SunWinks! Gather Writing Essential Sunday July 21, 2013: Insult Poetry

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I figure we should keep it light and easy for now, under the circumstances, times being what they are, so today’s prompt topic is the Insult Poem.

Once again, we turn to The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms edited by Ron Padgett (Teachers and Writers Collaborative, NY, 1989).  Padgett says the earliest recorded insult poems are from Africa, including this example:

You really resemble

An old man who has no teeth

And who wants to eat elephant hide,

Or a woman without a backside

Who sits down on a hard wooden stool.

You also resemble a stupid dolt

who while hunting lets an antelope pass by

And who knows that his father is sick at home.

In his installment on Insult Poetry, columnist Robert Lee Brewer doesn’t go back quite that far.  In fact, he only manages to trace the origins of the insult poem back to his cross-country days in school, when his running compadres and he would exchange “mother” jokes to stave off boredom.

But both writers do say that the “traditional” insult poem is often in a repetitive form similar to a chant or litany.  The litanic element (refrain) can be akin to a joke setup, à la “my town was so small…” as in this student example from Padgett:

He’s not so bad.

He just killed his father by making him eat 10,000 fried chickens

He’s not so bad.

He just plugged up his brother’s tuba with his little sister.


I went surfing through my library and found enough examples to fill several columns.  You can certainly imagine why such a thing would be popular.  Most of them are not in the manner of a chant poem or list poem, but it would be silly to try to impose too much rigor on a topic like this one—besides, we’d deprive ourselves of too much fun!

Many famous epigrams are in essence really short insult poems:

Sir, I admit your general rule,

That every poet is a fool:

But you yourself may serve to show it,

That every fool is not a poet.


Alexander Pope


Here lies my wife: here let her lie!

Now she’s at rest, and so am I.

John Dryden



a politician is an arse upon

which everyone has sat except a man





Men seldom make passes

At girls who wear glasses.

Dorothy Parker



The critic leaves at curtain fall

To find, in starting to review it,

He scarcely saw the play at all

For watching his reaction to it.


E.B. White


Dorothy Parker is widely acknowledged as the past mistress of the dry insult; she famously said of Kathryn Hepburn, “She runs the gamut of emotion from A to B.”


Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses’ necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!

Dorothy Parker


Then there’s Ogden Nash, who stands alone in the history of verse humor with Lewis Carroll and I can’t think of anybody else…


How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews





There’s nothing like an endless party,

A collection of clammy little groups,

Where a couple of the guests are arty

And the rest of the guests are goops.

There’s the confidential girlish chatter—

It soothes you like a drug—

And the gentle pitter-patter

As the anchovies hit the rug.

There’s the drip, drip, drip of the mayonnaise

As the customers’ lips slip on the canapés,

There are feuds that are born,

There are friendships that pine away,

And the big cigar that smolders on the Steinaway.

The major trouble with a party

Is you need a guest to give it for,

And the best part of any guest

Is the last part out the door….




When I consider men of golden talents,

I’m delighted, in my introverted way,

To discover, as I’m drawing up the balance,

How much we have in common, I and they.


Like Burns, I have a weakness for the bottle;

Like Shakespeare, little Latin and less Greek;

I bite my fingernails like Aristotle;

Like Thackeray, I have a snobbish streak.


I’m afflicted with the vanity of Byron;

I’ve inherited the spitefulness of Pope;

Like Petrarch, I’m a sucker for a siren;

Like Milton, I’ve a tendency to mope…


Ogden Nash

Here are two more examples which struck my fancy:


poets are always asking

where do the little roses go

underneath the snow

but no one ever thinks to say

where do the little insects stay

this is because

as a general rule

roses are more handsome

than insects

beauty gets the best of it in this world

I have heard people

say how wicked it was

to kill our feathered


in order to get

their plumage and pinions

for the hats of women

and all the while

these same people

might be eating duck

as they talked…


humanity will shed poems

full of tears

over the demise of a bounding doe

or a young gazelle

but the departure of a trusty

camel leaves the

vast majorities

stonily indifferent

perhaps the theory is

that god would not have made

the camel so ugly

if the camel were not wicked

alas exclamation point…


Don Marquis






it was like this when

we waltz into this place

a couple of Papish cats

is doing an Aztec two-step

And I says

Dad let’s cut

but then this dame

comes up behind me see

and says

You and me could really exist

Wow I says

Only the next day

she has bad teeth

and really hates



Lawrence Ferlinghetti


As a final note, if you wish to peruse a plethora of pungent poetic parodies, you need only open the nearest back issue of MAD Magazine.  I’ve never been a big fan myself—well, maybe sort of, in grade school—but I have a newfound respect now.  Legendary MAD versifier Frank Jacobs has a book out called Pitiless Parodies and Other Outrageous Verse (Mineola NY: Dover Publ.; 1994) and it’s a tour-de-force of razor-sharp note-perfect satirical parody.




I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as a tree;

I’d hoped, of course, that there would be

A tree still left for me to see;

Some lumber firm from out of town

Has chopped the whole darn forest down;

But I’ll show up those dirty skunks—

I’ll go and write a poem called “Trunks.”

Frank Jacobs


The Prompt

Write a piece of insult poetry.  It can be whatever form you like: list, litany, epigram, verse, parody, free verse, whatever blows your skirts up.

· Put sunwe in the title and tags.

· Share your post with Gather Writing Essential group.

· Put Insult Poem in the title field.

· Comment on this article with the link to your post so I’ll be sure to find it.

· I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.

As ever,


>> SunWinks! Index <<

Responses to previous prompt:


Found Poetry


Dating DilemmaVeronica Hosking


The Dark Side : Anita Stewart


“Governor” : Stacey Uffelman


To The SmithsSharon P.

© 2013 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved.  Please share this on, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy.   Doug’s latest book is The Depressed Guy’s Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.

Doug’s Gather Group is Depression and Creativity, devoted to creative writing about depression and related illnesses, and creative writing as therapy.  Please consider joining.  You can read more of Doug’s posts here.

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57 year old musician, poet, father of 4 grown children, composer, recording artist, author, humorist, survivor. I'm thoughtful, introspective, introverted, open, scathingly honest about myself, creative, a Renaissance guy, willing to grow and change and

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