BOOK REVIEW: A Choice of Comic and Curious Verse ed. by J.M. Cohen

A Choice of Comic and Curious VerseA Choice of Comic and Curious Verse by J.M. Cohen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This poetry anthology consists of works selected and arranged by J.M. Cohen with the overarching theme of light-heartedness. Some of the poems are outright funny, others are more quirky, corny, or tongue-in-cheek. This edition was originally published in the 1970’s, though there was apparently a preceding edition that was largely the same that dates to the late-1950’s. The poems are almost all metered and rhymed, in part because that was still the dominant mode of poetry when these works were first published, and also because metered and rhymed verse conveys a jocular tone. Forms associated with comedic delivery, such as the limerick, are well-represented.

The 450-plus poems by about 180 authors (actually many more owing to the fact that the biggest contributor by far is Anonymous) are arranged into 22 thematic categories that are clearly meant to be more whimsical than categorical. The poets include those who are most well-known for playful verse such as Ogden Nash, Lewis Carroll, and Edward Lear, but also light works by poets known for seriously toned work (e.g. Alexander Pope, John Betjeman, and W.H. Auden.) There are also plenty by authors known for mixing light and serious work, such as G.K. Chesterton, Robert Graves, and Hilaire Belloc. There are also a large number of poets who you’re unlikely to have heard of unless you’re a literary historian. Included in the collection are some widely anthologized works such as Belloc’s “Matilda,” Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” and Aldous Huxley’s “Second Philosopher’s Song,” but there are a great many more that will be unfamiliar to most (and a few that may be familiar as graffiti on a restroom wall.)

I enjoyed this book. It turned me onto some poets with whom I’d been unfamiliar. The works included, as one would expect of light verse, are quite readable (though there are some outdated references here and there.) If you stumble onto a decently-priced copy, pick it up.

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