"If I Could Talk to the Animals" by Senator John Kerry (as told to Ogden Nash)
March 10, 2004
There may come a time when I speak of the substantive merits or demerits of Senator John Kerry, but for the moment I will stick to my decision to foreswear politics (mostly) on this site. Today's subject is the presumptive Democratic candidate's tastes in -- and skills as an author of -- poetry.
Mickey Kaus had this to say last Thursday, March 4 [I'm quoting the entire thing rather than put you to the trouble of scrolling through to find it in Kausfiles' permalink-less wastes; emphasis and hyperlinks are Mr. Kaus's]:
Bad Spin Alert: On the PBS NewsHour, historian (and famous JFK Jr. "necropublicist") Douglas Brinkley sympathetically explained John Kerry's habit of letting his campaign drift and then finally focusing when the problems reach a crisis level. Kerry, Brinkley explained, is a "well-rounded" man with a life apart from politics. He plays guitar! He writes poetry! . . . Er, so he coasts in his actual main job until things boil over? Is that how he plans to run the country too? . . . . [Point generously donated by BoiFromTroy] . . . P.S.: I think I buried the lede. Kerry writes poetry! Maybe instead of demanding to see his complete military records the Republicans should demand that Kerry release his complete poems. It could end the campaign right there! ...P.P.S.: Who wants to bet that Kerry apes the Kennedys in his poems too? "Aeschylus and Outsourcing"--that sort of thing. . . . Update: The poem he read to WaPo's Laura Blumenfeld seemed more to ape Robert Frost. Same deal!
I had a talk with a deer today/we met upon the road some way . . . between his frequent snorts/He asked me if I sought his pelt/cause if I did he said he felt/quite out of sorts!
Kaus not only buried his lede, he left unanswered the key question -- is there more of that deer poem available? The Washington Post article he cites dates to last June, so the link will lead you only to an abstract, with the option to buy access to the whole thing. Anxious to serve my readers, I made the investment, only to find that what you see above is all that the Post saw fit to share. Compounding my chagrin, I later found through a Google search that the entire article can be read for free at the Senator's official campaign site.
(The Kerry site also sports a year-old Vogue profile in which his poetry is described as "rhyming doggerel". Is there any other kind of doggerel?)
Maureen Dowd, meanwhile, reports on the Senator's poetry reading habits, revealing that he is partial to Eliot (Prufrock, if nothing else -- and should a man accused of indecisive qualities necessarily be praising the line, "Do I dare to eat a peach?"), Kipling ("Gunga Din"?!), and Keats, and that the Senator is not immune to the sirens' song of Yeats, and our old friend Shelley. She also brings out a further hint or two on Kerry's inclinations as a versifier:
He not only reads poetry . . . he writes it. 'I remember flying once; I was looking out at the desert and I wrote a poem about the barren desolation of the desert,' he said. 'I wrote a poem once about a great encounter I had with a deer early in the morning that was very moving.' (Sometimes he shoots deer, sometimes he elegizes them.)
"Elegiac" is not exactly the tone conveyed by the deer-poem excerpt above. The Senator must not actually have recited it to Ms. Dowd as he did to Ms. Blumenfeld. A palpable snub! Or perhaps he did read it, and Dowd is suppressing it content: if the poem really is an elegy, does that suggest that the unpublished portions portray the Senator's coldblooded killing of a harmless woodland creature? The cover up is always worse than the crime, remember. But perhaps I'm reading too much into this . . . .
In any case, the published deer excerpt bears a closer resemblance to a chat between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd -- "Be vewy, vewy quiet; I'm huntin' dewegates hahahahaha." "Sorry, doc, me an' this pelt are sorta attached to one another." -- than to anything by Frost. And one wonders what insights, other than "barren desolation," Kerry's desert song contains. Something Shelleyan, perhaps?
"I met a voter from an arid land
Who said: 'Two parties' candidates have flown
Above our desert. Out there in the sand
Deep sunk, a strip mine lies . . ."
So, what have we learned? Very little. Senator Kerry seems to be a member of the "I'm a sensitive fellow expressing my feelings" school of poetry, rather than one who applies poetry as a method for thinking things through and giving them their clearest expression. These poems were probably written for personal enjoyment, not really meant to be shared except perhaps within an intimate circle. (So why share them now? Need we ask?)
Whatever his politics, nothing in his verse appears "progressive." To the contrary, strong end rhyme is well known to be one of the Seven Warning Signs of a Hidden Right Wing Agenda. Keep a weather eye on this one, poetry lovers.
We might not like Kerry's taste or talent for poetry, but his "doing music and poetry until the real job boils over" attitude sounds right in sync with some of my favorite lawyers and webloggers.
Posted by: David Giacalone | March 10, 2004 at 05:10 PM
Waiting for more snippets of Kerry poetry; this post was very entertaining . . . Meanwhile, I wonder about "buried the lede." I think that historically, journalist-types spelled "lead" that way to avoid confusion with the metal that was used somehow in making newspapers. I understand you're adopting the Kaus rendering of the word; do you prefer "buried the lead" or "buried the lede" (which seems to be merely newspaper jargon to me)?
Posted by: Evan Schaeffer | March 11, 2004 at 05:20 AM