Kickshaws Clerihew Review

~ BOOK REVIEW, Dave Morice, August Kicksaws column of Word Ways magazine

THE LOST CLERIHEWS OF PAUL INGRAM, © 2014 Paul Ingram, Illustrations © 2014 Julia Anderson-Miller, Foreword © 2014 Elizabeth McCracken, Ice Cube Press LLC, 205 N. Front Street, North Liberty, Iowa 52317.Email $19.95.

Paul Ingram is a poet who has mastered the fine art of clerihewing. The clerihew is a funny form, and Paul is a funny man, and theirs is a marriage made in funny heaven. When I read the book aloud to my girlfriend Mary Jo Dane, she and I were roaring like laughing hyenas baying in the moonlight. She said, “Paul Ingram is to clerihews what John Ciardi is to limericks.” His book presents 125 of his gems.

In case you don’t know what a clerihew is, by the time you read a few of them, you’ll see the form and how it works. In brief, a clerihew is a four-line poem with an AABB rhyme scheme. The lines are somewhat short, two or three beats, with an irregular meter. The poem begins with a well-known person’s name in the first line. The next three lines make fun of the subject. The humor doesn’t have to be based on truth, reality, or other things that might otherwise slow the comic effect. Clerihews are allowed to bend the real truth for the sake of the higher truth of comedy.

The clerihew was invented around 1890 by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956). This is the only poetic form christened after its creator’s middle name. Paul joins the ranks of a few other illustrious poets who have published books of clerihews. G.K. Chesterton, a good friend of Bentley’s, wrote his own clerihews and illustrated Bentley’s. W.H. Auden, a poetic polymath, also wrote clerihews. Paul’s is the first book of clerihews published since the death of Bentley.

Paul and I have been friends since the early 1970s. He is the most quick-witted, funniest guy I know. He could’ve been a stand-up comic, but instead he became one of the most brilliant, knowledgeable book-buyers in the world, having worked for Prairie Lights Bookstore for decades!

Alice B. Toklas

Went smokeless

A little hash

Under her moustache.

At times, clerihews combine two real characters that go together like water and cigar smoke. Put two of the most famous psychologists together and what do you get? Let’s see what Paul has to say:

Carl Gustav Jung

Was impressively hung,

Which sorely annoyed

The good Dr. Freud.

Sometimes Paul combines real and made-up characters. Here’s a familiar movie character outsmarting a famous multimillionaire:

Forest Gump

Told Donald Trump

“You know I like you

We have the same IQ.”

It’s such a happy occasion for Iowa City to see that Paul Ingram has found his comic/poetic voice in one of the most fascinating literary forms ever invented. And yet his clerihews were scattered around his house over the years, lost in places where clerihews get lost, and then found and put together in this delightful book. Like limericks, his clerihews can be off-color, but hey this is the 21st century.

Greenleaf Whittier

Thought nothing was shittier,

Than being stuck in the snow

With Henry Thoreau.

In the late 1970s, I taught poetry workshops to students in grade schools, junior highs, and high schools around Iowa. One of Paul’s earliest clerihews stuck with me. It was a parody of another author’s clerihew. I used the original and the parody whenever I discussed the clerihew in class or at literary parties. The listeners loved both poems. Here is the original, followed by Paul’s parody.

Andy Jackson                                 Michael Jackson

Was half Anglo-Saxon                   Looked Anglo-Saxon

And so full of beans                        Due to some nasty

That he took New Orleans.           Rhinoplasty.

Paul’s clerihews can be quite up-to-date, as shown in this clerihew of a currently rising superstar:

Miley Cyrus

Contracted a Virus,

That got her twerking,

Even when she was working.

In addition to these knee-slapping clerihews, the reader will be delighted to see the eyeball-slapping drawings that accompany each clerihew. The illustrator, Julia Anderson-Miller, captures the humor in the writing and amplifies it with her surrealistic cartoons. I especially enjoyed the drawings of Dubya Bush, Wadsworth Longfellow, and Forrest Gump, among others. Julia’s drawings are great fun and open up the visual dimension to make this book a double play!