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The Best Celebrity Poets
The Worst Celebrity Poets

Who were the best poets among famous people not generally thought of as poets? Who were the worst celebrity poets? The answers may surprise you ...

The Top Ten Celebrity Poets of All Time

Benjamin Franklin
Abraham Lincoln
Marilyn Monroe
Ronald Reagan
Pope John Paul II
Leonard Nimoy
Jimmy Carter
James Stewart
King David and his son, King Solomon (tie)
Queen Elizabeth I

Honorable (and Dishonorable) Mention: Muhammed Ali, Pamela Anderson, Jennifer Anniston, Ashanti, Tim Burton, Billy Corgan, Russell Crowe, Bob Dylan, James Franco, Henry VIII, James I, Thomas Jefferson, Jewel, Alicia Keys, Michael Madsen, Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Viggo Mortensen, Kate Moss, Rosie O'Donnell, Jill Scott, Tupac Shakur, Ally Sheedy, Charlie Sheen, Paul Simon, Suzanne Sommers, Britney Spears, Kristen Stewart, Amber Tamblyn, Jeff Tweedy, Herschel Walker

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Benjamin Franklin was an accomplished poet who wrote a number of memorable rhyming epigrams:

Little strokes
fell great oaks.

Plough deep
while sluggards sleep.

Vessels large may venture more,
but little boats should keep near shore.

He that goes a-borrowing
goes a-sorrowing.

Early to bed,
early to rise,
makes a man healthy,
wealthy
and wise.

Abraham Lincoln was also an accomplished poet. In a small catalog of poems he managed to sound at times like Emily Dickinson, Edgar Alan Poe, John Clare and Robert Herrick. Dennis Hanks, a relative of Lincoln's, said: "He was always reading—scribbling—writing—ciphering—writing Poetry." Here are excerpts from Lincoln's poems:

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.
—Abraham Lincoln, "My Childhood Home I See Again"

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.
Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.
—Abraham Lincoln, "The Suicide’s Soliloquy"

And furious now, the dogs he tears,
    And crushes in his ire,
Wheels right and left, and upward rears,
    With eyes of burning fire.
But leaden death is at his heart,
    Vain all the strength he plies.
And, spouting blood from every part,
    He reels, and sinks, and dies.
—Abraham Lincoln, "The Bear Hunt"

You are young, and I am older;
    You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
    Pluck the roses ere they rot.
—Abraham Lincoln, "To Rosa"

Lincoln was no prude. In fact, he may have written the first popular American poem about a gay marriage. His ribald doggerel was "known better than the Bible" in southern Indiana, circa 1860. In "The Chronicles of Reuben," Lincoln wrote about Billy Grigsby, who was turned down by a girl he wooed, who told him "your low crotch proclaims you a botch," and so ended up with a male lover, Natty.

Albert Einstein was undoubtedly a poet at heart, and a mystical, romantic poet at that. The poetry of Albert Einstein is another aspect of his genius. The following are quotations of Einstein's that I turned into poems, changing a word here and there for the sake of meter and rhyme, while preserving the reason.Michael R. Burch

Solitude is painful
when one is young,
but delightful
when one is more mature.
I live in that solitude
which was painful in my youth,
but seems delicious now,
in the years of my maturity.

All these primary impulses,
not easily described in words,
are the springboards
of man's actions
because
any man who can drive safely
while kissing a pretty girl
is simply not giving the kiss
the attention it deserves!

Oh, it should be possible
to explain the laws of physics
to a barmaid! . . .
but how could she ever explain,
in a million years,
love to an Einstein?

Now it gives me great pleasure, indeed,
to see the stubbornness
of an incorrigible nonconformist
so warmly acclaimed . . .
and yet it seems vastly strange
to be known so universally
and yet be so lonely.

But heroism on command,
senseless violence,
and all the loathsome nonsense
that goes by the name of patriotism:
how passionately I hate them!
Perfection of means
and confusion of ends
seem to characterize our age
and it has become appallingly obvious
that our technology
has exceeded our humanity,
that technological progress
is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal,
and that the attempt to combine wisdom and power
has only rarely been successful
and then only for a short while.

It is my conviction
that killing under the cloak of war
is nothing but an act of murder.
(I do not know what weapons
World War III will be fought with,
but World War IV will be fought
with sticks and stones.)

Our task must be to free ourselves
by widening our circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures
and the whole of nature and its beauty.
And peace cannot be kept by force;
it can only be achieved by understanding.

Few are those
who see
with their own eyes,
and feel
with their own hearts,
and think
with their own minds . . .
and he who can no longer pause
to wonder
and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead;
his eyes are closed.

Learn from yesterday,
live for today,
hope for tomorrow.
The important thing is never
to stop questioning.
Never lose a holy curiosity.

Reality is merely an illusion,
albeit a very persistent one.

Only two things are infinite,
the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former.

Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.

Do I believe in immortality?
No, and one life is more than enough for me!

Ronald Reagan was yet another accomplished poet, as we can clearly see as he recalls a scene from his childhood:

The best part was that I was allowed to dream.
Many the day I spent deep in a huge rocker
in the mystic atmosphere
of Aunt Emma's living room
with its horsehair-stuffed gargoyles of furniture,
its shawls and antimacassars,
globes of glass over birds and flowers,
books and strange odors;
many the day I remained hidden
in a corner downstairs
in Uncle Jim's jewelry shop
with its curious relics,
faint lights from gold and silver and bronze,
lulled by the erratic ticking of a dozen clocks.


Here's a poem written by Reagan while he was still in high school:

Our troubles break and drench us.
Like spray on the cleaving prow
Of some trim Gloucester schooner.
As it dips in a graceful bow ...
But why does sorrow drench us
When our fellow passes on?
He's just exchanged life's dreary dirge
For an eternal life of song.

— From "Life" by Ronald Reagan, age 17

Isn't it just like Ronald Reagan, the eternal optimist with the sunny smile and the can-do attitude, to see death as a passage into an "eternal life of song"? And these equally sunny words appeared next to his high school yearbook picture:

Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.

Karol Jozef Wojtyla was an unknown Polish poet long before he became known to the world as Pope John Paul II. Some of the poems below were written when he was in his twenties. Others were written while he was a parish priest and auxiliary bishop of Kraków, during which time his work appeared in Polish journals under the pseudonym Andrzej Jawien. His poetry was later collected and published in The Place Within — The Poetry of Pope John Paul II, with translations and notes by Jerzy Peterkiewicz.

"From dust you came, and to dust you shall return";
What had shape is now shapeless.
What was alive is now dead.
What was beautiful is now the ugliness of decay. And yet I do not altogether die,
what is indestructible in me remains!…
From "Meditations on the Book of Genesis: At the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel"

Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, in an apartment that looked out on the Church of Our Lady where he would later serve as an altar boy. His birthday was May 18, 1920, an auspicious day for modern Poles, now known as "the Polish Miracle." On that day, Marshal Jozef Pilsudski won a major battle and seized Kiev from the Soviet Union. It was Poland's first major military victory in over two centuries. Wojtyla's middle name was chosen by his father in honor of Jozef Pilsudski.

It is here, beneath this wondrous Sistine profusion of color
that the Cardinals assemble —
the community responsible for the legacy of the
keys of the Kingdom.
They come here, to this very place.
And once more Michelangelo wraps them in his vision.
From "Meditations on the Book of Genesis: At the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel"

Known to family and friends as Lolek (a nickname that translates as "Chuck"), the future John Paul II learned about suffering at an early age when his mother died of heart and kidney problems in 1929, shortly before his ninth birthday.

Over this, your white grave
the flowers of life in white—
so many years without you—
how many have passed out of sight?
Over this your white grave
covered for years, there is a stir
in the air, something uplifting
and, like death, beyond comprehension.
Over this your white grave
oh, mother, can such loving cease?
for all his filial adoration
a prayer:
Give her eternal peace—

"Over This, Your White Grave"

The poem above and the one below, both written by the time he was twenty, show the heart of a motherless young boy through the pen of talented poet.

Don't lower the wave of my heart,
it swells to your eyes, mother;
don't alter love, but bring the wave to me
in your translucent hands.
"John Beseeches Her"

Leonard Nimoy is a man of many and considerable talents. As an actor he has ranged from Star Trek's inscrutable Mr. Spock, to Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, to Vincent Van Gogh in the one-man stage show Vincent. He has also appeared in plays such as Oliver!, The King And I, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Camelot, Twelfth Night, The Man in the Glass Booth, Caligula, and Sherlock Holmes. But Nimoy is more than an entertainer: in 1997 he narrated the A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, about the various sects of Hasidic Orthodox Jews, and he received an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor for the 1982 TV film A Woman Called Golda, to go with his three Emmy nominations for Star Trek. He has also directed three of the best-selling movies of all time: two Star Trek blockbusters and Three Men and a Baby. Nimoy is also an accomplished photographer, vocalist, writer and poet.

Today,
Time has stopped.
A minute is still a minute.
An hour is still an hour.
And yet,
The past and the future
Hang in perfect balance.
All focused on the present.
A sweet flow of excitement
Warms me.
You are near.

Nimoy has a very tender, consoling touch in his poetry, which seems far more warmly human than Vulcan:

I am convinced 
That if all mankind
Could only gather together
In one circle
Arms around each other's shoulders
And dance, laugh and cry
            Together
      Then much
           of the tension and burden
                       of life
           Would fall away
In the knowledge that
We are all children
Needing and wanting
Each other's
Comfort and
Understanding
We are all children
Searching for love

In his poetry, Nimoy declares himself to be a romantic, an idealist, a humanist and an optimist:

I am an incurable romantic
I believe in hope, dreams and decency

     I believe in love,
     Tenderness and kindness.

I believe in mankind.

     I believe in goodness,
     Mercy and charity
     I believe in a universal spirit
     I believe in casting bread
     Upon the waters.

          I am awed by the snow-capped mountains
          By the vastness of oceans.

               I am moved by a couple
               Of any age – holding hands
               As they walk through city streets.

          A living creature in pain
          Makes me shudder with sorrow
          A seagull’s cry fills me
          With a sense of mystery.

               A river or stream
               Can move me to tears
               A lake nestling in a valley
               Can bring me peace.

I wish for all mankind
The sweet simple joy
That we have found together.

I know that it will be.
And we shall celebrate
We shall taste the wine
And the fruit.

Celebrate the sunset and the sunrise
              the cold and the warmth
              the sounds and the silences
              the voices of the children.

Celebrate the dreams and hopes
Which have filled the souls of
All decent men and women.

              We shall lift our glasses and toast
              With tears of joy.

But not all celebrity poets are up to the task. Here are some real clunkers ...

Charlie Sheen is the bad boy of movies and TV, and an even worse poet, despite his proclamation that "I got magic and I got poetry at my fingertips." We offer as evidence:

Teacher, teacher, I don't understand,
You tell me it's like the back of my hand.
Should I play guitar and join the band?
Or head to the beach and walk in the sand?

Viggo Mortenson loves poetry so much that he started his own press. Unfortunately it seems Mortenson is really pressing, with lines like:

You are sweating in your sleep
On our rented bed
Like a lost summer cloud
Pierced by a jet heard
Only when it's gone.
 
Rosie O'Donnell seems to be pressing way too hard as well:

he roughs her up a bit
shames her in front of the others
teaches her to behave
for his own benefit
and just when we lost all hope
cagney and lacey showed up
they cuff the pimp
they free the girl
 
Jennifer Aniston's understandably-less-heralded talents were recently aired (like dirty laundry) in Star Magazine, in the form of a love poem she wrote for boyfriend John Mayer:

Lucky in love, lucky in love
Didn't forget me when I asked you to leave me
Didn't forget me
Now you're alongside me
You've brought luck to love
I've been hit by a truck in love.

But none of the above can possibly hold a candle to our choice as the Worst Celebrity Poet of All Time! (She recently compared herself to Shakespeare after mangling the a English language for the umpteenth time, so we think she deserves the comeuppance of these highly dubious laurels.)

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