BETTENDORF, Iowa. Lindsay Curtin, Jr. works the night shift at the Quad Cities Power plant in this town of 33,000, a solitary job that gives him time to pursue his dream of becoming a published poet. “William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying when he worked the graveyard shift at a power plant so I figured it was a position that would serve as a springboard to literary fame,” he says as he inspects a dial on a control panel. “I must be doing something wrong since they gave that guy Dylan the Nobel Prize instead of me.”
Curtin’s struggles as a versifier are reflected in the rejection slips he’s accumulated over the years, which he’s stacked next to his desk in a pile that reaches nearly to his waist. “I’m bloodied, but unbowed,” he says, borrowing a line from William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” one of the most popular poems of all time but also one that is scorned by critics as middlebrow. “And with the inauguration of Donald Trump coming up, I think my time has finally arrived.”
Curtin is incoming president of the Poetasters of America, a trade organization for poets whose work is rejected by literary journals for failure to meet rigorous modern standards of vulgarity, depression and obscurity. “We’ve adopted the scorn of the poetry-industrial complex as a badge of pride,” says outgoing president Norris Byrum, echoing the words used by former Vice President Dan Quayle to express his contempt for the liberal slant of the White House press corps. “Poetry used to be everywhere–Grit Magazine, Burma Shave signs on the road. Now the nation’s poetry output is controlled by pansy-ass college professors who think they’re smarter than ordinary people, and nobody reads it.”
With Trump’s election, there is opportunity to return bad poetry to the throne upon which it once sat in the hearts and minds of the American people, in much the same way that Robert Frost’s recitation of his poem “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration touched off a surge of consumer spending. The resulting economic boom confirmed Kennedy’s claim that “A rising tide lifts all boats, especially those owned by people like me that I bought with money my daddy made as a bootlegger.”
Curtin and Byrum are friendly competitors to provide a poem for Trump’s inauguration, and when asked to provide samples of their work, they oblige this reporter, the former going first with his “Ode to a Trumpian Ascendancy.”
On January 17th Donald Trump will be sworn in as President,
the White House will be the place where he’s a resident.
It’s slightly nicer than Reagan and George W. Bush’s ranches
Did you know the federal government has three branches?
When this reporter asks what the poem means, Curtin shows signs of irritation. “What do you think it means, you stupid dooty-head? It means just what it says, unlike the crap you read in high-falutin’ poetry rags that keep turning me down,” he snaps, before yielding to Byrum, who clears his throat and begins.
I’m now inspired by the divine afflatus
to write a poem about the liberal snobs
who looked down their noses at us.
People just didn’t like that woman in the suit of pants
I relish her supporters’ tears and revel in their sobs.
I also get a big kick reading their on-line rants.
“What do you think?” he asks as a solitary tear rolls down Curtin’s cheek, a reflection of the depths that have been stirred in his heart by his friend’s lines. This reporter suggests that some distance is needed between the poet and his feelings, legitimate though they may seem to him, if his lines are to achieve the “emotion recollected in tranquility” that Wordsworth said was the origin of poetry.
“What a bunch of baloney,” Curtin snaps. “What the hell does this Wordsworth guy know about poetry?”