One of the most peculiar aspects of [spasmodic dysphonia] is that victims are typically unable to have conversations in their normal voice. Yet they can speak under different circumstances, such as just after sneezing or laughing, or in an exaggerated falsetto or baritone, or while reciting poetry…
–Rachel Konrad, “Hampered by rare syndrome, Dilbert cartoonist talks again” (Associated Press, Oct. 27, 2006)
I have always felt that much of the best poetry is funny. Who can read Hopkins’s “The Windhover,” for instance, and not feel welling up inside a kind of giddiness indistinguishable from the impulse to laugh? I suppose there has got to be some line where one might say about a poem, “That’s too much nonsense,” but I think it is a line worth tempting. I am sure that there is a giggly aquifer under poetry.
Right now I am thinking of something unlikely that I saw a few days ago, the morning after my town had experienced a major winter flood. In the middle of a residential street, a cast iron manhole cover was dancing in its iron collar, driven up three or four inches by such an excess of underground water that it balanced above the street, tipping and bobbing like a flower, producing an occasional bell-like chime as it touched against the metal ring. This has much to say about poetry.
For I do not want to suggest in any way that this aquifer under poetry is something silly or undangerous; it is great and a causer of every sort of damage. And I do not want to say either that the poem that prompts me to laughter is silly or light; no, it can be as heavy as a manhole cover, but it is forced up. You can see it would take an exquisite set of circumstances to ever get this right.
–Kay Ryan, “A Consideration of Poetry” (Poetry, May 2006)