Prompted by a question raised by Sheffield-based poet Suzannah Evans on social media, I’ve been thinking about humour in poetry. One the responses to Suzannah’s prompt was from Sophie Herxheimer, who said, “It’s undermining when people think that ‘funny’ is interchangeable with ‘light’. Poems that contain humour lodge in my serious heart & amuse me through despair for all time.” Sophie is, of course, a master of dark humour herself – her 60 Lovers to Make and Do is one of my favourite reads. The late, great Tony Hoagland is another favourite practitioner of the art of combining suffering and wit. His posthumous collection Turn Up the Ocean is heartbreaking but laced with out-loud laughs. And Peter Sansom’s latest collection, Lanyard, is suffused with a very attractive gentle melancholy humour. My own response to Suzannah was that I love humour in poetry - reading it and writing it - all the different kinds from plain silly to bitterest bitter. I don't think you can be truly serious without embracing humour. One of my favourite of my own poems, which is ‘about’ what makes a poet, ends with a resounding dad joke of which I am very proud.
Peter Sansom's Lanyard (Carcanet) and Tony Hoagland's (posthumous) Turn Up the Ocean.