Humor in poetry is the next topic of our journey through April–National Poetry Month. Many readers will think about Dr. Seuss, some of you may even remember Ogden Nash, and of course, Shel Silverstein comes to mind when people think about funny poems. But sometimes, there is a serious situation that comes wrapped in a poem–making it more easily digestible. I am offering a two poems for your pleasure from some authors you may or may not recognize. I hope you enjoy them! Perhaps you’ll even decide to share one as part of Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 21st.
Have you ever laughed about the wording of warnings? Here’s a poem for you!
A can of self-defense pepper spray says it may
irritate the eyes, while a bathroom heater says it’s
not to be used in bathrooms. I collect warnings
the way I used to collect philosophy quotes.
Wittgenstein’s There’s no such thing
as clear milk rubs shoulders with a box
of rat poison which has been found
to cause cancer in laboratory mice.
Levinas’ Language is a battering ram—
a sign that says the very fact of saying,
is as inscrutable as the laser pointer’s advice:
Do not look into laser with remaining eye.
Last week I boxed up the solemn row
of philosophy tomes and carted them down
to the used bookstore. The dolly read:
Not to be used to transport humans.
Did lawyers insist that the 13-inch wheel
on the wheelbarrow proclaim it’s
not intended for highway use? Or that the
Curling iron is for external use only?
Abram says that realists render material
to give the reader the illusion of the ordinary.
What would he make of Shin pads cannot protect
any part of the body they do not cover?
I load boxes of books onto the counter. Flip
to a yellow-highlighted passage in Aristotle:
Whiteness which lasts for a long time is no whiter
than whiteness which lasts only a day.
A.A.’ers talk about the blinding glare
of the obvious: Objects in the mirror
are actually behind you, Electric cattle prod
only to be used on animals, Warning: Knives are sharp.
What would I have done without: Remove infant
before folding for storage, Do not use hair dryer
while sleeping, Eating pet rocks may lead to broken
teeth, Do not use deodorant intimately?
Goodbye to all those sentences that sought
to puncture the illusory world-like the warning
on the polyester Halloween outfit for my son:
Batman costume will not enable you to fly.
“Warnings” by David Allen Sullivan from Strong-Armed Angels. ©
Here’s Collins reading the poem: Enjoy!
by Billy Collins
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the ‘L’ section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’