Spring Botch

A distinctly avian theme keeps recurring throughout these pieces of cartoon verse scattered through F-book and Twitter (yes, I know) in the first months of this year. Entirely by accident, and not through some attempt to speak zaum, as Khlebnikov would have it, or la langue des oiseaux, as poetry was to the Troubadours.

Such mumblings of Dag’s sparrow as have been recovered this season are especially lighter than air and without substance – all the ponderous progtastic composition, of course, is going on in parallel underground if not undergrunge. These are merely the Eloi to those metrical Morlocks of deep song.

Yeah, right. But why divide the work so arbitrarily in two? Because there remains a slight distinction in my head between sharing and self-publishing, even where the categories of material are harder to separate so neatly.

The Great Auk shot the Dodo
who fell upon a wren –
the last one Stephen’s Island knew:
Dear God, what happened then?
Three sailors came from Iceland
& strangled him with string
the last cry that he ever gave
was, ‘Lose my wedding ring:
she was my wren, & she done me wrong.’


Popeye the Miliband
a panda built out of spam –
while Gordon was brawling
and Cameron came crawling
he danced to a saraband.

Popeye the Miliband
he’s jumped off the caravan:
now Labour is stalling
and needs overhauling
this isn’t what David had planned.

Popeye the Miliband
the economy’s out of hand,
but what Ed Balls finds galling
is he’s not as enthralling
as Popeye the Miliband.


There was an old wierdie called Lear
Who knitted a jet from his beard,
You could book flights online
That were seldom on time
And the pilots wore dog-hair brassieres.

That hairplane invented by Lear
Was powered by micro-brewed beer –
Fly Air Krakatoa
With dodo and moa
While kakapo serve you their tears.

What fool is there flies without fear
In a jet made from Edward’s old beard?
In case it should crash
Wear a walrus’s tache
Which inflates so you float through the years.


Cullen the Skink

It is a noble worm, the Skink,
Its blue tongue comes, not as you think,
From disrespecting Buchan rooks:
It likes to read by licking books.
Though cold can make it dull and sullen,
It holidays each year in Cullen
Where fishwives mesmerise with dance
Each skink and place it (with nae praans)
Into a trance that’s deep and dreamy
Then boil it in a broth that’s creamy,
And so it meets its end, poor dupe,
In Scotland’s only lizard soup.
Our moral is: you should not read,
Nor, if a reptile, cross the Tweed.


Each man who lovingly proposes
that country written on his heart
conflates its borders with that part
his ahistoric hand composes.
Land, measured once in supple hides,
will never sit on mind’s neat parchment
that ink he thinks depicts his catchment
is others’ blood and bludgeoned lives.
Say ‘Culture’ and he reaches for
his lager; cult is more his beef
or rather pork – deep-fry belief
and from its crackling build this bore.
Procrustean clown – too limited
to cut the limits from his head.


Do starlings stare? Was Stalin scary?
Can eagles dare? Is halloumi dairy?
Should sharks share? Are cassowaries wary?

(Their beak is curved & their nostril hairy
their belligerent mood but rarely varies
if you beg for mercy – they’ll just say ‘Nary.’)


English snow, English snow,
Falling on the cranks
English snow, English snow,
Made by mountebanks –
Grounding the planes,
Delaying the trains.
Man-flu flows
on media shows:
it’s English snow…

Scottish snow, Scottish snow,
Invented by James Watt,
Scottish snow, Scottish snow,
Reconstitutes when hot;
Toughens the gimp,
Embraces the shrimp –
Cloudy roe
makes Glasgow glow
with Scottish snow…


Debt Cabbage
(for Martin Figura)

I had a little cabbage
No one would it boil
But for Charles Babbage
And maybe Mrs Doyle;
A gentleman from Norwich
Left out of life’s loop
Confused a bowl of porridge
With my cabbage soup

His vest was pure vermilion
His face was best ham hock
He took a cupful of my bouillon
And poured it in his sock;
‘Such martinetic vigour,’
I cried. ‘Shan’t cut a rug!’
But he danced the Broth Fandango
While limping with a shrug.


Sea Chicken

On her nest of polystyrene
with her clutch of mermaids’ eggs
Sea Chicken broods on might-have-beens –
druids with no face or legs.

Hurricanes cause waves to rise
ships to flip or run aground
Sea Chicken sells old puffin thighs,
squidsticks, seven for a pound.


Mr Whippy

The Icecream King knows no Stevens
but when it comes to whippets, he’s your man:
‘Don’t be a Dippy/Lick a Whippy’ –
it actually says this on his van.

On hearing that you’re after a dog:
‘Might know a man with a lorry-load –
some may be pissed, but that’ll wear off soon.
Did I say ‘pissed’? I meant deaf as a spoon.

Good price though. Sonny Rollins uses them
for sound insulation – that’s why they call him
Mr Whippy, and not the other thing.

Actually they’re pissed as well –
only way to keep them stuck to the wall.
Good price though. Might tend to cling.’


Bird Peace
(for A.F.Harrold)

Lemsip for blackbirds
espresso for crows
pea soup for pigeons –
they’ll come to no blows.

Hot chocolate for chickens
tea for the wren –
should they lack hot liquids
it’s Bird War again.

Aspirin for ospreys
hot toddies for geese
linctus for finches –
sip for Bird Peace.


Proverbs of Speed and Delay
(for Julie Johnstone)

Slow as a tree, fast as a forest.
Slow as knowledge, fast as Lent.
Slow as ivy, fast as strawberry.
Slow as savings, fast as spent.
Slow as an eel, fast as an oil.
Slow as a kettle, fast as a boil.

Slow as a glow, fast as a torch.
Slow as a worm, fast as a pasta.
Slow as a stoop, fast as a porch.
Slow as a toenail, fast as paste.
Slow as a tortoise, fast as a hair.
Slow as purpose, fast as care.

Slow as a tea, fast as espresso.
Slow as a crayon, fast as gesso.
Slow as a knee, fast as confesseo.
Slow as Behemoth, fast as a yeti.
Slow as Wilma, fast as Betty.
Slow as Carnegie, fast as Getty.

Slow as emery, fast as fretting.
Slow as a mortgage, fast as letting.
Slow as a tear, fast as sweating.
Slow as space, fast as Apollo.
Slow as a niche, fast as a hollow.
Slow as a swift, fast as a swallow.

Slow as a roan, fast as a burro.
Slow as a stone, fast as a quarry.
Slow as a moan, fast as sorrow.
Slow as a drone, fast as a flurry.
Slow as a look, fast as a leap
Slow as a step, fast as a steep.

Slow as a drain, fast as a sluice.
Slow as a fruit, fast as a juice.
Slow as cut, fast as loose.
Slow as butt, fast as thews.
Slow as ebb, fast as eddy.
Slow as neb, fast as heady.

Slow as thyme, fast as timing.
Slow as rime, fast as rhyming.
Slow as climate, fast as climbing.
Slow as a seam, fast as seeming.
Slow as a dram, fast as dreaming.
Slow as glamour, fast as gleaming.

Slow as cream, fast as cramming.
Slow as lamb, fast as lambing.
Slow as damp, fast as damning.
Slow as coal, fast as a comb-over.
Slow as a mole, fast as a clover.
Slow as a pole, fast as a plover.


(for Pat Kane)

I was standing at the crossroads
with my Deleuze in my hand
it said, ‘Your self’s a nomad
but your brain don’t understand.’
The hour it was midnight,
I saw Foucault cross the tracks
he said ‘Scotia’s genealogies
don’t cover up the cracks…’
I got the D-blues baby:
it’s like I’m gonna lose my mind;
I got the D-blues baby:
I know I got no mind to find.

I was waiting for my Žižek
but that dealer likes delay
if you gratify totality,
you know you gotta pay.
I tried to book a motel room,
I was anxious as the moon
they were all occupied by Harold Bloom,
which influenced this tune…
I got the D-blues baby:
it’s like I’m gonna lose my mind;
I got the D-blues baby:
I know I got no mind to find.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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3 Responses to Spring Botch

  1. richardgwyn says:

    Dear Blll, thank you fro enlivening my evening.

      • Bill Herbert says:

        The world it flows both to and fro
        or so we trow and frown,
        the words go tau* or to a frau
        proceeding from the Tao.
        Try affray or free a tree
        by cutting off the ground
        what’s a fro to thee or me
        but sic inside a sound?

        *Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up structures on which men are crucified. Stauros (cross) the vile engine is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape — that shape which he gave to the gibbet named stauros after him by men.

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