[ToC]

 

STILL LIFE OF LAUGHTER AS A BOWLFUL OF DENSE OBJECTS

Michael Lupi

 

 

The hammer in the laughter
and the knocking in the laughter
and the NOT-ME in the laughter:
the stone mountain in the laughter
and the NOT-ME in the laughter—

Cary Grant leaps over a hedge
as though it is a hurdle and on
the other side

plummets twenty feet
in terrified surprise—
crash lands,

gets up,
dusts himself off—

and there is laughter when
it's understood his pain and injury
aren't crippling.

 

 

        


 

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The poem had a number of sources, both in the theoretical and pop cultural realms. I thought it would be fun or at least informative to name a few considerations that fed it or were alternately present in my mind at the time of composition: 1) The connection between laughter & pain is a commonplace insight among standup comics, which brings me to 2), Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, who also did standup. A fictional version of him appeared in a draft of an earlier poem in which the phrase "knocking of the hammer in the laughter" also appeared, which formed the starting point of this poem. 3) Years ago I read an interview with Kurt Vonnegut in which he claimed Cary Grant jumping over a hedge and plummeting unexpectedly was one of the funniest gags he knew. 4) That gag itself comes from Bringing Up Baby, which also features Catherine Hepburn, a tamed leopard, a hunt for a missing Brontosaurus fossil, and numerous other oddities and hijinks. 5) In thinking the Cary Grant gag, I was reminded of some light reading I'd done in theories of humor, which have a long and unsurprisingly unfunny history, the main ideas of which you can find [here]. In thinking of those ideas, it occurred to me how the humor of many jokes or gags depends on their not happening to the person laughing, which leads me to 6) The use of the words "not-me" was drawn from reading I did years ago in DW Winnicott's Playing and Reality, a section of which discusses the developing infant's use of a "transitional object" in learning the difference between inner reality and outer. It's hard to articulate the exact connection of this material to the preceding sources, but I think there's something there.

Lastly: I don't know if the poem is actually funny or not. I think that depends on if you've seen Bringing Up Baby.