Modern poetry, at least according to the current consensus, is difficult and often depressing. But as Humor in Modern American Poetry shows, modern poetry is full of humorous moments, from comic verse published in popular magazines to the absurd juxtapositions of The Cantos. The essays in this collection show that humor is as essential to the serious work of William Carlos Williams as it is to the light verse of Phyllis McGinley. For the writers in this volume, the point of humor is not to provide comic relief, a brief counterpoint to the poem's more serious themes; humor is central to the poems' projects. These poets use humor to claim their own poetic authority; to re-define literary tradition; to show what audience they are writing for; to make political attacks; and, perhaps most surprisingly, to promote sympathy among their readers. The essays in this book include single-author studies, discussions of literary circles, and theories of form. Taken together, they help to begin a new conversation about modernist poetry, one that treats its lighthearted moments not as decorative but as substantive. Humor defines groups and marks social boundaries, but it also leads us to transgress those boundaries; it forges ties between the writer and the reader, blurs the line between public and private, and becomes a spur to self-awareness.
The eloquent and meticulously researched contributions are not only a joy to read but also expand our understanding of humor, ranging from sly reversals of convention to biting social satire and from assertions of superiority to joyful wordplay. * European Journal of American Studies * The essays focus on the different ways humor can connect, alienate, push boundaries, or demonstrate how a writer approaches a particular audience. * Poets & Writers * Humor in Modern American Poetry offers ample demonstration of what a conversation about humor can do ... the collection's multiplicity of voices itself acts as evidence for the book's emphasis on humor as interpersonal ... The volume ... lays out an extremely readable account of how humor has been explained over the centuries, up through recent critiques by feminist theorists of comedy like Helene Cixous and Regina Barreca. It would be an excellent overview for students new to studying humor and especially for those seeking a model of how to bring philosophy and literary studies together ... In addition to putting forward a wealth of perceptions and points of departure, the writers of these essays are also often quietly funny in their own prose. Trousdale's winningly straightforward prose itself has a sense of humor around its edges, as does Solomon's quip about 'comic metaphors' as 'epistemologically irresponsible' (39) or Hill's pointing out the elan in melange (94). And as is apt for a book about dialogue and other voices, there is the sheer array of good quotations ... Such references are pleasures in and of themselves, but they also attest to the energy of this book: in its breadth and imagination, Humor in Modern American Poetry helps span the gap between poetry and humor studies. -- Calista McRae * Studies in American Humor * The essays in this collection not only demonstrate how unexpectedly funny modern and contemporary American poetry can be, but persuasively show how humor is integral to the aesthetics and ethics of much 20th-century verse. Bolstered by consistently fine close readings, these essays invite one to rethink the priorities of key figures from Pound and Moore to Ashbery and Merrill, and refocus our attention on some writers, like Phyllis McGinley, who have largely been forgotten. In Rachel Trousdale's cogent and wide-ranging introduction, and in the best of these pieces, this collection begins to challenge some of our basic premises about how comedy itself works. A useful and provocative book. * David Rosen, Professor of English, Trinity College, USA * It is often said that the last sense we lose is our sense of humor. We certainly laugh before we speak. While theories of laughter date back to Plato, no one theory can account for its importance to us and our repeated failure to treat it seriously. This collection of essays makes a giant leap in the right direction. It analyses humor not as a side effect from the so-called main business of modernist poetics, but as one of modern poetry's most significant concerns. Importantly, it suggests that humor has an ethical and political dimension, encouraging modern poets (and readers of modern poetry) to escape, ridicule and reject what Rachel Trousdale in the introduction rightly calls 'the humorless, realist pressure to arrive at a single answer to complex questions.' * Jonathan Ellis, Reader in American Literature, University of Sheffield, UK * The ten essays cover a lot of ground ... In each case, the humor of the poetics challenges the philosophical and psychological assumptions about humor. The poetics of humor connects the individual, the interpersonal, and the collective, and serves as the basis of shared values, insight, and originality. The arrangement of the essays allows the reader to revisit a larger discussion of modern American poetry and its scope and range. The collection is also timely as it exposes the need for both humor and poetry in these humorless times. Summing Up: Recommended. * CHOICE *