Rhymes with Humor
Jeff Friedman, an acclaimed poet and a lecturer in creative writing at Keene State, is author of seven collections – and is known for the humor in his work. He calls himself a “poet, fabulist, and storyteller”; the poet Gerald Stern calls him “a great liar and an even greater comedian.” Friedman, whose course offerings includes a class on Writing Funny, says he began incorporating humor into his poems when he realized he was leaving a big part of his personality out of his writing.
Sometimes it’s more about being playful than being funny, he notes – about building a reality around something that couldn’t happen in the “real” world, as in the way Kafka’s masterpiece The Metamorphosis is shaped around the concept of a man turning into a giant bug.
Friedman’s prose poem “Chair” takes that approach: he’d been noticing how once healthy people begin to become hunched over and unhealthy looking after working long days in front of a computer. The result: this piece about a man who turns into a chair. What’s most funny about it, he says, is that the man’s wife doesn’t seem to mind.
When the man rises from a chair, after reading the newspaper, his body is shaped like a chair. Must be stiffness from sitting so long, he thinks, and stretches toward the ceiling, but his arms won’t reach and his lower half squats. He shouts for his wife to help him. She sweeps in from the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” she asks. “I’m shaped like a chair,” he says. “You’ve been hunching down like that for a while now,” she answers and sits on his lap. “And you’re very comfortable.” “I can’t go to work like this,” he says. “Why not?” she asks. “You sit all day. No one will notice, and besides you’re off for the week, so don’t worry.” She brushes her lips against his. She kisses his nubby cheek, purring. “Your upholstery is lovely,” she says. “It’s not funny,” he snaps and tries to get up, but his wife yawns and stretches her legs over his arms, settling in for a nice long nap.
– Jeff Friedman
Jeff Friedman reads his poem “Bear Fight”: