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Having a Laugh with Poetry by Susan Lindsay

Article by Susan Lindsay ©.
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There’s a conversation on Linked In about the lack of comedy or light-heartedness in poetry at the moment. (Why does it seem poets are reluctant to whimsy and frivolity these days? Host Carol Glover). After several respondents had mentioned poems by authors who can make them laugh, or whose poetry might particularly fit the bill – Wendy Cope was mentioned first and I mentioned a quote from Kay Ryan from the interview I wrote up for the current issue of Skylight 47 – the instigator of the topic commented that she had been thinking more of the poems and writings being contributed to the Linked In conversation than of particular poets.

Susan LindsayPersonally, the more I want to write poems that would have the reader laugh, the more serious I seem to get. I wrote a very serious poem around the time of the last budget with the title Budgetary Care. I withdrew it from my manuscript for Fear Knot (Doire 2013) as I felt it would appear as too much of a rant in the context of the other poems selected. Interestingly though, it got a great laugh from a portion of the audience, when I read it at an evening organised by the Galway Rape Crisis Centre. I was pleased but very surprised. Maybe Michael Harding’s explanation for people laughing at dark things is the solution. He said, on the radio while talking about Staring At Lakes, that when he – or anyone – talks about their dark depths people recognise something they know in themselves and they laugh, with a certain sense of relieved recognition.

I was relieved myself when my audience laughed. I’d been afraid the material was too political, too much of what was clogging the airwaves at the time, but I’d included it because I’d thought that those who work tirelessly at the Rape Crisis Centre would appreciate it if I didn’t mince my words. It then transpired that those who work tirelessly at the RCC don’t necessarily want to continue that work by having to go to an event promoting the centre (which is more than fair enough in my opinion) so my audience was more connected with poetry once again, than social services.

‘Now that home help


forty minutes

to shower and wash

the incapacitated

and I can’t do that

in the whole of my health

shouldn’t they hold

a competition

for the best

home help?







There isn’t time

you must be

cost efficient’

These are two of the stanzas in the poem.  Sometimes we can only laugh at the seriously ridiculous solutions put in place by straight-faced policy makers with a total disregard for inevitable consequences.

Paul Durcan’s poems raise a laugh. My favourite is ….Golden Mothers Driving West (Life is a Dream Pub. Harvill Secker, London) He suspends disbelief with a narrative telling of his mother and two cronies driving west – escaping from confused memories and a nursing home. A child, deceived  into believing she saw angels jumping from the bridge as they dove to their end –reports her vision.  It’s a tragedy.  But one can only laugh – and with some embarrassment because he tells it so well you believe it could be true (or could it?) in which case you should not be laughing at the misfortunate end of his mother. But I realise I laugh, not at the three ladies but at the wonderful freedom, an imagined playful way out from the imprisonment of frailty and dementia – or alzheimers disease – that I fear. Laugh at the glorious last hurrah of courageous women taking their fortune into their own hands, then realise the truth is not to be found in the facts, or otherwise, but in an inspiring playful story.

In the Oranmore poetry reading group we decided to look at his poems after a member of the group wondered if there is any ‘amusing poetry’. At the end of the second evening on Durcan, one of the group best skilled  at analysing a poem in the context of the greater literature ( or Canon) was laughing so uncontrollably as she endeavoured to read us the end of a poem with a clever finale we decided the search for humour had been well met.

Wendy Cope spoke, at Cuirt International Literature Festival in Galway, a few years ago about the way in which her poetry is not treated seriously because it is whimsical and amusing. This is not an easy thing to do well but she does it exceptionally well.

If you want to write poems that will make your audience laugh, and the odd laugh is critical to the success of a poetry reading, then try doing what comedians do. Take a subject to its logical end and beyond to enter the kingdom of the absurd. There’s no better way of bringing home an uncomfortable truth if you can learn to do it well.

(c) Susan Lindsay

Susan Lindsay’s poetry books Fear Knot (2013) and Whispering the Secrets (2011) are published by Doire Press. She read for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series in 2011 and is a co-editor of the bi-annual poetry publication Skylight 47. She has read on radio and at festivals. Susan facilitates Conversations mediated by poetry and blogs at www.susanlindsayauthor.blogspot.com.

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