Easy as ABC


Because I rather suspect I may fall behind my schedule, and be a day or two late with a post about the guest you were promised, and because it’s a wild and windy day of tossed tree-tops and of tempests, I thought I’d share a long-term pleasure and a fresh-minted poem. The pleasure is Graham Base’s utterly wonderful Animalia. I’ve lost count of the copies I’ve bought for grandchildren, and other people’s children. I’ve had it in a frieze, and in Big Book format;I’ve used it to show trainee teachers how you can get very young children to understand what word classes are and the jobs they do in a sentence (and, indeed, to recognize a sentence when they see one). I’ve still got my own copy.

How does it work, apart from looking stunning? Each letter gets a double spread and an alliterative sentence. Almost all the items in the picture begin with the same letter…lobsters and lions being the easier one in this picture. All sort of obscure and arcane words crop up. And all the fun of ‘Where’s Wally’.

I’d sort of forgotten about it until quite recently when I heard this poem…I think, first, at a workshop, and later when it strutted its stuff at an open mic.. It’s by Stephanie Bowgett, whose poetry should be better known, who has jointly organised the Albert Poets monthly readings in Huddersfield for decades, and also the writers’ workshop I go to on Monday nights (now at The Sportsmans Inn, also in Huddersfield, near the station). Here it is:

The Collectors

Ali acquired an arts and crafts bangle
browsing with Beryl
who bought the brace of Beswick bulls
that Caitlyn called naff
so Beryl was chuffed when her Clarice Cliffe
was not only chipped, but a cheap Chinese copy.
Doris paid over the odds
for a bit of blue Ditchfield with a silver frog,
but Del paid pennies for a decoupage pin tray.
Ella bought Ercol, bland and blonde and Phil
found fox-furs and a fairy lustre vase.
Gary was gutted when the Gaudy Welsh dish went to Gwyn.
Harry went off home in a huff.
Hilary haggled for a phrenology head and Howard and Izzy
were thrilled with the inkwell missing its liner.
John, John and John
found a ginger jar, a juke box and two jelly moulds
Keith, who’s into kitsch, collared the scottie dog bookends.
The Lalique lamp was too dear for Larry and Lol,
but the toddy ladle was a snip.
Mary missed out on the Moorcroft, but beat Mo
to the one-eyed Merrythought dog on wheels,
Mark snapped up the Majolica moustache cup and knew
Nigel would fall for the naked spelter nymph.
Ollie obtained an overpriced oil lamp
while Perry purchased peepshow postcards,
Quentin quibbled about quotes and queues. He quit.
Roderick rode on a rocking horse and broke it.
The Steiff bear leaking stuffing went to Steph and Teddy
took the Tudric spill case and the walnut snuff box.
Ursula found an ivory umbrella handle
under a table in a bundle of sticks.
Victor searched in vain for Victorian vesta cases,
and Will who wanted WDF, was disappointed.
Xavier exchanged an etching
for a mixed box of exotic shells.
Yolanda went for the Yoruba mask,
but Zara outbid her and then made a killing
on the pearl-ware puzzle jug,
a zinc bath
a zoetrope,
zoological prints,
the Zenith watch,
six vintage Zippos,
a Zanzibar chest,
ten zanjan rugs
and last but not least
the signed photo of Frank Zappa

I like the way it’s starting to turn in Bonzo Dog’s Intro and outro. Hey…Frank Zappa. Mmmm. Nice, Frank. Reminds me that Stephanie is the only school governor I know with an undying affection for Arthur Lee’s Love, and also for The Grateful dead.

So if you’ve had a surfeit of soul-searching, worry and weltsmersch,conflict and compromise, switch off and write an alphabet poem.


A is for Armageddon and Arms sales. and Art Deco Artefacts

even better, avoid list sentences . Angry Artisans. What are they doing and where are they doing it and how and why?  Burly Builders ……… Send me yours. Let’s have a bit of a laugh. Let’s blow my cred as a poetry blogger.

[Graham Base: Animalia (Puffin Books 1996/ Turtleback books 1999)….the original only available second-hand. I think]


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