half of my life, among other things, correcting people's custom-made versions of A Christmas Carol because they wouldn't know scansion if it $ANALOGY.
posted by baylink at 7:58 PM on July 13, 2006

Roger McGough
Is hard to use in a poem
Because I don't know how
To pronounce his last name.
So I'll cop out
And write in free verse.
Here's one of his poems:


I have outlived
my youthfulness
So a quiet life for me.

Where once
I used to

now I sin
till ten
past three.

(He writes standard poetry as well. For their 70th birthday Penguin released a slim little pocket book that is full of the wispy verse you're looking for. It's number 48 here.)
posted by painquale at 9:55 AM on July 14, 2006

Roger McGough
Rhymes with 'cough'.
(He held me in thrall
At the Albert Hall
With Ginsberg,
The old bird,
And Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
Who resembles a Yeti).
posted by unSane at 11:23 AM on July 14, 2006

Best answer: John Betjeman, Pam Ayres, the New Oxford Book of Light Verse (Ed: Kingsley Amis, who does a much better job than Auden), Wendy Cope. Philip Larkin was a dab hand at dark humour in verse.
posted by sennoma at 2:58 PM on July 14, 2006

From "The Misanthrope," by Moliere -- brilliantly translated by Richard Wilbur:

Now, what's got into you?

Kindly leave me alone.

Come, come, what is it? This lugubrious tone...

Leave me, I said; you spoil my solitude.

Oh, Listen to me, now, and don't be rude.

I choose to be rude, Sir, and to be hard of hearing.

These ugly moods of yours are not endearing;
Friends though we are, I really must insist ...

Friends? Friends, you say? Well, cross me off your list.
I've been your friend till now, as you well know;
But after what I saw a moment ago
I tell you flatly that our ways must part.
I wish no place in a dishonest heart.

Why, what have I done, Alceste? Is this quite just?

My God, you ought to die of self-disgust.
I call your conduct inexcusable, Sir,
And every man of honor will concur.
I see you almost hug a man to death,
Exclaim for joy until you're out of breath,
And supplement these loving demonstrations
With endless offers, vows, and protestations;
Then when I ask you "Who was that?", I find
That you can barely bring his name to mind!
Once the man's back is turned, you cease to love him,
And speak with absolute indifference of him!
By God, I say it's base and scandalous
To falsify the heart's affections thus;
If I caught myself behaving in such a way,
I'd hang myself for shame, without delay.


FROM TARTUFFE (pronounced "tarTOOF")

Oh do stop teasing, and use your cleverness
To get me out of this appalling mess.
Advise me, and I'll do whatever you say.

Ah no, a dutiful daughter must obey
Her father, even if he weds her to an ape.
You've a bright future; why struggle to escape?
Tartuffe will take you back to where his family lives,
To a small town aswarm with relatives--
Uncles and cousins whom you'll be charmed to meet.
You'll be received at once by the elite,
Calling on the bailiff's wife, so less--
Even, perhaps, upon the mayoress,
Who'll sit you down in the best kitchen chair.
Then, once a year, you'll dance at the village fair
To the drone of bagpipes--two of them, in fact--
And see a puppet show, or an animal act.
Your husband...

Oh, you turn my blood to ice!
Stop torturing me, and give me your advice.

DORINE (Threatening to go:)
Your servant, Madam.

Dorine, I beg of you...

No, you deserve it; this marriage must go through.



Not Tartuffe! You know I think him ...

Tartuffe's your cup of tea, and you shall drink him.

I've always told you everything, and relied...

No. You deserve to be tartuffified.
posted by grumblebee at 5:21 PM on July 14, 2006

Best answer: RJ, don't know if you're still checking this thread, but here's another nomination: Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate, a "novel in verse." Inspired by "Eugene Onegin," it's quite the tour de force. Here's the opening stanza:
To make a start more swift than weighty, / Hail Muse. Dear Reader, once upon
A time, say, circa 1980, / There lived a man. His name was John.
Successful in his field though only / Twenty-six, respected, lonely,
One evening as he walked across / Golden Gate Park, the ill-judged toss
Of a red frisbee almost brained him. / He thought, "If I died, who'd be sad?
Who'd weep? Who'd gloat? Who would be glad? / Would anybody?" As it pained him,
He turned from this dispiring theme / To ruminations less extreme.

Reads like lightning — even if you pause occasionally to reread passages. Although fluent and satisfying, it's definitely a young man's work, albeit one of virtuosity and wit. So for all those reasons, I'd classify it as a light work of verse.

And if we're talking lighter than air — not to mention pneumatic — here's The Wonderbra by Pam Ayres.
posted by rob511 at 3:22 AM on July 15, 2006

Drat — that last line quoted from "The Golden Gate" should read: "... this dispiriting theme ..."
posted by rob511 at 5:33 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: The quality of answers here,
It almost makes me dizzy.
A thanks to every MeFi peer;
There's lots to keep my busy!
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:41 PM on July 15, 2006

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