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Humor for the Poetic Mind

Updated on June 24, 2011

When people see the words "funny" and "poem" together, it calls to mind greeting cards and dirty limericks. It is possible, however, to create quality poetry that is also humorous. The biggest worry when trying to incorporate humor is being cliche. I suggest if you can't write anything but cliches, that you use them in a different manner that is typical. Cliches are useful because they instantly call forth an image in your reader's mind. Don't be afraid to make them work for you.

At the same time, originality is VERY crucial in any poem, more so even than in fiction writing because you have so much to pack into a short space. See my hub on Enabling Erato for more about that.

The best place to start when creating witty poetry is your own experiences. This is also your best hope for originality so it works out rather well. The first thing is to decide the direction your work is going to take. (Not its eventual destination as this will just stunt the creation process.)

Rhyme is one of the best tools a poet can use to generate jocularity. (Say that five times fast and tell me it isn't funny.) Be careful your use of rhyme isn't too predictable unless you need that to stay within the form of the poem. Slant rhyme is consonance on the final consonants of the words involved and is incredibly useful. For example, Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets, wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathersThat perches in the soul,And sings the tune without the words,And never stops at all Don't be tied down to the idea of "funny" either. Humor doesn't necessarily prevent a poem from being meaningful as you'll see here in Margaret Atwood's "Siren Song."

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can't remember.

Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?

I don't enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical

with these two faethery maniacs,
I don't enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

I've personally never been adept at being witty in my own scribbling, but I still periodically make the attempt. Things like:

Sold Down The River

with all due respect to hollow men, those booger-eaters

that drive away from gas pumps, slip

countless candy bars into purses and pockets,

never take the tab, and on the fourth

set off all those illegal rockets.

betrayal is not the sole property of action

but intent...

This poem is obviously not even close to finished, but I wanted to give you a rough draft of some of my own work for an example. I find that humor in poems usually comes in the vehicle of one of five different varieties:

  1. Sly or Sarcastic
  2. Obvious or Knee-Slapping
  3. Subtle (obvious without being obvious)
  4. Dry
  5. Witticisms (clever remarks that coincide with the circumstances)

Whatever your brand of funny, poetry's emotiveness can convey it to your readers. Remember, humor is universal and is unmatched in popularity.

Thoughts On Organized Religion

Yesterday, two young men in black and white

Knocked on my door, earnest and polite.

They offered (kindly) to save my soul

Excitedly, then, I replied

Just what was the value of a soul?

How do I spend mine?

Lease it out? Stocks to trade?

Do you have a soul-card?

What’s your interest rate?

I heard about a guy who sold his on e-bay.

“No way!” said they, and left in such a lurch,

That Sunday, curious, I took myself to church.

Pastor’s preachy preamble proclaimed

Vanity’s curse, and, seeing the congregation

An intense retinue of rolling rogation,

I had to concur.

“Amen!” yelled a sister in glasses (It’s the thing to do)

While nodding her blue-haired head up in the third pew.

The woman to the left of me can’t stay sitting down.

(Always leaping up, it’s as if she’s seated on a tack.)

And I think you’d agree if God were here he’d be as

Asleep as the fat guy in the back.

The usher shook it so hard in my face, I dug out

Fifty cents and dropped it in the plate

The offering went around one more time

(or maybe just a few)

So I collected on my investment

(that’s what good business people do)

And Glory be! Hallelujah! Religion Rocks! Hooray!

I’d recommend it to anyone!

I made forty bucks today!


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    • northweststarr profile image

      northweststarr 6 years ago from Washington State

      TY tom;) Will do...

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 6 years ago from home


      Dont sweat it- humor is like a well thrown hand rende thrown up a hill-

      sometimes it sticks up on te hill and goes bomm- haha and other times it rolls down the hill back at ya like your in a coyote and roadrunner cartoon- boom-

      just remember the "religeon hill" in this metaphor is steeper than most topicical hills...


    • Max Havlick profile image

      Max Havlick 6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Don't change the subject!

    • northweststarr profile image

      northweststarr 6 years ago from Washington State

      ok (sniff sniff) I now regret the comment I wrote on my other hub... Maxi, when did you get so sweet? *@%&! Stop breaking the rules!

      (Love you too.)

    • Max Havlick profile image

      Max Havlick 6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Pls, NW Starr, take it easy on yourself. Let criticism flow around you, like air gliding with increasing force around jet wings, to lift you to new gracefulness, new achievements, new horizons; and let it love you, by the way, like air swooshing into the jet engines, to give you new energy, new momentum, new forward thrust for your life journey.

      You don't "suck" at humor, NS Starr, you're not "totally cliche" at all. Knock it off! Impatience, yes, it's the occupational hazard of sincere, talented young people, but you have the drive, the courage to use even your A.D.D. to re-focus on NW Starr and E.D.: You're bored with average, so close off the two of you in your room for a little chat together long overdue.

      "Thghts on Org. Religion," aside from its awful preachy title (ironically implied), covers too much ground, a rambling anti-sermon, so to speak, but it contains at least 10 excellent image situations, each one of which you are able to turn into a first-rate poem.

      Isolate on a page just one of them you like, then open up your Emily Dickinson, like the poem on the Carriage of Death (I forget its exact title), and compare how deep she could stick just one basic image without trying to chase off rabbits in a hundred other directions.

      Then, NW Starr, show you understand your natural mentor Ms. D. by doing the same kind of thing expanding your own basic idea on your own page. Use secondary images only to support and explicate your primary image. Keep it short, keep it to the point, keep it trenchant, and make it an outstanding individual poem.

      America needs an outstanding woman poet, don't you agree? Why can it not be you? Now.

    • northweststarr profile image

      northweststarr 6 years ago from Washington State

      Ouch... still smoking from that burn. Absolutely agree with your @$$essment of "Religion." It's terrible. I suck at humor and am totally cliche when I try to do it. I do have a little A.D.D. in my poetry upon occasion. Do you find it hard to follow? I get bored when I stand in one mental place for too long. ;)

    • Max Havlick profile image

      Max Havlick 6 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

      Yes, Northwest Starr, writing funny poetry is not easy, which your examples here amply illustrate. For provoking a genuine laugh, it's mostly downhill after the Emily D. quote. "Religion" had a chance, but these observations have been public knowledge at least for centuries, and very little new concreteness (contrary to your own theories).

      Speaking of E.D., you may have that kind of ability, if you could focus it more and not wander the whole wide world so much in every poem. People have short attention spans, esp. when it comes to poetry, even more esp. when it comes to women's poetry. But you already know that. And E.D. apparently did as well.