Dogfight: Calvin Trillin takes on the last election. In verse.

Just got Calvin Trillin’s new book of verse, Dogfight, about the election recently concluded.  And this song lyric, about Michele Bachman, tickled my funny bone.

Michele, my belle

Thinks that gays will all be sent to hell,

My Michele

Michele, my belle,

Thinks they’re sick but could be made all well,

My Michele. . . .

Calvin Trillin, columnist, food critic, essayist, novelist, humorist.  And poet.  There just isn’t anyone like him.  Now he’s got a new book out, Dogfight.  In verse:

Mitt Romney put Seamus on top of the car

(“He liked it up there, and we weren’t going far”)

Obama, in boyhood, while in Indonesia,

Once swallowed some dog meat without anesthesia.

Though dog lovers wouldn’t be either man’s base,

A dogfight seemed what was in store for their race.

And people were saying “We wonder which dude’ll

Emerge as the pit bull, and which as the poodle.”

To be fair, the candidates themselves gave him plenty of great material.  And reading this book reminded me of how fun the ride was.  The Sarah Palin watch–was she running, or not?  The brief-but-beloved ascendance of Christine O’Donnell, who either was, or wasn’t, a former witch.  Then there was Rick Perry, who seemed to require iambic pentameter to do him full justice:

With even more impressive hair than Kerry,

At last into the race arrives Rick Perry.

Though Perry’s blessed, without doubt, with splendid hair, he

Believes some things that strike some folks as scary.

Observers down in Texas still are wary

The space beneath the hair, they say, is airy.

But Rick Perry disappointed (“Perry’s chances started going south, when Perry started opening his mouth.)  Newt Gingrich as well (“Yes, Newt’s astute, a real wheeler-dealer.  His baggage, though, would fill an eighteen-wheeler.”)  Then Herman Cain came and went.

While Jimmy Fallon tears his hair,

Bill Maher laments, “it’s just not fair.”

David Letterman begins to pout,

They’ve heard that Herman Cain is out.


In common with his Late Night peers,

Jon Stewart comes quite close to tears.

He’d much prefer a case of gout,

To hearing Herman Cain is out.


“That man is threatening our jobs,”

Says Leno, as he softly sobs.

From Colbert, tears begin to sprout.

He’s heard that Herman Cain is out.


They pray together on their knees:

“Could we have Donald Trump back, please?”

Finally, it was down to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  And Republicans were optimistic–a tough economy, a CEO candidate promising job creation.  If only he came across better: “They’d like it if the man the folks were seeing, resembled more an actual human being.”  The conventions were dominated by two speeches, neither by a candidate:

Obama’s speech was good, of course, whereas

Bill Clinton gave a speech with real pizzazz.

Upstaged? Well, yes, but by a speech with flair,

And not by Eastwood and an empty chair.

But ultimately, one moment ended up defining the election.

Well, I work two jobs, and that makes for a kinda hard day.

And the boss deducts the payroll tax I pay.

With sales tax too, I kinda thought I was payin’ my dues

I got the Mitt thinks I’m a moocher, a taker not a maker blues.

Forty-seven percent.  And that one phrase, that one statistic defined the Romney campaign in most damaging ways.  But it wasn’t just that.  Calvin Trillin encapsulates the Republican message with a poem entitled “A simple guide to every single Republican Tax Proposal ever made.”

Sure, sometimes they call it supply-side,

And sometimes they say job creation

Is risked if our entrepreneurs

Think profits get snatched by taxation.


It comes to the same simple credo

Around which the party has danced:

If rich people pay less in taxes,

Then everyone’s life is enhanced.

When Joe Biden won the Vice-Presidential debate, Republicans complained about the moderator, Candy Crowley (“In their religion, one can seem quite pious, by blaming everything on liberal bias”).

Finally, Trillin ends with some compassion for Ohio:

Of course, its an honor to be called by all,

The state that elects the commander-in-chief.

But now that it’s over, the sound around here

Is not lots of weeping, but sighs of relief.

Calvin Trillin is an American original.  Crotchety, smart, impish and fun, his verse is an antidote to despair, a cynic’s article of faith, a call to respond to our damaged democracy with laughter, not despair.  What a wonderful book.



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