To be truly funny one often has to be bawdy, inappropriate, or “off-color,” qualities that are considered neither very “ladylike” nor “poetic.” But humor in poetry is another long, rich tradition that only relatively recently has been pooh-poohed and devalued, as if it’s not a serious or artistic endeavor. And yes, there’s also an expectation that a feminist woman shouldn’t risk seeming frivolous or dismissible by engaging in comedy—that’s often a self-directed expectation by feminists themselves. I take humor seriously though, and so do writers like Jennifer L. Knox, Nada Gordon, Sharon Mesmer, and many others. Comedians in other genres, from literary satirists and fictioneers to songwriters and stand-up artists, use humor to do “cultural work,” so why not poetry? We’re seeing an ivory-towerism at work there. Personally what I find funny generally has a darker undertone—humor works best under challenging circumstances. After all, laughter is a biological/physical stress-reliever and social lubricant, a natural response to fear, embarrassment, frustration, etc.
On Thursday, Jason Jones posted an interview with Jennifer L. Knox at Bookslut:
I’m interested in people who do and say stupid, insane or compulsive things, and finding respect for them despite that. I’m not interested in pointing out how wrong people are—-even the President-—it’s way too easy—-like watching Cops. Take the biggest yahoo on Dr. Phil and discover your common humanity. The dark side’s real, and it’s something to stand against. But nobody is all one thing. I was in a class with Gerald Stern who said that every human being-—unless they were raised in a cage or got kicked in the head-—has the standard set of feelings that everybody else has: hate, love, fear, loneliness, hunger, etc. He said, “Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian who loved his dogs. In other words, he was a man who cared deeply about the sanctity of life.”