Perhaps one of the most productive—and most revealing—ways of addressing humor is to gather the ideas of ten quite different writers, as this marvelous collection does. Taking this approach gets at the sprawling contradictions of comedy and allows perspectives to interact at countless points. Presenting a variety of ways of thinking about and writing about humor, these essays cover high modernists and light verse, formalists and objectivists; there are chapters on single poems and others that span several periods. When Rachel Trousdale, the book's editor, sums up its inevitable omissions as “invitations to join the conversation” (15), the phrase is genuinely apt: Humor in Modern American Poetry offers ample demonstration of what a conversation about humor can do.

In fact, the collection's multiplicity of voices itself acts as evidence for the book's emphasis on humor as interpersonal, as relating to “fellow-feeling and mutual understanding” (12); ideas of exchange and understanding,...

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