Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, March 11, 2012


When people say that poetry is dead they aren't referring to its production, which is at an all time high, nor do they mean poetry in toto. They mean that no one reads serious poetry. Humorous verse is still with us, as evident in glossies ranging from "Playboy" to "The Readers Digest". In fact, other than Dr. Seuss nursery rhymes, the only iconic poem of the last fifty years is that limerick about a man from Nantucket.

To be clear, humorous verse is metrical poetry, a subset of "light verse". As Billy Collins reminds us so many times, free verse humor sounds like clumsy, stuttering schtick.

Samuel Johnson once said that the pun is "the lowest form of humor". That sounds like a perfect demarcation line:

  • If you want anyone to read your poetry it must be at least as funny as a pun.

  • If you want your work to be ignored by everyone except friends whose work is being ignored by everyone else, your poem has to be no funnier than a play on words. Most poets today stay well below that line, preferring wit, allusion and the occasional double entendre. Clever, not funny, is their byword.

Before WWI, authors, including poets, toured the country as "entertainers". Part of their role was that of a standup comedian. Most poets today are the direct antithesis: shy, text-oriented, serious, sedentary. Few can tell an amusing anecdote at a party; writing and performing a knee-slapper at a gathering would be unthinkable.

Some examples:

  1. Talking with Woods on a Frosty Evening:

    This parody of "Stopping by Woods On A Snowy Evening" may be successful with poetry's existing audience, less so with others. You might be surprised and chagrined to discover how few young people know who Robert Frost was. Robert Frost, no less!

  2. The Evolution of Buffalo Wings: This one deals with adult themes.

    Watch more standup comedy. If you can't think of a joke, steal one (as this author did).

  3. Why the Queen missed Obama's Inauguration: This one comes with a Language Warning.

    Have you ever wondered why the Queen of England doesn't come to the inauguration ceremonies of U.S. Presidents? It can't be the 1776 thing; no one carries a grudge for 332 years. No, it must be a security problem with so many in the entourage. Imagine the Secret Service agents drawing lots to see who protects whom.

    "Damn, I got the one with the ears," complains the first agent, "and there's a stiff breeze. I'll have to spend the day making sure he doesn't fly off."

    Another guard looks at his pick, groans, and then offers: "I'll trade mine for Dumbo!"

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