CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 11 . . . . February 2, 2001
And God SaidJohn Wing Jr. may already be a name well known to many people because of his numerous appearances on the "Tonite Show" and other television vehicles or through his headlining in Canadian comedy clubs. But Wing is also a very talented poet whose pieces do what all good poetry should: entertain while giving us reflective insights into others, ourselves and our world. In his "Introduction" to this, his second book of poetry, Wing explains that
"[he] performed stand-up comedy on a club stage for the first time on June 30, 1980...I was twenty years old, and had harboured a dream of being a comedian most of these years. Growing up in small town Canada, it was hard to convince myself that such a thing was possible to even try, much less something at which one could make a living...In late 1983, I embarked on a road trip that began my fifteen year odyssey of road work...It is a life that few who don't experience will ever understand....You have more free time than anyone should ever be allowed, but it's ultimately quite punishing in its isolation and its temptations. I have tried here to give some understanding of my experience."
Wing has divided his poems into two distinct, but connected, parts. In the first, "The Comedian," he has 23 poems which are grouped into seven subsections of one to five poems, each separated by a page or so of prose which provides a broad context for the poetry which follows. It is in this section where the reader gets some insights into the life of a stand-up comic and what motivates him/her, positively and negatively, to enter and then remain in this occupation. The section's title comes from a poem by the same name while the collection's title is found in a poem entitled "Life Italicized" which speaks, in part, to the fact that comics have conquered what most individuals fear the most: "standing up and speaking in front of people." However, stand-up comics have replaced that fear with another, one that makes them special: "The fear we have of silence; of not being liked or even noticed."
The second section, "Nothing Like a Cactus," contains 28 poems, uninterrupted by prose, which largely treat the off-stage life of the stand-up as he deals with being a husband, father and "ordinary" person. However, the poems have to be read with the memories of the first section for the comic's behaviours in the "real" world remain influenced by his on-stage life. The section's title is rooted in the first stanza of "Desert Bloom":excerpt:
Love is nothing like a cactus
Wing can be forgiven his poetic license in "St. Boniface Cemetery Winnipeg, 1985," wherein he mistakenly places Riel's grave "by the snow-banked Assiniboine" when, in fact, it is adjacent to the Red River, (but then, in the white of Manitoba's winters, all rivers look alike).
Most of the poems bear a date of their writing, either 1998 or 1999, and the locale of their creation. The collection should become part of every high school English teacher's "working" collection where it can be judiciously mined for gems like "And God Said," (from which the excerpt was taken) or "Underachiever" which speaks strongly to today's headline news. And the entire volume should be quietly handed to the "class clown" who may be tomorrow's stand-up comic.
Father of a stand-up comic, Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.