About the Poems
by Aaron Belz
"Five Beginnings of Jokes" is one of a series of poems that explore the rhetorical context of joketelling--one of the greatest American narrative forms. The trick in these five is obviously to provide the set-ups and not the resolutions. There are other ways to deconstruct joketelling, such as to provide standalone punchlines. The entire project is reminiscent of a joke in which a man enters a prison to visit a friend. He arrives during an assembly at which various inmates are shouting out numbers--"49!" "61!" etc. These numbers cause varying degrees of laughter among the other inmates, and the visitor asks the guard what is going on. The guard says, "They have the jokes memorized; when they hear the number, they remember the joke and laugh." The visitor says, "Wow, that's amazing; may I try?" The guard introduces the man, and he thinks for a moment and then shouts, "77!" There is silence. After many seconds, there are a few laughs, then a few more, then the whole place collapses in laughter and applause. The guard, also laughing, explains, "Ah, that's a good one. They didn't get it at first."