Good morning Austin:
Today’s First Reading is devoted to the poetry of Republican politics.
It was inspired by last week’s visit to BookPeople in Austin by Mike Huckabee to sign copies of his new book – God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy – in preparation for a second run for the White House.
While, at first glance, GGG&G is a work of prose, it is best read as an epic poem in which our hero, Huck, the tribune of Bubba-Ville, for six and half years bravely travels each and every weekend to New York City – along with Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, one of the three Bubble-Ville “nerve centers of our culture” – in order to defend, on Fox, the values of “the new American outcasts – people who put faith and family first.”
What follows are some excerpts from the book, all straight from the text, nothing added or subtracted, except for the titles that I have given them, and poetic spacing.
Gravy on a Bagel (On first visiting Zabar’s)
Gravy on a bagel
Just doesn’t work for me.
If I want to chew that hard,
I’ll take up chewing tobacco,
Which I won’t.
I’m not even that rural.
New York, New York
It’s not completely Sodom and Gomorrah,
But the traffic at 3 a.m. Sunday is more intense
Than at 11 a.m.
To tell you something
Once Upon a Time, a Person Who Came to America illegally was called an illegal alien.
Maybe we should also rename the Border Patrol the “Dream Police”
Or just “Dream Catchers.”
But I digress
(Some of he meanest people I’ve ever known were “church people.”
And, truth be told, a lot of Christians like to do their fussing and cussing as “prayer requests,”
As in, “We need to pray for Robert:
He is drinking again
And Martha is going to divorce him if he doesn’t get out of rehab
All dried out.”
But I digress)
When a country boy calls 911
It will be a bad day for the person who didn’t understand
That a country boy doesn’t helplessly call 911
And hope help arrives before he gets killed,
Or his wife and daughter get assaulted.
He calls 911 to tell them
Where to come and pick up the carcass of the one
Who tried to break into his home.
Your pants, they are on fire
I think maybe PolitiFact needs to learn the difference
Between an assumption and a fact.
They might also want to look up
The definition of the word “joke.”
And the word “opinion.”
Without some effort
I feel a bit more disconnected from people who have
Never fired a gun,
Never fished with a cane pole,
Never cooked with propane,
Or never changed a tire.
If people use “summer” as a verb,
As in, “We summer in the Hamptons,”
I probably don’t have much in common with them.
If people don’t put pepper sauce on their black-eyed peas,
Or order fried green tomatoes for an appetizer,
I probably won’t relate to them
Without some effort.
I earlier described Huckabee’s book as an epic poem. And this is what I am referring to – epic small-mindedness.
As Gail Collins wrote in The New York Times on reading this last passage:
Well, there goes Ohio.
Think about that statement. We’re already tortured by the red-state-blue-state chasm. Now we’re going to divide ourselves by restaurant orders? The first rule for anyone who aspires to lead this country is that you have to at least pretend that you can relate to all its citizens.
At BookPeople, in answer to a question, Huckabee said what distinguishes him from other candidates is his talent for consensus, but here he is in his book taking one of the surest ways to bring people together – food – and turning it into another litmus test of division.
“Have you ever tried to order grits in a fancy Manhattan restaurant?” Huckabee asks in his book. ” Good luck.”
Well, here from New York Magazine on Maysville Food & Bourbon on w. 26th Street near Broadway:
Our pick for best new grits dish consists of five deep-fried croutons fashioned from coarsely ground upstate corn, each one glued to a splotch of Old Crow–spiked mayo and wearing a little do-rag of scrunched-up, sliced-to-order Kentucky ham ($9).
I would also note that New York, like Bubble-ville’s D.C. and Los Angeles, has a large black population and the food that Huck craves but can’t seem to find also goes by the name Soul Food.
It is not just the food that makes Huckabee feel a man apart in Manhattan.
I can’t find a Walmart in Manhattan, either, and people stare at my cowboy boots when I’m on the subway. What’s up with that?
Yes, what is up with that? People staring at him on the subway because he is wearing cowboy boots. Really?
From USA Today:
For the past 16 years, Robert Burck has played guitar in Times Square wearing only tighty whities, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat … Today Burck switched into the Fruit of the Loom boxer briefs as part of the brand’s marketing campaign for its new underwear line …. The briefs will be sold in several colors in Walmart, Kmart and Target stores for $13.99 for a five-pack beginning this month.
If people are staring at Mike Huckabee in Manhattan my guess is it is because, while in New York, he presents as some kind of composite Midnight Cowboy character, traversing the gritty, gritsless streets of New York City with a perpetual Joe Buck strut and irascible Ratso Rizzo “I’m walkin’ here” attitude.
Here, then, is Huckabee’s failing as a poet. The author of GGG&G seems to have a fundamentally incurious nature. He travels to the most interesting city in the world every weekend for six-and-a-half years and all that seems to absorb him is what is not there.
Rick Perry, on the other hand, has much more the poet’s sensibility. He is a man keenly open to new experience, and in touch with his own feelings.
Here is a poem derived from his book, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For.
You may be so tired
You may be so tired
You don’t feel like reading the Little Mermaid
To your three-year-old for the tenth time,
But it amazes you that after you begin reading it,
You actually sort of enjoy yourself;
In part because the act of nurturing has its own reward
If we simply put “self” aside for another.
And Perry showed his versatility just last week, with this verse, delivered as part of a speech in Washington, in response to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, going off on Texas as a “crazy state to begin with.”
Crazy (with apologies to Willie Nelson and Gnarls Barkley)
Earlier this week there was this liberal congressman from Florida
And he called Texans crazy.
He is right!
We are crazy!
We’re crazy about jobs.
We’re crazy about opportunity.
We’re crazy about liberty.
We’re crazy about the Constitution.
And we’re particularly crazy
About the 2nd Amendment
And the 10th Amendment.
What we’re not crazy about is
Government that taxes too much,
Borrows too much,
Spends too much.
Country singer Larry Gatlin, penned this own rhyming reply to Hastings, but I prefer Perry’s.
The eyes of Texas are upon you.
Better not come near.
The eyes of Texas are upon you.
I think you’d better steer clear.
You said things about my Texas that were just not kind.
And if I get a chance,
I’ll open up a cowboy boot shop in your behind.
Of course, the Republican poet laureate is Sarah Palin.
Almost as soon as she burst on the national scene, the writer Hart Seely began cataloging The Poetry of Sarah Palin.
For example, from her early work:
I am a Washington outsider.
Look at where you are.
I’m a Washington outsider.
I do not have those allegiances
To the power brokers,
To the lobbyists.
We need someone like that.
(To C. Gibson, ABC News, Sept. 11, 2008)
I’m Sick and Tired
I’m sick and tired
@@@@of hearing about
Obama and the White House
WITH YET ANOTHER CRISIS!
What’s great about Palin is that she continues to push the boundaries of her art.
Here is how Nia-Malika Henderson covered her recent performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit:
Sarah Palin, slam poet.
Dim the lights and maybe light a candle on stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit, and Palin’s rambling speech begins to make more sense.
This was poetry, not politics, ya dig?
This is how Henderson presented Palin’s words in the Post, calling it, “The Ballad of 2016.”
Very nicely done, but that title is, I think, too prosaic. I prefer this, taken from a question that Sean Hannity asked Palin about the speech, and, parenthetically, the lasting image of this inspired work.
Did the teleprompter go down? (Backbent Mountin’)
Things must change for our government.
Look at it.
It isn’t too big to fail.
It’s too big to succeed!
So we can afford no retreads
nothing will change with the same people
And same policies that
got us into
the status quo.
Another Latin word.
And it stands for,
‘Man, the middle-class, everyday Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride.’
That’s status quo.
And GOP leaders,
by the way,
The man can only ride ya when your back is bent.
So strengthen it.
Then the man can’t ride ya.
America won’t be taken for a ride.
Because so much is at stake
We can’t afford politicians playing games
nothing more is at stake than.
Maybe just the next standing
In the next election.
Seely is also the compiler and editor of Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Here is perhaps Rumsfeld’s most famous work.
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.
During the last presidential campaign, Mother Jones collected some of the found poetry of Mitt Romney, which was surprisingly daring in its imagery. As they wrote, “this one, Breakfast Special, is only nominally about breakfast:
I saw the young man over there with eggs Benedict,
With hollandaise sauce.
And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs—
With hollandaise sauce in hubcaps.
Because there’s no plates like chrome—
For the hollandaise.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, but also very interesting and daring in its own way, is the work of Dave Carney, the political consultant who has worked as a top adviser to both Perry and Gov. Greg Abbott.
This is from his recent piece in Politico Magazine, How We Won Texas, which proceeds in an intentionally obscure and methodically technocratic style, only to knock your socks off with a swift nihilistic ending.
How We Won Texas
Campaigns need to settle on a base-scoring system using predictive analytics and dynamic modeling that will serve as the common currency for all aspects of the campaign.
The Abbott campaign settled on parameters based on their likelihood to support Abbott and their propensity to turnout to vote early in the campaign that produced a universe of approximately five million voters.
Too much time is wasted worrying about motion without caring if there is progress or not. We look at how many impressions an online ad receives, how many gross rating points are behind a television ad, or how many calls a phone bank makes.
None of these matter.
Wow. Pow. And I can’t help but hear the echo of that beautiful poem Rain by Don Paterson that appeared in The New Yorker a few years ago.
Read the whole thing. It’s quite good.
The first great Republican poet, of course, was the first Republican president – Abraham Lincoln.
From the Library of Congress:
Throughout his life, Abraham Lincoln was an avid reader of poetry. As a teenager, however, Lincoln also began to cultivate an interest in writing poetry. Lincoln’s oldest surviving verses, written when he was between fifteen and seventeen years old, are brief squibs that appear in his arithmetic book.
his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows When 
Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read
One of Lincoln’s Springfield neighbors, James Matheny, recalled that sometime between 1837-39 Lincoln joined “a Kind of Poetical Society” to which he occasionally submitted poems. Although none of the poems survive, Matheny remembered one eye-raising stanza from a poem “on Seduction“:
Whatever Spiteful fools may Say —
Each jealous, ranting yelper —
No woman ever played the whore
Unless She had a man to help her.
Democrats, of course, write poetry as well.
Here, also from the Library of Congress, is an early work of a young Barack Obama:
Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue
The Library of Congress asked Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale University, to evaluate Underground and another of Obama’s poems, and, he said that, “Underground is the better of Obama’s two poems, reminiscent of some of D. H. Lawrence’s poetry.”
“I think it is about some sense of chthonic forces, just as Lawrence frequently is—some sense, not wholly articulated, of something below, trying to break through,” said Bloom.
And, the LOC notes:
Obama’s poetry, Bloom makes clear, is much superior to the poetry of former President Jimmy Carter (Bloom calls Carter “literally the worst poet in the United States”).
Tweeting, of course, is by its nature a medium of concision and a form of poetry. Now, with Poetweet, we have a website that instantly turns anyone’s tweets into poetry – either a sonnet, a rondel or an indriso. The results are very uneven – poetry is still better written with intention. But Poetweet also enables you to scroll over the poem and get fuller citations for each tweet from which the line is drawn, which is of great value to scholars of the form.
I spent some time with this over the weekend, and while I enjoyed it, the results mostly don’t hold up the next day. For example, this Poetweet, derived from Dave Carney’s tweets, starts very strong but then fizzles into incoherence.
by Dave Carney
All Haters go home! Case resolved.
Wendy Davis painted Texas redder
Chuck Norris approved
All legacy airline on passengers
Feb 2nd Chris Kyle Day | RedState
Chance right? Every vote matters!
A jump on cleaning out the trash?
Commanding General Sean MacFarland
And this Poetweet from Bobby Jindal seems aimless until two stunning lines in its third stanza.
by Gov. Bobby Jindal
Hurt our famers and our businesses.
Washington knows what’s best.
Men and women & their spouses.
Guys in government are the dumbest.
Out who is crossing our borders.
Is running your healthcare.
It’s time to cheer on the Tigers.
Adults over seniors in Medicare.
Domestic/international no-fly list.
Fight back Tigers. Bring on Bama!
In the resurrection of Christ.
With the 10th pick. What a steal!
Play the Steelers! Geaux Saints!
Everything I can to work for repeal
If tweeting is clearly an art form, I am not yet sure whether retweeting is truly a form of creative expression. Of course, early on, there were those who thought photography was not really art.
But, if retweeting comes into its own as a celebrated means of expression, it should be recalled that we have one of its early masters in our midst.
I am talking, of course, of Gov. Greg Abbott.
I conclude with his contributions to the genre just since his inauguration.