Impress family this Christmas with poetry!

The Irish have always had a love of performance and I grew up surrounded by powerful speakers and singers. Family parties would always end up with people reciting, singing ballads and dancing (usually me but there was money involved!) We all had "party pieces" which would be trundled out in front of a crowd of relatives who had heard them a hundred times before.

As a child, performing in front of a non-critical, family audience is a perfect start to a public speaking career. Memorising poetry at an early age helps to develop an appreciation for language and stretches the vocabulary. The love and encouragement that you receive from the family will stay with you forever. So this Christmas, instead of loafing in front of the television, try some of the sites below and start performing.

Wonderful Radio 4 poetry programme with readings of contemporary and classic poetry

A treasure trove of poetry

Use the quote search function to identify half remembered poems

My father's party piece was a rendition of the tragi-comic Bricklayers Tale which incoporates a pulley, a barrel of bricks and the force of gravity! The trick to this poem is the use of pauses and my father's version guaranteed that the audience would be rolling around with laughter.
The talented Gerard Hoffnung's rendition of the Bricklayer's tale for the Oxford Union. Shakesperean diction meets farce. Note the pause before the final punchline.

And my father's version:

Dear Sir I write this note to you to tell you of my plight
For at the time of writing I am not a pretty sight
My body is all black and blue, my face a deathly grey
And I write this note to say why Paddy's not at work today.

Whilst working on the fourteenth floor,some bricks I had to clear
To throw them down from such a height was not a good idea
The foreman wasn't very pleased, the rotten awkward sod
He said I had to cart them down the ladders in my hod.

Now clearing all these bricks by hand, it was so very slow
So I hoisted up a barrel and secured the rope below
But in my haste to do the job, I was too blind to see
That a barrel full of building bricks was heavier than me.

And so when I untied the rope, the barrel fell like lead
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead
I shot up like a rocket till to my dismay I found
That half way up I met the blessed barrel coming down.

Well the barrel broke my shoulder, as to the ground it sped
And when I reached the top I banged the pulley with my head
I clung on tightly, numb with shock, from this almighty blow
And the barrel spilled out half the bricks, fourteen floors below.

Now when these bricks had fallen from the barrel to the floor
I then outweighed the barrel and so started down once more
Still clinging tightly to the rope, my body racked with pain
When half way down, I met the blessed barrel once again.

The force of this collision, half way up the office block
Caused multiple abrasions and a nasty state of shock
Still clinging tightly to the rope I fell towards the ground
And I landed on the broken bricks the barrel scattered round.

I lay there groaning on the ground I thought I'd passed the worst
But the barrel hit the pulley wheel, and then the bottom burst
A shower of bricks rained down on me, I hadn't got a hope
As I lay there bleeding on the ground, I let go the blessed rope.

The barrel then being heavier then started down once more
And landed right across me as I lay upon the floor
It broke three ribs, and my left arm, and I can only say
That I hope you'll understand why Paddy's not at work today

Fabulous eh?!


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