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À La Mode In Antarctica

The boffins in Antarctica are well
Adapted to the climate on the ice.
Among the most exclusive personnel,
For stylish kit they pay a tidy price.
To wow the penguins and to look their best
They wear top-flight designer gear. Forget
The rest, the long johns and the thermal vest,
Rucksack and anorak. The egg-head set

Profess finesse expressly to impress:
Pink top-hat, tails, skink shoes and lustrous mink
With aigrette feathers, ostrich plumes and dress
In cloth of gold. The penguins shrink to see
Such panoply, the penguin suit they think
To be the fashion statement’s apogee.

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The Problem with Penguins

So many penguins in Antarctica
Still seem to think they own the continent.
Because they brood for ages standing bent
They often get severe sciatica.
Their cousins live in South America,
And consequently they’re incontinent.
To find out more consult the eminent
Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Most of the penguins in Antarctica
Are very partial to eschscholtzia.
Alas, you see the plant (it’s news to me)
Is only found in North America.
But should you ever need to spell it see
The Shorter Oxford English Diction’ry.

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Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.


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34 Responses

  1. jd

    Very clever, both. I enjoyed reading them.
    I think you might enjoy this book – “The Penguin Lessons” by
    Tom Michell.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      JD – I’d never heard of the book before but shall look it out. I read that Juan Salvador the penguin was found in Uruguay and by a strange coincidence I have just written three poems about Uruguay which I may submit to Evan shortly. Thank you for your kind comment.

      Reply
  2. Brian Yapko

    Peter, who doesn’t love penguins?! Both of these poems are an absolute treat to read, but I must confess my preference for “The Problem With Penguins” which contains so many fabulous rhymes/near rhymes for Antarctica. It seems to me quite Gilbertian. I know it wasn’t your intent, but if you found yourself a Sullivan this would make a great patter song. Thank you for a broad morning smile.

    Reply
    • Sally Cook

      Brian, your comment must just have been landing just as mine was approaching. If there begins to look like a groundswell of Pro-Penguin Poets, we might have to introduce a Poetic Penguin Contest.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Sally – I shall be the first to subscribe. You can’t have too many penguins.

    • Peter Hartley

      Brian – I have been privileged to visit Antarctica twice, and the penguins in their natural habitat really are a joy to see. They nest just a beakstretch apart and when one penguin takes its eye off its neighbour the first thing the neighbour does is thieve the gravel from the walls of its nest to enlarge its own. It is so funny to watch, and so utterly predictable after you’ve seen it the first time. Thank you for your kind remark and my middle name is “Schwenk” (I wish it were).

      Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    Peter, I just love your solemn thoughts on penguins ! May we see more, or have you cornered the market on Penguin Trivia ?
    Apparently they also fly, which was news to me — I thought they were only waddlers/ And what about their swimming skills? Is it the rule for a penguin to remove his tux before diving in?
    I once spoke to a man who had eaten Penguin steak — said it tasted like chicken. I could never do that.
    Last question: are we the only two poets at SCP interested in such stuff? Let’s have more !
    Thanks for some fun !

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Sally – First question: Yes, there are more. I have written five poems about penguins, together with four others about the polar regions. Q2 I have never seen a penguin fly and I think they would need flipper-enhancement surgery in order to be able to do so, but their waddlesomeness really is a sight to behold: Deeply beaten broad tracks in the snow form “penguin highways,” and one side is for approaching penguins, white chests, so you can hardly see them against the snow, and the receding penguins form a broad black line (black backs) so you can always tell whether they are coming or going. Q3 their swimming skills are supreme whether contranatant or going with the flow (of every other penguin). They do NOT remove their tuxedos before they enter the water as it is considered unseemly within the penguin community to do so. Q4 I do hope not. Thank you, Sally, for your kind remarks and for your refusing to countenance the consumption of penguin steaks.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Mike – during our two visits to Antarctica Dina and I took hundreds of photos of four different species of penguin, literally in their thousands. Every photograph has been carefully examined through a scanning electron microscope and not a single pervy penguin did I find. The only flying penguin was the giant soft toy penguin, christened “Henry”, that Dina brought home on the plane from Port Lockroy and for whom she commandeered my seat so that I was forced to travel for the entire flight in one of the overhead luggage bins

      Reply
      • Mike Bryant

        Peter, of course the penguins behave when you’re taking pictures!

      • Peter Hartley

        Mike – you forget that the collective IQ of a rookery of chinstraps has been estimated at < 46, and in recent tests not one penguin in a thousand even knew what a camera was for.

      • Mike Bryant

        Okay… you got me there… those scientists were probably just fishing for more grants.

  4. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, in my copy of your most excellent compilation, I have marked pages 195 and 196, “Not to be seen whilst eating,” recalling my first reading when I almost choked with convulsive guffawing whist consuming a huge, very tasty penguin egg. Incidentally, “Penguin Eggs” is the title of the greatest ever folk album by iconic singer, Nic Jones and is worthy of exploration. At the moment, I am watching my DVD of “King of the Penguins” in glorious 3D which I am enjoying, enjoying very, very much, much. I will spend this evening working on possible anagrams of “eschscholtzia” Thank you Peter for a double dose of fun today.

    Reply
    • Peter hartley

      Jeff – Thank you for your informative comment and reminder of my one-time weekly trip to hear performances at the Westhaughton folk club years ago where I heard among others great acts like Maddy Prior and the so-called Bolton Bullfrog. Nicking penguins’ eggs in Antarctica would be utterly taboo today, the mantra being “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.” Steeleye Span took their name from the now-extinct steeleye penguin that nested as far north as the Galápagos Islands up to the end of the seventeenth century. It was the only penguin with universal joints in its flippers.

      Reply
  5. David Watt

    Peter, your two poems are loads of fun and beautifully written.
    It’s fortunate that incontinence is wholly acceptable in penguin circles.
    Your handy information finally explains the phenomenon of the galloping Galapagos penguin.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – Thanks for the comment, and you’re quite right about the penguins’ attitude towards incontinence. They have no shame and in a recent survey 93% of Adelie penguins said they would refuse to wear continence pads even if they were freely available at every weather station in Antarctica. The Galàpagos Islands, on the equator, are the northernmost point in the world to find breeding penguins, and the few that turn up in the Yellowstone National Park, Morocco and Saint-Tropez every year are mostly lost, although you will seldom find they are honest enough to admit it.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    Peter, congratulations on the penguin poems and the comment thread. What a field of fibbing fabrication showing how well suited is the sonnet to frivolous fiction! I am sorry to have no penguin tales, but I can say that our tuxedo cat always seems very embarrassed to use her litter box. It leads to flibbertigibbet romps through the hall, letting us know the box is due for freshening.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – Thank you for your comment which is on its way to being a poem in itself with all those effs. Of course flipper starts with an eff too and when a fpenguin is lying its flippers always get fenomenally damp. Records of cats being crossed with penguins are rare as the cat is far too supercilious to be associated with creatures that have to catch their own fish.

      Reply
  7. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, thank you again for a couple of days of great fun. I can never look a penguin in the eye again after this. By the way, the Bolton Bullfrog, Bernard Wrigley, is a personal friend of mine. I will try to persuade him to acquire “The Book” as he is a great entertaining bundle of fun and a super poet in his own write.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – If you are half as good as the Bolton Bullfrog you are very good indeed. With an ex-girlfriend of mine I used to attend the Fylde Folk Festival each year. I could never have been a performer like you because I would be far too self-conscious and I was too lazy to ever learn to read music but I was in the Salford Choral Society for several years before and after my climbing accident (when I temporarily lost my voice) and I have as much admiration and more, for folk musicians as I would, say, for a concert violinist. In my experience of listening to many live performances folk instrumentalists have such an amazing degree of virtuosity, almost without exception, and it is notable that vocalists sing in a way that you can hear and understand every word of their clear diction, in sharp contrast to most “pop” singers whose words are deliberately drowned out by their instruments because their lyrics are so ineffably vapid, banal and meaningless. I don’t think I’ve heard a single performance of folk music that hasn’t been infinitely superior to any pop music drivel. And before I found your comment here just now I was listening to some of the tracks on “Penguin Eggs” – brilliant!!! and a new one on me. Thank you for recommending my book: I’ll be first in the queue to buy yours when it comes out! Your poetry has the wit that mine lacks.

      Reply
      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, your gracious reply has twigged a memory. In the early days of the Fylde festival, our local radio station was doing a “guess the band” phone-in to win three pairs of tickets for the festival. The band was “Gryphon” ( the group with the Ab crumhorn) and I consequently won. As the day wore on, no-one else seemed to know, so I got two friends to phone in and win the other four tickets. Three of us attended the festival, having donated the remaining tickets to three grateful, penniless-looking punters at the gate. My fondest memory is the wonderful Irish ensemble, The Chieftains, playing with such ferocity that a conga line of hundreds snaked across the site, and then into the lake and out again without pause. Ah those were the days. I am sure, Peter, that a travel anthology from you must be on the cards one day and once again, thanks for all your replies and kind remarks. Penguins in the Galapagos I was unaware of, having always wanted to re-incarnate as a spitting marine Iguana. I will have to have a re-think!

      • Peter Hartley

        Jeff – I have heard “The Chieftains” live too and my favourite album of theirs is “Chieftains 8.”“Gryphon” I’ve heard now and again although the crumhorn, like the highland bagpipes and the schwarm, is best heard outdoors and from three continents apart.

  8. James A. Tweedie

    The female penguin lays the egg,
    The male penguin sits upon it.
    Dear Peter, Please! Please! Please! I beg
    You, post another Penguin sonnet!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jim – Thank you enormously for the ringing endorsement of my penguin poetry and I would hope that Evan might consider the other three perhaps in the not too distant future. There is, I think, a need for more poems about penguins. Would Shelley have written about the bird that never wert if he’d seen a Jackass penguin? Would Keats have wasted his time odorising about his turgid-plumed nightingale if he’d had the chance to see a real live chinstrap in its natural habitat? Of course he wouldn’t. And bear in mind that very few penguins could even tell you what a keat is.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      James –

      The penguin is a wise bird I have found.
      It keeps its feet both firmly on the ground.
      It doesn’t fly, its intellect too flippery
      To engage in such unwonted frippery.

      Reply
  9. C.B. Anderson

    Peter, it’s hard to imagine anyone not having a good day after reading these.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      CBA – Thank you for the generous remark about my penguin poems. I hope Evan might consider publishing the other three sooner or later. The funniest thing I’ve found about penguins is that they really haven’t a clue just how silly their redundant flipperiness looks as they hobble and hop about on land.

      Reply

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