The Epic

Another brilliant OMG! in the bag (covered nicely by cohort and fellow reader, Neil Scott).

Probably because of the apocalyptic Glasgow weather, there was a lower audience turnout than usual: a stark comparison to November’s standing-room-only gig. At first, Fergus (the organiser/compare) and I were worried that we wouldn’t be able to whip up the usual energy in the room but we shouldn’t have worried. The audience here is appreciative of the format, familiar with the regular performers and, with no alcohol to mess up the proceedings (the venue is a coffee shop) the atmosphere is always warm and supportive.

For my opening set I related my childhood obsession with A very first poetry book: an anthology containing the charming likes of Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan and the always-popular Anon.

It amazes me even today at how diverse Anon’s works can be.

One of my favourite of Anon’s poems from this particular book was about Humpty Dumpty embarking on a disastrous mission to Lunar Mare. It went (from memory) like this:

Humpty Dumpty went to the moon
on a supersonic spoon
he took some porridge and a tent
but when he landed the spoon got bent
Humpty said he didn’t care
and for all I know he’s still up there.

I think the poem captured my imagination because (a) it was brave enough to fill in some blanks about the egg’s interesting career prior to his suicide and (b) presents the absurdly impossible image of something as fragile as an egg doing something as dangerous as space travel.

In a way it also explains why the entire military (“all the king’s horses and all the king’s men”) were dispatched upon hearing the news of Dumpty’s fatal accident. As an astronaut egg, he probably qualifies as the world’s only celebrity ovum. Only he had been triumphant in the great egg spacerace.

As a nine-year-old child I clearly enjoyed the idea of an egg-based space-travel epic poem because in one of my early diaries I had set out to put Humpty Dumpty into the high poetic echelons of Beowulf by writing said epic.

My first attempt at a sequel to Anon’s poem went thusly:

Humpty Dumpty went to Mars
All he ate were chocolate bars
He took a telescope to look at stars
Humpty Dumpty went to Mars.

You might dismiss my poem as childish rubbish because the last line is the same as the first. But I’ve just finished editing an article about Edward Lear and it turns out that Lear would often end his poems with the same line as he began with. I am the same as Edward Lear.

There are some other nice touches too. I like that Humpty’s only provision were chocolate bars. This stanza is a clear nod to the “porridge and a tent” of the original poem. It was funny that Humpty was so ill-prepared to visit the moon and it is hilarious that he was equally unprepared for his second interplanetary voyage. You would imagine that the time he spent marooned alone on that godless rock with only porridge to eat would have taught him a valuable lesson about preparation. But no. Humpty would never learn.

My poem doesn’t explain how Humpty got back from the moon in order to reach Mars. How could he return to Earth? We know from the original poem that his spacecraft was rendered inoperable on landing on the lunar surface. I guess some facts about the incredible career of this space travelling egg will have to remain a secret.

Things are made even more exciting with a third installment of the epic:

Humpty Dumpty went to venus

(I left a pause here when reading it live. The OMG! audience have learned that my readings almost always dissolve into a shameful monologue about cocks. I had lured them into a false sense of security by reading from such an early diary. Now they delighted at the possibility that even my nine-year-old self was obsessed with penises).

On a great big giant penis!!!

Exclamation mark, exclamation mark, exclamation mark.

Alas there is no more. My nine-year-old self had bitten off more than he could chew. He just wasn’t committed enough to convert a simple poem into an epic space opera format. I imagine the same was true of Anon. He wrote a brilliant prequel to a classic nursery rhyme but never got around to fully documenting Humpty’s interplanetary sojourns. Maybe further texts will one day emerge: perhaps even Dumpty’s own ‘Captain’s Log’. But until that time we can only speculate.

ADDENDUM: I just looked at A very first poetry book in the library. ‘Humpty’ wasn’t, it turns out, written by Anon at all. It was by the great Michael Rosen. Sorry, Michael. You are even better than the legendary Anon.

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