Were I but a simple poet, I would put forth words in an iambic form to share the experience of The Wildly Inappropriate Poetry of Arthur Greenleaf Holmes. Gordon Boudreau has created and performs an amazing, very funny, one-person show entertainingly illustrating how the use of words in poetic forms shape the perceptions of things not generally associated with the world of “proper” society. The persona he created for this exploration is from 16th century Elizabethan England, and shares a connection with the poets of later ages. Were I of that period, I would write:
In days of yore, when Elizabeth reigned supreme
The bawdy poetry of England’s land
Was rife with wit, and humor, and bawdy theme,
And scandalous affairs, both bold and grand.
I expected a straightforward, comedic rendering of the bawdy poetry of the Elizabethan Era, even if the poetry was crafted in more recent times, and I was presented with that but so much more. The scholarship behind Boudreau’s show is extraordinary in that his funny but very bawdy poems reflect another time. Poems such as “Ode to an Extremely Provocative Knothole,” or the clever “Mother, Will My Stones Drop?” and the epic “I Built My Love a Menstrual Hut.” The way he weaves the bawdy with the scholarly is beautifully done, although I don’t think some of the audience grasped the meaning of that tapestry, and there were moments when the scholarship intruded on the comedic structure of his presentation.
The smallness of the black box theater, The Tank, allowed an intimacy with the audience more typical in a cabaret club. With this closeness, Boudreau’s effective reading of the audience and deft awareness of the direction his presentation was moving allowed him to adjust his actions to keep the presentation going in an engaging way.
And more from the poor poet that is me:
The playwrights, of that time, knew no bounds,
Their verse filled with innuendo bold;
Reveled in scandal and sounds
Of lusty laughter, tales both new and old.
But in their bawdy rhymes, lay there truth,
A commentary on the human soul,
A glimpse into the hearts of age and youth,
Their passions, their fears, their joys and woe.
From a simple, but effective, staging meant to reflect the drawing room of a man of that period, Boudreau shows us how ribald, and in some cases, down-right filthy poetry, in the style of the 16th century, could have influenced poets for centuries after, including up to the present day. His readings of Ezra Pound, John Keats, and Walt Whitman give support to that view.
The show is directed by David Rosenberg, who credits “Bugs Bunny, Steve Martin, Groucho Marx, and his father for suppressing his ability to be serious about anything,” which is not the case with this show. Therefore, Rosenberg must take responsibility for helping to bring this funny and brilliantly offensive project to life.
But though their verse was bawdy, it also was art,
A reflection of the culture of their day,
With hidden meaning and clever heart,
These poems still have much to say.
So let us raise a cup to bawdy verse,
A celebration of the human thirst
For love and lust and all that’s wild and free,
In Elizabethan England’s poetry.
While Arthur Greenleaf Holmes is the creation of a talented comedian Gordon Boudreau as is Holmes poetry, the presentation is very much true to the era being presented. It is funny. It is bawdy, in the broadest sense of that word. Nevertheless, it is thought-provoking for those who are interested in the skillful use of language. It is not for those who may be offended by ribald, and some may call filthy imagery and poetic descriptions of bodily functions, but it is an immensely entertaining time in the theater.
The Wildly Inappropriate Poetry of Arthur Greenleaf Holmes (Wednesdays and Thursdays, through February 9, 2023)
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, First Floor, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-563-6269 or visit www. The TankNY or http://www.ci.ovationtix.com/35658/production/1137852
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission