Hoisted from the comments: EEB poetry slam!

In last week’s linkfest I linked to this post on clerihews: four-line poems about a reasonably well known person, with an AA BB rhyming structure, providing a witty or gently humorous summary of the person’s work. Many (not all) clerihews also end the first line with the name of the subject of the poem. I jokingly offered +1000 Internet Points to any commenter who could write a clerihew about a famous ecologist or evolutionary biologist.

I didn’t think we’d get any submissions. Boy was I wrong! Our commenters came through in spades. We even had a clerihew battle over who should be considered the founder of biogeography! So here are just some of the brilliant, charming clerihews our commenters wrote. Click through to the linkfest to see them all.

Things were kicked off by anon, with a terrific clarihew about Steve Hubbell’s ecological neutral theory–including a stinger at the end about ecological neutral theory’s less-famous co-developer:

An idea by Hubbell
will be reduced to rubble
or maybe time will tell
and it will turn out swell

(or the credit will go to Bell)

I also really liked these two, via email from an anonymous correspondent:

Ideas from Trivers
Will surely send shivers
Up and down a mom’s spine
When kids cry and whine.

When Orians baked his blackbirds
He put his theory into words
Mating systems were explained
By all the insights it contained.

That Trivers one is a fine illustration of why brevity the soul of wit. And I like referring to Gordan Orians as baking his famous blackbirds.

In my linkfest post I joked that I’d write a clerihew myself, except that nothing rhymes with “Darwin”. I stand corrected. From Jeff Ollerton:

Following the theories of Darwin
Science and religion were a-warrin’
But after natural selection
Came more balanced introspection

David Jenkins:

Friends told ailing old Charles Darwin
You better finish that book about evolvin’
Young A.R. Wallace wrote a letter
And he got it right, but your book is better

Rhyming “Darwin” with “evolvin'” is tough to top, but Steve Walker was up to it:

To many a friend of Darwin
His work was an abominable sin
But his readers died
Without getting fried

I love the matter-of-fact brevity of those last two lines. Great marriage of form and content.

jim chimed in with several Darwinian clerihews, of which these were my two favorites:

The Galapagos were favorites of Darwin
His recollections of them were quite ardent
He recalled he saw many finches
And measured their bills in inches

There’s a popular book by Darwin
You can get at a pretty good bargain
I think I paid ten for a copy that’s fine
Printed at Princeton in 1909

Commenters even started writing clerihews on request. In response to my lament that no one had worked “zombie ideas” into a clerihew, it only took Jeff Ollerton a few minutes to come up with:

The community ecologist Jeremy Fox
Writes sharp critiques in which he mocks
The folks who fall for zombie ideas
Reducing many a scientist to tears

Zombie ideas” wasn’t meant to mock anyone, and I hope it didn’t reduce anyone to tears! Jeff reassures me that this was merely artistic license on his part. 🙂

But the joint thread winners were Rafael Pinheiro and Jeff Ollerton, for battling over the founding father of biogeography using clerihews. Rafael kicked it off:

Look to this poor man called Wallace
He was not born and raised in a palace
But don’t get fooled by this misleading photography
The man is the father of biogeography

A lesser man might have conceded immediately to an opponent who found a rhyme for “biogeography”, but not Jeff “I’ll see your biogeography rhyme and raise you” Ollerton:

Von Humboldt travelled and mapped plants
When schoolboy Wallace wore short pants
So in a more accurate historiography
Von Humboldt’s the father of biogeography

At which point the thread turned into the world’s first and only clerihew-based game of “Can you top this?” Rafael again:

Humboldt came first, I will not deny
But Wallace is the father and I’ll tell you why
He was not the first to study species distribution
But the one who explained it through evolution

After that I was imagining the two of them on stage at a scientific conference, with mics and a screaming audience. Like an extremely nerdy rap battle. Jeff again:

Sure, Hooker embraced Darwin’s evolution
And came up with a very modern conclusion
But fatherhood is not about interpretation
It’s about the initial insemination

I call it a draw. A glorious, glorious draw.

Thank you again to all of our commenter-poets for making my day. Y’all are the best. 🙂


p.s. Here’s Jeff’s follow-up post on clerihews.

4 thoughts on “Hoisted from the comments: EEB poetry slam!

  1. Pingback: Who was the father of biogeography? Let poetry decide! UPDATED | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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