Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

In Honor of Alexander Pope, Here's 9 Of Our Favorite Fun Poems

Share

Alexander Pope.
Alexander Pope. ID: 1817860

 May 21 marks the birthday of Alexander Pope, one of the most famous English poets of the 18th century. The author of The Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock, Pope is best known as a master practitioner of satirical and comic verse. In celebration of this forefather of humorous poetry, here are nine of our favorite poems that make us laugh, available in collections at your local library:

 
Where the Sidewalk Ends

"Sick" by Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein, the celebrated children's poet and illustrator, has so many wonderfully funny poems that it's hard to choose just one. But our favorite from Where the Sidewalk Ends just might be "Sick," which famously begins:

I cannot go to school today,
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps..."

Miracle Fruit

"What I Learned From the Incredible Hulk" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

One of the newer poets on this list, Aimee Nezhukumatathil is an acclaimed author and the poetry editor of Orion magazine. We love this poem of hers, from her 2003 volume Miracle Fruit, excerpted here:
 
"When it comes to clothes, make
an allowance for the unexpected.
Be sure the spare in the trunk
of your station wagon with wood paneling
 
isn’t in need of repair. A simple jean jacket
says Hey, if you aren’t trying to smuggle
rare Incan coins through this peaceful
little town and kidnap the local orphan,
 
I can be one heck of a mellow kinda guy..."
 
Return to the City of White Donkeys

"Bounden Duty" by James Tate

The late James Tate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, was an exceptional comic writer with a gift for strange, surreal humor. His famous "Bounden Duty" is perfect example, beginning with an unexpected phone call:

             "I got a call from the White House, from the
President himself, asking me if I’d do him a personal
favor. I like the President, so I said, “Sure, Mr.
President, anything you like.” He said, “Just act
like nothing’s going on. Act normal. That would
mean the world to me. Can you do that, Leon?' "
 

Alice in Wonderland

"You Are Old, Father William" by Lewis Carroll

Most everyone knows Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the famous Jabberwocky, but our favorite funny poem of Lewis Carroll first appeared in Wonderland, when Alice first meets the Caterpillar and she recites "You Are Old, Father William," beginning:

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

The Essential Etheridge Knight

"Haiku" by Etheridge Knight

Etheridge Knight, who is best known for his 1968 volume Poems from Prison, was also a master of haiku. Many of his haiku are very dark and evocative, inspired by his prison environment. But throughout his work, Knight displays a knack for finding humor in hardship, and this charming haiku is a perfect example of his straightforward wit:

"Making jazz swing in 
Seventeen syllables AIN’T 
No square poet’s job."
 
The Best of Ogden Nash

"I Didn't Go to Church Today" by Ogden Nash

One of America's premier comic poets, Ogden Nash's work is clever, quippy, and quick -- take his famous poem "Fleas," which reads: "Adam / Had 'em." But our favorite is "I Didn't Go to Church Today:"

"I didn't go to church today,
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We'll have plenty of time together."
 
Serious Concerns

"The Orange" by Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope is one of our favorite comic poets, and she has published many great pieces of light verse throughout her long career. This poem, from Serious Concerns, starts off goofy but ends positively life-affirming:

"At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I got a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over. 
I love you. I'm glad I exist."

Lunch Poems

 "Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed]" by Frank O'Hara

This absolute gem is by Frank O'Hara, an important figure in the New York School of poets in the 1950s and 60s who was famous for his warm, easy style of writing. O'Hara perfectly sums up the overblown drama associated with celebrity gossip with this poem about the famous actress and model:

"Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up"
 

Philip Larkin

"This Be The Verse" by Philip Larkin

Finally, this list just wouldn't be complete without this darkly funny piece by English poet Philip Larkin. A cautionary tale about the failures of parenthood with the cadence and meter of a Dr. Seuss book, Larkin's best lines in "This Be The Verse" aren't exactly fit for print -- but the last stanza basically sums it up, entreating the reader to avoid the pitfalls of parentage: 

"Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself."
 
Got any other suggestions for comic poems? Let us know in the comments!
 

Comments

Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.
"The Spell Against Spelling" George Starbuck: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003780.html

Post new comment