Funny poems have been an important part of Australian poetry since the nineteenth century. Comic squibs and puns featured in the early issues of Australia’s first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette (1803), and later poets such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson contributed much comic verse to magazines such as the Bulletin. Some of the best-known of Paterson’s poems, such as ‘A Bush Christening’ and ‘Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’, recount comic episodes of bush life: the terrified escape into a log of the boy who does not want to be christened and Mulga Bill’s mistaken belief that as he is such a good horse rider he will have no trouble controlling his new bicycle.
Early in the twentieth century, C J Dennis had a great success with his verse novel, Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915) that recounts the struggles of the Bloke to get his girlfriend Doreen to agree to marry him. One of the funniest poems is ‘The Play’ in which the Bloke and Doreen attend a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the Bloke behaves in a totally inappropriate manner.
Contemporary poets have also contributed many funny poems. Geoff Page, for example, has written a collection entitled Mrs Schnell arrives in heaven which includes funny rhyming poems like ‘Single Socks’, on the fact that one of a pair of socks always seems to get lost, as well as the poetic sequence ‘Selected Alcohols’. Another to cast a comic eye at family life is Geoffrey Lehmann, whose ‘Parenthood’ includes a parody of American poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous ‘Howl’ as part of a lament about the joys of being a father and having your restaurant meal go cold while each of your three children demands to be taken to the toilet. In ‘Gifts’, Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal sends up the traditional male love poem which offers the woman grandiose presents; here the beloved rejects all of these in favour of the much more practical gift of something to eat: ‘bring me tree-grubs’.