Sunday, April 20, 2008

Forum Thread: Insult Poetry


Insult poetry has a long poetic tradition, for example, this poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834):


----------In Koln, a town of monks and bones,
----------And pavements fanged with murderous stones,
----------And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;
----------I counted two-and-seventy stenches,
----------All well defined, and separate stinks!
----------Ye nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
----------The river Rhine, it is well known,
----------Doth wash your city of Cologne;
----------But tell me, nymphs,
----------What power divine
----------Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?


The earliest known African-American insult poem:

Bars Fight

by Lucy Terry (1730-1821)

Samuel Allen like a hero fout
And though he was so brave and bold
His face no more shall we behold.
Eleazer Hawks was killed outright
Before he had time to fight
Before he did the Indians see
Was shot and killed immediately.
Oliver Amsden he was slain
Which caused his friends much grief and pain.
Samuel Amsden they found dead
Not many rods off from his head.
Adonijah Gillet we do hear
Did lose his life which was so dear.
John Saddler fled across the water
And so escaped the dreadful slaughter.
Eunice Allen see the Indians comeing
And hoped to save herself by running
And had not her petticoats stopt her
The awful creatures had not cotched her
And tommyhawked her on the head
And left her on the ground for dead.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh! lack a-day
Was taken and carried to Canada.

(First published in 1855)

One of the oldest known African insult poems:

----------You really resemble
----------An old man who has no teeth
----------And who wants to eat elephant hide,
----------Or a woman without a backside
----------Who sits down on a hard wooden stool.
----------You also resemble a stupid dolt
----------Who while hunting lets an antelope pass by
----------And who knows that his father is sick at home.

An insult poem offers a way for the poet to express anger without engaging in a total snark fest; the main hallmarks of an insult poem are humor and exaggeration. Insult poems do not generally deal in universal themes--they are personal and are directed to a specific person or group. However, these poems are artistic in that they emphasize the poet's verbal superiority with words (as opposed to down and dirty fighting and name-calling).

Do you have a favorite public domain insult poem, or have you written one yourself (with or without an explanation)?

If so, feel free to post it in the comment section.


Some information is from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Terms, 2nd ed. Edited by Ron Padgett. New York: Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 2000. 91-92.

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