The funniest thing
I don’t have time for comic poetry. Give me epic or lyric or an occasional limerick, I much prefer a good joke.
In the mid-nineties I was on a plane to Belfast and started chatting to my neighbour, a doctor from Madras, around the time the name changed to Chennai. He was senior surgeon at the Royal Victoria, experienced in trying to save bombing and shooting victims. The hospital stood on the sectarian border with republican paramilitaries at the front and loyalist ones at the back. He asked what I did. I said I was poet. He asked for a poem. I don’t know any, I said. Mine are too long, too many and various. You are not a poet then. I am. Well, tell me a poem, he demanded. Okay if you insist – only one came to mind:
There was a young man from Madras
Whose balls were made out of brass.
In frosty weather they clanged together
And sparks flew out of his arse.
He was silent. I thought I’d put my foot in it, then he burst out laughing.
I confess, I never learnt poems by rote. My English teacher Fr Dunstan was very old and I just wrote it out verses on the blackboard. He never noticed. I did know Fern Hill once and a few others.
Driving home this morning in strange weather, music on random, Ivor Cutler read a poem I hadn’t heard for ages, and I laughed aloud.
‘Scotland gets its brains from the herring’, said Grandpa . . . To make sure we ate the most intelligent herring, he fished the estuary. He planted a notice: ‘Literate herring, this way’ below the waterline, at the corner where it met the sea.
You have to hear Ivor read it. I saw him once, unique!