Read the poetry of the recently departed John Whitworth at Trinacria or The Poetry Archive.

by Sally Cook

Any ordinary poet composing a landscape piece might easily imagine a dull blue sky, one small white cloud, and a narrow strip of grass from which a single stump protrudes. That sort of mundane and boring poem is the type of thing one encounters every day at poetry websites, and in mainstream magazines. It’s the kind of “hearts-and-flowers” excretion that the modernist mentality encourages.

For years, the English poet John Whitworth gave us infinitely more than this. His amazing productivity (shown in his use of many forms, points of view, imaginative flights of fancy, and the glorious colors of his vocabulary) was so effervescent that he clearly transcended the boundaries of what is dismissively called “light verse.” Like beautiful balloons, his ebullient poems shot like rockets over the dull and prosaic landscape of lesser verse. Whitworth’s “light verse” had all the heft, weight, and power of a battle axe.

His talents in rhyme, invention, phrasing, and rhetorical tropes and figures amounted to a cornucopia of blessings to his readers. Those of us who read and appreciated his work will never be the same, and I doubt that we will ever see his like again.

The poem below, “What a Whit Is Worth,” published at this site a while back, was written by me as a humble tribute to the man and his achievement.


What a Wit is Worth

for John Whitworth, poet

Oh, Whitman was a rhymer who enjoyed to play the part
Of complicating everything. It’s something of an art
To ramble on for pages on the pinprick of a thought,
Which makes word choice irrelevant, and form seem overwrought,
And chokes the flow of meter like a clot within the heart,
And leaves the scansion bumpy as an overladen cart.
Oh, you may paint your wheelbarrows as red as Commie traitors,
Make sure your plums keep cool and bland in sleek refrigerators,
And hope to Heaven you will cause great earthquakes and unease
Disturbing all the critics huddling roosted in the trees,
But Whitworth’s worth more half again than all the free verse clamor
That issued from that country boy whose hyperbolic stammer
Has branded modern poetry these hundred years or so.
So, now along the bottom road, as in arrears we go,
Feel sorry for poor poets blaring pompously, full blast—
And wave the flag for wit and humor—these things truly last.


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5 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Hi Sally, sad to learn of John’s death. I liked this poem when it first appeared and still like it now. Very skilfully drawn contrast between real and false poetry.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Mr. Sale –

      It’s good to know that you liked the poem first time around, while it was being gnawed at by creatures from every dark corner and dusty mouse hole. As I said to John W., “lok at al the publicity you’re getting!”.

      Whitworth was a genius of the best kind – multifaceted and jovial; unpretentious. I am so honored to have known him, if even for a short time, and with an ocean between us. He is not someone you forget.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    It’s a shame that we have lost John Whitworth. He was truly sui generis, and his talents were staggering. I reviewed one of his latest books (Girlie Gangs) in a recent issue of TRINACRIA. What a knockout of a collection it was — the poems were funny, sexy, outrageous, and so perfectly composed that you couldn’t imagine changing a single word in them. And they were as limpid, lucid, and elegant as anything written in English since Praed or Clough or Belloc.

    The fact that the genuine talent of Whitworth is still largely unrecognized or disregarded in the po-biz world is just another proof that we are living in a dark age.

    • Sally Cook

      Oh, yes, Joe. But then, he disregard for brevity, truth and god sense we see every day is staggering; why would not Mr. Whitworth fall into the same camp? What a mind, and what a loss!

  3. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    Though I am not as appreciative of Whitworth’s poetry as are Ms. Cook and Mr. Salemi [I did enjoy Mr. Salemi’s lively appraisal of Whitworth’s poetry in “A Rollicking Bollocks”], still…he’s worth more words; and that I’ll spend for him.

    John Whitworth (1945-2019)
    by B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    The house is cold and empty, and the garden’s overgrown;
    his letters lie unopened by an uncharged mobile phone;
    no footsteps echo strangely on the moonlit cobblestone;
    no longer is he laughing there in blarney baritone.
    The shadow that’s behind him is the shadow of his moan;
    the World was his oyster; though in truth he was unknown;
    he was a bellyshaking Belloc, with a funny bone,
    a rather clever, metric rhymer with an acid tone,
    a heavier-than-air light-verser who enjoyed a scone,
    and knew what wit was worth. He left an odor of cologne.


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