anti-bush poetry

Calvin Trillin’s book, Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme, maintains a strong position on the bestseller list, according to the NYTimes Sensing Political Crime Drives Him to Rhyme.
~ I need to join this bookblog and rss it: All Consuming.

Sensing Political Crime Drives Him to Rhyme
July 31, 2004
Calvin Trillin’s theory about poets is that most extended
families produce one. “It’s sort of like how every family
has one person who can bend his thumb back and touch his
wrist,” he said the other day.
Mr. Trillin’s father, a grocer and restaurateur in Kansas
City, Mo., was the poet of his family, best known for
writing doggerel in support of his desserts, like:
Mrs. Trillin’s pie, so nutritious and delicious
Will make
a wild man mild and a mild man vicious
Mr. Trillin, 68, also inherited the rhyming gene and has
put it to somewhat more glamorous use writing weekly verse
for The Nation magazine. But as he points out at every
opportunity, like a kind of Rodney Dangerfield routine,
there is just not a lucrative market for professional poesy
in America these days: His salary is $100 a poem, a rate
that has not changed since he began in 1990, despite a
significant increase in the cost of living since then.
So when a collection of Mr. Trillin’s best poems about the
Bush administration, called “Obliviously On He Sails: The
Bush Administration in Rhyme,” was published in June by
Random House, both author and publisher had modest
expectations. Mr. Trillin said he did not even ask about
the size of the printing. “I thought it would be
embarrassing to know the answer,” he said. Then something
happened that Mr. Trillin might have made up himself, on
one of his funnier days: He became a best-selling poet. The
poetry collection made its debut at No. 7 on the New York
Times nonfiction best-seller list on July 18, and will be
No. 14 tomorrow. London King, a spokeswoman for the
publisher, said the book was in its seventh printing, with
75,000 copies, not a big number for a best seller but a
huge one for a book of poetry, especially one categorized
as nonfiction.
Poetry is hardly ever seen on the hardcover best-seller
list. The last time was in 2002, when three books by Mattie
J. T. Stepanek, a young boy who suffered from muscular
dystrophy, were best sellers. But even famous poets like
Maya Angelou have a hard time getting poetry on the list;
Ms. Angelou’s most successful sellers have been her books
of essays and autobiographical stories.
“I think a lot of people in America hear the words `rhyme’
and `poetry’ and think it might as well be Canadian,” said
Mr. Trillin, who was interviewed by phone while vacationing
in Nova Scotia, where he noted with pride that The Toronto
Globe and Mail also employed what he called a “deadline
poet” like himself, named John Allemang.
Mr. Trillin said he was not sure that what he does could
really be called poetry. He certainly does not want to be
mentioned in the same breath as Ms. Angelou, though he did
succeed, in the new poetry collection, in finding decent
rhymes not only for “taxes” (axis) but also for “Pentagon”
(neocon) and “Harvey Pitt” (unfit.) (Mr. Pitt resigned as
the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in
2002 after heavy criticism of his stewardship.)
While the poems are nearly all funny, what may have
catapulted them onto the best-seller list – especially as
the presidential campaign heats up – is not the humor but
the undercurrent of sharp, uncharacteristic anger that runs
through many at the Bush administration’s decision to go to
war in Iraq.
Mr. Trillin said his most effective political stance, at
least in verse, had always been to make merciless fun of
whoever was in power or even lurking anywhere near it. And
several poems in “Obliviously On He Sails” do spread the
sarcasm around, skewering Al Gore (“We now feel warm toward
Albert Gore/Who will not run in aughty-four”), Ralph Nader
(“One comfort lasts, as dreams of justice shatter:/ Ralph
Nader said it really wouldn’t matter”) and Senate Democrats
(“Like doves afraid to coo./ So history will soon record/
This war as their war too.”)
But he admitted that many poems excoriated the White House
in a much angrier tone than he has used before. “I don’t
usually get exactly angry about politics,” he said, but
described hearing a news report on a car radio about a
young military helicopter pilot who was killed in the
lead-up to the war.
“I was so saddened and so angry listening to that,” he
said. “I thought that this is an awful sort of way to die
and a crime.”
Later, he said, he appeared on Charlie Rose’s talk show to
promote a food book he had written but he mostly talked
about his feelings about the war. “I was a really bad
dinner companion back then,” he said. “It was all I could
talk about.”
“I mean, I didn’t approve of the invasion of Panama
either,” he added, “but I thought it was funny.” The poems
about the Iraq war make it clear that he thinks there is
little humor to be found. In one responding to the news
that President Bush was not attending the funerals of
soldiers killed in Iraq, Mr. Trillin wrote:
At least there’s no Bush eulogy
On why they had to die.
It’s better that they’re laid to rest
Without another lie.
The book is now popping up not only
on the regular booksellers’ Web sites but also on ones that
Mr. Trillin has never heard of, like and, alongside political authors like
James Carville and Richard A. Clarke, the former White
House counterterrorism chief who is now a harsh critic of
the administration.
Mr. Trillin said that as happy as he was with the book’s
sales – and with getting to express his anger – he harbored
no illusions that his verse was any kind of “Fahrenheit
9/11,” or a modern version of Swinburne that would inflame
political sensibilities.
“I think Linda Ronstadt could safely dedicate a song to
me,” he said, in his trademark deadpan. “People might say,
`Who?’ but they wouldn’t get up and throw a drink at her.”
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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