Miles Kington: Ah, if only Wilmina were a name ...

I spotted that 'inertia' could also be pronounced 'in Ayrshire', and, using that as a germ, I produced an interesting little verse
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The Independent Online

Going through my correspondence yesterday, I came across a letter which I don't remember receiving, from Ian Higgins in Cupar, Fife. It was about a piece I wrote on "holorimes", which I didn't remember writing either.

A quick look at the date on the letter gave me a valuable clue. Mr Higgins had written to me on 16 January, 2004. The letter had been lying on my desk for two years. (Those who know me well will be surprised that I have already opened it.) And that meant that if I had written about holorimes, I must have written the piece prior to that. And yet Mr Higgins's letter is so inventive and interesting that I cannot believe I did not leap on it when I first received it, and raid it heartlessly for material for another piece.

Which I intend to do now.

To start at the beginning, a holorime is, in its simplest form, a poem composed of two lines, both of which sound the same but mean quite different things. It's easier in French than in English, and here is one which was supposedly written by Victor Hugo:

Gal, amant de la Reine, alla (tour magnanime)
Gallament de l'Arène à la Tour Magne, à Nîmes.

What that means, more or less, is: "Gal, the Queen's lover, went (a magnanimous gesture) gallantly from the Arena to the Great Tower at Nimes."

You may say that that does not mean very much. Well, of course it does not mean very much! It is hard enough getting two quite different lines of verse which sound exactly the same, without having to make them make good sense as well. And you can see, even if you do not understand much French, that the sound of both lines is identical.

Here's another example, also in French, by the great humorist Alphonse Allais:

Par les bois du djinn où s'entasse de l'effroi,
Parle et bois du gin ou cent tasses de lait froid.

And what that means, more or less, is: "Near the djinn's woods, where fear mounts up, talk, and drink gin or a hundred cups of cold milk." Which does mean something, sort of, and the sound, again, is identical.

Good stuff. And in this article which I wrote two years ago (which has started coming back to me), and to which Mr Higgins responded, I offered a holorime in English which I had laboriously, oh, so laboriously, constructed myself. I had spotted that "inertia" could also be pronounced, more or less, "in Ayrshire", and using that as a germ I produced this little verse, called "A Scottish Lowlands Holiday Ends in Enjoyable Inactivity". The full poem was as follows:

In Ayrshire hill areas, a cruise, eh, lass?"
Inertia, hilarious, accrues, helas!

I knew when I did it that it was clumsy and I must have appealed to readers to do better. Mr Higgins clearly rose to the challenge, because he did do a lot better than I did. Let me quote from his letter ...

"Dear Miles Kington,

I've done it!

Will Caws, a deacon, jested: 'Diarrhoea
Will cause a decongested, dire rear'."

That's very clever, I think. Inventing the name "Will Caws" is a bit of a liberty, but even so the rest is very ingenious, and pretty much makes good sense.

Mr Higgins is not satisfied, though. He says: "Even this one, although a satisfactory iambic pentameter, is imperfect, because "a" is repeated. From this point of view it would be better as:

Wilhemina Deacon jested: 'Diarrhoea
Will, hell, mean a decongested, dire, rear

But that's a hexameter, (comments Mr Higgins) and in any case the interjected "hell" is rather contrived. If only Wilmina were a name ..."

Ah, don't poets take their craft seriously!

More thoughts from Mr Higgins tomorrow. And me too, I hope.

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