Saturday, July 29, 2017

Prompt #286 – A Little Levity

Many years ago, long before email submissions, e-zines, and spell check, and long before I had any poems published in journals, I eagerly awaited the publication of a new journal that had accepted one of my poems. After months of waiting, the contributor’s copy arrived. Holding my breath, I tore open the envelope and thumbed through for my poem. Sure enough, the poem was there, but (horrors!) my name appeared as “Addle Kenney.” The misspelled last name was bad enough, but “Addle” (muddled, confused, befuddled, dazed, disoriented)? Years (and many misprints and typos later), I can laugh about that early experience and cheerfully acknowledge that these days "Addle" is sometimes spot on.

Having recently remembered that years-ago poetry story, I thought it might be fun to gather some amusing writing anecdotes and to post them here on the blog this summer. Accordingly, I invited several distinguished poet friends to participate, and their responses follow. Here’s hoping we can beat the heat with some laughter. Enjoy!

P.S. A related prompt for this week follows the anecdotes.


From Laura Boss
Award-Winning Poet, Teacher, Founding Editor/Publisher of Lips Magazine, Poetry Series Director, Dodge Foundation Poet

In July 1988, I was on a 10-day reading tour of Sicily to celebrate my book On the Edge of the Hudson winning an American Literary Translators Association Award. The other featured reader was Maria Mazziotti Gillan for her ALTA award winning Luce D'Inverno. It was an exhilarating and heady tour that combined numerous poetry venues as well as TV appearances throughout the country. Billboards like circus posters with our names greeted us, as did huge audiences in each city we visited—a heady experience for two American poets. But at Caltanisetta things changed. After our readings to a responsive audience, there was a question and answer period. I was startled and upset when one of the men in the audience angrily asked me if I took my last name “Boss” to dominate men. As calmly as I could, I responded that Boss was my former husband's name, the last name of my sons, and I had always written under the name “Laura Boss.” And although that man didn't seem convinced, at the reception that followed he asked me (despite his gold wedding band) if I'd like to go on a date with him. Even now, when Maria and I reminisce about our ALTA reading tour in Sicily, we always smile when we remember that male poet with his ironic sexist views.


From Edwin Romond
Award-winning Poet, Teacher, Dodge Foundation Poet, Playwright, Composer


I think all poets appreciate a generous, maybe even flattering introduction when they are giving a reading. My story is not about one of those! 

A few years ago I accepted an invitation to read at a PTA meeting and the host introduced me as follows: “None of Mr. Romond’s poems rhyme but some are still good.”


From Michael T. Young
Award-Winning Poet, NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Recipient, Blogger

Shortly after my first chapbook came out in the mid 90s, I moved to a new apartment and got a new telephone number. The first week I lived there my phone rang and someone at the other end asked, “Is Kate Light there?” I said, “No, but do you mean Kate Light, the poet?” He said, “Yes, I’m trying to sign up for her workshop.” I said, “Well, I know Kate and can get a message to her for you. My name is Michael Young.” The caller said, “Michael T. Young?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I saw your book at St. Marks Bookstore.” We had a good laugh and talked a little. He told me the phone number he had for Kate and it turned out her phone number was only one digit different from my new phone number. The man simply misdialed resulting in one of the oddest coincidences in my life.


From Catherine Doty
Award-winning Poet, Teacher, Artist/Cartoonist, Dodge Foundation Poet, NEA Fellowship Recipient

Many, many years ago my poem, “Home for a While,” became my first published piece. I was elated, of course, and when I held the journal at last, I flew through the pages searching for the poem that would change my life and, perhaps (youth speaking), the lives of my future fans. And there it was: “Home for a Whale.” 

According to Oscar Wilde: “A poet can survive anything but a misprint.”


From Tom Plante
Poet, Award-winning Editorial Writer, Public Information Writer/Editor, Founding Editor/Publisher Exit 13 Magazine, Fanwood (NJ) Arts Council Co-Director

Back in my Berkeley days (1973-86) when I was reading at lots of venues in the San Francisco Bay area, I interviewed Gregory Corso for the “Berkeley Barb” newspaper. In the interview, Gregory recalled advising the poet Bob Kaufman to be funny. "Thus his humor spared him," Corso said. I was scraping along in those days and thought I was making a dent in the scene. But it only took a visit to friends in Oregon to put things in perspective. My friend wrote a brief human interest story about my visit and submitted it to her weekly newspaper. The article appeared the day before my return trip to Berkeley. Somehow in the re-typing I became “Tome Plant, reporter for the Berkeley Barge.” 


From Donna Baier Stein
Award-winning Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer, Founding Publisher of Tiferet Journal, Workshop Leader

The first poem I ever published came out in an anthology called Kansas City Outloud, edited by John Ciardi. The poem is called "Easy Marks" and was written after I read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes

On a whim, I mailed the poem to Bradbury. Imagine my astonishment when I received a letter back from him. That letter still hangs, framed, in my office, decades later. He told me he was working on the movie that would soon be out (starring Jason Robards). The top 2/3 of his stationery was filled with an intricate, sci fi drawing. I thought for decades he had drawn it himself until I showed it to a friend who identified the work. Unfortunately I now can't remember who the artist was! But here's the picture. If anyone recognizes it, I'd love to be reminded.


From Bob Rosenbloom
Award-winning Poet, Poetry Series Director, Attorney, Former Stand Up Comic

Before I became a poet, I was a standup comic and wrote jokes, something that’s often felt in my poems. Here are a couple of those early writing experiences.

Paul Colby, the owner of The Other End, his successor club to The Bitter End, asked me to meet him to discuss the possibility of working as a house comic and developing a routine. He had seen me on his talent showcase. When I went to meet him, there were two other guys at the table. I was willing to wait but he motioned for me to sit with them. Those two guys were pitching a movie scene for him and didn't notice me at all. As it turned out, those two guys were Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, which I didn’t realize until halfway through my burger deluxe.

Joan Rivers bought unsolicited material, at ten dollars a joke. I went backstage after one of her shows to have her autograph her then current book. When I reached her in line, I told her she bought six of the twenty jokes I sent to her in three mailings. She asked me to tell one of the jokes. I did, and she said she didn't recognize it. 


From Deborah LaVeglia
Award-winning Poet, Workshop Leader, Long-time Director of Poetswednesday (the longest running poetry series in NJ)

I was talking to poets in the audience after a reading I did. I had commented on my body in one of the poems that I'd read. So, a young guy, in his early 20s, made a point of telling me how it annoyed him that women always write about their bodies in poems. Then he got up in the open and read a very long poem about his girlfriend's body. Haha! I wrote a poem about it. 

From Joe Weil
Poet, Musician, Professor at Binghamton University-SUNY, Appeared on Bill Moyer's PBS documentary, "Fooling With Words," Dodge Poet, Poetry Series Director, Journal Founder and Editor

A number of years ago, I was one of the Dodge poets at the East Brunswick Poetry Festival. This was maybe my second year as a Dodge poet in the schools. At that time, they bussed students in from the whole of Middlesex county, so there were a couple of hundred kids in the auditorium—maybe more—and I believe we were reading with Thomas Lux as headliner. It was my turn to go up on stage and read. Just prior to that moment, I'd been to the men's room. I guess I was in a hurry. I started reading my poem "Fists" and heard: "Psst, psst," an urgent hissing whispering sound coming from one of my fellow poets below me on stage. Instinct told me to look down. I'm short wasted and so I often buy longer shirts to tuck them in better. In this case, the shirt saved me from indecent exposure. At least a half a foot of green shirt was sticking out from my zipper. I looked down. I looked up. Lots of laughs. I turned my back to the audience, tucked myself in, and continued with the poem. I sold 28 books that day. I think it was the "ice skater falls but smiles and completes her routine" effect. Works every time.


From Maria Mazziotti Gillan
Award-Winning Poet, Founder/Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, founding editor of the Paterson Literary Review, director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY

When I think about the funny things that have happened to me in my life as a poet, I think one of the funniest things was also horrifying and painful. I'll let you judge.

In 2010 I went to the University of Rome to read my poems and I had a wonderful experience, warm and welcoming. My daughter came with me and we left Rome for Florence where I had two reading scheduled, one in the oldest reading series in Florence, so old they even had invitations on parchment paper. I was very excited and when we checked into the hotel, I decided I would take a shower. I admit that I never saw a shower that looked quite like that. It was in the middle of the room and the grab bars were on the walls, which were about 10 feet away! In order to reach them I would've needed to have very long arms. The shower had bifold doors, which only attached at the top. I stepped in and turned on the shower but in another second the showerhead fell off! When it did, it hit me on the head, and water sprayed the entire bathroom. My daughter called out from our room. "Mom there's water rushing out of the bathroom. What did you do?"

Though I'm short, I managed to shove the showerhead back on and turn the shower off. Unfortunately, the floor was marble so when I stepped out of the shower I slid across the room and landed on my face and shoulder. I didn't know a broken nose would result in so much blood, but it sure did, and I quickly realized I had broken my shoulder as well. My daughter called an ambulance and the EMT s arrived. They were two very thin and not very tall men who first asked me to get up. I informed them I was in too much pain—I could not move. They conferred in Italian. I suppose they thought that I could not understand them. I understood them perfectly as they commented on my weight, which they thought was unbelievably high. They finally went back to the ambulance and came back with a metal contraption that they could slide under me. It looked like a torture device. It had big metal teeth, and they slid one side under me and then the other side until two sets of teeth linked. The stretcher could not fit in the elevator as Italian elevators tend to be quite small. So, they proceeded to carry me down three flights of curving stairs, cursing the whole time over how heavy I was and having to stop every five or six steps to put me down. Every time they stopped the teeth of the stretcher caught my rear end, and I screamed.

By the time we got to the lobby, I had attracted quite an audience and, because I moaned and screamed, I saw people's faces looking at me in alarm. Since I was naked, I was very happy that my daughter had found a towel to throw over me and that the ambulance people tucked a blanket around me.

Once in the ambulance the two EMTs kept up their conversation about my weight, still oblivious to the fact that I understood every word they were saying. Finally, I told them but they kept on anyway. Apparently they didn't believe that I understood them but, then, one of the EMTs looked at me and took my hand and held it the rest of the way to the hospital, an act of kindness that managed for me to erase their conversation about my weight, which in retrospect was quite funny. It was like being caught in some Lou Costello movie full of pratfalls and misunderstandings.


This Week’s Prompt:

For your prompt this week, how about writing a funny poem. It may be based on something that happened to you or something you make up, and may be tongue-in-cheeky, absurd, witty, droll, or just plain goofy. Whether you go for guffaws or simple smiles, go for some fun.


1. You can build your poem around a story. For an amusing story poem, you might try telling something funny that happened to you. You can also write about a person (historical, sports, or family), place, thing or situation that’s humorous (for example, a funny-looking animal like the platypus, a particular food that you either love or dislike intensely, part of the human anatomy such as the funny bone or the nose, a crazy day at school or work, a dialogue with someone).

2. You might want to try a parody—a take-off on an already existing poem that you make humorous by keeping the form but changing the language.

3. You might enjoy including silly rhymes; sometimes, forced rhymes (like those Dr. Seuss created) are the funniest. You might even try a funny rap poem.

4. Try writing a limerick. Note: A limerick is a humorous poem consisting of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines only have to have five to seven syllables, and have to rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm. See example below.

          There was a young lady whose chin
          Resembled the point of a pin:
          So she had it made sharp,
          And purchased a harp,
          And played several tunes with her chin.

                                         —By Edward Lear

5. If a limerick doesn’t appeal to you, consider writing a funny haiku or other form poem (if you’re feeling really ambitious, you night even try a funny sonnet, sestina or villanelle). If you have a form in mind that you don’t know a lot about, you can always look the form up online and read some examples before writing.

6. A funny list poem can be enjoyable (and easy) to create. “Sick” by Shel Silverstein is a good example:

7. Try a humorous ode (for example, “Ode on a Dill Pickle”).

8. A witty prose poem might be fun to write (remember that a prose poem is written in paragraphs and isn't bound by lineation or stanzas).

Examples of Funny Poems by Famous Poets:


  1. LMAO! Apparently, being a poet is quite entertaining! What a great idea for a blog post (and you even included a related prompt). You put so much into this every week. Many thanks!

    1. Thanks so much, Jamie! I really enjoy doing the blog, and comments like yours are much appreciated.

  2. Loved these, Adele! I don't want to write a poem about it, but when I won the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the PSA, and was so excited to be going to the Awards Dinner, I got my program and saw that they'd spelled my name Penny Hater. Grrrr! Kind of funny now, but not so much then!

    Or there was the time a few poems I'd written when my daughter Nancy was a baby were published in Mothers Manual....line breaks totally obliterated. Whew!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Penny! From "Harter" to "Hater" — how disappointed you must have been. And, yes, not funny at the time but worth a laugh or too in retrospect. I think most of us have stories like yours and the other poets' to tell. Thanks again for commenting.

  3. Insanely ironic to think that some of the best and most serious poets in our area have had these experiences and can look back and laugh at them. I've heard all of these poets read over the years and next time I attend one of their readings, you know what I'll be thinking about (before they start reading, of course)! Thanks for this entertaining post.

    1. Thanks for your comment, John! So glad to hear that you've heard all the poets read!

  4. And I thought I was the only one who experienced typos and embarrassing poetry mishaps! Once, while leading a student workshop, I sat on a corner of the desk while the students were writing. Without looking down, I moved from the desk and didn't see that I was stepping right into the wastepaper basket. Yep, both feet, and there I stood while the students laughed. At least I managed to stay upright! Thanks for this entertaining post, and thanks to all the poets who shared their experiences.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Sandy, and for sharing your story! Sounds like something that would happen to me ...

  5. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)July 31, 2017 at 10:34 AM

    Very entertaining! It's fun to read about poets' humorous experiences

    1. Thank you for your comment, Amita! I'm happy to know that you enjoyed the post.