The Complete Immortalia
edited by Harold H. Hart
Hart Publishing Company, 477 pp., $10.00
The Gambit Book of Popular Verse
edited by Geoffrey Grigson
Gambit, 376 pp., $7.95
I strongly suspect Mr. Harold H. Hart of being deeply concerned about the problem of overpopulation, for if anything could be calculated to make a reader swear off sex forever, it is his compilation The Complete Immortalia.
So far as I know, the making of bawdy verses is almost exclusively a masculine activity, and in all males there is a strong Manichaean streak which finds most bodily functions ridiculous, if not repulsive. The reason for this is, I believe, that we get erections without our consent, and go to the bathroom not because we choose but because we must, and this offends our amour-propre. (Hunger is different for, though a natural necessity, we are free to choose what we shall eat.)
All the common terms relating to copulation or excretion sound ugly and derisive, and practically all bawdy verses make sex seem grubby and treat women with aggressive contempt. Of course, nearly all of us find them fun (nearly all “serious” poets have written some) but only, if we are sane, in small doses.
One synonym for bawdy is spicy. In the kitchen, spices are used sparingly to add flavor to the essential elements in a dish: a meal consisting solely of spices would make us throw up, as this volume has made me want to. But then, as a reviewer, I have had to read it straight through from cover to cover. The only proper way to read it would be at the rate of a page a month. Caveat emptor.
About The Gambit Book of Popular Verse I have nothing to say except that I recommend every lover of poetry to rush out and buy it immediately. Mr. Grigson has done a superb job. Even those who, like myself, have been lifelong devotees of popular anonymous verse will find many pieces which they have not read before and unfamiliar versions of many which they have. No limericks.