I went to a panel at AWP (yeah, I’m here too) about humor in poetry, and these are the highlights:
- Poets take themselves too seriously, perhaps because we think nobody else takes us seriously.
- Comedy is serious business. It’s a definite way to subvert social structures.
- There are psychological categories of humor. One of them is sex. Neato.
- The biggest risk of using humor in poetry is not being funny. So please don’t over-try.
- Poets are the kind of people who, when sung the lyrics to the song in crucifixion scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, will join in at the whistle during the chorus.
- There ARE funny women poets.
And here are some things that I just learned via the miracle of the interweb:
Billy Collins and Tony Hoagland are the first two recipients of the Mark Twain Poetry Award, which recognizes a poet’s contribution to humor in American poetry and dishes out $25,000.
I scanned some quotes–poetry scansion ya’ll. George Carlin is often trochaic. Mitch Hedberg’s signature refusal of contractions makes it harder to scan, but he’s iambic. Wanda Sykes is about half and half iambs and anapests. Eddie Izzard is into spondees. Go figure. This all makes maybe too much sense.
In an article on Poets.org, Matthew Rohrer defends humor and puts pressure on how we appraise poetry. I especially agree with him when he says that he’s suspicious of people who refuse to incorporate the whole of their personality in poetry, but I wonder if some poets just don’t have a prominent sense of humor. Poets seem to have a harder time shuffling comedy into their art than fiction, I think because poetry has been so difficult, so serious in the canon. And yet Shakespeare was mentioned in the panel at least 3 times. So why are we having such a hard time convincing ourselves that the comedic is a legitimate avenue for poetry to saunter through?