Max Gutmann


Brief Lives

(Greek poet, 8th century BC)

Homer was born in approximately 750 BC
And continued to do most things approximately.
The details of his life, historians find,
Are hard to see, probably because he was blind.
He called his debut the Iliad. It was popular nonetheless.
(When you’re founding Western literature, there aren’t a lot of catchier titles to compete with, I guess.)
Its popularity shows that, though modern readers love gore,
The Greeks loved it more.
Some of the things done by Achilles
Give today’s readers the willies,
Especially if they’re pacifists, or priests, or Sunday school teachers, or theologians.
Or Trojans.
For influence on Western literature the Iliad has no equal
Except maybe the sequel.
It’s so incredible to have written both the Iliad and Odyssey
That Homer may not have actually existed, perhaps out of modes’y.

(Greek philosopher, 5th century BC)

Though Socrates was famous as a thinker,
when he was asked to use his smarts, he’d balk.
We know his work at second hand; the stinker
wrote nothing. All he ever did was talk.
He’d start with “Gotta question for ya, neighbor.”
He’d prod and challenge, catechize and test,
dispute and pry. In short, he would belabor
each trifle—really make himself a pest.
Through men like witty Aristophanes,
Athenians hit back with brutal mocking.
He didn’t care. No matter how they’d tease,
that chatty Socrates just kept on talking
and talking. His loquacity fulfilled him.
So they killed him.

(12th century Italian architect)

All architects were challenged by
Big buildings in old Pisa. Why?
The soil is sorta squishy there.
Diotisalvi didn’t care.
His Belltower of St. Nicholas
Is tilting, which might ticholas.
He also built the holy church
Of sepulchre, which seems to lurch.
Unhappy Pisans shuddered, but
Diotisalvi shrugged. “So what?”

Of course, this lazy vision’s power
Blooms fully in the Leaning Tower,
Which more stunned tourists flock to see
Than any tower in Italy.
His colleagues’ structures bravely jut
Straight upward. Tourists shrug. “So what?”

Carrie Nation
(19th century American reformer)

Carrie Nation
Was touched by her husband’s protestation
That he’d love her till his dying breath,
But then he promptly proved it by drinking himself to death.

Carrie Nation
Felt liquor an abomination.
Her temperance: few could match it.
She demonstrated it with a hatchet.

Carrie Nation
Had a strange occupation;
She went to bars and smashed up the furniture and the bottles of liquor.
(They’d have stopped serving at closing time, but Nation’s method was quicker.)

Carrie Nation
Made bar owners dream about defenestration,
But she died peacefully in bed, her only regret
That Prohibition wouldn’t start for nine years yet.

Max Gutmann has contributed to dozens of publications, including Lighten Up Online, New Statesman, The Spectator, Cricket, and Light. His plays have appeared throughout the U.S. and have been well-reviewed (see His book There Was a Young Girl from Verona sold several copies.