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The Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry -- Adrian Mitchell

(Poem #211) The Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry
Back in the caveman days business was fair.
Used to turn up at Wookey Hole,
Plenty of action down the Hole
Nights when it wasn't raided.
They'd see my bear-gut harp
And the mess at the back of my eyes
And 'Right', they'd say, 'make poetry'.
So I'd slam away at the three basic chords
And go into the act ---
A story about sabre-toothed tigers with a comic hero;
A sexy one with an anti-wife-clubbing twist ---
Good progressive stuff mainly,
Get ready for the Bronze Age, all that,
And soon it would be 'Bring out the woad!'
Yeah, woad. We used to get high on woad.

The Vikings only wanted sagas
Full of gigantic deadheads cutting off each other's vitals
Or Beowulf Versus the Bog People.
The Romans weren't much better,
Under all that armour you could tell they were soft
With their central heating
And poets with names like Horace.

Under the Normans the language began to clear,
Became a pleasure to write in,
Yes, write in, by now everyone was starting
To write down poems.

Well, it saved memorizing and improvizing
And the peasants couldn't get hold of it.
Soon there were hundreds of us,
Most of us writing under the name
Of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Then suddenly we were knee-deep in sonnets.
Holinshed ran a headline:

It got fantastic ---
Looning around from the bear-pit te tho Globe,
All those freak-outs down the Mermaid,
Kit Marlowe coming on like Richard the Two,
A virgin queen in a ginger wig
And English poetry is full whatsit ---
Bloody fantastic, but I never found any time
To do any writing till Willy finally flipped ---
Smoking too much of the special stuff
Sir Walter Raleigh was pushing.

Cromwell's time I spent on cultural committees.

Then Charles the Second swung down from the trees
And it was sexual medley time
And the only verses they wanted
Were epigrams an Chloe's breasts
But I only got published on the back of her left knee-cap.
Next came Pope and Dryden
So I went underground.
Don't mess with the Mafia.

Then suddenly --- WOOMF ---
It was the Ro-man-tic Re-viv-al
And it didn't matter how you wrote,
All the public wanted was a hairy great image.
Before they'd even print you
You had to smoke opium, die of consumption,
Fall in love with your sister
Or drown in the Mediterranean (not at Brighton).
My publisher said: 'I'll have to remainder you
Unless you go and live in a lake or something
Like this bloke Wordsworth'.

After that there were about
A thousand years of Tennyson
Who got so bored with himself
That he changed his name
To Kipling at half-time.

Strange that Tennyson should be
Remembered for his poems really,
We always thought of him
As a golfer.

There hasn't been much time
For poetry since the 'twenties
What with leaving the Communist Church
To join the Catholic Party
And explaining why in the C.I.A. Monthly.
Finally I was given the Chair of Comparative Ambiguity
At Armpit University, Java.
It didn't keep me busy,
But it kept me quiet.
It seemed like poetry had been safely tucked up for the night.
-- Adrian Mitchell
A brilliantly funny poem; there are several parts [1] which make me laugh out
loud each time I read them. Mitchell here is not so much the Ethereal Muse of
Poetry as he is a sort of grubby journeyman bard, trying to get along the best
he can. For all that, this, errm, 'epic' is as good a guide to the history of
English poetry as you're likely to get inside of 500 words: I certainly learned
more from this poem then from any number of Eng. Lit. textbooks [2].


[1] Especially the Chaucer line, and the dig about Tennyson changing his name...

[2] I'm awaiting feedback along the lines of 'Yes, it shows in your
commentaries' here :-)

'The humour is indebted to the headlong monologue style of some North Country
comedians rather than any traditional literary models. Most of the jokes would
work with a group of workers in a factory, or a crowd at a bar, but still
pinpoint the essence of most of the literary movemonts they touch on. Mitchell
has been very ingenious in satirising what he doesn't like, and the persona of
the bard working through history has been adjusted to fit neatly over his own
    -- George MacBeth

You can read a Mitchell bio at poem #28
Another favourite poem of mine is poem #95

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