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Light Verse and How to Write It

Updated on July 12, 2013

Write light, all right?

Light verse, or comic verse, is often considered the poor relation of 'real' poetry, yet it has a long and honourable pedigree of its own, with some great writers having contributed to the genre. To name a few: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Burns, Carroll, Stevenson, Chesterton, Kipling, Belloc, Gilbert, Masefield, Betjamin, Burgess (yes Anthony himself), Vickram Seth, TS Eliot, Smith (Stevie), Wendy Cope - almost everyone in fact, except the grimmest of the grim, John Milton. (And I bet even he had a parody or two tucked under the four-poster).

With luminaries such as these among the ranks, no-one need feel embarrassed about writing light verse. Yet many do. So much so that their entire public output is 'serious'; they suppress their lighter side in the delusion that they have (or are building) a reputation as 'real poets' that would come tumbling down if they so much as cracked a smile. Guys - if it's that fragile, let it fall! I have suffered endless readings of pretentious drivel purporting to be poetry. Yes, and I'm not afraid to admit to having inflicted my own share of torture on long-suffering audiences on more than a few occasions. Now that is a justified cause for embarrassment.

But no more. Not since reading a profound observation that might have been by WB Yeats but might not. He, whoever he was, said - one, or perhaps two, genuine poetic insights per year are as much as any poet can hope for. The rest is technique.

If this is true (and it is!) we'd do well to realise that if we're not going to wow our audiences with two hours of profundity, we might as well entertain them with a little variety and even, horror of horrors, a touch of humour.

Prisoner of Conscience

His hands are tied behind his back,
his ankles bound with chains,
his bed an old potato sack.
Don't ask about the drains.

The window, small and high and barred.
He drags his carcass to it
and in a voice more cracked than hard
croaks raw defiance through it -

We wis never meant tae be
slaves o' mercat traders.
Chuck the beggars in the sea
wearin' concrete waders.

Tighten the knots behind his back!
Another ball and chain!
Stop his mouth with wads of sack
and let him shout in vain!

No hope of rescue or escape,
but the walls are rank with grime
so with his nose he starts to scrape
his words a second time -

We wis never meant tae be . . . &c

Punish him! Test him on the rack!
Break his wild spirit down!
Trussed like a turkey in a sack,
parade him through the town!

How can he bring his friends good cheer
who proudly line the road,
if gagged and crippled? Loud and clear
he pharts in brave morse code -

We wis never meant tae be . . . &c

.-- . / .-- .. ... / -. . ...- . .-. / -- . .- -. - / - .- . / -... .

How to write light

'Light' refers to the treatment of the subject, not to the subject itself. Typically, light verse uses rhythm and rhyme, and is often very inventive in its handling of both. And it plays with language, and the music of language. Good light verse should be enjoyable, even in a language you don't understand, for its sheer exuberance. It is mouth music. It lives fleetingly in the mouth, in the air, in the ear. When it rests on the pages of a book, it is simply awaiting its next outing, it's next chance to fly.

So when writing it, speak it aloud. Rhythm is something you feel and hear, not something you see. Still less is it something you need to intellectualise. For light verse, forget anything you might ever have learned in school about 'feet' (iambs, trochees, anapests, &c). Let the pulse drive the rhythm and let the message pick the words - (Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves - Lewis Carroll). Natural flow is everything. Anything that feels turgid or lumpy probably is. Don't try to like it - change it! 

(If not sure of the difference between pulse and rhythm, check out my Limericks hub. In fact, check it out anyway - limericks are a good place to start).

The Devil said - You're mine, pals, For the sin of Pride
The Devil said - You're mine, pals, For the sin of Pride

G & T

Georgie said to Tony -
What shall we do?
Tony said to Georgie -
I'll follow you.

Georgie said to Tony -
Let's coalesce.
Tony said to Georgie -
Yes! Yes! Yes!

Georgie said to Tony -
Now we're on a Mission
We'll make God join our
Holy Coalition.

Georgie, God and Tony,
Happy as can be.
Tony, God and Georgie,
Blessed Trinity.

<< - shock & awe - >>

Georgie said to Tony -
That didn't take long.
Tony said to Georgie -
It's all going wrong.

Georgie said to Tony -
Things look grim
But we've done our bit
Now it's down to Him.

The Devil took his mask off -
The things I have to do,
Dressing up as Daddy-O
To catch the likes of you.

Tony said to Georgie -
Let's run and hide.
The Devil said - You're mine, pals,
For the sin of Pride.

Half the fun of light verse is the freedom to write about anything you like. Because it's not trying to be Poetry, it usually avoids the self-consciousness of the 'not-quite-there' poem. And as poetry is very high risk writing, if we're honest, it fails more often than it succeeds. Mostly, that comes down to the Yeats admission (if it was Yeats!) - there just aren't enough poetic insights to go around.

But here's a thought - when the flash of inspiration finally arrives, if you're lucky enough to recognise it, then, if you've been writing light verse in the meantime, you'll have the techniques ready and waiting for your serious work of genius.

Thanks for reading!

The Zoo

There's a place to have a burger and a place to have a pee
and a place to park your carcass in the shade
but there's waves of screaming children farther than the eye can see
and a popcorn puddle everywhere you wade.

There's a hippo made of concrete and another made of wood
and another made of hippo, but alas
she is sulky and aggressive and apparently obsessive-
ly intent on showing you nothing but her ass.

And the rain comes down in gobbets as you queue to have a ride
on a thing designed to leave your guts confused
But it's quicker than colonic irrigation which you tried
when Diana made it chic to be abused.

There's a din (din din) as you kipple to and fro
with a be-a-tific smile upon your lips
not occasioned by enjoyment but the devilish employment
of a plan to put Viagra on the chips.


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    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Sandy :)

    • SandyMcCollum profile image

      SandyMcCollum 5 years ago

      You're a great writer of rhyming poetry! I enjoyed my time here, thanks!

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      And the Morse code is even accurate! - Thanks Tony :)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      I love that first one - its just great. Not that the others are bad, you understand - just that I like the first one! Can't even try to respond in kind, I'm afraid!

      Love and peace


    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Love it! Thanks mate :)

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Great Hub paraglider

      I think my fave light verse is the old children's song called 'Bill Grogan's Goat':

      There was a man

      Now please take note

      There was a man

      Who had a goat

      He loved that goat

      Indeed he did

      He loved that goat

      Just like a kid.

      One day that goat

      Felt frisk and fine

      Ate three red shirts

      Right off the line

      The man, he grabbed

      Him by the back

      And tied him to

      A railroad track.

      Now, when that train

      Hove into sight

      That goat grew pale

      And green with fright

      He heaved a sigh

      As if in pain

      Coughed up those shirts

      And flagged the train!

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Suny - a little bit of levity keeps us sane :)

    • suny51 profile image

      suny51 7 years ago

      I love to read them,though would never be able to write one myself,but this one is real inspiration,great writing.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      samboiam - keep dabbling! It really is all about practice (plus a few good ideas of course) Thanks for the read :)

    • samboiam profile image

      samboiam 7 years ago from Texas

      I really enjoyed this. The Georgie and Tony one was just great. I dabble at poetry, not really good at it but it helps me relieve stress.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Most welcome - thanks Pam :)

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Oh I love this! Thank you! Bookmarked! ;)

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Robie - I wonder if the real G & T will ever see it!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      This is just wonderful-- I love love love G&T-- can't stop laughing-- thanks for a good, rib tickling read. I've never been very good at writing verse, light or otherwise, but I do like reading it. Glad I stopped by:-)

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Gus - glad to see you're still around too :)

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 7 years ago from USA

      Paraglider - I have missed your writing for far too long. This was just a fine, fine article. Thank you.

      Gus :-)))

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks, Amillar :)

    • amillar profile image

      amillar 7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Nice one Para.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Micky!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Thank you Paraglider! Beautiful Sir!

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      You were indeed, and the thread ran to about 1500 limericks, if I remember. Another good practice is writing new words to old songs. That's often how I fill the time on trains or in traffic jams.

      Thanks for being the first visitor :)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      of course, you know I love this!....light verse, as well as limericks. After all, I was the one who suggested you start a limerick competition on the forums...remember? That was so much fun.

      I like the hub a lot, being a devotee of light verse. Have been writing light verse and limericks for years. Having been a song-writer helps.