Space, Time and Tone: The Power of Humor in Poetry

One of my personal obsessions in poetry (especially contemporary poetry), is the use of tone, most specifically, humor.  Quite a few contemporary poets are mixing tone and the use of white space within the line that not only creates a sense of time, but also allows the white space to serve on a functional level (such as punctuation or as stage direction).  For example, Beth Ann Fennelly has a delightful section in Unmentionables called kudzu chronicles.  In poem #4, she uses both tone and white space to capture a conversation about kudzu between the poet and her neighbor.  The tone is obviously one of humor, but Fennelly uses white space in two ways which support the tone and the essense of this short poem.  First, the lines of the poem have a great deal of white space that mimic the syntactial breaks in the conversation between the two speakers — as a reader, you know when these people are taking a breath.  Second, the the white space serves as the foundation for the punch line of the poem.  In short, Fennelly sets the reader up for a good laugh.  This is a poem that should be read aloud, following the obvious direction Fennelly is giving us — it is a poem I read often in my classes on humor, and it always brings laughter.  You can find the poem along with its mates here at Blackbird.

For those of you who live in the NC/north Georgia area, I am going to be teaching a class on the very topic above.  The first one will be Saturday, June 19th from 10 – 4.  The press release for the class below.  I encourage writers of all levels to sign up and attend, a least one laugh is guaranteed!

Meet for Fun and Poetry at Writers Circle (press release)
Learning should be fun, and for those who write poetry, consider taking the following class which is guaranteed to generate a laugh or two:  Space, Time and Tone: The Power of Humor in Contemporary Poetry.  Saturday, June 19, 10:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Participants in this class will discuss tone, and one of its most delightful incarnations: humor.  We will read poems that have an element of humor, discuss tone and its effect,  and how humor allows both the poet and the reader to move into traditionally uncomfortable places with ease. 
Writers of all levels are welcome.  The cost is $30 per person, handouts will be provided.  The class facilitator is Rosemary Royston.  Rosemary holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, and teaches classes at the Institute for Continuing Learning at Young Harris College.  Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in the following journals:  The Comstock Review, Literal Latte, Main Street Rag, and online at Dark Sky Magazine and Public Republic.  Rosemary recently won Literal Latte’s Food Verse Award contest, and was the recipient of both first and third place in poetry in the 2004 Porter Fleming Literary Awards.  The class will be held at Writers Circle, in Hayesville, NC.  For more information,  contact: Glenda Beall, 828-389-4441 or e-mail

2 thoughts on “Space, Time and Tone: The Power of Humor in Poetry

  1. Rosemary is a fine poet and a great teacher. Speaking as an erstwhile student of hers, I encourage participation in her classes, wherever they might be. She brings new ideas, poetic understanding and fun into your experience with her. She did not pay for this endorsement – it is my own.


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