Posts Tagged ‘humor

13
Aug
22

Introduction to the Sitcom Section of Redactions Issue 27: A Rough Draft

Welcome Back, Kotter

Below is a draft for the introduction of the sitcom-themed section of Redactions issue 27, which is due out in early summer 2023. I am posting it here to give people a better sense of what I am looking for in submissions for the sitcom issue. I hope you enjoy it, and if you are submitting, I hope it helps provide directions for my expectations.

For submission information, please visit: Redactions: Poetry & Poetics: Submissions and Ordering.

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Many of us grew up watching sitcoms. For some, it was a family bonding experience. For me, that was about the only time our family got along and were quiet. Also, for me, having returned to America from England midway through second grade, a sitcom allowed me to have something to talk about with fellow students in an attempt to make new friends.

Sitcoms are still a way to interact with others. Who hasn’t bonded with someone or someones by singing the theme song to The Brady Bunch, Cheers, or Gilligan’s Island? (According to critics the Gilligan’s Island theme song is the best theme song because it is catchy and because it informs the viewers of the situation and the characters they will soon encounter. It informs the viewers of the show’s premise.) For me, sitcoms were also a learning experience. My parents were quite distant, and I hated reading, but sitcoms taught me. The Fonz from Happy Days taught me ethics. Yes, the Fonz had a code. One Day at a Time and Alice taught me about the increasingly frequent situation of a single mother raising children. (Julia, however, was the first to cover this topic from 1968 to 1971, but I was unable to watch that show.) Welcome Back Kotter exposed me to a neighborhood of diverse students that I was unfamiliar with. Good Times showed me the life of a struggling black family, and The Jeffersons celebrated a wealthy black family and the mother (Louise “Weezy” Jefferson) who was uncomfortable with her wealth.

Sitcoms, especially in the early seasons of their run, tried to explore issues of the day. For instance, The Brady Bunch in season one tried to explore an increasingly common experience of two formerly married people with children remarrying, and the issues that arise when two families combine. After season one, the show slowly became ridiculous and a little absurd. All in the Family explored many topics, especially racism via Archie Bunker. Archie, though compassionate, would argue about many topics with his liberal son-in-law, Meathead. I usually thought Meathead won the arguments, but I had my doubts when he left Gloria for another woman. Archie and Meathead were so contentious that they even argued about how to put on socks and shoes. Kate and Allie proposed a new definition of what constitutes a family. Who’s the Boss challenged gender roles in adults as it presented the idea that a man could perform “woman” chores without the stigma of castration being present, and it presented gender fluidity in children. And The Golden Girls and Valerie (later Valerie’s Family and then The Hogan Family) addressed AIDS in unique ways that undermined the bigoted idea that AIDS could only be transferred via gay sex or drug addicts. All of this was important because sitcoms reached a large audience of people who were uninformed on these issues. As a result, the sitcom with its huge audiences had huge responsibilities. Sitcoms became an active learning experience. Sitcoms attempted to teach serious topics through a comedic approach, and I, like many others, was an avid student ready to learn without having to read.

No place was this more evident than in M*A*S*H. Robert Frost once said about the poem, “If it is with outer seriousness, it must be with inner humor. If it is with outer humor, it must be with inner seriousness. Neither one alone with the other under it will do.” I didn’t know this at the time, but I intuited this about M*A*S*H. Rather, I was shocked. I thought a sitcom was just supposed to be funny, but M*A*S*H was humorous on the outside and serious on the inside. This, in a sense, means sitcoms are more than just ha ha laughs. Sitcoms can be used to explore serious issues that one might not otherwise encounter, especially for me as a non-reader for about the first 19 years of my life. Sitcoms are tools that help the viewer explore . . .  at least in the early seasons, as noted above. Eventually, most sitcoms will jump the shark. Initially, however, they have serious goals: “If we happen to laugh hysterically along the way, all the better because humor has always been a successful way to look at our differences and find our commonality” (Robinson, 99). This is what I hoped this section would explore.

I find it challenging to write about a sitcom. One reason is that a sitcom seems so antithetical to poetry, and perhaps it is. However, many poets of my age have ingested sitcoms, and those television shows are part of them like real memories. The nostalgia plus the antithetical spirit creates the difficulty of writing a sitcom poem with integrity. M*A*S*H is important to me, but I can’t yet find a way to bring it or its characters into a poem. This might be true of all subjects, but tv and poetry have historically been judged at opposing ends. In this issue of Redactions, I hope the ends will meet. I hope when reading these poems, you will find humor outside and seriousness inside, or even seriousness outside and humor inside. Perhaps a bit of both. //

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Works Cited

Robinson, Mark A. Sitcommentary: Television Comedies that Changed America. Rowan & Littlefield, 2019.

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The Brady Bunch – Marcia

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Bewitched

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Taxi

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02
Oct
15

Quick Notes on Donald Justice

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.

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Donald JusticeDonald Justice (1925 – 2004) is an American poet who was a master of poetic form and technique. The Summer Anniversaries (1960) won the Lamont Poetry Prize, and Selected Poems (1979) won the Pulitzer Prize.

I am not sure how to approach writing about Donald Justice, as “his overall career denies easy categorization” (“Biography”). So I will trace his approach to the personal, and then provide a brief hypothesis based on that trace. Looking back on what I just read in Donald Justice: New and Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), especially the poems from 1960 (The Summer Anniversaries) through 1975 (Departures) is that reading Justice is like reading an outline of 20th century poetry through the 1970s, in style, form, and experimentation. In The Summer of Anniversaries, a 35-year-old Justice writes mostly metrical and formal poems, but it is hard to find Justice in these poems, except for a few poems that seem based on his life or from his life, such as “Sonnet to My Father,” “The Poet at Seven,” or “The Summer Anniversaries.” Most of the poems, however, are not like the more trendy personal poems of his time, where the poet inserts himself or herself more directly into the poem. Justice’s poems in this collection tend to observe, comment on, and/or inhabit another. In addition, his language is tight, but sometimes with inversions and some ornamentation, like poetry at the beginning of the 20th century.

In Night Light (1967), there is shift. In these poems, we more clearly encounter Justice’s larger themes of loneliness, despair, and lovelessness, which are all good material for Confessional poems that we might find in the poetry of his contemporaries, but his poems aren’t confessional. They aren’t confessional because, again, we don’t really see Justice in these poems, as he is still observing others, though less formally but with more humor. It is in this book that Justice appears like a Modernist poet and/or a New Critic poet. His language is controlled, tight, and straight forward. His images are grounded in the real and less ornamental, and the images are not acting as metaphors or allegories. The image is the image. In doing so, Justice gives us a depiction of a lonely person or a despairing person or some other person, which enables the reader to inhabit those spaces. Where a Confessional poet is personal and private, Justice gets into the personal and private of another, whether he should or should not. In addition, while he averts the personal and private, his language becomes more familiar. He uses less meter and form. His language and free verse poetry (though very precise) more closely aligns with his contemporaries. His language is more everyday and plainer. He abandons ornament, it seems, to present a real rendering over the “poetic” rendering. This enables Justice to get closer to the truth of his subject and/or sympathize and empathize more intimately with his subject. With all of that said, “Heart” might be a confessional poem.

     Heart, let us this once reason together.
     Thou art a child no longer. Only think
     What sport the neighbors have from us, not without cause.
     These nightly sulks, these clamorous demonstrations!
     Already they tell us thee a famous story.
     An antique, balding spectacle such as thou art,
     Affecting still that childish, engaging stammer
     With all the seedy innocence of an overripe pomegranate!
     Henceforth, let us conduct ourselves more becomingly!

     And still I hear thee, beating thy little fist
     Against the walls. My dear, have I not led thee,
     Dawn after streaky dawn, besotted, home?
     And still these threats to have off as before?
     From thee, how wouldst lose thyself in the next street?
     Go the, O my inseparable, this once more.
     Afterwards we will take thought for our good name.    (68)

A humorous confessional poem at that, with the antiquated language, apostrophes, and exclamation points. Perhaps it’s a parody.

Departures (1975) is another turning in Justice’s poetry, as these poems depart from the not very personal to the personal. And the final poem (at least the final poem in the selection from Departures), “Absences,” feels Deep Image personal, as it uses language, tone, and images that seem to come directly from Robert Bly’s poems.

     It’s snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
     There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
     Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
     Of a childhood piano – outside the window, palms!
     And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
     Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

     Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
     Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
     So much has fallen.
     And I, who have listened for a step
     All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
     Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
     On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers abounding.    (115)

When I finish this section of selected poems, I wonder if Justice always wanted to write the personal poem. If in fact he wasn’t a personal poet but doing it covertly and quietly through personae, such as in the poems “Men at Forty” (Night Light (1967), 76) – where he might be writing about himself at 40 through the third-person “they” – or “The Thin Man” (Night Light (1967), 78) – which uses the first-person “I,” which on first reading seems more like an objective “I,” but in reflection may be the personal “I” – or in “The Man Closing Up” ((Night Light (1967), 79-81), a poem that examines an isolated man without desire, who is depressed, and filled with anxiety and loneliness. The poem also uses metaphors and symbols which suggest emotions, unlike his typical realistic imagery.

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from Justice’s poetry is his ever varying style. As Dana Gioia says about the Selected Poems:

[It] reads almost like an anthology of the possibilities of contemporary poetry [. . .] There are sestinas, villanelles, and ballads rubbing shoulders with aleatory poems [composed using chance methods], surreal odes, and . . . free verse . . . A new technique is often developed, mastered, and exhausted in one unprecedented and unrepeatable poem. (“Biography”)

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Works Cited

Biography: Donald Justice.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. N.d. Web. 2 Oct. 10.

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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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The Oldest Stone in the World

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