Poetry Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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Sir, I abide by your general rule
That every poet is a fool
But Sir you may not know it
Every fool is not a poet!

– Alexander Pope

Often written by failed accountants and people who claim to live on a higher plane than the rest of us, poetry is claimed by some to feed the soul. So if you find your soul rumbling in the early hours of the morning, why not try out a few verses of poetry?

Poetry has two major categories, that which rhymes and that which doesn't. Intellectual snobs prefer the non-rhyming kind because it apparently shows that the poet reached beyond the obvious form, attaining a lyricism of thought rather than words. The non-intellectual snobs, if they have any thought about it at all, prefer the stuff that rhymes because it is easier to remember.

There are, in the main, three subjects to choose from: Love, Death and Animals. If you can fit all three into your work, you will, technically, have a successful poem on your hands, but it is unlikely that you will ever be Poet Laureate.

To be a good poet you need a tortured soul. Many notable poets were repressed homosexuals, instigators of incestuous relationships and, in most cases, just downright odd. Success is directly proportional to the number of neuroses maintained, and it is important to die young (and preferably in another country such as Italy) if you want any lasting fame. The cause of death should be a sexually transmitted disease, or just 'mysterious circumstances'.

Chronology: A Short, Alternative Look at the History of Poetry

1. The Old Days - Early writers of poetry used rhymes and rhythms so that stories (which often lasted for hours) about heroes of the Trojan War, mighty Danish men who wrestle monsters, and pilgrims who journey across England could be easily remembered, by presenting them in an exciting, musical way. Here is a good quote from The Canterbury Tales:
Speak, sweete bride, I know nought where thou art
At this, Nicholas anoon let fly a fart
As great as it had been a thunderbolt

2. The Renaissance - In the 1500s, witty playboys like Philip Sidney wrote poems to seduce the wives of court nobles, by conveying to them the misery they were supposedly in. This is an example of applied poetry.

3. Shakespeare - Great stories cleverly told drew all kinds of excited people to the Globe Theatre, proving vastly more popular than alternate forms of entertainment such as throwing rocks at chained bears. William Shakespeare enjoyed considerable fame in his own lifetime.

4. The 1700s - Poetry begins to be taken very seriously by men such as Alexander Pope, who suffered poor health all his life, was four and a half feet tall and had a hunchback. He wrote The Rape of the Lock, a long work making fun of court ladies.

5. The Romantic Age - This era begins when Jean-Jacques Rousseau finds that he cries more than other people, especially in forests. Lots of people live off their parents' estates, have mistresses that are close relatives, wear their collars open, catch colds and die young.

6. Modern Poetry - TS Eliot goes into banking and is surprised that life is boring. He soon goes mad and writes the first poem to require dozens of footnotes. At this point,
Poems start to
break up randomly, which is
a shock at first, but soon
becomes pretty unstartling after

7. The Beat Movement - the Beat Generation was a small group of writers, based in New York or the San Francisco Bay Area. They were mostly connected to the publishing industry, gravitated towards small, cavernous jazz bars and had something of a taste for LSD. Jack Kerouac was credited with coining the term 'Beat Generation' in 1948. 'America, I've given you all and now I'm nothing!' declared Allen Ginsberg, a well-known writer of Beat Poetry.

8. These Days - Among others, wistful old people in New England and graduate students wasting away in small offices write poems about their lives and how they don't quite understand where they're going to or how they got to where they are.

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