"I decided to call this talk 'Politics and Poetry,'" said Katie Louchheim, "because I was afraid that if I just called it 'Poetry' nobody would come."
Her subterfuge worked; the dining room at the Woman's National Democratic Club was about 80 percent full yesterday for a luncheon at which Louchheim read a lot of poetry (mostly her own) and talked hardly at all about politics. Afterward, club members hurried to an adjoining room where a collection of her poems was on sale, snapped up all available copies within a few minutes, and lined up patiently to have them autographed.
Louchheim, a former U.S. representative on the board of UNESCO, former deputy assistant secretary of state and former vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was introduced by former senator Eugene McCarthy who noted that, unlike being a former politican, it is impossible to be a former poet. "It's kind of like being ordained a priest," he said. "To be accepted as a poet, you have to get another poet to say you are a poet. Then you are a poet forever."
McCarthy supplied the political ingredient that was largely lacking in Louchheim's presentation, beginning with his opening sentences: "I'm particularly glad to be here because I haven't been invited to speak to Democrats since 1969. The worst thing you can do in a political party is be right and lose."
Even a momentary problem with the club's public address system provided political fodder as McCarthy recalled, "When I was running for president, I said I might not put a man on the moon if elected, but all over the country we would have public address systems that work."
But in the long run, he thought, poetry might be more important: "Poets will do anything to get published, even run for the presidency -- over and over. Of course, Katie didn't have to do all that."
Actually, Louchheim explained at the autographing session after her reading, she never had an opportunity to run for anything.
She described her life as "politics by day and poetry by night," but the two were mingled to some extent in the poems she read -- which included some barbed lines about bureaucrats and (unspecified) elected officials as well as more personal reflections on her life in Washington, memories of her late husband, and some poignant expressions of loneliness.
"The cure for loneliness is solitude," said one of her best lines, but yesterday afternoon she was surrounded by friends, enjoying it thoroughly and very informal in her rapport with the audience. "This is a complicated poem," she said, leafing through her book, "and I think after lunch is not the best time . . . so I'll read something simpler."
Anything but simple was Eugene McCarthy, who sometimes seemed to be still campaigning for an unspecified position.
"For the last three or four administrations," McCarthy said, "we have had presidents without metaphor. There have been a lot of adjectives and adverbs, of course . . . and in the campaign next year, we may expect some verbs."