In 1993, I took a left turn one day out of my MFA program and found myself at the National Poetry Slam in San Francisco. There I discovered several poets who were funny for the sake of being funny. Particularly Hal Sirowitz from New York (“don’t stick your arm out the window, mother said” and Matt Cook from Milwaukee (“it was easy to write the Great American Novel, back when there were only five American novels”) Both poets initially delighted me and confounded me: There are no similes, a voice in my head said. What would Tom Lux (my first teacher) say? the voice continued. Despite my resistance, I believe those poets gave me a kind of permission to explore humor a little more vigorously in my second book, The Forgiveness Parade (1998), for “I thought the word loin and the word lion were the same thing. I thought celibate was a kind of fish”. Perhaps in that book there were places where I was too vigorous in my pursuit: looking back there are a few poems that are just a little too jokey somehow, a little one-dimensional.
I am becoming aware of how some humor can set a roadblock for the poetic speaker, making it impossible for the speaker to get back to a serious place. And how some other (less frequent) uses of humor can leave that door open. I want to leave that door open