Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sonnet: On Reading. By President Donald J. Trump

Photo by Steve Round, via RSPB.

What do we mean when we say the words of President Donald Trump should be taken seriously, but not literally? I mean, I don't actually say it, but if I did, would I mean anything?

I'd like to stipulate one possibility, that we have a word for language that is to be understood seriously but not literally, and that word is "poetry". When Shelley addresses a skylark with the words, "Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert!" we don't assume that Shelley is too stupid to realize that a skylark is not a bird, or that he's lying about it.

We see that we're reading a poem, and we look for the words to be doing something other than merely meaning what they say; in this case, that there's something uncannily unphysical about the bird singing, so high up in the air he'd practically be in Heaven, if Shelley believed in Heaven; so high he can't be seen, as if he weren't a bird, hot little bundle of muscle tissue and feathers, but truly disembodied:
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
    Bird thou never wert,
   That from Heaven, or near it,
    Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
And speaking of profuse strains of unpremeditated art...
What exactly is it about Andrew Jackson, slaveholder, Indian-killer, scourge of the Second National Bank and founder of the explicitly racist Democratic Party, 1824-1964 RIP, whose portrait, along with the Trump-gold drapes, is the main new thing in the Oval Office decor? Photo by AP/Alex Brandon from a nice article by Ralph Benko in Forbes reminding us how Jackson's economic management gave us, once he himself was safely out of office, the worst depression in American history up until 1929.

Sonnet: On Reading
by Donald J. Trump
 What do you do at the end of the day? What do you read, what do you watch?—Tucker Carlson
Well, you know, I love to read. Actually,
I'm looking at a book, I'm reading a book,
I'm trying to get started. Every time
I do about a half a page, I get a phone call
that there's some emergency, this or that.
But we're going to see the home of Andrew Jackson
today in Tennessee and I'm reading
a book on Andrew Jackson. I love to read.

I don't get to read very much, Tucker,
because I'm working very hard on lots
of different things, including getting costs
down. The costs of our country are out of control.
But we have a lot of great things happening,
we have a lot of tremendous things happening.
If you're wondering whether he really loves to read or is lying about it, you're asking the wrong questions. We already know the answer to Tucker's question: when he turns in around 6:30 after a tough couple of postprandial hours presidenting, he gets into his bathrobe or equivalent and curls up with a surfing menu dominated by Fox News and sticks with it, breaking only for a little fitful sleep and some breakfast, until the first morning meeting (or the second, if the first one is the daily intelligence briefing, which he'll skip in favor of switching between Fox&Friends and hate-watching Scarborough).

But in the poem—chatty and disjointed in a way that may remind you of Frank O'Hara or John Ashbery, but miraculously organizing its unrhymed, relaxed pentameter into the 8 + 6 pattern of the classic sonnet—through that "negative capability" of which Keats wrote, he imagines himself into being-a-reader, working through the octave to the fact that he actually has a book already:
  • looking at a book
  • reading a book
  • trying to start reading a book
  • has done half a page perhaps more than once
  • is about to visit a museum, a reading-like activity
  • might read a book that shares a subject with the museum
in a cycle beginning and ending with that statement, "I love to read."

And then in the sestet, the contrast of harsh reality, where he can't read, much as he might love to if he could, because he has to spend virtually all his non-TV time except when he's in Florida on the weekend getting the costs of our country under control. With the success that thuds in the repetition of the final couplet.

If he were to read, those tremendous things might stop happening, whatever they are. We taxpayers would suffer. Trump doesn't want that! Nor do we! Don't read, Donald! Save us from our tax burden!

But keep writing. Poets may be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but executives are its unacknowledged poets.

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