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Geist talked with Brett Popplewell (editor-in-chief) and Corina Milic (poetry editor) of Feathertale, an online magazine and annual review of their best work, to find out how poetry can be funny. Most literary publications shy away from comedy when it comes to poetry, but Feathertale goes for it like wild girls on spring break.
Geist.com: What is it that got you to start a humour-based literary magazine?
Brett: Feathertale started as an educational comic-book publisher. We were publishing comic books that were geared towards elementary school students about bullying and anti-bullying tactics, sort of a for youth by youth publication. About two years into that, we were in university and we, Lee Wilson and myself, had this idea to put together an old-school magazine that had a new vibe that captured the spirit of the independent literary movement that captured our attention; one that would, in a way, come across as the illegitimate love child of Mad Magazine and the old Saturday Evening Post.
G: Based on the poetry you publish, what makes a great humour poem?
Corina: Almost anything you wouldn't expect to read about in a poem, or anything you would expect to read about in a poem - turned on its head.
For example, I get a lot of poetry about farting. People tend to think gas is funny. It isn't always funny and the poems don't always make the editorial team laugh. But sometimes you do find a gem in the toilet bowl. One of my favourite poems, "Desiderata on Farting," is a good example of this.
More often though, the good poems are ones that don't rely on the usual stand-up comic gags and stereotypical jokes. A recent poem we published on the website, "On Break," is another worthwhile example. What makes me giggle is the last line, "... like I've been telling you about", which reveals the speaker comes up with these fantasy excuses all the time.
G: Do you receive a lot of unfunny poetry?
C: Yep. I have an angry little form letter which I would like to send out to these writers of unfunny poems but which never seems to get past my editor-in-chief.
Thank you for your submission to Feathertale.com. Unfortunately poetry that makes you want to slit your wrists is not funny and therefore inappropriate for our humour publication. Of course you would have known that if you had taken the time to peruse our site before dumping your entire body of work in our inbox. Thank you.
Corina Milic, Poetry Editor
Since working as poetry editor, I do admit I have widened my definition of funny. There are only so many limericks out there. I don't find many pieces that make me laugh out loud (when I do, I grab them). However, I do find a lot of dark humour, satire and general strangeness. Sometimes all it takes is a single turn of phrase to make me grin. More often, it is the poet's sharp uses of language and wit that make me accept his or her work.
G: What does your magazine bring to the Canadian landscape of poetry that no one else does?
C: Humour! We love beautiful flights of fancy and we love toilet humour - the best part about Feathertale is bringing the two together at long last. Poetry on Feathertale.com and in the Review allow for a pretty wide range of writing. We try not to limit poets to conventional forms. For example Chris Major has been featured in The Egregious. His poems are more like word pictures.
For unknown poets, getting these alternate forms published can be tough, especially when they focus more on making you laugh than winning literary awards. We offer them a venue and a voice.
G: You have these pieces of writing in your publication called “Monkey Banter,” which are hilariously absurd. How are these written?
Brett: They used to be written rather easily and now they’re written rather painfully. I started writing them in school, and a line would just come to me. Like the one we recently posted, “I don’t read Playboy in the shower for the articles;” a line will just come to me and another line will come along, and I’ll stream them together so that they don’t make sense. It’s not really poetry, it’s not really prose, it’s more a stream of consciousness (sounds of airplanes) – er, sorry, there is an airshow overhead. I think the planes are American, Blue Angels or something. They’re not rusting, so it’s not the Canadian Airforce.
G: So what would sum up the process for writing "Monkey Banter?"
B: Alcohol, Google and Wikipedia.
G: My fovourite Monkey Banter is “All old people are intrinsically racist.”
B: Which is a fact.
G: What’s your readership like?
B: Oddly enough, more Americans read Feathertale than Canadians. It’s like neck, and neck, but America reads us more. Google Analytics tells us we’re popular in all of the states except for Wyoming. We have not yet received a visitor from Wyoming.
G: They know not to go.
B: And they’re not welcome.
Feathertale Review is out on newsstands across Canada. You can read some of their poems, short stories and Monkey Banter at feathertale.com. Images courtesy Joel Relliquette/Feathertale.com and a very stationary monkey.