Near the end of the latest issue of Light—which is twenty years old and probably the most important venue for humorous verse in the country—there is a note saying that unless financial support or volunteer editors come forward, the upcoming issue will be its last.
The magazine’s founding editor, John Mella, passed away in April. If his gift to the literary world folds, the loss will not only be a blow to light verse but also to the formal poetry world. Light is one of the best forums for metrical verse we have.
The humor of good light verse hides the hard work that went into its creation. Many great poets have honed their craft through doggerel of the sort Light delights in. The current issue even has a review of Mortal Stakes/Fake Thunder—a serious book of poetry written by one of the magazine’s contributors, Timothy Murphy. Richard Wakefield writes that Murphy’s poems “display an unfussy craft . . . that sing in harmony with the high plains wind.” Much of this musical proficiency probably comes from Murphy’s light verse experiments.
Reading Light is also just plain fun. This issue begins with a section by featured poet Fred Yannantuono that contains amazing palindromes, including “Instructions to a Masseuse Palindrome”: “Ahem! No leg gel on me, ha!” The rest of the magazine contains gems like Claudia Gary’s “The Video Call,” which begins, “You are not here. I am not there. / You try and fail to muss my hair,” and Mae Scanlan’s Shakespearean riff “My Mistress,” starting, “I’d have to say she’s easy on the eyes; / I’m sure at one time she was rather stunning” and talks of how “when she calls, I naturally come running,” and turns out to (spoiler alert) be written from the viewpoint of a dog.
There’s great literary-geek stuff here—riffs on Frost (Janice Riggs’s “Shopping for Goods on a Snowy Evening”) and Larkin (Alexander J. Blustin’s “This Ain’t The Verse,”) and Jeff Saperstein’s ditty “No Fear Shakespeare,” named after a series put out by Spark Notes:
Have no fear, my dear,
it’s only Will Shakespeare,
who liked his beer,
may have been queer,
This is humor for an engaged, educated audience.
On Light’s website, you can read several excerpts of the magazine that are witty, relevant, and brief enough to go viral. They have the potential to draw in a younger crowd, and young, light verse lovers are very much needed now.
We live, as John Hollander wrote in his introduction to American Wits: an Anthology of Light Verse, “in a literary age of what jazz musicians used to call a tin ear; there is less light verse written, and probably less capacity to appreciate it, than ever before.” Lose Light and our ears may become even worse.