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, WritersDigest.com 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.
Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she’s at rest, and so am I.
a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
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.
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!
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…
THE INVITATION SAYS FROM FIVE TO SEVEN
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….
SO THAT’S WHO I REMIND ME OF
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…
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
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
perhaps the theory is
that god would not have made
the camel so ugly
if the camel were not wicked
alas exclamation point…
“SEE IT WAS LIKE THIS WHEN…”
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
You and me could really exist
Wow I says
Only the next day
she has bad teeth
and really hates
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.”
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.
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· 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.
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