From the moderately chilly land of Scotland (61° Fahrenhiet and mostly cloudy as of this writing) we take the P.O.E.T.S. Day tradition: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. This week’s patron wordsmith: Emperor Nero, at least his persona as assumed by the Australian poet Geoffrey Lehmann who has endeavored in his collection “Nero’s Poems” to write poetry as the great debauched fiddler himself.
“Qualis artifex pereo,” legend tells us Nero said before dying. “What an artist the world loses in me.” And an artist he was. Besides poetry, Nero excelled in singing and acting, taking home Olympic crowns in both events in the 67 games. He also took the crown in the ten horse chariot race despite the fact that he crashed and never crossed the finish line.
Any one can just kill their mother, but it takes style to kill your mother by setting up her ship to sink. That’s thinking big. Sure she survived. But to his credit, when he had her killed good and proper, if less spectacularly, he made it look like a suicide. Improvisation!
You can imagine the young Emperor, calling upon the muse at a table in his magnificent private gardens, penning such noble verse as “Lady Wrestlers” (gloriously NSFW) by the light of a burning Christian. What a genteel soul. Hardly the sort who to be accused of perversity, of killing the wealthy to confiscate their fortunes, of murder in the night streets for entertainment, of burning swaths of Rome to make room for his proposed palace. Those are not the works of a poet. His was a spirit frustrated with his lot in life and bound to civic duty.
It is hard to judge his work on structural merit without a grounding in latin and Roman poetic traditions. For those of us without such scholarship, we must trust the “translator” to convey the theme and tone. I invite everyone to explore Nero’s Poems: Translations of the Public and Private Poems of the Emperor Nero and judge for yourself. The book can be purchased here.
So break the chains of commerce. Weasel, pry, whine, connive, or just plain lie your way out of work early and head to your local watering hole and give a toast to Nero, who with his gift of song showed us that there is more to a man than raping Vestal Virgins and embarking on late night robbery and murder sprees. Let’s give a toast to Geoffrey Lehmann as well, for some of the best satirical poetry since “The man from Nantucket,” and for capturing the essential truthiness of one of histories great attention whores. I’ll be at Ore by 4pm having a glass of Rose.
Advice to a Young Poet
Murder your mother,
go live in a flat
and forget who you were.
Keep away from schools of rhetoric.
with their hyperbole
and unreal situations
they can only train liars for the senate.
Let you school of philosophy
be the streets at night.
Roam with gangs
of disillusioned aristocrats.
Wear a poisonous flower in your hair.
When you’ve nothing to say
Our world has too much poetry.
Celebrate unpopular heroes,
heroes of the bedroom, like Paris.
Revise your inspirations.
From a heap of cancelled tablets
your true thought will emerge.
Do all these things,
and you still won’t be a poet.
-Geoffrey Lehmann writing as Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus