There are plenty of ‘M’ rated shows when it comes to Renaissance faires, and the like, but none draw in a crowd quite like a certain ‘Wildly Inappropriate’ poet like Arthur Greenleaf Holmes. The 16th-century English libertine artist has much more to offer than just a few lines of vulgar rhymes.
I recently found myself with weekend tickets to Scarborough Renaissance faire and couldn’t find it in myself to pass up the opportunity to check out a few of the shows. So, I set forth in the stifling Texas heat to hopefully find a few gems. I was not disappointed. Tucked away in a small pavilion at the back of a lesser populated area of the faire, positioned far from the minors and their sensitive ears, I found much more than what I was expecting.
At first glance, Arthur Greenleaf Holmes seems harmless with his charming smile and slight stature, his pale green tights and feathered hat. It doesn’t take long for a listener to decide whether his particular brand of showmanship is right for them or not. In fact, it was interesting to see Holmes do something that most other artists hadn’t done before, applauding those who leave his performances, showing a higher maturity level than the rest of his audience. He applauds their responsible decision and taste rather than condemn them for leaving.
You may be wondering what exactly is ‘Wildly Inappropriate Poetry’ and for the answer to that particular question I can only look to the poet himself. Holmes describes his work as; “The poetry of gutters and alleyways, of syphilis and hermaphrodites, of the tooth broken on the whiskey bottle”. He also warns those who plan to attend his shows that “Children, the dull-witted and infirm, and the morally indignant are strongly cautioned not to attend.”
While it is obvious that Holmes’ work is meant for mature audiences with titles such as ‘Ode To An Extremely Provocative Knothole’, ‘I Built My Love a Menstrual Hut’ and ‘Mother Will My Stones Drop’; any and all patrons that decide to attend are in for a half hour of nonstop laughs! His warm personality and knack for the dramatics are inviting, though his interaction with the crowd, along with his improv, is truly masterful.
I had the opportunity to attend quite a number of Holmes’ shows during the weekend and found that he never disappoints. Though there were certain staples to each performance, as there are in most comedic routines, he had no shortage of new poems or sly remarks no matter how many times I had the privilege to watch him work. His gestures, as well as his writings, are a bit eccentric but in the most charming, yet vulgar, sense.
Despite all this it is obvious that Holmes has a deep, and humble, appreciation for his audience. He often pauses in his reciting to check in with the occasional ‘Is everyone alright’ or apologizing for a particularly Inappropriate gesture in someone’s general direction. He never turns down a challenge or suggestion that the crowd might pose, even if it is providing ‘hush money’ to a toddler attending with their parents or as strange as signing another man’s chest after the show. (Yes, this really happened. No, I did not get photos.)
More often than not, Holmes allows the audience to decide which poems they wish to hear. After a bit of a warm up, to give the crowd an idea of what kind of show he has to offer and whether or not it is the right fit for them, he tends to ask one of the attendees on a scale from one to ten, ten being the must inappropriate poem he has, what would they like to hear. Most answers tend to lean on the higher end of the spectrum; though occasionally a patron, wishing to challenge the comedian, asks for a one and while Holmes’ poems show skill and are amusing, his ones are another story. They are written as if by another person entirely.
Arthur Greenleaf Holmes, also known by his real name Gordon Boudreau, has an astounding talent for classical poetry. He should not be underestimated due to his twisted sense of humor and childish persona. His use of idioms, imagery and voice is something that seems like a rarity today. His works feel as if it should be placed in a book next to Yeats or Dickenson. His more serious works seem to capture the human condition in a way that’s both relatable and moving. For example, in his ‘Ode: To Warwick’, which can be found in one of his published books, speaks of a few fallen friends:
“But turn you round and gaze upon yon hill—
The cemetery in that little wood.
There lies our Roland, he that kept the inn.
And Willy, too, who mirthed us well with mud.
Here a watchman, there a thief.
Crazy Kate. Nathan of Heath.
What little lives! What little tears!
What little steps from here to there!
And tho’ they slumber, flesh restored to dust,
They call to us. They call to us.’’
Having discovered the interesting contrast, I found myself attending one of his morning shows, with a far more conservative audience. After which I managed a brief conversation with the man; who seemed vastly different from the Arthur Greenleaf Holmes that I had become fairly familiar with over the last two days. The man before me seemed far more humble and composed; and as we discussed his more appropriate works I came to have a deeper appreciation for his artistry.
So, whether you are a fan of classic poetry or have a simple taste in juvenile humor Arthur Greenleaf Holmes has something for everyone. His writings are filled with talent and artistry that one doesn’t come by very often; and although his humor is a bit vulgar, his tasteful language sets him far apart.