Protest poems

The St Andrews Phoenix Society was the literary society of the university. It hosted speaker events by writers and critics, and produced an annual magazine of student poetry. On one occasion they held an evening devoted to “Protest Poetry,” at which students would read poems they had selected that were about protest.

Most of the poems were about war, protesting about its waste of life, and its glorification. They were by writers such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Some poems were about oppression, some about injustice. I had asked to participate, and stepped forward when my turn came. I introduced my choice, pointing out how it covered a very different theme from those of the others. “My poem,” I told them, ”is a protest at the system of price support through agricultural subsidies.” I then recited Ogden Nash’s poem, “One From One Leaves Two.”

“Higgledy piggledy, my black hen,

She lays eggs for gentlemen.

Gentlemen come every day

To count what my black hen doth lay.

If perchance she lays too many,

They fine my hen a pretty penny;

If perchance she fails to lay,

The gentlemen a bonus pay.”

There are several more verses, all of which I recited deadpan. The poem is very funny, and cocks a snook at bureaucracy and planning. As the evening ended, the chairman thanked me “for introducing a welcome change of pace and mood.” The others had been gloomy and downbeat, but Ogden Nash had inserted a note of lighthearted satire.