From Punk to Presidents: Incongruity

Click here to buy Poems by Presidents!

After seven books, there’s a glaring incongruity in my oeuvre! How can someone who wrote three books about punk praise presidents?

My new book, Poems by Presidents: The First-Ever Anthology, showcases presidents’ verse. I don’t offer uniformly positive depictions of presidents in the chapter introductions, criticizing Warren G. Harding’s adultery and the poor quality of James Madison’s selections. But for the most part, I offer sanitized overviews of presidents’ biographies, with a general audience in mind. Anthologizing presidents’ poems inherently glorifies presidents—at least the eleven whose poems are featured.

The punk ethos empowers the masses, in contrast to the powers that be. It encourages individuals to think for themselves, question authority, and do things their own way, especially creating music and other art. The president of the United States is the ultimate authority figure and thus the subject of punk ire. Examples include the Rock Against Bush compilations and the Saturday Night Live skit “Punk Band Reunion at the Wedding“; I thought it best not to mention some others that came to mind!

I genuinely relate to parts of the punk ethos, which drove my passion for the subject matter in Oy Oy Oy Gevalt!, Punk Rock Hora, and Celtic Punk Superfan. But I am not, at the expense of all else, a punk. I appreciate many aspects of punk rock and the punk ethos. I also have an interest in American history and politics, warts and all, in part to learn from past mistakes so that our country doesn’t repeat them. This is embodied by our nation’s front men.

My punk ethos didn’t sit this book out. A conventional treatment of presidents would not have offered John Quincy Adams the brightest spotlight, but I savored giving a lesser-known president—and antislavery champion—the emphasis he deserved. The poetry establishment might not hold limericks and acrostics in high esteem, but after compiling anthologies about those forms, I relished putting them in conversation with so-called serious poetry, particularly in the Woodrow Wilson chapter. The first-ever coherent publication of Harding’s poetry—lewd and lustful verse to his mistress—subverts the notion that the president is an honorable man. In an appendix, I discuss humor books that ridicule Donald Trump by twisting his statements from tweets and other sources into faux poems.

I am not suggesting that Poems by Presidents is a punk book. But when I realized that there was a fascinating creative project that had never been done before, I seized the opportunity. What could be more DIY?

No Comments

    Leave a Reply