By Barbara Card Atkinson
Back in 1996, when artistic integrity meant something and Garth Brooks turned down an American Music Award because he thought Hootie and the Blowfish had made the bigger contribution that year to the arts, the Academy of American Poets declared April Poetry Month. Poetry, like music, crossed cultural and emotional boundaries. It connected us to the author with a mere handful of carefully chosen words. Who better to stir these intimate emotions; who better to whip up this zesty plate of word magic than celebrities? Celebrity poetry is moving. It's transformative. It's as delicious as Cheetos. And best of all, it's often totally weird. Here are our top choices for the poets better known for (and, for the most part, rightly so) their day jobs.
Sheen On, You Crazy Diamond!
Oh, come now. You didn't think Charlie Sheen's only side talents were making dubious (often really dubious) personal choices, did you? Perhaps unable to find a real publisher who'd lay down money on his artistic vision, Sheen self-published a slim volume of poems in 1990. We're not sure which fraction of a man he counts for in "Two and A Half Men," but we think he was always one complete poet. Here is an excerpt from "Teacher," inspired, perhaps, by none other than Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher":
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?
Live Long and Metaphor
He sings. He plays the guitar. And now, he types while doing the Vulcan salute. Though it's been a long time since the stately Leonard Nimoy decorated the desk of the Enterprise; he's directed video (the Bangles), published a number of volumes on his photography, and yes, even written poetry, including "We Are All Children Searching for Love: A Collection of Poems and Photographs" (1977), "Come Be With Me: A Collection of Poems by Leonard Nimoy" (1978) and "A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life" (2002). Here's just a snippet from "A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life," but you pretty much get the point:
My love is a garden
You are the sun
When you shine
On my garden
Lord of the Rhythms
Mortensen has published a number of books, from artistic photography of horses ("The Horse Is Good," 2004) to volumes of poetry and, as editor, launched his own small publishing house. His poetry is about as lighthearted as one would expect from this quietly intense man. Here is "Just Coffee":
He wanted bigger love,
had to have it like he
had to dream himself
to sleep. Recrossed
his legs and waited
for her tears. When
they came, he held
her hand, pretended
to be interested in
someone walking by
The World According to Jim
The Lizard King wrote lyrics that were certainly poetic. He often sang as if he were speaking (or slurring) free verse. The "Lords and the New Creatures," Morrison's first published volume of poetry was published in 1971 and includes all sorts of imagery and insights stunning to anyone in high school in the early 70s, including, "When play dies it becomes the Game. When sex dies it becomes Climax. All games contain the idea of death." Deep. Here is another one of his works, which perfectly embodied his predilection for combing sex, religion and, you got it, shock value:
Male genitals are small faces
Forming trinities of thieves
Fathers, sons and ghosts.
Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins
Why Those Thoughts, Exactly?
"Thoughts," published in 1999, was written by T-Boz, one-third of TLC. Unfortunately she was 19, writing about a 19-year-old's life. After TLC disbanded, T-Boz launched a children's clothing boutique, produced, shot some video, and appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" — all of which we wish she would use as fodder for future poems. We think a haiku might go something like: Donald Trump's real hair/moves gently in the breezes/kit sprouts from his nose. But, alas, we have only the vintage T-Boz for now. Here is a selection from "Unpretty." Be careful, now; the rhyme is as heavy as a man-sized safe:
My outsides look happy
But my insides are blue
Feeling so ugly about myself
And it's all because of you
Other women can't offer
What I have to give
While you're out having fun
My heart feels like it can't live
Somerstime, and the Poems are Easy!
Suzanne Somers has a lot to say about health. She's one of the most prolific nutrition and lifestyle celebrity authors out there (and here you thought the Thighmaster was a fluke!) But long before she was tooting her tightly toned horn, Somers published a book of poetry, "Touch Me" (1973). A sampling, you ask?
Organic girl dropped by last night
For nothing in particular
Except to tell me again how beautiful and serene she feels
On uncooked vegetables and wheat germ fortified by bean sprouts
Mixed with yeast and egg whites on really big days
She not only meditates regularly, but looks at me like I should
And lectures me about meat and ice cream
And other aggressive foods I shouldn't eat.
Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love by Ashanti
Look, we get it: All teenagers write poetry. We did. You did. They did. But why did they go ahead and publish theirs, when we were smart enough to (eventually) burn ours in the backyard? Published in 2002, "Foolish" contains poems written when Ashanti was a teenager. She even includes essays explaining each poems origin. Foolish readers that we are, we might not be able to figure out the subtleties of her verse.
You always seem to make me feel
That this love is real.
You are on my mind
And I know that you are
by my side.
I want to let you know
That I am so in love with you.
Critics Were Not Nice Back
Sheedy published a children's book, "She Was Nice to Mice," at the age of 12. She made it big in "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmos Fire." Swift fame so young backfired on Sheedy; she struggled with eating disorders and drugs and went to rehab before it was quite so fashionable. And then there was "Short Circuit." Talk about life imitating something that wasn't quite art. While attempting to regain her career sea legs, Sheedy published "Yesterday I Saw the Sun." "The whole strength of the book," she said at the time, "is that it's about recovery." The critics disagreed (and we think it reads like it's more about the munchies than recovery). Here's a taste of "Tomorrow":
Really I've never noticed
how many wonderful flavors
of gum there are now
The Smashing Pumpkins are known for a number of things: the intensity of front man and lyricist Billy Corgan, his juggling of the band's ups, downs and cast changes, and the dream-like quality of his lyrics. Proving just how strong his writing muscles really are, Corgan published his volume of poetry in 2004. Here's some of "the poetry of my heart":
Revealing now the poetry of my heart
Think birds in flight and you will start to come close
As faces come from the darkness familiar
To greet you hello again
They pluck those strings and sing those refrains I know so well, and hold so close
Now follow these birds faithfully, keeping those faces in mind
Over rivers and dales and soft greens until we come to the edge of the vast ocean
The biggest sea you may imagine and more
Lift your hand and let those birds soar with this sweet music
Poems in a Minor Key
She's a singer, composer, producer, nine-time Grammy winner and actress. But published poet? Oh, why not? "Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics" was published in 2004. "I call this 'Tears for Water,'" Keys wrote, "because in looking through all these words I have come to understand that everything I have ever written has stemmed from my tears of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of depression, and of question." But not always with, you know, a detailed explanation:
Sometimes I feel
like I don't belong anywhere
And it's going to take so long
for me to get somewhere
Sometimes I feel so heavy-hearted
but I can't explain
cause I'm so guarded."
(Just feel glad she didn't go for the other word that rhymes with guarded.)
Please Don't Stanza So Close To Me
Musician, singer, lyricist, hot tantric guy – he has more than one market cornered. And then in 1998, Sting published "Shape Of My Heart," a compilation of his writing set to reproductions from Picasso. Sure, they're really lyrics, but when are lyrics not sometimes poetry and poetry not lyrics and Picasso's prints not illustrations for same? When Sting is being a card, apparently.
"I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart."
Pop Goes the Jewel
"A Night Without Armour" by Jewel was published in 1998, in large part due to her breakout success with her debut album, "Pieces of You," in 1995. Her poems were met with mixed reviews, mostly, we suspect, because critics were not desensitized to newbie pop singers publishing poetry on the side and the bar was still set by actual, you know, poets.
As a child I walked
With noisy fingers
Along the hemline
Of so many meadows
shock of sky
I'd sit on logs like pulpits
listen to the sermon
and find god in Simplicity,
there amongst the dandelion
A Rose Cut Short
"The Rose That Grew From Concrete" is a collection of poems written by Tupac when he was in a writing group between 1989 and 1991, long before he was well-known. Much of the work is reproduced so the reader can see Tupac's handwriting, doodles, creative spelling and affection for ideographs (aka drawing rather than writing out a "2" for "to").
Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack
In the concrete
Proving nature's law wrong it learned 2 walk
without having feet
Funny it seems but by keeping it dreams
It learned 2 breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
When no one even cared!