Ha Ha

November 20, 2016

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]


Frank O’Hara


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




James Tate


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?’




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  • Reply martha zweig November 20, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Um, Ogden Nash. Really!

    • Reply sharonbryanpoet November 20, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      Absolutely. Any particular favorites?

      • Reply martha zweig December 1, 2016 at 6:02 pm

        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.


        The Centipede
        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.

        • Reply sharonbryanpoet December 1, 2016 at 8:32 pm

          I especially love the last two lines.

  • Reply DeWitt Henry November 20, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    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.”

    • Reply sharonbryanpoet November 21, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Thanks for this, DeWitt.

  • Reply Corey Mesler November 21, 2016 at 7:38 am

    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.”

  • Reply Frances J Donovan December 7, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    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
    wrecked bicycle.

    – Heather McHugh, from Hinge & Sign, p. 93

    • Reply sharonbryanpoet December 8, 2016 at 2:14 am

      Thanks for this and for the link to her reading–spectacular.

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