Friday, October 24, 2008

Humour In Poetry — Martin

Every emotion, any thing common to man, is within the range of poetry. Humour, however, has been something which often relegates a writer to the ranks of a lesser poet — the author of “light verse”. Poets through the years, from Edward Lear to Ogden Nash, may have well-known names, but are never sighted among the greats. That’s because poetry wants to be more than merely a laugh; it wants to leave the reader with something that lasts beyond the initial chuckle.

Laughter, if employed in the context of serious thought, often disarms listeners and leaves them open to what a poet’s saying. Consider the poetry of Billy Collins — the one-time Poet Laureate of the United States. He begins his poem “You, Reader” with:
“I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you...”
Collins often draws us into his poetry with his wit, and then draws us in further with his reflectiveness.

Christian poet, John Leax, in his most recent collection Tabloid News, wrote a series of fourteen long poems, each inspired by the absurd headlines he saw on supermarket tabloids. His titles include: “World’s Fattest Twins Arrested for Stealing World’s Fattest Cat” and “Duck Hunters Shoot Angel”. They leave you wanting to read more.

In my new poetry book Poiema (Wipf & Stock), humour is not a dominant element, but it does have its place. At recent poetry readings, I have found that poems the audience finds to be funny help break down the barriers between poet and audience. The following is an audience favourite:


Shopping carts flow like rain down & down
to the lowest point in the parking lot congregating
like sweltering cattle beneath the shade of a field’s only tree
Always park at the point of highest elevation at the A&P
or one may gore your car when they instinctively dart
in a chrome lightning flash a stampeding
grocery cart cloudburst (to inextricably intertwine
the metaphors) escaping from surprised seniors
who hadn’t expected such heart

It has no wish to be caught You’ve seen what happens
once a buggy roams beyond the confines of the supermarket lot
Do they climb to the top of the highest lookout
watching the skies like a prophet of the end times?
Do they repent & roll their way back to the grocery store?
The heart of a grocery cart is a wayward thing
seeking a ditch to wallow in
Shopping carts flow like rain down & down
into any convenient creek

It is here they fall into bad company becoming bent
& broken often losing a wheel rusting & falling apart
Is there no redemption for the prodigal shopping cart?
Might they not be washed clean washed downstream
into the nearest of the Great Lakes wheeling down
the St. Lawrence & out to sea? How great it would be
if they evaporated like ocean spray & were carried
to the clouds where they might once more fall
down & down upon parking lots as rain

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his new poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), and his chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed are available at


violet said...

Very clever. I'll never see a herd of grocery carts with the same eyes again.

The Sheepcat said...

Delightful, Don.

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