“Clowns,” the first poem of Robbie Q. Telfer’s Spiking the Sucker Punch, sets up the major tension that runs throughout this collection of poetry and underscores something that most adults know but frequently forget: tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same whoopee cushion. In “Clowns,” this notion takes shape in a series of observations about the tragic lives (and deaths) of stand-up comedians like Phil Hartman and Bill Hicks, but the biggest joke of all, Telfer reports, is that it’s only human nature to go on (and on, and on, and on) despite all of the heartache: as a race, we are nothing if not tenacious.
Telfer’s love for comedy is apparent throughout the volume. His poems have titles like “Nine Portraits of a Bad Crook,” “Douchebag, or Pseudo-Feminist Hippie Douchebag,” and “My anus has a bucktoothed garden,” and they cover a wide range of issue, like how to avoid being raped by cavemen and using glow worms to teach children about Satan. What really makes his work so engaging, however, is that Telfer is more than just a jester — he’s a smart jester who speaks in the staccato rhythms of the postmodern, Wikipedia-informed world. He takes the trivia that we live and breathe and call a culture and weaves it into something new, so that when he calls you a douchebag, he’s also ready to let you know exactly what being a douchebag entails, historical context and all.
Given Telfer’s comedic bent, it’s not surprising that his collection is published by Write Bloody, a press that specializes in work by “tour-savvy” authors. Their poets are also performers, and so it’s only natural that Spiking the Sucker Punch reads at times like a transcript from a Lenny Bruce rant, while his performances, based on what I’ve seen on YouTube, are reminiscent of David Byrne:
All told, Spiking the Sucker Punch reveals Telfer as a smart, funny poet who understands, above all, that laughs never come cheap.