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Kevin Casper

BPR 48 | 2021

The very first thing I ever read by David Kirby was “I figure poetry is a way of beating the odds.” It’s the first sentence to his 1989 book, Writing Poetry, and it made me laugh out loud. Looking back, I realize there’s nothing funny about this sentence at all; it’s the declarative opening salvo in a pedagogical how-to book about writing. But, since I had been warned over and over that Kirby was funny as hell, perhaps I was poised—like a patron in some low-ceilinged comedy club, three drinks past the two-drink minimum—to laugh heartily at the first words to fall out of the headliner’s mouth. Or maybe this statement created within me a humorous incongruity, Kant’s notion that laughter arises “from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing,”1 as it brought to mind my many dear poet friends who, by their own insistence, might not categorize their journey in poetry as “beating the odds” so much as being beaten by the odds, repeatedly and with great force. But what actually happened, I came to realize, was that Kirby and I were sharing our first inside joke, for the very first words I ever jotted down about David Kirby upon accepting this assignment were “I’m taking a risk here coming to poetry as an outsider.” With me “taking risks” and Kirby “beating odds,” I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking our time together might be better spent talking action with the neighborhood bookie rather than talking aesthetics in a poetry journal. Readers of BPR might ultimately arrive at a similar conclusion.

1 Qtd. in John Morreall. The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor. Albany: SUNY Press, 1987.

Read the full essay in Birmingham Poetry Review 48, or download the PDF.