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Aug 12, 2014 | 6 min read

5 Poets Who Are More Badass Than You

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Poetry might get a bad rap as a habitual release of teen angst and incoherent wordplay fit for consumption only in neighborhoods called Village, but that’s not all poetry has to offer. Take for instance, these five ballers, whose rip-roaring, bone-shattering, booze-hounding and generally unambigously dangerous lifestyles would make your Sig Tau brothers cry with hiccupy glee…

1. Philip Levine

A bro-et through and through, Philip Levine grew up in the depression and was an amateur boxer and factory worker before making all those poetry bucks. Ploughshares called his work “cocky, defiant, near-brawling,” and it’s rumored that he once got in a fight with John Barrymore in a Los Angeles-club (not John Berryman, his professor at Iowa; John Barrymore, noted Shakespearean actor and Drew Barrymore’s grandpa). When asked if the fight was real, Levine is said to have replied coyly that Barrymore “started it.”

In the Paris Review, he remarked “When I see a fight in the subway, I don’t try to stop it.” No, he tries to keep it going.

2. Percy Bysshe Shelley


Percey Bysshe Shelley, known for calling poets the “unacknowledged legislators of the world” went on to prove that unacknowledged part wrong by being one of the most acknowledged romantic poets in English history. He was expelled from Oxford many centuries before Kerouac made it cool, for publishing a “notorious” pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. But it was in his death where Shelley really began to shine. After the 29 year old died at sea, Tory newspaper The Courier, in one of the more tasteful exercises of freedom of the press, remarked, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned, now he knows whether there is God or no.”

Oh, and did we mention when they went to cremate him, the old Son-of-a-Bysshe’s heart wouldn’t burn?

Legend has it, his widow Mary Shelley kept the decaying heart in a desk, presumably with the intentions of placing it inside a hideous, electrified man-beast.

3. Frank O’Hara


When people think of Frank O’Hara, the New York School poet famous for being the original pop-poet (among his most famous works are an epitaph for Billie Holiday and “Lana Turner Has Collapsed”), they don’t generally think “raging man-beast,” but they are wrong. To wit, see that crazy-crimped nose? Dude broke it in a childhood fight. A notoriously accomplished lover (of men), O’Hara, when discussing the technical tools of the poetic trade said, “As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you.” Don’t I know it, brother…

O’Hara was great with a quip: one famous story has Jack Kerouac heckling him from a reading audience, telling him, “You’re killing American poetry.” O’Hara coolly replied, “That’s more than you ever did for it, Jack.”

4. Robert Lowell


Robert Lowell spent most of his life going by the nickname Cal. Why, you ask? Oh, it was after a little Roman emperor by the name of Caligula, aka one of the most ruthless emperors of all time. Apparently, he was a mean little SOB as a child, and the nickname stuck.

Despite being a member of one of the original Boston Brahman families, Lowell was an iconoclast — converting to Catholicism, mainly out of rebellion, before giving religion up altogether. When he attended Kenyon college, Cal (in what he’d later call “a terrible act of youthful callousness”) pitched a tent in his professor, Allen Tate’s yard and lived there for two months. All because Tate told him he couldn’t live with them at the house.

Lowell is also famous for his “raw and the cooked” speech at the National Book Awards in 1960, in which he forsook the measured, tightly metrical work of his predecessors and his early career for the “raw” work of beat generation contemporaries like Ginsberg. And that’s when he invented confessionalism.

5. Ernest Hemingway


No list of awesome poet-bros would be complete without Good ol’ Papa. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote super-extensively about big game hunting, deep sea fishing and bullfighting, but he was also, according to John Walsh, “weirdly accident-prone,” splitting his head open in a Paris toilet, and getting tossed from just about every type of moving vehicle: from a car once, resulting in 57 stitches; from a motorcycle, while evading fire at Normandy. He also got a concussion after slipping on his fishing boat and nearly died alongside his fourth wife, Mary, in a plane crash near Victoria falls.

Not that you need anything else, but the dude’s drinking exploits are so epic he’s got a daiquiri named after him, which you might think was kind of a girly drink until you recall he spent most of his old age on a beach in the Keys.

Oh, and the man literally bathed in alcohol. That’s right, unlike us whiney mortals with our showers, dude took a daily sponge bath in rubbing alcohol, partly to curb his insane taste for booze.

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