Humour in poetry should be taken seriously



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Christina Thatcher, Cardiff Metropolitan University

As a child, I remember laughing out loud while reading Shel Silverstein’s poetry book A Light in the Attic (1981). I loved it so much that I started reciting the poem Skin Stealer every day, to the great annoyance of my little brother. Even now, these lines still come knocking:

This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

As a teenager, I was taught that poetry should be more serious. It was art – and art took itself seriously. Even now, poems designed to make us laugh are often dismissed as frivolous. This seems strange given that many of our earliest poems are comic ones. The limerick, for instance, is thought to have originated during the Middle Ages and has been used to great humorous effect by thousands, from Shakespeare to Roald Dahl.

Perhaps the crime here isn’t that funny poems have been sidelined in favour of serious ones, but that funny poems are not also considered to be serious. Humour, after all, has the power to disarm us and promote reflective thinking.

Although there are innumerable ways in which poets can be funny in their work, I have chosen pieces here which employ three different types of humour to demonstrate how poetry can make us both laugh and think.

Sexy humour

Sometimes called dirty, naughty, rude or cheeky, this type of humour works because it violates social norms. After all, it is not polite to talk about sex. But, poetry which pokes fun at bodies and desire is centuries old.

Poems in this category can range from titillating to obscene. But, beyond the tee-hees, these pieces can reveal deeper truths about sex and relationships. Take a look at the opening of The Did-You-Come-Yets of the Western World by Rita Ann Higgins:

Absurdist humour

Poets who use absurdity in their work tend to operate under the assumption that implausibility is essential to comedy. Absurd humour highlights the ridiculousness of life, pushing normally accepted realities to extremes to give the audience a fresh perspective. This can be seen in Luke Kennard’s darkly funny poem The Murderer, which opens:

In his correspondence with writer Paul McDonald, Kennard discussed how this poem works to reveal the shortcomings of both characters, opening up a chance for readers to reflect on moral relativism.

Satirical humour

Satire is an excellent way for poets to respond to social trends and current events. Often, this type of humour relies on ridicule and exaggeration to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices. Satirical poems play an important role when it comes to challenging political, cultural and aesthetic oppression. According to the poet Matthew Rohrer, satire is a tool by which the oppressed get to make fun of their oppressors.

Satirical poetry takes many forms but one of my personal favourites is the cento – a patchwork poem made up of words or phrases directly from the person at the butt of the joke. Rob Sears’ The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump does this brilliantly, particularly this piece:

There are, of course, huge swathes of humour that I haven’t even touched on here. For instance, surrealism, dark humour and observational humour can provoke important discussions, launch taboos into the light and straddle the fine line between “haha” and “oh no”.

Because humour is also highly personal, you may not find any of the poems I’ve chosen to be funny. To remedy this, I also asked poets on Twitter to share the pieces which made them laugh and, wow, did they deliver. In this thread alone, the power of humour in poetry is self-evident.The Conversation

Christina Thatcher, Creative Writing Lecturer, Cardiff Metropolitan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Article: Selections from the new edition of “How to Read a Book”


The link below is to an article featuring selections from ‘How to Read a Book,’ by pleated-jeans.

For more visit:
http://www.pleated-jeans.com/2012/09/17/how-to-read-a-book-the-book-10-pics/”>http://www.pleated-jeans.com/2012/09/17/how-to-read-a-book-the-book-10-pics/

Book Review: Killing Calvinism – How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside, by Greg Dutcher


Killing CalvinismI have started reading ‘Killing Calvinism – How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside,’ by Greg Dutcher. This book was released by Cruciform Press in June 2012, so I have been reading a new book for a change. Generally I read books that were written many years ago, often several centuries ago, so this was a bit unusual for me. It was however the title of the book, along with a review that I had read somewhere, that drew my attention to it and so I decided to buy it at Amazon in Kindle format.

So reading the book I quickly discovered that it was a very easy book to read, even though it dealt with a subject that was indeed crucial, timely and weighty. Calvinism is the behemoth of Christian theology, being a system of truth that epitomises the teaching of Scripture. It has produced great works of theology, some very technical and verbose in nature. Yet here was a book looking at this system of truth that was easy to read and speaking straight to the heart with great warmth and even humour (yes humour).

However, it would be a mistake to think that this book dealt with Calvinism in a detached manner, somehow separated from the adherent to it. Indeed, this book seeks to penetrate the hearts of the adherents of Calvinism and to strike at the heart of the matter. This is not a book that somehow produces a barren formalism, rather it smashes through formalism and seeks the real Calvinism, one that comes from the inner person regenerated by the spirit of God and transforms the lives of those that profess it. It is a living Calvinism that this book seeks and challenges everything else that claims to be Calvinism, but yet has nothing of its soul. This book is a clarion call for a Calvinism that ignited the hearts of a Calvin, of a Spurgeon and of a Bunyan and desires a turning away from all that is not. I love Calvinism – it leads me to God and the way of life he wishes me to lead and live. This book reminds me of this and for that I am thankful to Him for allowing me to read it. It is as Dutcher describes it, the windscreen of truth that allows me to see God and how he wants me to live for Him.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Calvinism-Perfectly-Theology-ebook/dp/B0088PBC5G

Changing the World: December 16 – Support the Clown Doctors


Today’s suggestion is about getting behind the ‘clown doctors.’ Who are these ‘doctors?’ These are the people who seek to bring humour to the depressing wards of hospitals, especially for children.

Clown Doctors – a good idea that helps kids in hospital.

For more information and how to help:

www.humourfoundation.com.au

 

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton