But in my first book, there is a kind of retrograde dating manual, and in it, it sort of very much taken from the book that came out around that time called , which is basically about how to manipulate men into marrying you. You might feel offended by this suggestion and argue this will suppress your intelligence or vivacious personality. How come women say—this is going to get me in trouble. You should have like three or four recent jokes at your fingertips, just to flash your joke cards. In fact, Adrienne Brodeur, who is our wonderful co-director… It felt like this miracle came into my studio and allowed me to transcribe it. And there’s a kind of magnetic north—or norths, plural, if you will—that however the poem starts out, it usually starts gravitating toward these subjects.
And, in fact, I’m going to read a quote from the book, I’m just going to read it out loud, just because it sort of tells you. ‘When you’re with a man you like, be quiet and mysterious. You may feel that you won’t be able to be yourself. It’s a way of gaining some kind of control or domination sometimes. MB: You know one of the amazing things, and I know many of you probably know this, when you are writing really well, at least when I’m writing well—those few instances in my life—it doesn’t seem to come from you. I did a commission for Adrienne, for her magazine , and I would call Adrienne—I didn’t know her very well—I would call her and read her funny lines from the story. It didn’t feel like something that said I was funny or smart or anything. BC: Well I’m always looking for a reason to stop being funny so that the poem can have a more serious ending. You know it kind of, it ends with one of these large subjects. It’s almost an epistemological position, that you’re seeing things naturally in a skewed way.
And now, to really fast forward to the end of this, I think the place of humor in poetry—the fact that it’s been regained and reclaimed—is proven by an anthology that came out about three years ago called It’s an anthology of poets who are humorous but with serious intent. I was afraid to write, I was afraid to be serious about it, because I was afraid I’d never be any good. I didn’t realize that a blouse could be a poet’s name. I feel like it is in life like a way you get out of pain and break the power of gloom or something. a poem that uses humor in an intelligent way, or a strategic way, I should say. And it’s called [He reads the poem.] So, she makes you laugh with that big, broad, ‘Look at that big duck.’ It’s a laugh line.
And then I thought—and this is the way permission slips get handed from poet to poet—I thought, well then I could have a John Greenleaf Wittier t-shirt or socks or something. But it was actually in giving up that idea, of being somehow a ‘great writer,’ which meant becoming a different human being on the page, it was giving up that idea that actually allowed me to begin writing. BC: Well it’s true that literary aspirations, there’s nothing funny about them. Because behind it is the aspirational writer who is dead serious about success. BC: We know that the content of literature is misery, or poetry at least. But it’s the hinge point of the poem, where it moves into this very sad story of Lori. You laugh, you are opened by the laughter, and then you are very susceptible to receiving the story of this 27-year old girl at a dead-end in her life.
And this person was coming to the house to basically sit with the house and make sure there wasn’t a robbery. In some ways, I think humor and despair kind of can complement each other. I write constantly in a notebook and possibly that makes me remember things. In the story, I put him in he was twenty-one and I was twenty-one, and we worked together. Humor’s had a really terrible reputation over the last hundred and fifty years in the poetry written in English, and I’m just going to give you a ninety second history of humor in English poetry. In 1798 there was a meeting among the most romantic poets. And the deal was, one of them said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.
That swings naturally back to what I was saying before about the reputation of humor in poetry. Prior to that, there’s satire, there’s cleverness, but being personally sincere, actually writing down what you really, really feel, is relatively, historically relatively recent. I remember recently hearing him say something about, ‘You know everybody wants to know what happens when you die. There it is, and nothing was there, and that gives it a kind of unreality. And imitating somebody else is generally not a good idea, because you can only be a really good imitation of somebody else. So, it wasn’t until I read Phillip Larkin, for example.And Larkin taught me that you could be funny and deadly serious, darkly serious, and yet have this ironic edge. So then I was able to release it, for better or worse.And then to get to the poets I think are funny, there aren’t very many until the 50s and 60s really.When I was starting to write poetry, I mistook a couple things about poetry: (1) that it was hard to understand and (2) that the poet was miserable.