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12 July 2006

Poetry Thursday: Humor

Posting a little early for Poetry Thursday, but wanting to make sure it's up. This week's assignment was to share something about poetry and humor.

For me, this goes back to one of my earliest influences, Richard Brautigan. For my high school graduation, my favorite English teacher gave me a number of books of poetry, including Brautigan's Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork. She calibrated my sense of humor and my testoterone perfectly in making this selection, knowing that his work would trip my trigger. And it did for a number of years, and naturally, I wrote lots of Brautigan-lite lyrics. Here's one of those I wrote:

Writing a Poem at 6:00 a.m. While My Lover Fondles my Penis


I have two choices.

* * * *

Fortunately, I got over that soon enough, but I've always kept alive that little smart ass for my poetry. My favorite "humorous" poet is Denise Duhamel (and yes, she's one of my pals), and I've gone on and on about her elsewhere on my blog. What I adore about her humor is that it's not mean-spirited. Neither do her poems rely on a kind of smug cleverness that puts me off--that's why I can't stand Billy Collins. But I've ranted on him, too.

For a more substantial humorous poem, I'm sharing the following poem. It was triggered after I wrote Denise that I didn't win a grant, for which she had written me a recommendation. I put it rather goofily, and she asked if she could use that sentence for a title of a poem. I said only if I could write a poem with that title, too.

Here's mine:


Upon Hearing that My Grant Application Was Passed Over and the Winner Was a Bio-Tech Professor Who Has Designed Genetically-Altered Protein for Buckwheat Seed


Okay, call me Sylvia Plath. I wanted that award,
the crystal glass eagle, the pendant, the certificate,
the lapel pin, the thousand bucks, and the parking space
next to the university president's spot: the whole
platinum and sapphire tiara. I knew I should have
written that poem on the manipulations
of amino acid balance in buckwheat seed proteins.
I knew I should have named that new genetic
strand Omicron-Brockide-32, should have brokered
the patent rights to Monsanto, let them spread the seed
of my pumped-up, high-octane, drought-tolerant,
American-can-do-know-how buckwheat
to sub-Sahara Africa and southern Mongolia.

One year later, then, I would have written
the grant report, presented it to the committee
on PowerPoint, and finished off my presentation
with a streaming video clip, showing some adolescent
boy, from Gambia, say, and he would be eating
my buckwheat flat bread, and there he would be,
digitalized, smiling, full and muscular. Yes,
and at that moment, vindicated and wise,
teary-eyed and generous, the grant committee
would gather and lift me on their shoulders, laughing
and singing, joyful for all the corporate sponsorships that
would follow me and bless our humble home
institution. For me, dare I dream further confirmations?
O, to be Nationally Endowed, Guggenheimed, Nobelled!

Of course, in Gambia, and other geographies
beneath the sweep and hoozah of fellowships
and announcements in The Chronicle of Higher Education,
the newly nourished could be striking the flint
of their first syllables of their first poems, poems
whose phrases-under the most subdued of flames-would
coolly scorch and burn our best American intention.


* * * *

To read Denise's version, you can find it at Caffeine Destiny--just scroll down beyond my poem, and you'll read her take on it.

17 Comments:

At 8:49 AM, Blogger January said...

This reads like one of those poems that made you feel immensely satisfied after you wrote it. Actually, that's true of both poems! :)

I love that the sarcasm is all over this poem yet it doesn't go over the top. Oh, to be Guggenheimed! I could stand a little Pulitzering right about now!

Now I must read Denise's version.

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger twitches said...

Love it - sarcasm always works for me. And the first one - can't wait to show it to my husband. It'll crack him up, too. Great stuff, very funny, thanks for the laugh!

 
At 10:24 AM, Blogger kerrdelune said...

O, to be Nationally Endowed, Guggenheimed, Nobelled!

Sarcastic, but the imagery bubbles up like a fine foaming waterfall on a hot summer day. The poem rails and sings and dances, and everything is beautifully balanced - I love it, kudos to you!!!

 
At 10:33 AM, Anonymous VLAW said...

"the newly nourished could be striking the flint
of their first syllables of their first poems, poems
whose phrases-under the most subdued of flames-would
coolly scorch and burn our best American intention."

Lovely ending -- great contrasts, nice metaphor to close. Love "coolly scorch." Not sure you need "and burn." Nice work.

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Yes, it was amusing. I almost went into Adult Education... (and the infighting) I was saved by my disease LOL

 
At 1:39 PM, Blogger pepektheassassin said...

Oh my gosh! LMAO! I love this! I'm also ROTFL at your comments about word verification thingys.

 
At 1:49 PM, Blogger ecm said...

Great titles...I love a long title, especially for a funny poem

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger Jen Rouse said...

So you didn't get the spot next to the university president, huh? That tiara would have been nice too, I imagine.

Funny you mention Billy Collins and his smug cleverness today...that's what I do like about him, and I went on and on about it in my blog.

 
At 7:14 PM, Blogger jim said...

vlaw: Thanks for the suggestion--it makes the ending more crisp.

January: you don't know have the fun I had with composing the longer piece. One of those times when you just crack yourself up, and then your sweetie asks what is so funny, and you're too embarrassed to say, "me."

Jen: and yes, I must get over my Collins-distemper; it is a little out of whack.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Tammy said...

You are just a funny guy and I love your poetry and comments. The biggest laugh of the day came from your comment on word verification. It's so fipping true! LOL

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger ruby said...

this is fabulous! i absolutely love it! i find that i am especially fond of things that poke fun at academia these days...i guess grad school will do that to a person....

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger Ceebie said...

Jim: Geez, I guess I shoulda done those things too! Good tihng I'm selling my car so now I won't need that parking spot anyways :P

The strength of the images reminds us why biology needs narrative and poetry, to lift it out of the everyday.

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger inkspill said...

i agree with january, this poem reads like you were able to let every frustration out with this poem! great read! thanks for sharing.

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger vicci said...

Jim...great choice!!! but I must tell you...Richard Brautigan sure brought back lots of memories...what was the name of his book with the name "watermelon" in it???? That's the only word I can think of! Are you familiar with Lawrence Ferlingetti???? The teacher who introduced you to Richard Brautigan was probably an old hippie! Thanks for reading the cowboy poem today...Yeeee-Ha!!!!

 
At 12:14 AM, Blogger jim said...

Vicci:

Yes, Watermelon Sugar.

And yes, she was something of a hippie (this was way back in 1977)--she also gave me Sylvia Plath's Ariel, and Springsteen's Born to Run.

Oh, and small world about Ferlinghetti. His was the first "real" poetry reading I actually attended. Glad to see that he's still kicking.

About Brautigan, my admiration of him quickly deflated after I attended a reading of his around 1981: clearly burned out, and hitting on every co-ed. Sometimes it's better not to see any of your high school heroes.

 
At 2:20 AM, Blogger Catherine said...

I enjoyed both those poems, both yours and Denise's. I do like Billy Collins, but not unreservedly, I find it's best not to read too much at once. I think he keeps on pumping it out and it's not all up to the same standard.

 
At 3:27 PM, Blogger Deb R said...

It was really cool to read both your poem and Denise's and see a different take on the same subject. I liked them both a lot!

And your Brautigan-lite one made me laugh out loud.

 

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