How many poets does it take to screw in a light bulb?
I have one [PG] fantasy of reading poems in comedy clubs and telling jokes at poetry readings. Why waste a fantasy on it? Why ruin a good comedy night for those unsuspecting patrons? I don’t know. I don’t want to answer those questions. They’re rather aggressive, if you ask me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s okay. I’d rather explore what that might do, in my mind, to read funny poems, funny poems that are often also quite sad, on stage, against a brick wall, beneath a blinding Klieg or two, alone. The set up sounds like a firing squad.
I’d like for the boundary between what is funny and what is poetry to be torn down or at least be outfitted with a glory hole. I feel there is one (a boundary, geez!). I feel it when I read a funny poem in a terribly lit, modular classroom and am met with unblinking eyes (and no laughs). Or when I read on an elevated stage at a fancy literary festival and hear only the groan of a chair (and no laughs). Maybe it’s because you’re not funny? Get a life. What I’m getting at is there is a set of expectations that surrounds poems and poetry. There is the expectation that the person in front of us is smart(er than us), that poetry is depressing, or worse, poignant, that it is a puzzle and so needs focus lest you miss a vital piece, that it requires silence to be shared. Not super into expectations, especially those. With all of that seriousness seething in the audience it’s a small wonder that I ever get a laugh at all, and I do, okay, so zip it. I feel it when I’m in the audience, too; when my laugh is the only one bashing itself to death against the stark white walls of the auditorium.
For the next three months, I’m going to write about funny poetry and funny poets. Shit, I might even share what I think are Alice Notley’s funniest poems and some of you will be like, WHAT? I had no idea! Yup. She can be hilarious if you let her. (Most things can.) So check back in, with fondness please, because what if really poetry isn’t funny and this is a huge failure.