Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Margaret Thatcher’s Love Song, George SimmersThe jacket background is pink. In the bottom right hand corner there is a rectangular, full-colour photograph of ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher with one finger on her chin and looking upwards to her right, as though lost in thought. From this picture, thought bubbles in the shape of hearts go up in a diagonal with a huge white heart in the top left of the jacket (where her eyes are directed). Inside this heart the title of the pamphlet appears in fairly large pink regular font, with a subtitle ins smaller blue font 'and other bits and pieces'. The author's name is in blue and same size as pink title to the left of the photograph in the bottom third of the jacket. Below this 'Xmas 19'.

Snakeskin publications, 2019   Priceless

Keeping a straight face

If you listen to I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, you’ll be familiar with the comic task of singing one song to the tune of another. Here’s Graeme Garden, for example, singing ‘Killing Me Softly’ to the tune of the ‘Can-Can’.

There is a verse equivalent, where you write one famous poem in the style of another, the kind of challenge set in the New Statesman and Spectator competitions. It’s hilarious if you can pull it off. George Simmers can. In Mrs Thatcher’s Love Song, there’s a soliloquy from Hamlet in the style of W S Gilbert. (All the winning entries to the competition that inspired it, including George’s, can be seen here.)

The title poem, ‘Margaret Thatcher’s Love-Song’ also seems to invoke W S Gilbert: it’s one of my favourites. Reading the entire publication, for me, is intensely pleasurable (how often do we really think that?) because all you need to do is be entertained, in both verse and prose. My highlights include ‘Product Placement’ (‘If D H Lawrence had been sponsored by McVities’). Here’s the opening:

She watched Mellors take the kettle from the stove and warm the pot. He was a small man, yet wiry and strong, and opened a packet of McVitie’s chocolate digestives with one forceful gesture.

‘If Charles Dickens had Written Porn’ is just as good. The key to good comedy, it seems to me, is to keep a straight face, to write word after word in the style of Lawrence or Dickens or — in ‘Chaucer describes a pilgrim of 2020’ — to swing into full medieval mode:

Whenas we left the Tabard, then we found
A strapping Ladette, blottoe on the ground.
The Squyer woke her, and with courtesie
Did beg her that she join our compagnie.
Therefore cam she upon our pilgrimage,
Yet her religioun was hard to gauge,
Save that we heard her mutter ‘Oh Sweet Jesus’
When told there were namo Bacardi Breezers.

Worthy poets who send work to the Snakeskin may not be aware how skilled and literarily gregarious its creator is. This pamphlet is not officially for sale, but an email to the Snakeskin editor might extract a copy.

Helena Nelson