Spouting nonsense for the sake of his mother

The Nonsense Olympics: A tribute to Edward Lear (1812-1888) by Matt Black, llustrations by Jackie Prachek
The Nonsense Olympics: A tribute to Edward Lear (1812-1888) by Matt Black, llustrations by Jackie Prachek
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POET Matt Black has combined two events in 2012 to come up with his latest book, The Nonsense Olympics. Everyone knows it’s the year of the Olympic Games in London but it is also the bicentenary of the birth of Edward Lear.

It is no surprise to find that his enthusiasm is directed more at the latter, the great purveyor of nonsense literature. The book contains the motto: “Lie down and enjoy the Olympics.”

Says Black: “As a kid I loved The Owl and the Pussycat and the Dong with the Luminous Nose, but I didn’t pay much attention to the limericks.”

But Edward Lear was the person responsible for popularising the limerick and when he came to read them again Black discovered his format was a lot tighter than the jokey verses we are mostly familiar with.

“The last line went back to the end of the first – the place name – which gave it an extra twist and made them more nonsensical so I tried to follow that,” he says.

“My mother was a big fan and that made me want to do something for the Edward Lear anniversary and I came up with the idea of running the Nonsense Olympics.

“I decided to take two days off to do all the writing, go away and blast off and see where that got me. So I went off to my caravan in the Peak District and realised just how difficult it was. I didn’t get anywhere at first but on the second day I managed to get down to writing and I realised later that was my mother’s birthday.

“She was a painter and I think she felt an affinity to Lear because he was prone to the morbids. All the nonsense stuff was a bit of a safety valve.”

The Nonsense Olympics is for adults and children and includes such flights of fancy as the backwards race, high-jumping camels, the ancient Worcestershire sport of Shniblobs, how to be good at sports by relaxing, and pig-tig.

They are accompanied by illustrations by Jackie Prachek such as the one reproduced to the left which goes with the refrain:

A lovely young man from New York

Began the slow run called the walk,

He said “Oh, my feet

Don’t want to compete”

And stood on one leg like a stork.

l Meanwhile Matt Black is fulfilling his duties as Derbyshire Poet Laureate (although he lives in Sheffield he qualifies by having that caravan and also in the amount of readings and workshops he organises in the county).

He has come up with another anniversary next year, the 350th of John Scargill, pioneering 17th-century educational reformer, and will be involved with celebratory events.

His travels around Derbyshire have introduced him to a rich vein of potential material for poems such as the Swizzle factory at New Mills (where they make Lovehearts sweets) and Yain Tain Eddero, very old counting in the Derbyshire dialect similar to Jake Thackeray’s Yorkshire Yam Tam Tether.

The Nonsense Olympics is published by Upside Down books at £5. See www.matt-black.co.uk