Courtesy Waywiser Press and Carnegie Mellon

Two Poets Demonstrate Very Different Approaches to Funny Poems

Cody Walker picks at our political present while Jason Whitmarsh picks at the everyday.

Funny poems are tough to pull off. I’m not talking here about poems with humor in them; almost every good poem has at least one funny thing smuggled inside it. No, I mean poems with punch lines, poems written to make readers laugh out loud. Those are very hard to get right; too often, funny poems veer into dad-joke territory. They try too hard, they screech too loud, and they flop gracelessly. Along the same lines, political poems are almost impossible to get right. Politicians wallow in clichés and current events, waterlogged as they are in the banality of the familiar, and tend to resist the spark of poetry.

So Cody Walker’s latest chapbook, a small collection of humorous political poems titled The Trumpiad, is an especially difficult sell. An incompetent president is a treacherous muse; Calvin Trillin published scads of comic poems about George W. Bush, and they were almost all vapid, obvious, and unfunny. But Walker does the impossible with The Trumpiad; he makes a book of funny political poems that’s worth reading.

The reason The Trumpiad works so well is its inventiveness. Walker fires out a spray of poems, in many different styles: anywhere from one to 50-something lines, both rhymed and unrhymed. (Yes, he rhymed “Trump” with “hump.” And “penis pump.” But really, how could you not?) It’s less a manifesto and more a constraint-based exercise, a kind of poetic version of 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould starring a narcissistic empty suit held up on a flimsy wire framework of lies.

Read the rest of this review in Seattle Weekly’s print edition or here at seattlereviewofbook.com. Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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