Comic novelist Elinor Lipman’s tweet idea: Daily presidential campaign poetry

November 4, 2012

After months of arduous presidential campaigning, Tuesday is the big day: Elinor Lipman will tweet her 499th political poem. On June 27, 2011, the celebrated comic novelist pledged to entertain her Twitter followers with a sardonic rhyme every day until the election. She ended up missing two for Yom Kippur, but that still makes hers the best-kept promise of the campaign season.

Reading over her tweets offers a doggerel trip back through some of the weirdest moments of this zany campaign:

Bit by penguin at the zoo,

what’s a candidate to do?

Soon the bird wrote in his blog,


Celebrated comic novelist Elinor Lipmian pledged to entertain her Twitter followers with a sardonic rhyme every day until the election. (Courtesy of Michael Lionstar)

“Newt tastes like an underdog.”

In August, just before the Democratic and Republican conventions, she published her tweets in a book called “Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes From the Political Circus” (Beacon, $9.95). But she’s been rhyming every day since and won’t stop until the new president is declared.

Lipman is temporarily holed up at a friend’s place while engineers try to secure a dangling construction crane near her Manhattan apartment. I spoke with her by phone.

What inspired you to begin this project?

I wrote one tweet about Andrew Cuomo the night he approved same-sex marriage, and the next morning, I thought, “You know, I love to write, I love to rhyme, and I’m a political junkie.” My goal in life is to take over when Calvin Trillin retires.

What’s been your favorite response from a reader?

The day that Barney Frank announced that he would not be running again, I got an e-mail from him saying that he was proud to be evoked in the style of Ogden Nash.

I serenade you, Barney Frank

Brilliant wonk & witty crank

You’ve had enuf. There’s no good will

But O what giant shoes to fill.

Do you write these tweets ahead of time, or do you let the day’s events suggest the subject?

Out of the 497 I’ve written so far, only about two dozen were written the night before because it was so clear what ridiculous thing had happened — like when Herman Cain dropped out.

Too many women felt his prod

but Cain is now at peace with God

Take Gloria & go abroad

Then mind the proverb, “Spare the rod.”

Do they come in a flash, or are they hard to compose?

Some of them come really easily. The hard part is deciding on the topic, especially on Saturday and Sunday. But once I decide, I enjoy writing the poem. “Mitt” rhymes with a lot. And so do “Cain” and “Newt.” And I love Michele Bachmann’s name. I even rhymed with “Blagojevich”:

Newt’s way ahead in every state.

So who will be his running mate?

For balance, no one sharp or rich.

I’m thinking Rod Blagoje­vich.

Have there been times during the campaign when there was nothing funny to write about?

On occasion, I’ve done solemn poems — on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, or after the shootings in the movie theater in Colorado.

Do the constraints of Twitter — just 140 characters — complicate the process?

Not at all. I kind of like it. After a couple of weeks, I could write a poem, paste it into the Twitter box, and rarely did I go over. And if I did, I would just tweak it, twitterize some of the words. Usually I was right in the groove. What I’ve had to do with this is distill a speech or a position down to its most ridiculous, lowest common denominator. Once in a while, I’ll say something that’s a little ruder than I am in real life. When I started this, my son said, “That’s what Twitter is, Mom. Don’t worry about being a sissy.”

I know they’re all your children, but do you have a favorite tweet?

Miss Jameson the queen of porn,

Is proudly tooting Romney’s horn.

Tho it’s a love that’s unrequited,

His talk of jobs got her excited.

Charles is The Post’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @RonCharles.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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