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TWO Clever by Half: Lear and Platt

by Neal Whitman, Poetry Prof

Last month we went to a one-man performance by Howard Burnham, born in Bournemouth … educator, museum curator, and actor … elected to the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1973. In 1998, Howard and his wife, Sandra, immigrated to the U.S. and now winter in my City of Pacific Grove, California. “City” misleads – our moniker is “America’s Last Hometown.”

Burnham portrays both English and American literary and historical characters in 45-minute shows that delight. Last month’s treat was “Edward Lear Centennial.” Lear was born on 12 May 1812 and died on 29 January 1888. He was a master of the bit of poetical nonsense we call the limerick. Ah, I can see you already mouthing the words, “There once was a man from Nantucket …”

Dirty limericks do tickle my fancy [Hmm … “tickle my fancy” … now there is the tag for a naughty poem, eh?] But, here’s the thing. I feel bad for this form of poetry because it arouses the bawdy imagination, whereas, there is large body of work for readers of all ages and temperament. Burnham recited one of my favorites:

There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’

Last year we attended Burnham’s portrayal of C.S. Lewis with our friends, the Platts – Susan is a poet of worth and Richard, a gentleman-scholar, last year wrote his first novel, One Devil to Another, in homage to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Our friends could not make it to the Lear show, but Richard penned this limerick in tribute to Mr. Burnham’s Lear:

How pleasant to know Mr. Burnham.
You’d like him if only you’d hear ‘im.
He does Lewis and Lear
And others, I hear.
How pleasant to know Mr. Burnham.

Lear wrote his own tribute to himself: eight verses that comprise “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear.” Its opener:

How pleasant to know Mr. Lear,
Who has written such volumes of stuff.
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few find him pleasant enough.

With the first Poetry Prof essay of 2013, I look back fondly at 2012 for Lear’s centennial and Platt’s debut novel. Both men diabolically clever.

5 Responses to “TWO Clever by Half: Lear and Platt”

  1. Elaine says:

    Well, Whitman has done it again:
    He’s taken up paper and pen,
    And he’s shown us the best
    Of both rhyming and text.
    Yes, Whitman has done it again!

    Happy 2013… looking forward to the next eleven essays!

  2. Neal Whitman says:

    Am thankful, Dear Elaine, for your finishing the essay with your own words. Maybe other readers will finish too. Anyone can finish or be sweetish.
    Amicus poeticae,
    Neal aka Fearghal in Norweedish

  3. Elaine says:

    Perhaps making comments on worthy blogs is a New Years Resolution for some folks. So they could write a comment here, and Den-mark it off their To Do list?
    (Ugh. Sorry. My mother told me that no man would marry a girl who made puns.)

  4. Jeri Perring says:

    Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects? Thanks a ton!

  5. Neal Whitman says:

    Hmm… I tried to answer you question with a personal email, but it would not deliver. Best wishes, Neal

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