October 21, 2019

There has recently been something of a craze, on Instagram and elsewhere, for wrapper rhymes – that is, short poem written on the wrappers of sweets and other food.

It began , apparently, with the discovery that Ted Hughes, a fan of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers, had taken to writing short pieces in praise of them on the wrappers.

To have swallowed a crocodile
Would make anybody smile

But to swallow a Caramel Wafer
is safer

Someone who has taken to the craze with gusto is Helena Nelson. I’ve just received Branded, a nicely published pamphlet, containing over thirty of the pieces she has written on wrappers. She must have spent a fortune on confectionery, it strikes me – but then, I reflect, money spent on chocolate is rarely money wasted.

Helena’s wrapper-poems are all short, quirky and fun. If you’ve ever wanted to find out the thirteen ways to eat a Malteser, this is the book for you.

What I like about the wrapper craze is that it reminds us of one of the democratic nature of poetry – and the cheapness of its raw materials. If you want to be an artist, you need paints, canvases and easels. If you want to be a musician you need a guitar or a piano or some such. If you want to be an architect or a film-maker, your work could cost squillions. A poet just needs a stub of pencil and a scrap of paper – an old envelope, perhaps, or yes, a chocolate wrapper. Before now, I’ve had a line strike me when out in town. I’ve reached in my pocket for whatever’s there – a receipt, a ticket, a wrapper, and the line’s recorded.

I was thinking about the disparity of cost and effort while walking in Leeds the other day. It is a city with a penchant for obscure sculptures, and near the railway station you find the legs. Here they are.

Five legs walking along. I’m not saying it’s a bad sculpture. The way the legs are linked is quite neat, in a way. I’m sure some people are fond of it. But it doesn’t seem to be saying much, and I’ve noticed that people rarely seem to glance at it. Perhaps the occasional sculpture connoisseur gets a momentary frisson of pleasure from appreciating it, but that’s it. And what strikes me is that making this thing must have involved a huge semi-industrial process, and it must have cost many thousands of pounds to create and install. It’s an awful lot of effort for a limited artistic result. Compared with a few words (scribbled on a Milky Bar wrapper, maybe) which – if they were the right words and reached the right audience – could just possibly change someone’s life.

Cities should put art in public spaces, but in these straitened times, would it not make more sense to reduce the supply of sculptures, and instead decorate the city with large advertising hoardings presenting poems – the ultimate in conceptual art? These would catch the eye as effectively as a sculpture, would cost far less to install, and could be changed as often as you like.

And the poems could be frequently changed, while this poor old statue will just sit there for decades, getting increasingly out of fashion. During which time, hundreds of different poems could have enlivened, inspired or infuriated the citizenry, and at a far lower cost.

Have I been inspired to write a wrapper poem? Of course I have. I am very fond of Club biscuits, and sent this wrapper to Helena, who has since kindly tweeted it to the world.

4 Responses to “Wrappers”

  1. leelasoma Says:

    ‘Wrappers’ sounds delightful as I am a chocoholic and a poet. Your ‘Club’ poem is super. As you say poetry is a very democratic art form. You can write your verse on a pebble, a bark, a leaf even a banana! Enjoyed your blog.

  2. Judith van Dijkhuizen Says:

    I love the sound of ‘wrap’ poetry! My dad used to write tunes on envelopes, but they didn’t actually relate to the letter. I also used to put poems up around the campus when I was a teacher. Putting them round the town would be even better. Your blog reminded me of Poems on the Underground.

  3. Liza Williams Says:

    Re candy wrappers: I’m fond of chocolate-orange anything, and so was salivating at seeing your photo and hand-written “wrapper” poem. I also like the overtone (undertone?) of “rapper.” As to Judith’s comment, I, too, write my poems on the clean backs of junk-mail envelopes that come in volume every day in the mail. And her idea of tacking up poems around campus is brilliant. “Poems on the Underground” must be similar to our “Poetry in Motion” on the New York City subways and buses.

  4. 414jlo Says:

    Hi George,
    Thanks for your “Wrappers” piece, which I enjoyed reading. I’ve just ordered a copy of Helena’s ”Branded” because, to quote you, “If you’ve ever wanted to find out the thirteen ways to eat a Malteser, this is the book for you.” I simply can’t wait to discover all the ways in which I’ve been missing out…!!!
    All the best, Jayne.

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