Category Archives: cats

Happy Birthday, T.S. Eliot!

T.S. Eliot 1888-1965

T.S. Eliot 1888-1965

Poet T.S. Eliot was born in Saint Louis 125 years ago today. He professed that  “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” His genius for making that immediate connection with readers earned him great success.

Complex, dense poetry doesn’t often garner widespread public popularity, but  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Wasteland certainly did.

In addition to his weighty works, he wrote some light children’s verses. The poems that made up his Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats were the basis for the musical Cats.

Here is a recording of Eliot (aka “Old Possum”) reciting an excerpt from that work:

While Eliot was fond of cats, four years ago it came to light––through the unpublished poem below––that he had a certain good-natured contempt for cows.

Cowscows

Of all the beasts that God allows
In England’s green and pleasant land,
I most of all dislike the Cows:
Their ways I do not understand.
It puzzles me why they should stare
At me, who am so innocent;
Their stupid gaze is hard to bear —
It’s positively truculent.
I’m very inconspicuous
And scarlet ties I never wear;
I’m not a London Transport Bus,
And yet at me they always stare.
You may reply, to fear a Cow
Is Cowardice the rustic scorns;
But still your reason must allow
That I am weak, and she has horns.
But most I am afraid when walking
With country dames in brogues and tweeds,
Who will persist in hearty talking
And stopping to discuss the breeds.
To country people Cows are mild,
And flee from any stick they throw;
But I’m a timid town bred child,
And all the cattle seem to know.
But when in fields alone I stroll,
Oh then in vain their horns are tossed,
In vain their bloodshot eyes they roll —
Of me they shall not make their boast.
Beyond the hedge or five-barred gate,
My sober wishes never stray;
In vain their prongs may lie in wait,
For I can always run away!
Or I can take sanctuary
In friendly oak or apple tree.

©The Estate of T. S. Eliot

Editor’s Chair: Humor Studies News

Tracy Wuster

Editor’s note:  Remember to check out the “Announcements” section above for updated CFP and other news of note.

I have been out of town a lot recently, so please excuse any irregular timing of posts.  But now I am back, gainfully employed, and ready for you to submit a post to publish here on “Humor in America.”  On what subject, you ask?  Well, if you would read the “Write for Us” section, you would find this:

Humor in America”  is a blog dedicated to the discussion of humor and humor studies in America.   Contributors are welcome to submit on any aspect of American Humor, broadly considered, although submissions are not guaranteed to be published.

We are interested in short articles (300-3000 words) focused on (but not limited to) the following areas:

*pedagogy of humor, including syllabi

*theory of humor

*recovery of sources/authors

*genre studies

*interviews with comedians, humor scholars, or other figures

*focused musings, thoughts, or polemics

*humorous writing

*responses to humor in popular culture, academic research, or any other venue that seems fertile

*movies/book reviews (apart from recent scholarly works)

But the main answer is, we are looking for good writing on humor.  If you have something you are thinking about, email me (Tracy) at wustert@gmail.com.

***Join us on Twitter: @HumorInAmerica.  We post all our new posts along with important articles and thoughts on humor and humor studies.

In other news in the world of Humor Studies:

***The American Humor Studies Association has a new website.  Soon, the name of the website will be “americanhumor.org,” but that switch has not taken place yet.  The site includes history, membership information, links to past conference panels, and other information.  If you have any comments, suggestions, additions, or concerns, please email the webmaster: Tracy Wuster (wustert@gmail.com).

American Humor Studies Association

***The AHSA web platform also includes a new site for “Studies in American Humor”: studiesinamericanhumor.org.  The website includes Table of Contents for Series 3 of the journal, from 1994-Present.  If you have TOC’s from Series 1 or 2 that you could send us as a text file or pdf, we would greatly appreciate it.  The AHSA also has a Facebook page.

***Speaking of Facebook, are you a fan of our page, or of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

***Speaking of Mark Twain, the Mark Twain Project is hiring.

***The Center for Mark Twain Studies has sent out information on next summer’s conference.  I know that many who attended the previous conference would testify that it was the best conference ever.  See our post on Hal Holbrook for video/audio of Mr. Holbrook telling stories on the site of Mark Twain’s study.  Here is the announcement:

We are just a year away from Elmira 2013: The Seventh International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies.  The Call for Papers has been posted on the web.  Google Elmira 2013 Call for Papers for information about submitting a Developed Abstract of 700 words — due Monday, February 4th, 2013.  Final papers must be suitable for a 20-minute presentation.  Please send your attached abstract, via electronic submission, to bsnedecor@elmira.edu.  Provide your name, mailing address, and email address.  Developed abstracts will be reviewed anonymously for acceptance by selected panel chairs.

We look forward to greeting you in Elmira on August 1 through 4, 2013.

***For more CFPs, please see our announcement section, or the conference announcement page of the AHSA webpage.  And since I am in charge of both, you can send me announcements and take care of both places.

***Birthdays below

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The Sound and the Furry: An Interview with Alfra Martini, Creator of The Kitten Covers

Alfra Martini is a musician, runs a record label, sells vintage posters, freelances as a designer, and – like Walter Benjamin’s famous Angel, but of Parody instead of History – may very well be there at the end of the internet. In other words, Alfra is also responsible for The Kitten Covers: a website which, if you have not seen it, is both exactly what it sounds like and exactly as cool as you think it is. Her “kittenized” album covers have since gone viral with good reason, about which she was kind enough to speak with Humor in America.

David B. Olsen: A common observation that seems to frame discussions of your work is that these images were kind of inevitable. Like it’s almost weird that it has taken us so long as a culture to add kittens to famous album covers. My favorite assessment of your work comes from a short piece in New York Magazine online: “It’s a new blog in which the subjects of iconic album covers are replaced with kittens. So, basically, that’s a wrap, Internet!” What combination of cosmic forces did it take, therefore, for The Kitten Covers to come about through you?

Alfra Martini: It’s funny that for some, The Kitten Covers seem to signify the end to the internet.  As if to say, all our advances in information sharing have culminated into this final point. Like the punchline to a long drawn out narrative, our ambitions for advanced global communication have produced this ultimate monstrous phenomenon: Rock n Roll Kittens!!  It’s like a kittenized Planet of the Apes moment where Charlton Heston freaks out realizing human technological progress has led to it’s destruction: “We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” Hahaha. Kittens Rule!

But the truth is anthropomorphism is as old as humanity itself and animal parodies have been used forever.  Also, parodying classic album art is nothing new to the internet. Sleeveface, Lego Albums, and Album Tacos had all been around before The Kitten Covers. And though I don’t spend a massive amount of time on the internet, I do run a record label (All Hands Electric) and am a musician myself. Pair that with my love of vinyl records, cover art, and music iconography in general, and throw in a dash of my graphic design interests… I had, of course, been exposed to these viral images in the past so had an idea of this type of humor.

But how The Kitten Covers came to being more specifically: I was staying home from my day job as a vintage poster dealer, recuperating from a cold and feeling a little restless in bed.  Lucky for me, I always have something to do for the record label, regardless of whether I can get out of bed or not, and as we are a very independent DIY outfit, I started researching alternative methods for record distribution on my laptop, i.e. checking out stores who might be interested in carrying our stuff. It’s not the most effective thing, but you have to start somewhere, and I wasn’t about to waste my time sneezing all day. Sifting through online catalog after catalog, well, you revisit some iconic album covers and, if you are like me, you get distracted by the graphic decisions and the exaggerated style of rock iconography.

It was then that a vision popped into my head: David Bowie as a kitten. I don’t know how or why. Perhaps it’s because I’m a huge Bowie fan and have an Aladdin Sane tote bag I use and see everyday – or perhaps it was because my little calico cat was sleeping at my feet, as she usually does when I’m in bed – or maybe it was the Theraflu – but it was a very clear image and the thought made me laugh.  The die was cast. I had to see it in real life.

In hindsight, the image speaks loads to the current state of things, but at the time I wasn’t thinking meme, or blog, lol cats, or body of work. I was just thinking David Bowie as a kitten… I must see David Bowie as a kitten. Could I do it? Did I have the photoshopping skills? I abandoned my “work task”, crawled out of bed, and started up the desktop. The rest is mainly just technical.

After it was done… I giggled. It looked pretty close to my initial vision. And I was thinking, maybe I should do another, so started on the New Order cover, which is such a serious looking image to start with and the idea of using a kitten… just seemed so absurd. And then came Nevermind, because how iconic and bizarre is that cover already? And what’s more ludicrous than a kitten swimming underwater? Theoretically they all seemed so ridiculous and yet endearing.  It was then that my boyfriend came home and saw what I was doing and was like: “WTF?? Are you okay? Do you have a fever or something?”  Haha. But he couldn’t deny the eeriness of the David Meowie and suggested that I do a few more and start a Tumblr page, as he heard it had been good for photo blogs. Honestly, I was just going to show a few friends to get a laugh… who knew that I was planning the demise of the internet? Heh.

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Laura Who? A Study of Lost Cats and Missing Persons

For reasons that are uninteresting and irrelevant, I recently had my photograph taken. I was kind of joking when I asked the photographer “Should I be causal or regular?” and only later realized that the question was much less funny than it was accurate: “casual” is not my default setting, but is something that I have learned to relentlessly effect in order to appear fit for human interaction. Which is to say that I worry a lot, and about everything. I am literally worrying now, because as the newest contributing editor to Humor in America – Visual Humor, check it – I would love to be writing a really stellar and memorable and job-keeping first post.

In lieu of a lengthy biography, then, let’s just say that the joke with which I most resonate is Woody Allen’s quip about his boyhood stint on a all-neurotic softball team: “I used to steal second base, and then feel guilty and go back.” (As a legendarily dreadful athlete in my youth, I should note that I’m lucky not to have had this particular problem, but you get the idea.)

I have decided, therefore, that instead of attempting to be causal here and not worry about it, I will try to funnel my constant companion into something useful for once: a kind of critical/confessional analysis of a rare moment when worriers of the world are afforded a little relief. I am referring to unlikely humor of phony “Lost Dog” and “Missing Person” fliers, which – while occasionally pretty funny – operate by exploiting our capacity for random and disinterested compassion.

Because when these signs are for real, it is hard for me to feel anything but hopelessness and defeat; I know that I will never heroically spot this cat/bird/daughter, and probably neither will whoever put up the sign. But when these fliers are a joke – which, as we’ll see, they sometimes are – I am torn between feeling relieved and riled, thankful and furious. Because at a distance, the phony lost/missing flier is no different from the real thing: a picture, a description, a local number to call with what I assume is a devastated child or graduate student on the other end. (I should note that at present I have two kittens, to whom I am still devoted despite their best efforts to forfeit the deposit on my apartment.) So to see, then, that this stapled and wind-warped flier is just a joke is to know that whatever helpless creature I thought was in peril is not, but that whoever took the time and effort to put up this flier has elicited a smile only at the expense of my initial sympathy.

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