John Lennon wrote some of the most brilliant and original lyrics in the history of popular music, both during his time with The Beatles and afterward, during his brief solo career. But what many of his fans may not know — or maybe they do — is that Lennon was also a prolific author of nonsense.
A devoted fan of Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, as well as the groundbreaking British comedy radio and TV program The Goon Show, Lennon loved wordplay and silly rhymes. In fact, during The Beatles years, he published two critically acclaimed books of nonsense poetry and short stories.
The first, In His Own Write, was published in 1964 and was the first solo work of any kind by any of the four Beatles. The second book was called A Spaniard In the Works — a title that itself was a pun on the British expression “a spanner in the works” — and was published the following year, 1965, the same year that The Beatles released their landmark Rubber Soul album.
But Lennon scribbled so much nonsense verse that it couldn’t all fit in those two books.
Michael Poynter Adams of Anglesey in north Wales met John Lennon in the Liverpool record shop NEMS, owned by the man who would become The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. The meeting took place in 1961 when The Beatles were still working to gain a following in the local, Liverpool music scene.
“John and the other Beatles were often in the shop,” said Adams, who is now 69 and would have been five years younger than John Lennon, who would have been 20 or 21 at the time of their encounter in the NEMS store. “Although John was older, we shared an interest in rock and roll. There was the same synergy between us.”
Eight years later, by coincidence, Adams worked for a printer who was handling the production of a 1969 set of erotic lithographs Lennon drew of himself and his then-new wife Yoko Ono. The poem, scrawled in John Lennon’s own handwriting, was meant as the introduction to the book, which was called Bag One. When the owner of the printing house retired, he gave Adams the poem, because he knew of the acquaintance between Adams and John Lennon.
Adams said he did not want to sell the poem, which is an abecedarium, that is, a poem of 26 lines in which each line starts with a different letter of the alphabet, in order.
“I am selling it with great reluctance but it is not on display at home and we are moving to a smaller house, so it has to go,” Adams said. “It’s a significant piece of music history and I hope it goes to a good home.”
But it didn’t. Though it was expected to sell for £6,000, or about $10,000, bidding on the John Lennon nonsense poem never reached the reserve price of £5,000, or about $8,400.