Friday, 7 March 2008

A Book Of Nonsense - Mervyn Peake

If you don’t like nonsense poems, then you will probably think this won’t be for you. Which is a shame. As with everything that Mervyn Peake did, these are prime examples of the form.

Nonsense poetry is often regarded as ephemera. In many cases this is true, they are written simply to amuse. Yet they are sometimes also profound. They are the rainbow in the spray made by waves on the rocks. The rainbow is pretty and gone, but it could not exist without the underlying elemental forces that are at play (in all senses of the word). In this collection of Peake’s nonsense verse, this is highlighted by the illustrations. Grotesque and charming at one and the same time, they deftly encapsulate great warmth and affection as well as a life giving vitality. At the same time, they speak of restless depths and unseen things.

The poems are the same. They may be playful (and skilfully written), but not only do they contain some startling imagery; they are clearly the product of a genius with a unique view of the world. The book contains his notes for the last written work that he conceived (and like the fourth Gormenghast book, never had the opportunity to work on). The notes are a poem in themselves, offering an insight into the way that Peake worked.

So, even if you class yourself amongst those who do not like nonsense poetry, please give this work a try. It is a genius at play and in it you will catch glimpses of wonderful things.