We sit in the third row of Bezanson Recital Hall. There’s a big grand piano on the stage but nobody is going to play tonight. Two poets are reading. One of them is Jim Tate, who has fourteen books of poems and 4 big prizes (Pulitzer, National Book Award, couple of others) to his name. His poetry is so different from anything else that he could be from another galaxy instead of from Kansas City. If you want a good laugh while you’re reading poetry, read some of his work. He’ll knock your socks off and curl your hair. You’ll never be the same again.
The first poet goes to the mike and reads his work for about half an hour. It’s OK. He’s young and handsome and probably a good person. He’s not from another galaxy. Somehow you can tell.
Then Jim Tate goes up to the stage, using a cane for stability. He seems frail but looks good for a sixty-two year old poet who has lived a full life and been given all those prizes for his wild poetry. The crowd of maybe a hundred gives him a standing ovation. Then he starts to read. Naturally people laugh. A guy on my left who tweezes his eyebrows beautifully is hysterical. My friend Bev is laughing at a steady pace, probably encouraged by the guy near her. Now the jokes are strange. One is about a couple who find out they’re having a baby but by the end of the poem, after the father imagines his wife is a piñata and he is going to have to break her open with a big stick to get all the goodies out, he realizes their lives are ruined by the baby who hasn’t arrived yet. That wasn’t one of the funny ones.
The one that gets the most laughs is about restless leg syndrome. The narrator has a restless leg but it doesn’t just shake, it runs around kicking things and causing quite a bit of trouble. He goes about as far into fantasyland with this motif as anyone could until the room is getting restless from laughing.
After, we go up to Jim and he signs our books. I’ve been buying his books for years and never got one signed. I regret not going to all his readings because the laughter is more than any stand-up comedian could get on a good night. He’s at least as funny as Robin Williams or Jackie Mason. He’s also a straight man. Never laughs himself.
Hope he doesn’t go back to his galaxy too soon. We need him.
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