Tuesday, 26 March 2013

#ReadItMD13 - "Children's Poetry Week" - Colin West, author of "The Big Book of Nonsense"

Colin West, Author of "The Big Book of Nonsense (Vol 1-3)" with two awesome poetry books
We've giggled at his brilliant "Big Book of Nonsense" in its shiny new electronic form on iPad, and we've been entertained by his tweets. Ladies and gentlemen, for Children's Poetry Week we're very fortunate to have Colin West pop in to share with us a poetry-themed guest post. Over to you, Colin!

My Early Inspirations

Like most families in post war Britain, we didn't have many books in the house. Yet it hardly mattered to a boy fond of funny rhymes. I couldn't listen to the radio without hearing poetry in some form or other. Whether it was Lonnie Donegan enquiring about the properties of your chewing gum on the bedpost, or Alma Cogan speculating where the baby's dimple might be, novelty songs were everywhere.

Nor could I escape humorous rhymes at school. Playground chants educated me as to Popeye's toilet habits. Apparently he lived in a caravan and there was a hole in the middle where he did his piddle. And half past nine was the best time to hang your knickers on the line, I also learned.

In the classroom we were made to sing along to crackly broadcasts of folk songs twice weekly. Songs from all areas were covered, from Scotland to Somerset, Wales to the Wash, by way of Australia and the Deep South of America. Some were plaintively romantic, others plain nonsensical. One of my favourites bizarrely mixed "Rule Britannia" with a ditty about a mermaid at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

Meanwhile, TV was coming along apace. There was Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen. (Hardly high art, but the perfect theme for the programme's enthusiastic young audience.) Cy Grant sang topical calypsos almost nightly, Professor Stanley Unwin regularly popped up with his inspired gobbledygook and Spike Milligan read his silly verse on the Royal Variety Show.

Over on the newly formed commercial channel, advertising jingles rang in our ears: Murray mints, Murray mints, too good to hurry mints etc. In the streets, on the sides of Double Deckers, the slogan Drinkapintamilkaday shone out in multi-coloured lettering.

All this stuff was food for thought to a young boy acquiring an appetite for words.

As the 1960s dawned, a pre-Oliver Lionel Bart was writing witty words for the British rock'n'rollers. (Remember Tommy Steele's "Little White Bull"?) And even Frank Sinatra deigned to warble a daft ditty about some ant having trouble with a rubber tree plant.

A few years later, and I was greatly taken by the quirky lyrics of Ray Davies, Pete Townshend and the Beatles. (By the way, "I Am the Walrus" was supposedly inspired by Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter".) On my art foundation course, a friend introduced me to the black humour of Tom Lehrer. "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" seemed a pretty funny concept at the age of sixteen.

Tom Lehrer - "Don't let the pigeon play the piano!"

The Folk Boom was also under way, and half those songs from the BBC broadcasts were given a second airing by the likes of Fairport Convention and Bob Dylan. If all this was getting a touch serious, there was always those clever Pythons singing about a cross- dressing lumberjack. And who should happen to be Number One in the pop charts around this time? None other than Liverpudlian group Scaffold, amongst whose members was a real live poet in the form of Roger McGough.

So, you see, it hardly mattered that we didn't have a houseful of books when I was young. I found more than enough inspiration all around me. And by 21, I felt ready to start writing funny stuff of my own ...

Thank you very much for guesting on ReaditDaddy, Colin!

Visit Colin's brilliant website for more mirth and entertainment, and also pick up Colin's brilliant "Big Book of Nonsense" books, now available for your iPad.