Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Function of Humor in the Neighborhood

                                        —with a line from Louise Glück

Humor functions in the neighborhood as it functioned in the shtetl: the only way into a world insistent on your pain. Something you’d be shot for. If they want you to cry, tears are evasive; if they want you vulnerable, vulnerability’s a cop-out; if they want a confession, your confession is cheap. “When I speak passionately, / that’s when I’m least to be trusted.” A privilege to weep when to laugh is to choke on history. Oh diaspora: seventy-five years ago I’d be gassed beside my sisters, yet here I am, running out for milk in a heated car. Does a funnier joke exist? Yet there’s so many jokes in this neighborhood, that one barely gets a laugh.

                                                                    You’re telling us. 



Copyright © 2020 by Allison Pitinii Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wrote this poem in response to criticism that my work is ‘too funny to be taken seriously.’ I wanted to explain that I am writing in a Jewish tradition where nothing is more serious than humor. The italicized ‘response’ at the end of the poem is spoken by The Neighborhood Girls in my manuscript—a group of  Jewish girls in Northeast Ohio working in the aftermath of the 1972 GM Lordstown Strike. I wrote this poem while studying with Rebecca Gayle Howell. Like everyone who studies with her, I was transformed under her wisdom and care.”
Allison Pitinii Davis


Allison Pitinii Davis

Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017). She is a PhD Candidate in English and creative writing and is from the Youngstown, Ohio area.

Date Published: 2020-04-01

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