A Poetry Mixtape Edited by Nancy Jo Cullen
Nancy Jo's Liner Notes
I turn to humour for the pure joy of goofing around and burbling with laughter, for a moment of silly to lighten a mood or a day. And I turn to humour to diminish the power of the things that hurt me. The second kind of humour is less silly and more scathing; it’s not always easy, but it serves to remind me that certain things that seem unquestionable can still be wrong or unjust, and that pushing back with humour is not only right, it can also be fun. The great Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell in her song “Other People’s Parties” writes 'laughing and crying/you know it’s the same release'. For me, this has always been true – given the choice I’d rather laugh than cry and even in the lowest, bleakest moments of my life I’ve looked to humour for a relief from grief and loss and anger.
When humour is introduced into work that addresses difficult topics and feelings, it makes it easier to both deliver and receive the writer’s message. To build my mixtape I looked for poems that addressed challenging subject matter in a way that allows both the speaker of the poem and the reader to re-think, and even reclaim, troubling situations. I also looked to poems that were just fun because sometimes a good laugh (or even a little chuckle) is just as important as a political statement. Humour can be sharp, and humour can be silly.
I suppose the nature of humour is that it’s unique and not all of us will share the same sense of what’s funny. You may find that not every poem on my mixtape is to your taste but I hope you find something in this collection that allows you to explore how humour in poetry can be used to entertain readers and to question problematic thinking.
Recently I was listening to an interview with the US poet, Diane Seuss and she said something like, her work was best when she followed “her own quirky baloney.” When I was thinking of this list, I was thinking of writers who, like Seuss, follow their own quirky baloney.
I love this anthology and look forward to each year’s new iteration which introduces me to the new work of familiar and new-to-me poets.
I love everything about this book, and it deserved every accolade it received. I’ll read anything Billy-Ray Belcourt writes.
This is a debut collection by a queer author, and I really appreciated how deeply it was set within the physical experience of queer body that’s made sick by being in this world.
Kathryn Mockler is alarmed by the world but also very funny. This book plays sometimes surreal, sometimes bleak and often wry and fearless.
I am a big fan of Frank O’Hara’s poetry and I think this book is a great introduction to his work which is characterised by a personal tone and content. It’s very lively and engaged, in the world he was living in. He wrote in the 1950s and 60s yet his poems still feel very modern.
This is a great collection of poems that is blunt and sometimes very awkward. A lot of these poems are about desire and longing and about learning to love oneself. Heads up, this book has some mature content.
This book was published posthumously in 1991 and it’s out of print but you can often find it in your public library, or a second-hand bookstore and it’s been reprinted in The Collected Poems of Bronwen Wallace edited by Carolyn Smart. This is one of my favourite books. The back cover quotes Alice Munro, “These poems tore at my heart and made me happy…” Yes, same.
Readers can take a deep dive into poetry with Adam Sol. It’s a great book for people who want to think about reading poetry.
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
A very good, basic introduction to writing poetry.