20 Jul 98

Poetry in Perspective I

A Historical Analysis of Poetry

(The First in a 632 Part Exhaustive Series)

I. Prehistory

Poetry emerges on August 9, 16,000 BC, at 6:45 PM.

Society has not handed down the name of the unattractive, fidgety man who took his mammoth for a walk that dusky evening. All we know is that he hadn't found a date in six months, after his last girlfriend dumped him for a Neanderthal. He felt desperate. He'd bought the mammoth simply because chicks dig mammoths.

As he trundled along the caveway, leash in his hand, mammoth stamping behind, he considered his romantic possibilities. Nothing looked promising.

He could find a nice primate and settle down. He'd hung out with the great apes before, and it was always a good time, but you felt cheap waking up next to someone with a hairy ass whose idea of a good time was eating to the point of vomiting.

He could also sublimate. Some of the guys doing the cave paintings were

He realized he wanted some new possibility. No apes, not art. Some of the guys were starting to gather rather than hunt. One of them gave him an invitation to get into some roots and wheat, but he can't see himself with a career in gathering. Besides, women liked hunters.

He considered buying some of those elk-skin shirts with the little saber-tooth tiger over the pocket. He could trade in his mammoth, get a better make of spear. Women responded to that sort of thing. He needed to work on his advantages. Homely and lonely, he could never kill a bear with his hands, or spear a rabbit from fifty yards. How then can he push his best qualities? What did he have to offer that some gritty Neanderthal couldn't do ten times better?

At this moment, a young woman walked by, sensually plucking chiggers from her downy fur. She was tall, four feet three, and covered with the appealing, soft black hair that got him in the gut. She had prehensile toes, too. He was glad he was wearing a loose loincloth.

She smiled when she saw the mammoth.

"What's his name?" she asked.

"Mammoth," he said.

"He's a cutie," she said, rubbing a tusk. "How old is he?"

"I got him last long dark sky."

"He's just a young one." He felt shy and looked at the ground, as the woman stroked the mammoth. "Look at this mammoth. He's very naughty," she said. The mammoth nuzzled back. "Such a bad, bad fellow."

Staring at her toes, he felt a flash of excitement. It was an inspiration of incredible importance, as important as monkeys thrashing each other with bones. He was about to become the first metaphoric man.

Up until this point, humankind had been strictly literal. Animals were pets or food or both. People were people. Caves were caves. Fire was fire. Glowing lights which leave enormous blazing space symbols in high rock walls were just what they seemed to be. Same with the massive black monoliths. When you talked about them, you said, "big black sky rock." You didn't compare them to anything or even get excited about it.

Like all other primitive humans, our man's DNA contained blueprints for the brain-muscle reflex which provides primitive humans with excellent bowel restraint over long hunts. However, some strange DNA re-ordering shifted his personal copy of that reflex into a different section of his brain. Instead of residing in the colon-control nerve stem, the reflex ended up in the linguistic cortex. In its new home, this set of controls, which once clenched the sphincter, provided an accidental, unprecedented capability for analogy. With sudden awareness, the man sparked new ganglions into shimmering activity:

"Your prehensile toes are like vine roots," he said.

The woman was shocked. Vine roots were pleasant, edible. Her toes were...her toes. She looked at him and grunted a smile, confused.

"Your eyes are like nutritious eohippus meat," he said. She grinned and blinked, then laughed coyly. He looked at her. She seemed pleased by the comparison.

It took him a moment to get the implications. He'd been excited at the possibility of this new form of expression. He was thinking he could use it to impress the artists. It never occurred to him it would be a way to get some action.

Inspired, he kept on. "Your breasts are hanging fruit with soft hair, and you smell like fatty gristle." Brave, he put his hand on her. She didn't move away.

"You make my heart as big as that mammoth," he said. "Your moustache reminds me of fresh killed baby bear." He kissed her, and she kissed back. Her breath evoked sweet decay and vegetables. Everything, he thought, could be compared to something else. He drove the point home.

"You make my loins like that volcano," he said, pointing to the mountain of trickling lava looming to their left. He embraced her, and, overwhelmed, she willingly became his own. The mammoth watched. Six months later, a baby with the same gene trait was born. Over the millenia, similar poetic types met and bred. They performed savage, bloody rituals which became the first poetry readings.

Because of these random mutations, because of natural selection, and because of that original poem, mankind has become a species with poetic possibilities, capable of writing jingles for soft drinks.

We have learned that he was a Mason.

Many women feel this way about waking up next to men.

Excitable archeological evolutionary anthropologists, of which I am one, often compare this flash of inspiration to that original burst of lightning which started reproductive life. (Ninth dimensional social scientists called Earth biology "the Amino Acid Problem" until they were destroyed by television waves.)

This gene pattern is still found in Republicans.

His sacred tribal name was "Expels During Inopportune Moments of Elk-Killing."

II. Recent Trends

As irrefutably proven in yesterday's entry, poetry was originally developed as a tool for clever but unattractive men to seduce women. It's a great example of the triumph of man's intelligence as a dominant method for reproduction, and one of the reasons that, even though the men who go in for poetry make NASA scientists look like Fabio, poets still get dates.

How does poetry work today? Take a dictionary, add adolescence, and mix. The key to poetry is the sublimated sexual description expressed as elegant metaphor. Thus, Theodore Roethke's line: “She moved in circles and those circles moved” might also have been written: "You have/big tits." But the first example, well-recited along with many lines like it and several glasses of wine, means a woman will hand the poet her panties; the latter approach leads to gelding.

This pattern continues despite the efforts of several social organizations, including the Young Woman's Anti-Poetry League and Poetry Undermines Sensibly Sexual Youth.

Some of you might think, sure, there is an abundance of erotic poetry, but much of it is political, or angry, or about non sexual issues, or about being an alcoholic poet. I totally agree, and it makes all of my preceding points kind of silly, doesn't it? Which is why this essay will end now, while I still have some dignity.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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