Light verse is a genre surrounded by contentious debate. Some refuse to call it “poetry,” finding its singsong meters predictable, its whimsical themes facile.
Light verse is a genre surrounded by contentious debate. Some refuse to call it “poetry,” finding its singsong meters predictable, its whimsical themes facile. Others embrace light verse as a refreshing infusion of humor into modern poetry – an antidote, perhaps, to capital-‘S’ Seriousness. Light Quarterly stands proudly with the latter camp, offering selections designed to “restore clarity, wit, readability, and enjoyment to the reading of poems.” In these goals, LQ succeeds. This 95-page double issue showcases work by John Irving, Max Gutmann, Richard Moore, Dan Campion, and many others, with Melissa Balmain as the featured poet. Determined not to take itself too seriously, LQ nevertheless grapples with contemporary issues, offering sociopolitical commentary in the form of wry satire. David Hedges lampoons suburban SUV culture in “Bouncing Bareback Baby Boomers.” Max Gutmann defends the dignity of Katrina survivors in “Windfall.” Miles David Moore’s “Beelzebub Now” manages to refute both the Iraq war and American fundamentalism at the same time: “[. . .] To save our children, we must act today. / We Saints of God must spirit them away, / Hand them all guns and sing a Hallelujah / To send them off to glory in Fallujah.” Of course, the well-worn vehicles that stereotype light verse are in evidence too, including puns and epitaphs, revisions of poems by the old masters (Melissa Balmain, “Frostbitten”) and certain favorite forms (Mary Meriam, “Trip Triolet”; Fred Yannantuono, “Limericks”; Claire E. Hughes, “Two Clerihews.”) Nor is LQ entirely free from the dubious sexual dimorphism (“men are x, women are y”) from which much light verse derives its humor. John Updike, for instance, contrasts generic male and female perspectives in “Dirt,” while Susan McLean’s “Reviews and Reflections” essay bemoans (with unintended irony) the widespread patronizing of “women who write poetry” and how they’re often “put down” for “their female subject matter (romance or home and family) [. . .].” The best poems in LQ are those which, like Dan Campion’s “Gnawstalgia,” underpin their humor with frank honesty and thoughtful observation. Say what you will about light verse – but take a look at LQ before you do; there’s plenty here to celebrate.