There is a scene in the film Caddyshack in which a young girl casually tosses a Baby Ruth candy bar into a swimming pool full of frolicking caddys. The theme from Jaws begins, and the camera tracks the unfortunately shaped candy bar as it floats ominously through the pool. The reaction is what you'd expect—one of the swimmers spots the offending sight and screams "Doody! Doody!" Panic drives everyone in the pool away screaming.
And that's the problem with being a funny poet like Jennifer L. Knox. When you put humor into art some people are just going to see a floating turd.
Consider Frank Zappa. In the late sixties he put humor into the rock music just at the time it was reaching the peak of its bloated self importance. Everyone assumed his lyrics must have been some kind of drug induced, coded language—they weren't, Zappa was just being funny, and besides, he never touched drugs. When everyone figured out that he was being serious about joking, they pegged him as “that funny outsider guy". Decades of some of the most amazing and aurally sophisticated music and compositions the rock world would ever hear, did little to dissuade the casual listener that he was anything but a novelty act.
I don't think Knox suffers as much from the same kind of knee jerk categorizations from the poetry world. Poetry has always been more forgiving of its experimenters than rock will ever be—and Knox is just so good with language and timing that even if the humor might shock the reader, the pitch perfect quality of the writing always shines through.
Her poetry isn't always funny, and even when it is, the humor is of a tragic nature. Consider what Knox said about musician Randy Newman, another dropper of Baby Ruth’s into pools.
"Randy Newman showed me that the voices I love hearing most are the dark ones—the losers, the liars, the silver-tongued devils who aren’t fooling anyone, even themselves."
Most people confuse humor with joy. Happy people don't need comedy, because they don't need to laugh. There's a reason the Greeks iconically reduced all of theater into two masks—comedy and drama. Ever the fatalists and dualists, the Greeks knew that the important parts of life boils down to laughing and crying—and although there are two separate masks, they are both intended for only one face—yours.
That's what Knox’s work does, blends the comedy and drama, line by line, poem after poem.
Just as every kingdom needs its court jester to openly mock the king, art needs its Frank Zappa’s, Randy Newman’s, and Jennifer L. Knox's to drop the turd-shaped candy bar in the pool. Those who don't get it, (and never will) can run off screaming, while the rest of us sit back and laugh our asses off.
Junior Detective Adventures #19: Perplexed by a Porpoise—The hypothetical flap copy
"On a visit to Oceanland with Uncle Langley, Jimmy and Sue dive into a new mystery. The key to the auditorium has disappeared. Where could it be? Can they find it in time for the afternoon show? And what is that funny sound coming from behind the blue door? Use your own Super Sleuth Skills™ to help the Junior Detectives save the day."
Don’t miss these other books in the Junior Detective series:
Junior Detective Adventures #1: Meet the Junior Detectives
Junior Detective Adventures #2: A Ghost in the Attic
Junior Detective Adventures #3: The Missing Spelling Book
Junior Detective Adventures #4: Root Beer Floats
Junior Detective Adventures #5: Here Kitty Kitty!
Junior Detective Adventures #6: Follow That Dog!
Junior Detective Adventures #7: The Code Breakers Club
Junior Detective Adventures #8: Welcome Home, Uncle Langley
Junior Detective Adventures #9: The Secret Handshake
Junior Detective Adventures #10: Song of the Snake Charmer
Junior Detective Adventures #11: Let’s Set Sail
Junior Detective Adventures #12: The Beaver’s House
Junior Detective Adventures #13: Tick Tock Clock
Junior Detective Adventures #14: The Talking Bird
Junior Detective Adventures #15: Shadows in the Woods
Junior Detective Adventures #16: The Abominable Snowman
Junior Detective Adventures #17: Big Foot’s Footprints
Junior Detective Adventures #18: A Bicycle Bamboozle
About the Cover
Part of the fun of this blog, is that while I am familiar with work of the authors that I contact, I can never be sure what they will come up with. In my request email I always say that the proposal can be anything—A food writer can hypothetically write a book of poetry, or a fiction writer can do a non-fiction book about ecology.
Knowing Jennifer as the loosest of cannons, I had no idea what to expect—I thought it might be bird related (she loves birds). I definitely did not expect a Young Adult mystery series. Her Junior Detective Adventures series follows the crime solving siblings Jimmy and Sue, through a series of harrowing adventures. For this hypothetical series we focused on adventure #19—Perplexed by a Porpoise.
In my imagination I think the Junior Detective Adventures would read something like Nancy Drew as realized by, Hubert Selby Jr. in collaboration with Andy Kaufman, and edited by David Lynch. In other words, like all good YA books, they would teach the kids of today the values and skills they will need to navigate the 21st century.
For the cover art, I tapped the considerable talents of painter Elizabeth Zechel. Elizabeth has done art for several book covers in the past, as well as her own amazing paintings. Elizabeth's work is gorgeous, and can be seen here. She has this wonderful ability to combine dichotomous imagery in a way that makes sense of things, that shouldn't make any sense at all. It works the same way good poetry works, so the combination of Jennifer and Elizabeth was perfect.
It should be noted that the cover art was rendered in color pencil rather than paint, because at the time she was 8 months pregnant. Oil paint is bad for anyone to be around, but when you're pregnant, doubly so. I am very happy to announce that since we started this project Elizabeth's baby Charlie has since entered the world, and is an adorable little peanut.
What Elizabeth may not realize is that in receiving the name Charlie, he is entitled to a whole world of benefits that you non-Charlies will never know about (Elizabeth, be sure to ask "The Counsel of Charlies" about the rent free villa in Tuscany). Even my dad—a "Chuck"—has no idea what he's missing out on. Congratulations Elizabeth!
Jennifer's website, "Take Off Your Pants and Relax" can be viewed here. You can buy her amazingly hilarious Drunk By Noon here , and A Gringo Like Me here, and coming this Fall her new collection of poems The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway. I was going to put the cover image in this posting but the lazy designer (me) hasn't finished it yet. All of these tomes can be found at Bloof Books.