Tuesday, 29 July 2014

On Cinquains and Sixties Satire

At a recent workshop meeting of my writing group I learnt to write a cinquain – a poem of eleven words over five lines: first line of one noun; second line of two adjectives to describe that noun; line three of three verbs; line four, a four word phrase (a poet’s comment on the noun); last line, a noun relating back to first one).  I can write a cinquain while I wait for a bus. Cinquaines may replace crossword puzzles as my brain gym!
            It set me to wondering; why don’t I write more poetry?  It’s so satisfying, playing with words in ways that delight me and which are so different to writing prose fiction. At school - somehow, sometime - I was infected with the idea that real poetry rhymed and rhyming was hard. Also, poetry was deep, meaningful and serious, which meant it couldn’t be fun.  I had not yet been introduced to the irony and satire of the likes of John Donne, and Roger McGough and Bruce Dawe weren’t in school texts yet.
            Fast forward to 2014. Current time constraints mean I can put together a poem for my monthly writing group more readily than I can write a short story and so I‘ve been ‘having a go’ at verse. It’s also interesting to me that I find it easier to be more light-hearted and amusing in poetry that in prose. Perhaps I can put this down to exposure to the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, which were so enjoyed by my mother.           
            Today I unearthed another possibility: rummaging through some second hand CDs I found “Tom Lehrer in Concert” and was instantly transported back to the 60’s. A fellow boarder in the church-run hostel in which I lived had managed to get her hands on a copy, despite the fact that his recordings of satirical humour in verse - accompanied by some clever piano playing - were banned in Australia at the time. Lehrer’s cleverly observant anarchic satire was typical of 60’s uni student humour. Listening to his songs today made me grin with pleasure. What fun they are and how tame by modern standards. 

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