To enjoy successful figures of your chosen profession. I had the great opportunity last night to see Campbell McGrath and Mark Halliday read at the Folger Shakespeare Library downtown. These are two poets who enjoy rather great success in the public eye, both publishing several volumes of poems, as well as teaching at the university level. The subject of the reading was comedic poetry, and both writers read poems that had the audience laughing whole-heartedly. There were poems of a light nature, like McGrath’s Free Cheese, and more critically funny poems, such as his Benediction for the Savior of Orlando (a poem about the ubiquity and terror of Chuck E. Cheese) Mr. Halliday’s poems tended on irreverence for the daily doings of the academic poetry world, from the haplessness of poetry workshops (The Lost Glove) to daydreaming oneself out of board meetings (which I missed the title of).
Following the readings, the poets sat down to a short, mediated discussion on the intersection of comedy and poetry, focusing on the difference between stand-up and poetry. They touched on the role of slam/spoken word poetry, as well as the historic position of the poet of comedic societal commentator that comics so often occupy in our society. Both McGrath and Halliday brought up the absurdity of the current American culture, and the compounded absurdity of being a poet in it. McGrath went on to say that he rarely ever sets out to write a ‘funny’ poem, but rather finds that “the more serious a subject, the more I find that comic voice emerges” to paraphrase him. He also noted that most, if not all, humor “to be successful, needs to be self-effacing.” Halliday agreed with him, and added that “In any poem, what you want is a human truth…”
This reading certainly gave me a lot to think about as I continue my quest for bettering myself and reaching my goals.
One other thing that caught my attention was a question one of the audience members asked. In clarifying himself he wondered if “poems happen by mistake?” This is something for me to think more about.