I’m reading poems that make me laugh out loud. Since they’re poems, the laughter always has other layers and edges, of course, but the laughter comes first. If you have The Oxford Book of American Light Verse, take a look at William Cole’s “What a Friend We Have in Cheeses.” Two of the poets I always rely on for this are James Tate and Frank O’Hara. James Tate’s second book is titled The Oblivion Ha-Ha (you’ll want to look up ha-ha if you only know one meaning), and you can cheer yourself up just by reading through a list of his poems titles: “The Blue Booby,” “The Distant Orgasm,” “To my Great Great Etc. Uncle Patrick Henry,” The Hostile Philharmonic Orchestra,” “Nausea, Coincidence,” “Man with Wooden Leg Escapes Prison.” Or book titles: Hottentot Ossuary, Riven Doggeries, and a collaboration with Bill Knott: Are You Ready Mary Baker Eddy?”
Here are two poems that make me laugh. Please, please suggest others.
POEM [Lana Turner Has Collapsed]
Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
lana turner has collapsed!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
TEACHING THE APE TO WRITE POEMS
They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
‘You look like a god sitting there.
Why don’t you try writing something?’
Um, Ogden Nash. Really!
Absolutely. Any particular favorites?
I’ve evidently conflated
Perils of Thinking
A CENTIPEDE was happy quite,
Until a frog in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in the ditch 5
Considering how to run.
by Ogden Nash
I objurgate the centipede,
A bug we do not really need.
At sleepy-time he beats a path
Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
You always wallop where he’s not,
Or, if he is, he makes a spot.
I especially love the last two lines.
Sharon, Don’t miss the middle poems of John Skoyles’s INSIDE JOB, especcially “Spite Fence.” Likewise Bruce Bennett’s JUST ANOTHER DAY IN JUST OUR TOWN: POEMS NEW AND SELECTED 2000-2016 especially “ExCathedra,” “Writers and Marriage,” and “My Last Word.”
Thanks for this, DeWitt.
Tate never fails to make me laugh. ‘Teaching the Ape to Write Poems” is one of my favorites and I used to open my own poetry readings with it. Also this from his poem about doctors: “Who gets to see most naked people? Not poets.”
You introduced me to Heather McHugh’s word humor this year. It can be dry on the page, but the funny comes out when you hear her read in front of a crowd. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F2ylB0LpVM
Here’s one I like:
I don’t move
but the grass in the window
does an utter
smear campaign. The tree reverts
to wet green, and the irises
with a saliva of high shine
cast even the mud of what I can see
blue as a colorfast blood. I’m no longer
a man of distinction: a window fills
with resemblances, a face like mine, and evening’s
long damp beard like lawn. The paperboy appears
to wheel familiarly across my vision, trick
of doubles, only to leave
warped tracks. This is no news,
good news. I don’t move
in the dark. My wire-rimmed glasses
sprawl on the desk, either a bright
suggestion to the uncorrected
eye, or a small
– Heather McHugh, from Hinge & Sign, p. 93
Thanks for this and for the link to her reading–spectacular.