After attending a discussion at AWP about comedy in poetry, I ask: Who is fuming over our lost, "serious" art? (I have one former teacher in mind.) Why is humorous poetry not taken seriously? What is supposedly wrong with it?
One panelist suggested it is because we are modeled on the lyric, the Shakespeare, and so humorous poetry is not in the examples we are taught -- in the category of great poetry, we don't have any humorous examples of poetry. Another panelist made a joke about the girl with big breasts in high school - though I forget now the logic of his answer. (Is this because I didn't take his joke answer seriously? Actually, I think its logic is richer and more complex to transform into a serious direct memory than a straightforward answer would have been.)
The problem is there are imbeciles and egoists who skim too quickly the surface of a poem, see its humorous content, and fail to look any further -- fail to admit that humor is an emotion, humor is moving and expressive, and humor is largely intellectual. Even a quote from a previously linked
article in Contemporary Poetry Review
Poetry is capable of the most subtle perception and the most civilized thought, if only a poet takes himself and the art seriously enough to achieve them.
This quote could have come from the mouth of the aforementioned stodgy old white-haired white male former professor of mine. I would slightly alter this quote to say "Comedy in poetry is capable of the most subtle perception and the most civilized thought, if only a poet takes her role (though not necessarily herself) and the art seriously enough to achieve them."
In the large ballroom reading, Tony Hoagland
began with a joke: Isn't it amazing that we can fit so many people with such large inner lives into this one room?
Take yourself and your own large inner life too seriously and you fail to see the statement's humor -- but if you laugh, you're laughing at a most civilized, serious thought, as something inside you cringes a little.