Nonsense Poems, Funny Pictures and Laughter

I was looking at some classic old humorous books from the 19th and early 20th centuries and found that, although written and illustrated at least 100 years ago, they still are funny and make me laugh. Humor that is based on topical events seems more dated than that which deals with universal themes and one can learn a lot from these inspiring writers and artists. I especially like the nonsense poems and their accompanying illustrations and I thought I would share some of these delightful pieces for those who may be unfamiliar with these works.

One thing that I noticed was there seemed to be an obsession with bizarre noses in a couple of the books. English artist and writer, Edward Lear (1812-1888), who popularized the limerick and nonsense songs and poems that were published in his Books of Nonsense, was especially fond of exaggerated noses. There were a number of limericks devoted to this part of the anatomy and here are a couple of my favorites.

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Lear’s ink drawings are pure whimsy. He was a landscape painter and illustrated books of natural history and his free and imaginative ink drawings are in complete contrast. Yet there is something very tangible about those birds sitting on a nose and Lear’s poems and “sight gags” still have great appeal.

The other nose related reference occurs in American writer Max Adler’s (Charles Heber Clark 1841-1915) Out of the Hurley-Burly or Life in an Odd Corner (1874). We have the Australian edition published by E W Cole (188?). The book is a portrait of Clark’s life in Conshohocken, PA, disguised as fiction and is filled with the comic illustrations of A B Frost. There are also some funny poems. The following Tim Keyser’s Nose tells a wonderfully ridiculous story that is still enjoyable today.

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From noses we move onto another American writer’s take on mythological creatures. Artist Oliver Herford (1863-1935) wrote witty and humorous poetry. We have a first edition copy of The Mythological Zoo (1912) that came from a relative and I recently had a good look at the book. The poems, although written over 100 years ago are still a lot of fun, together with Herford’s amusing illustrations. I have included a couple of poems that show his clever turn of phrase and a modern view of some ancient beasts.

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Every summer someone will still say the annoying words in the last line of The Salamander. Herford had a sharp wit and has been compared with Oscar Wild, as someone who also made very incisive quips.

Cartoons can sometimes become dated when an audience can no longer relate to the subject matter. If it deals with obsolete attitudes or long forgotten events the humor is often lost. Universal themes about basic human nature are less likely to date. These types of cartoons can be found in Melba’s Gift Book (1915), instigated by opera singer Dame Nellie Melba to raise money for The Belgium Relief Fund during WWI and full of works by Australian artists and writers. I’ve singled out a couple of the cartoons that deal with human nature in an amusing way.

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With a change of clothing those partygoers could be a modern couple and procrastination is still a problem for creative people. Everyone needs a nagging pet like that cat.

Sticking with the theme of funny pictures we can still laugh at the visual and physical antics of such comedic masters like Charlie Chaplin in old films.  Chaplin’s little tramp trapped in a sleeping lion’s cage is a hilarious example.  Classic “man out of his comfort zone,” that creates great comedy.

Humorous Music is a bit more difficult. Some old comedy songs just don’t transfer to the present day but there are others that have travelled better. For example Ragtime Cowboy Joe was first recorded in 1912 by Bob Roberts, done again over the years by various performers, including a The Chipmunks version in 1959 and has been given the Muppets treatment. It is still a popular song for the ukulele. I think this a lot to do with the catchy turn of phrase and crazy images it brings to the mind. And it’s a cowboy song.

As well as the feel good value of old humorous works, studying these also provide timeless clues about the crafting of words and visual art for its comic effect. To make others laugh is a wonderful aim. We all need a bit of nonsense in our lives.

Kat

Inspiration from the Sea

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Physalia Utriculus (from The Ocean World by Louis Figurier, 1872 Edition)

The natural world is full of many bizarre and fascinating creatures, especially the sea. For us land lovers who do not venture far out beyond the sand, anything living in the ocean seem most mysterious and more alien than a science fiction monster. One such life form is the “The Pacific Man of War” (physalia utriculus), cousin to the larger “Portuguese Man of War,” that inspired the following poem:

Physalia

Floating, bloated Physalia

Sail the waters of Australia

Buoyant, Blue Bottle, bather’s hell

Weapons submerged in ocean swell

Tentacles, twisting, clutching bite

Stun the prey of hermaphrodites

Stealthy, Pacific Man of War

Stingers loaded, washed ashore

A stranded, congealed, deflated mess

No armistice with final rest

©Theartistschild.com 2017.

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Illustration by F Seth from A Sketch of the Natural History of Australia by Frederick G Aflalo, 1896

Lately I have been looking at some 19th century natural history books that came from relatives. I was particularly taken by a couple of illustrations of “The Pacific Man Of War,” and its scientific name.  Not many words rhyme with Australia.

These are commonly known as “Blue Bottle” jellyfish in Australia, although they are not a type of jellyfish. In fact they are related to corals. The Physalia are actually a large colony of separate polyps carried under the floatation bag, itself an individual life form. The polyps perform various functions such as catching prey (the tentacles), waste disposal and reproduction.

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Stranded Physalia Utriculus (Wikimedia Commons)

Blue Bottles can become stranded on ocean facing beaches along the east coast of Australia. They are more common the further north you travel and are considered a hazard when they wash up in large numbers. Physalia can give a very painful sting to any swimmer who bumps into their tentacles, which also remain active when lying on the beach.

Although not a frequent visitor to Victorian beaches the occasional individual can drop in as the following video demonstrates. Despite their bad reputation, seen in close-up physalia are beautiful and mesmerizing creatures.

Kat

The Broken Club and the Half Eaten Atlas

Interesting tales attached to objects are for me what gives them value. The more bizarre the better. The following is a poem inspired by two items and a family story.

The Broken Club and the Half Eaten Atlas

Safely kept were the tribal club and atlas

Left behind by a missionary man

Some friend of an ancestor

Then the club was broken in two

By one boy who

Used it to strike the floor

And the book found under the house

Half eaten by a rat or mouse

Last possessions of Gottlob Rembold

A resident of Sydney

Who went off to New Guinea

Or so I’ve been told

In the late 19th century

And was eaten by cannibals

©Theartistschild.com 2017

There is a story in our family that a German missionary left some of his possessions in storage with a relative.  The Aboriginal war club (waddy) and Stieler’s Schul Atlas are all that remain.  He was supposedly eaten by one of the New Guinea tribes of headhunters and this was why he never returned to collect his things.  The war club (broken by an uncle when young and mended with some waxed flax by me) is the type of weapon used to attack enemies in tribal battles.

While I am usually dubious about the veracity of such sensationalist tales, I think that the story is most likely true because it came from a branch of the family that was quite reliable.  They were very honest and practical and not the types to make up fanciful stories.   Ellie and I thought that we would investigate this further to see if there was any actual documentary evidence available.

The name Gottlob Rembold and a Sydney address are hand written in the Atlas.  We Googled his name and this has made the story stranger and more complicated.  In Sydney in 1881, a Gottlob Rembold at the age of 27 was charged with shooting and wounding his uncle in the chest with intent to murder.  Apparently this Gottlob was a young man from Germany, who came out to Australia in 1880 to live with his aunt and uncle, a farmer, probably after the death of his father.  There was a dispute about a large sum of money in a will that he claimed was his, but his aunt said it was left to her.  Gottlob also claimed that he had been mistreated since his arrival from Germany ten months before.  Gottlob was found guilty but the sentence was remitted with no reason given.  There is a prison photo of Gottlob but we can’t show it as it is subject to copyright and  only available to view by Ancestry.com members.  It is not a mug shot, but a normal studio portrait and he was a good-looking young man.

His was not a common name in Sydney at the time so it is surely the same person.  The atlas has a date of 1876 and this is when this Gottlob was 22 years old and might have been contemplating travel.  After his release from prison he could have gained assistance from a religious organisation and then decided to become a missionary.  Gottlob had been employed as a gardener so this was a change of direction.  Not that it did him much good.

Gottlob’s story is part of the rampant Western Colonialism that took place around the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Probably if Rembold had been a medical missionary or an Anthropologist he would have survived.  As opposed to some of hardline missionaries of the period, they tended to respect the host culture and were not perceived as a threat so usually lived to write about their experiences.  Gottlob must have made enemies if he had such a nasty fate.

Not all family stories are sweetness and light and the sad and bad characters can be just as inspiring as the heroic figures.  Was Gottlob a naive young man mistreated by his aunt and uncle or was he an opportunistic, murderous fortune hunter who turned to religion?  We will never know the whole truth about his end unless we can find a death certificate.  Without more information one can only imagine the mysterious and violent demise of the unfortunate Gottlob Rembold.

Kat

To lift a rather dark story the following is a live version of Rage Against the Machine’s protest song Killing in the Name by my favorite string quartet, Sydney group “FourPlay String Quartet.” They can really rock the strings.  Ellie and I saw them perform this same piece in concert and it was electric.  The members of FourPlay are all fantastic musicians and composers and their own music, while influenced by the past, is of our time.   In recent years they have collaborated in performance with Neil Gaiman.  Check them out on YouTube.

Away with the Fairies

Often when I am creating I go into another imaginative place. I feel that I am in a world of my own creation, the place of daydreams.  It is a great space to be in when you are writing or doing some visual art.  But at times this ability to put myself into a story or travel with my mind has not been appreciated by others.

As a child I became easily lost in the world of make-believe.  I remember going to a scary play when I was about 5 and became very distressed because one of the characters terrified me.  I thought it was real.  I had to be taken out of the theatre.  It was on a school excursion and the head teacher was not impressed. She obviously had no imagination and could not understand why a little child might be frightened.  I also found the MGM lion very terrifying because it was so big and loud. I thought he was going to eat me and hid behind my hands.

In kindergarten another girl and I were totally involved in a game we were playing and decided not to go inside when the bell rang.  We went to an area where there was an empty water feature with rock formations and continued our game.  Then the drama started.  The teacher started calling our names and we knew we were in trouble and hid behind the rocks and did not come out.  Things started to escalate and more people were looking for us.  Eventually we reluctantly decided to face the music and got into a whole lot of trouble.  Our mothers had been called and as punishment we had to spend the rest of the afternoon in the principle’s office nervously giggling.  We were only little kids acting out our fantasies but the reaction of the adults was totally out of proportion because of their fears.

As I became older I spent a lot of time in school daydreaming through classes or dreary assemblies.  I think that I missed lots of vital information by drifting off into my own little world.  Luckily there was always art class.  I could always concentrate on my artwork or a good book or anything that engaged me.  My early school reports often had remarks like needs to make more of an effort or would do better if she paid attention and concentrated on the work.  Any tendency to let your mind wander was to be discouraged.

All my day dreaming never did me any harm.  In fact without it I never would have persisted at any art form.  Ideas don’t just fall into your lap without time spent musing.  You can’t change reality without first imagining something different.  The world probably would not have many inventions or great works of art and literature without lots of daydreaming on the part of their creators.   Questions like “What if I do this? What would happen if? How can I do that?” are often answered by daydreaming.

Nowadays I tend to daydream in the garden, watching TV or gazing out the window when I’m in the studio.  For this reason it is good to have some kind of view, especially if there is a bit of nature.  It is also easy to daydream under the shower or in the bath because the hot water is very relaxing.  The only problem is that you can’t write anything down and have to quickly dry yourself and find a notebook before forgetting the idea.  Often when you are in this state your mind flits around from one topic to another so it can be difficult to keep track of your thoughts. If I am in that frame of mind I take a notebook into the bathroom just in case.

For those of us who have chosen to follow the creative path, daydreaming is an essential part of the creative process and losing oneself in some imaginative place is not something to discourage.  Being able to transport yourself somewhere else mentally or transform yourself into another character is really helpful.  A moment flight of fancy can develop into a story or a series of paintings.  Never stop your mind from wandering or as my parents used to say, being away with the fairies.

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Away with the Fairies

One midsummer night I dreamed

I’m in a tree far away

Visible in full moon light

I lie on branches with the fey

Faces glimpsed amongst the leaves

Figures hide behind the limbs

Bright beings with fragile wings

Stir the air and fan my skin

Some drift around me as I gaze

A whispered spell upon me cast

I finally slip out of the haze

To find my bliss at last

© theartistschild.com 2017

Daydreams can become reality so let yourself fly.

Kat

Here is one of my favorite day dreaming songs from the 70s.

Keys and Locks

The world is full of keys and locks.  Having the right key is important if you want to be able to do something creative.   Without this key or keys you can find yourself locked out and unable to progress.  This can be very frustrating and not good for your creative spirit. Finding the key to achieving your aims is never easy.   I hope that the following suggestions may help.

Sometimes the key is learning a new skill.   If you don’t know how to do something that is vital to your creative area you will never progress.   I found this with tapestry weaving.  As I have mentioned in a previous post, there were certain tricks that had to be learned to be able to do weave anything I wanted so I did all I could to master these skills.  It always pays to keep acquiring knowledge in your field, as learning is a key to excellence.

Often the key is finding the right person or persons to help you and for joint or group collaborations.  It is often difficult to get anywhere without connections and support.  “No man (or woman) is an island”, as the saying goes so don’t isolate yourself.  In any creative field working with others can expand your opportunities and is much more enjoyable. With music Ellie and I belong to a ukulele group.  It is a place where we can play and learn together, as well to gain support for each other’s song writing and performance.  This type of help is very important for anyone working in a creative field and it is good to join industry support organizations where you can get advice and assistance.

Another key to doing well in your creative field is gaining experience.  There are many ways to do this.  Volunteering for a local community group.  This will probably mean working for free, but it also means that if you are new to the field, organizations are less likely to turn you away.  Our ukulele group has performed for community groups and at a festival for free and it has helped us gain experience with live performance. I also volunteered before getting a job in a creative field.  I paid my dues by working voluntarily for over a year in various organizations before I gained a full time job.  The work experience made the difference.

I think that a major key is to make sure that you enjoy what you are doing. Without that element of fun it is harder to be produce fresh and innovative work.  Maintaining enjoyment may sound easy but when you are doing something all the time it can sometimes become repetitive and lose the fun aspect that attracted you in the first place.  So you need a way to keep feeling excited.

In this regard other committed, enthusiastic people are invaluable.  Talking with your fellow creatives can give you more motivation. Looking at the work of creative bloggers is also very inspirational.  So is doing a blog of your own.  Taking some creative classes to get out and mix with others can revive your interest.  I have been thinking about doing some life drawing in the winter because I am a bit rusty in this area.  It is something I don’t do all the time and will improve my skills, as well as get me out with other artists and stop me from stagnating.

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So don’t feel like you’re stuck and getting nowhere. There is a key for every lock. You just need to find it.

Keys without locks

Locks without keys

Not meant to stay closed

Forever to freeze

Work out the secret

Find the right key

Open the door

A new world, a fresh breeze

(©theartistschild.com 2017)

Kat

The Garden Doll

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Sometimes inspiration can come from some object you have had hanging around your house for ages.  Suddenly you see it in a new way.  That is how I wrote this poem.

The Garden Doll

It was buried in our garden bed

A broken doll, no arms no legs

Ceramic torso, molded head

A cast-off toy, all that’s left

 

Some child’s treasure long ago

Now a relic, sad, alone

A doll’s house prop, without a home

Lost in the past, it’s owner gone

 

Once dressed and posed in make believe

It had a life, it talked, it breathed

Gave form to some girl’s fantasy

Her youthful hopes and joys to feed

 

It cannot speak, it cannot move

Story unknown, mystery imbued

Sits in a jar, a thing to view

The garden doll I never knew

(© The Artist’s Child, 2017)

Kat

Goanna Samba

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Heath Goanna (Varanus rosenbergii), Kangaroo Island, South Australia,  Photo Cody Pope, Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes a line gets into your head and leads you to create  something from this small beginning.  That is how it was with this poem.   I could not get the words “goanna samba” out of my mind.  The idea of a Goanna doing a dance move tickled my imagination.  Creativity often comes out of incongruous associations.

Goanna Samba

Monitor Lizard, patterned wizard

In the bush invisible

Disappears standing still

Chases down smaller prey

Hiding in its clever way

 

Great Goanna, beneath verandah

When it’s hot, will meander

Doing the Goanna Samba

 

Sleek reptile, very agile

Climbing trees, with an ease

Catches barest noontime breeze

Beat the heat, sleep and laze

On dusty dry summer days

 

Goanna not salamander

Ancient dragon, so much grander

Doing the goanna samba

 

Smart Goanna, disaster planner

Good defense, survival sense

Finds escape beneath a fence

When bushfire comes suddenly

From raging flames quickly flees

Doing the Goanna Samba

Doing the Goanna Samba

© The Artist’s Child 2017

The Goanna, an Australian Monitor lizard, doesn’t always get the same attention as the cuddly marsupials, unless it does something dangerous to humans.  Yet they are amazing creatures and can be found all over Australia, except Tasmania.   The  Goanna can move very quickly when required.  It has a wonderful undulating gait that reminds me of the Samba dance step.

The following video shows a Goanna visiting a back garden in rural Australia.  Fabulous reptile to watch.

Kat