A. F. Harrold: Poems For Your Pockets

Poems for your pockets

The human condition being what it is, I like to write comedy.

And life being short, I like to write poems, because they take much less time to write than novels.

Even quite a long poem is shorter than quite a short novel, unless you and I have different definitions of ‘quite’, ‘long’ and ‘short’, in which case I wish you luck with your dictionary and all who sail in it.

Little funny poems are the small change of the poetry world, they fill our pockets and jangle when we run too fast, but we can put our hands in when we’re nervous and turn them over between our fingers. We can practice saying them, make sure we’ve got the words right, mutter them under our breath when it gets too dark.

When I was small there was a poetry anthology in the house called Poetry for Pleasure (Ed. Ian Parsons, (Chatto & Windus, 1977)), and it was filled with long dull dusty poems in olde fashioned writing that I simply couldn’t get my head around, but the penultimate section of the book was titled ‘Epigrams, Epigraphs & Epitaphs’ and most of the poems in there were short.

I love short poems.

Here’s one from that section.

Just and Unjust

The rain it raineth on the just

And also on the unjust fella;

But chiefly on the just, because

The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

(Written by someone called ‘Lord Bowen’.)

The words were a bit olde worldy (‘The rain it raineth’ sounds distinctly Biblical in age), but I understood what they said, and the fact that they said what they said, and that they rhymed ‘fella’ and ‘umbrella’, made me warm with delight.

Or this:

Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton’s Wife

He first deceased; she for a little tried

To live without him, liked it not, and died.

(Written by ‘Sir Henry Wotton’, whoever he was.)

Again, it feels solemn and dignified at first, and then you read it and realise all pomposity has been pricked and, whether kind or unkind, true or untrue, there is a joke here, but a joke, not in the punchline kind, but in the sense and shape of its own expressing itself… something subtler and harder to define, but delicious like a salmon and jam sandwich.

One last example from this book:

John Bun

Here lies John Bun,

He was killed by a gun,

His name was not Bun, but Wood,

But Wood would not rhyme with gun, but Bun would.

(Written, of course, by our trusty friend, ‘Anon’.)

It was a puzzle, at first, to get one’s head around – every rule you know about poetry and about tombstones is being broken here, in front of your eyes – metre, common sense, truth… Is a lie really a lie if in the same breath it’s owned up to and corrected? Was this really something on a gravestone or is it just a bit of fun in the book? How do you get away with elongating lines like that without summoning the poetry police down on you?

And how wonderful is the sound ‘Bun would’ to say? It’s up there with ‘cellar door’ for sure.

These little poems are the sort of things that fill up the corners of my brain. I tend to keep them secret just for myself, but they belong to anyone who reads them, without diminishing my store of them – that’s a lovely thing about words, they can be shared. If you like them, take them, let them make you smile when you reach into your pocket on a dark day.

Here’s an extra one from me, for you:

The Dangers of Rock and Roll

Don’t put a rock in a roll,

unless you hate having teeth.

And be careful when rolling rocks,

In case you end up underneath.

From my and Mini Grey’s new book, The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice (Bloomsbury, 2020).)

A. F. Harrold

A.F. Harrold is a poet, performer and children’s author. He has a beard and a hat and enjoys showing off in front of people and hiding at the end of the garden, but not at the same time. His most recent books are The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, with Mini Grey, and The Afterwards with Emily Gravett.’ www.afharroldkids.com