The Rapidian

LaughFest event aims to inject humor into poetry reading

LaughFest will be hosting a humorous poetry reading at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters on March 13.

No Laughing Matter, but No Matter if You Laugh: Smuggling Humor into the Poetry Reading

What: A reading of humorous poetry by four regional authors: Susan Blackwell Ramsey, Rob Kenagy, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Amorak Huey.
When: 6:30 p.m. March 13
Where: The Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, 758 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. 
Cost: Fast Pass Event — free, with a suggested $5 donation. Fast Passes are available at the GRAM.
Info: The Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, LaughFest GR

LaughFest, Grand Rapids’ community-wide comedy festival, which touts its “seriously funny” line-up, will get a little more literary this year.

At 6:30 p.m. March 13, a poetry reading event will take place at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, a local literary nonprofit at 758 Wealthy St. SE. The GLCL is “purely a celebration of the book and the author,” GLCL President and Treasurer Roni Devlin said. Their mission is "to encourage, promote and celebrate the endeavors of writers within the Great Lakes Region," according to their website.

The Fast Pass event, No Laughing Matter, but No Matter if You Laugh: Smuggling Humor into the Poetry Reading, will feature four regional poets reading pieces that will tickle your funny bone.

“I think this is a new concept for LaughFest,” Devlin said. “We hadn’t imagined we’d be big enough for a LaughFest event.”

Devlin said the GLCL was given a great deal of freedom when choosing what type of event they’d like to host. They eventually landed on a poetry reading, and she approached Susan Blackwell Ramsey, an author from Kalamazoo who had read for the GLCL in the past. “(Her writing) made the audience laugh, and they really engaged in her reading,” Devlin said.

Rob Kenagy, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Amorak Huey also agreed to join in the presentation. The authors will be reading pieces by poets that they find funny, as well as their own work, Devlin said. 

When we think of poetry, we may not think “funny." This is a misconception Huey, a poet and a professor at Grand Valley State University, said events like this can help clear up. “It’s just kind of fun. I think it’s nice to take poetry to places, events that would be a surprise,” he said. “Because one of the key complaints that people have about poetry is that it’s not accessible.”

“I think poetry is a lot more accessible than people think it is. It’s not that hard to read a poem and get something out of it, but it doesn’t exist in places where people just normally live their everyday lives,” he said. “If there are a few people there who don’t normally think of poetry, and humor in poetry, as accessible, then it’s a chance to get in front of them.”

Though Huey hasn’t chosen specifically what he’ll be reading at the event, he mentioned that poets like David Kirby, Jason Bredle, and Bob Hickock tend to make him laugh.

“I think what’s important for me is that the humor not just be the whole point of the poem; I don’t want a poem to be a joke. It can use jokes, but it should be using the jokes as part of the poem,” he said. “So I’ll be choosing work that I think does that. It’s funny, and there’s laugh lines, and laugh moments, but also the poem makes you think or leaves you with something provocative.”

Huey said that there is a lot of humor in poetry, if you are willing to be open to it.

“There are lots of funny poems. We have this sort of moody, black turtleneck-wearing stereotype of the poet, but I think there’s humor all over the place in poetry, and I think people are surprised every single time,” he said.

Fast Pass events are free, with a suggested $5 “High Five” donation at the door. They secure a seat in the venue, and can be picked up at LaughFest Central at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Walk-ups also are welcome at the reading, but seating will be first-come, first-serve.

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