Iamb Legend

December 4, 2012
“Dogfight” author Calvin Trillin writes for the Nation and the New Yorker.

Who keeps us sane in troubled times?

It’s Calvin Trillin, pundit poet.

He reformats the news in rhymes,

Which sounds so tough to us — although it

Makes some old jokes newly fun

To rhyme them and see where they roam;

His column in the Nation’s run

For 20 years (We know! For POEMS!)

In his new book (it’s called “Dogfight”),

He versifies this last election;

At Politics and Prose tonight,

He’ll probably answer any question.

But if you can’t come up with any,

Just look at this: We asked him many.

“Romney” and “Obama” don’t really rhyme with anything. Was the primary easier to cover because there were more one-syllable names?
Cain was a very good rhyme. Actually, John McCain was even better because he was iambic. I prefer iambic candidates. Ross Perot was my perfect candidate. I would have been in very bad shape if Romney’s family had decided to call him Willard instead of Mitt, because Mitt saved the day with Romney. They had a lot of good short names: Mitt, Newt, Rick.

Who are your favorite poets?
I’m not a devotee of what my family calls “grown-up” poetry.

And there’s not a lot of light verse around these days.
There used to be verse in the Globe and Mail, by John Allemang. He and I had an organization called the International Deadline Poets Organization — international because he’s from Canada. The IDPO.

Do you have any guidelines for aspiring comic poets?
Even when you write silly verse, the words have to be precise. In all attempts at humor, the specific is preferable to the general. “Pontiac” is better than “car.” “Individualize by specific detail” is a good rule.

Do you ever worry about criticism from poetical circles?
Occasionally somebody will write into the Nation, commenting on one of my poems in verse. I always find that comforting. Just when I’m beginning to think I’m the worst poet in the world, some evidence to the contrary is presented on the letter page.

Was it hard when Nate Silver showed up? No rhymes.
I should have mentioned Old Nate. I don’t know him, but I call him Nate, because I found him sort of comforting. He didn’t seem to know or care much about politics; it was all numbers.

Are you worried Hillary Clinton will run in 2016? Her name doesn’t rhyme with very much.
I was at a dinner for her when she was a senator, and I toasted with: “We might as well acknowledge that some people consider Senator Clinton a polarizing figure. There are people who believe she’s been a very effective senator, and others who think that her name is insufficiently iambic.” She came up to me afterward and said, “I’ve been called a lot of things, but that one really cut.”

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Wed., 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)
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Marc Silver | December 4, 2012