Is Poetry Funny?

Recently Brian Teare, my USF poetry instructor, challenged our workshop to think about the role of humor in poetry.  What did we find funny?  And did we put our humor into our poems?

As if by magic, my sister — the standup comedian — sent this joke:

“Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet.  He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath.  This made him … a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.”

Thanks, Sis!  I love the wordplay, the elaborate set-up and the irreverent treatment of a man that I admire greatly, as well as the juxtaposition of putting said great man into a joke whose rimshot depends on your familiarity with Mary Poppins.  (Julie Andrews singing to Gandhi as they stroll arm in arm through an animated scene of carousel horses and penguins–yay!)

Such absurdism appeals to me in a similar way that the Dadaists do.  The picture of Tristan Tzara wearing his “magic bishop’s” costume (shiny blue cylinder pants and a huge coat collar made of cardboard that he could “move like wings” by flapping his arms) while he recited his “new species of poetry, ‘verse without words'” at the Cafe Voltaire tickles me to no end.  Humor was one of the Dadaist’s way of breaking free of traditional poetry in order to create something new.

For the Dadaists, it wasn’t a movement that merely aspired to replace the movements that came before it, it was a movement that aspired not to be a movement at all.  As Tzara wrote in his Dada Manifesto in 1918:  “DADA–this is a word that throws up ideas so that they can be shot down.”

In Norma Cole’s Poetry International class, we practiced being Dadaists for a night.  First we wrote our own “verse without words” a la’ Tzara, then Chris (I think it was Chris) said, “We should read this out loud in the hallway!”  So, with much high spirits, we did–we went Dada Caroling, as it were.  (As Chris also put it.) Here’s a bit of my contribution:

Swi Tu Yaa
Shreee Tuv Il
Tako Muda Lar
Veri Veri Veri

As we neared the other end of the hallway, a man wearing a button down shirt and tie poked his head out of a door, put his finger to his lips and said, “SHHHHH!” much to our exhilaration.  “So,” Norma said, “You got a little taste of being a Dadaist.”  And with the same response as the Dadaists too!  Success!    🙂

Matthea Harvey had our Tin House Summer workshop write poems using titles based on headlines from The Weekly World News:  “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper.” Here’s one of mine:


It’s not their genitalia
We all find so shocking;
It’s where they’ve put
Their shiny new coins.

Ok people, it’s your turn–give me your best shot.  What do you think about humor in poetry?  And what is the funniest poem you know?