On Doggerel

I remember once having to write a poem when I was at school – it was about cats; and when I got it back I was given 16/20 for it and the comment appended, “Too enjoyable”. (I remember, as it happens, a good number of the comments that were written on my work from around that period: my favourite – accompanying a surprisingly poor series of Latin unseens – is, and has always been, “3/30, Illiterate and inattentive” – a phrase I’m inclined to use as the title for my autobiography). – But as a child (I was probably less than ten), this comment – “too enjoyable” – struck me as absurd; – not having at that time lived long enough among the bitter puritans of this grey island, I couldn’t imagine how anything could be “too enjoyable”.

But it strikes me now that this is the very essence of doggerel: that which is “too enjoyable” (coupled, at least, with an over-facility for rhythm and rhyme); – or, perhaps, more so, that which “can only be enjoyed” – which is worth little more than to be enjoyed. (At least, as practised by avowed doggerelists; – the kind of doggerel practised by those who call themselves “poets” is merely that deathly-dull stuff which compromises the majority of each country’s poetic tradition).

Well, I was idling looking through my notes and the like – thinking of building myself up to writing something I might derive from them – when I came across a few of my own examples, probably written doing my university years (in the surrealist automatic writing manner), although these are perhaps not best classified as doggerel; – I think they are, technically, “nonsense”.

A penchant for anchovies is very strange,
Like eating dogs raw when infected with mange.
Though I have to confess (and I hope you’ll agree)
That the strangest of all is the man who eats me. –
My brother, it was, who first bit off my toe –
O Lord! When was that? – Was it six years ago?
Though then, I suppose, it was really still fine,
For I’d lost but the one, and was still left with nine…

(curiously left unfinished, but presumably all the other parts of his body were gradually consumed; – cannibalism was a strong theme in my verse altogether at this time)

    The Lion and The Octopus

There came to the shore of the sea one fine day
A lion whose rank was distinguished, they say;
But who’d never been loved, he would have to confess,
By a single infatuated slim lionness.

And there came to the shore of the same sea as well
A giant-eyed octopus, or so they tell;
But she’d never attracted a mate with those eyes,
Despite all her maidenly glances and sighs.

But the lion, on seeing those eyes big and round
Found the pads of his paws quite stuck to the ground;
And the lady herself, so puffed up with love,
Almost rose from the sea to the heavens above.

“O Octopus, Octopus!” roared out the cat.
“What a wonder your eyes are for mine to look at!
How sweet are your tentacles, numbering eight!
Surely, O surely, we’ve met here by fate.”

“Lion, O Lion!” the octopus cried.
“How I do love the hue of your hide!
The fur of your mane and your mouth quite irate!
I really do think we have met here by fate!”

I also found a schema I seem to have written out for a “nonsense epic” in 20 books (though, on reflection, perhaps a nonsense epic shouldn’t have a schema – and perhaps that’s why it was never written).

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