The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre, Mark Fiddes
Templar Poetry, 2015  £5.00

The problem of being funny

This pamphlet has such a fabulous title! It creates a glorious image, even before you start – full of life and colour and humour. And in fact the whole pamphlet is full of life and colour and humour.

But there’s a problem with humour, as I have found to my cost when publishing light verse or the weird and wacky. And it is this: what makes me laugh doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. Comic verse seems to me even more of a mystery, when it comes to subjective taste, than any other form of poetry. (Also it can sometimes work magnificently in performance, and less than magniloquently on the page.)

So here, the title poem (with which the pamphlet opens) did not, for me, live up to expectation and the last stanza, which is clearly chuckle-worthy and vivid, didn’t even crack a smile in this reader. I failed.

And I failed with the second poem ‘Solo Doloroso’, subtitled ‘On George Clooney announcing his wedding plans’. It sounds a peach. I just didn’t rise to the occasion.

So I was feeling a little worried, frankly, and I felt it was definitely me. I am pretty sure other readers will find poems funny that passed me by. This is, after all, a book of fabulous titles – ‘The Eternal Recurrence of Northbound Trains’, ‘The Existence of Dog’, ‘Keep Britain Untidy’. But I did like ‘How to make Pan Catalan’ (which isn’t even funny but made me hungry) and then . . . I arrived at ‘This is not a scam’.

Reader, I laughed. I audibly chortled. I loved this poem from line one to line the very last.

The other problem with funny poems is – you can’t quote them to advantage. If you pick out the high-points you spoil the ability of the text to build to a comic climax. There’s no joke, if you’ve already heard the joke. So regrettably I can’t quote from ‘This is not a scam’.

I can only say that you, too, need protection ‘from casual Weltschmerz’, trust me. And I believe you will find it in this magnificently comic piece of delight.

I did.

Helena Nelson