Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Emily Dickinson Does Children’s Birthday Parties (and more outrageous gossip about your favorite poets)

We live in a TMZ’d tabloid world. Not only do I know everyone Jennifer Aniston’s slept with, but I know on a scale of one to ten if she actually enjoyed it. I know that Mel Gibson had no idea his wife had breast implants, that Lindsey Lohan can’t figure out when a relationship has ended and I’ve seen Britney Spears' naughty bits up close and so many other things that have scorched my retina for life.  

Other than a few suicides here and there, some minor drinking problems and a few trips to the nuthouse, poets so far have flown under the radar when it comes to their personal lives. I have yet to see W.S. Merwin on the cover of US Weekly for wrecking his car on the PCH or Margaret Atwood’s panty lines being mocked on the pages of Star Magazine. Well, it’s my duty and honor to change all that.

For better or worse, poets deserve the same spotlight as everyone else. Like paparazzi in search of Brad and Angie on a rickety boat off the South of France, I’ve dug up a few tidbits you might not have known about some of your favorite poets. For instance, did you know...

In 1969 during a conversation with her publisher, Maya Angelou admitted she couldn’t be absolutely sure why the caged bird sings, but thought it might be the new organic birdseed she had recently purchased.

In 1922 Robert Frost took the road less traveled and got lost.


The Shaftsbury Vermont fire department spent twelve grueling hours searching for him. They eventually found him at Mrs. Hannah Whimmersby’s place about two miles away. She had plied him with warm whisky and a ham bone. The fire chief also noted her hair was unkempt and her skirt was unzipped.

Dorothy Parker may have been the wit of The Algonquin Roundtable but she rarely laughed. Except once when Robert Benchley asked her if she wanted to go make-out in the mens room. She laughed for several hours to which Mr. Benchley quipped “Seriously Dot, it wasn’t that funny.”

Frank O’Hara was said to have written ‘Lunch Poems’ during his lunch break while working at The Museum Of Modern Art. But according to Vlad Kippling, a hot dog vendor he frequented daily, they were much closer to dinner time poems.

Along with ‘Leaves Of Grass’, Walt Whitman also wrote several Motown hits for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

Robert Lowell had three legs, one of which was wooden. His daughter Amy said the third one was mostly for show.

ee cummings and A.A. Milne once refused to do a reading together.

T.S. Elliot’s original title for ‘The Waste Land’ was ‘People Aren’t Very Nice And We’re All Going To Die Soon So Don’t Bother Going To Church And Drink Up!”

Charles Bukowski toured the Midwest as an alto-soprano in a barber shop quartet called The Sing-a-lings.

Edgar Allan Poe slept with a night-light on. For obvious reasons.

Emily Dickinson enjoyed entertaining at children’s birthday parties. She was known for her realistic duck impersonations and a ventriloquist act with her dog Carlo whom she made appear to be reading her poems.

Sylvia Plath was voted both class clown and most flexible in her high school yearbook.

William Wadsworth Longfellow was actually only about five feet two inches.

In 1908 Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote a series of poems about jello while in prison. Most of them went unpublished except for “Jiggly, Jiggly, Jiggly, I’m In Hell” which was published in 1923.

Allen Ginsberg had a huge crush on Jack Kerouac. Jack Kerouac had a massive crush on Neal Cassady. William Burroughs had a huge crush on Ginsberg…wait, that’s all true.

Personally, I’ve always stuck to the old adage, ‘don’t do anything you can’t explain to the paramedics when they arrive.’ So far it’s served me well.

So far.

They’ll be here any minute.


  1. Inquiring minds want to know: did you make these up? I might abscond with some of them and want to know who to credit.

    BTW, I think it's probably true that Dorothy Parker rarely laughed -- or smiled. Her poems reveal a deeply miserable person. Unsurprisingly, she was my mother's favorite poet; I read "Braggart," one of her vengeful poems, at my mom's funeral.

  2. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

  3. one of the funniest things I've ever read!

  4. I heard that Lauri Anderson once put on a wig and stood in for Patti Smith when the latter was too wasted to do her show