Small Dreams Of A Scorpion by Spike Milligan

The Blurb On The Back:

They chop down 100ft trees

To make chairs

I bought one

I am six-foot-one inch

When I sit in the chair

I’m four foot two.

Did they really chop down a 100ft tree

To make me look shorter? 

Here’s a volume of Millipoems on pollution, population and conservation – serious subjects, overlaid by the inimitable Milligan humour.  

You can buy SMALL DREAMS OF A SCORPION by Spike Milligan from Amazon USA and Amazon UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through this link.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

This is a collection of 41 poems/silly verse by Spike Milligan (4 of which are reprints) plus illustrations by Spike and 5 illustrations by his daughter, Laura Milligan.  Although some of the verse sparks with Milligan’s zany wit, the majority are surprisingly sombre and political and tie in with Milligan’s anti-war, environmental interests.  Sadly this book is out of print but is worth a read if you’re a Milligan completist. 

My dad is a huge Spike Milligan fan and I grew up listening to his Goon Show record collection and catching his Q-show whenever the BBC repeated it.  Spike’s poetry and silly verse was also a staple in my primary school so there was a big nostalgia hit when I picked up this book.  I was surprised then that instead of the crazy, zany lunacy and silliness that I was expecting, this is a surprisingly sombre and mature collection.  

A number of the verse here dates from Milligan’s war service and while there is a cynical humour to some of the poems, e.g. Death Wish, if you know about Milligan’s shellshock then you can see it here and it’s followed through in a number of poems written during bouts of depression or his nervous breakdowns, which means that I don’t think this is a collection for children (although teenagers may find it interesting).  

Other poems show Milligan’s interest in the environment (e.g. Myxomatosis about animal testing and England, Home and Beauty for Sale about the destruction of beautiful buildings).   There are also a number of poems that relate to political events (e.g. Values ’68, which is about Robert Kennedy’s assassination) or current affairs, e.g. The Children of Aberfan.

This collection was published in 1973 and many of the poems are from the 1960s.  As such, there is a bit of a dated feel to some of the pieces and some, notably I Once – As A Child would probably get side-eyed by today’s standards given that it hinges on Ghandi’s skin colour.

The illustrations are bizarre and a bit weird but fit in with the collection and I actually couldn’t tell the difference between Spike’s illustrations and those of his (then) young daughter Laura.  I did think it’s a bit of a cheat that some of the illustrations are actually just repetitions of the verse in an illustrated font but it’s not a deal breaker.

All in all, I think that if you’re a Milligan fan than this is definitely worth your time but I also think you can get something from it if you’re new to his work and because the verse are quite short, it’s also a decent introduction if, like me, you’re not normally a poetry reader.  

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