Reviewed by Theresa Werba
Laughing Matters: Poetry with a Wink and a Smile
by James A. Tweedie
May 2023, Paperback, 164 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1945539503
This collection of humorous poetry by the excellent James A. Tweedie is more than a mere collection of clever jokings and funny sayings. James Tweedie is reveling in the power of language, and celebrates its gift-giving capacity in the ways in which words and phrases, and even various authors, and styles, and forms can be experimented with, played with, coaxed, and birthed into a fantastic array of poetic expression.
James Tweedie is not only a first-rate poet, but is also a musician and composer, which is very refreshing to me, as I am also both a poet and a musician. You can hear the musicality exuding from his poetry. The meter is clean and precise, the rhymes are perfect, rarely slanted, so you get the full effect of the satisfactions inherent in perfectly-executed formal poetry. But it never upstages the humor and wit of Tweedie’s funny perspective, and the results are often quite unexpected! It is very refreshing and satisfying indeed to “hear” the sonorities and the rhymes and meter within my head as I read his work.
Tweedie is highly creative in his use of form. He employs the traditional Shakespearean form ABAB CDCD EFEF GG plus the variant ABBA CDDC EFFE GG. The opening poem “Fleet of Foot Pheidippides,” is an excellent example:
Fleet of Foot Pheidippides
A Grecian runner named Pheidippides,
From Athens, ran to Sparta with a plea.
“We need your help to fight the Persians, please!”
But Sparta sent him back with, “Nosirree!”
Two-hundred eighty miles is what he ran,
For four or maybe five days he was gone.
He also uses the Petrarchan form (in “I wrote a poem” ) as well as some unusual presentations such as an Anapest Dimeter sonnet, a Monometer sonnet, and a 20-line sonnet variant (as opposed to the traditional 14-line sonnet). He also creates a short piece of prose (in the poem ”Doublespeak”) from a sonnet by reformatting it, literally disguising the form and structure of the sonnet so it reads like a short essay. Ingenious! Some of his poems also have a Dr. Seuss-like quality to them, the prime example being the alliterative poem “Beastly Betty.” You can tell Tweedie was having fun while writing this one!
Beastly Betty badly breaks her brother’s
Buttocks with a bat upon his butt.
Broken, beaten brother barely bothers
Bellowing at bawdy Betty. But
Because bad blood between both babe and bro
Builds baleful bias brought by Betty’s bane,
Beleaguered Bob bestows a bitter blow.
By blasting boiling bile on Betty’s brain. (“Beastly Betty”)
Tweedie often groups his poetry into cycles or themes: a sonnet cycle on the Brothers Grimm nursery stories, a set of “Equilateral Proverbs” (where the first and last words of the couplet rhyme), three limericks based on famous poems by Shakespeare and Dante, with the folksong Molly Malone thrown in, as well as a collection of seven riddles. He also has a poem on the death of Edgar Allen Poe, delightfully executed, and a collection of “Groaner Poems” with some truly groan-inducing puns.
There is such a joyous wordplay and reverie in language that exudes from Tweedie’s work! What I truly love about Tweedie’s poetry is his interesting rhyme combinations. I am delighted when I see such rhyming as death/shibboleth, if/glyph, tease/Diogenes, oogenesis/diaresis, Guinness/amanuensis, and antipode/postal code. There is a love of language that just exudes from each poem presented, a reverie and a celebration of the poetic possibilities waiting to be uncovered. It’s truly enchanting! I couldn’t wait to see what he would come up with next as I read!
I would have to say my favorite poem of the collection is “Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You,” which sold me on its very first line. Anyone who can put together “A pyroclastic vomit’s what I call it;” is a hero in my book!
Now every volcanologist agrees
That since its active period reappears
In clockwork cycles of three centuries,
Its next eruption’s due in fifty years.
Because the end is near, I wrote this sonnet
To warn you not to build your new house on it! (“Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You“)
I also like this poem particularly because Tweedie employs the rhyme sonnet/on it, which I also have used in one my own sonnets.
Another of my favorites is “The Perfect Poem,” a perfectly-executed sonnet on the creative process of formal poetry-making:
There is, I’m sure, in someone’s file drawer,
A perfect poem, written on a whim,
Perhaps, or, maybe as a simple hymn
Of thanks and praise to God, and nothing more.(“The Perfect Poem”)
Anyone who enjoys clever wordplay and creative use of language in novel and unexpected ways would be delighted to have their mind’s ear experience the rich variety of form and humorous content in Tweedie’s Laughing Matters. Highly recommended.
About the reviewer: Theresa Werba is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Sonnets, a collection of sixty-five sonnets (under the name Theresa Rodriguez, Shanti Arts, 2020). Her work has appeared in such journals as The Scarlet Leaf Review, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Spindrift, Mezzo Cammin, The Wombwell Rainbow, Fevers of the Mind, Serotonin, The Art of Autism, The Road Not Taken, and the Society of Classical Poets Journal. Her work ranges from forms such as the ode and sonnet to free verse, with topics ranging from neurodivergence, the writing process, love, loss, and aging, to faith and disillusionment. Her website is www.bardsinger.com, where you can view videos of her performance poetry and find information about her books. Follow Theresa on Instagram and Twitter @thesonnetqueen.