My readers have the best words, as Donald Trump might say. Evidence for that comes from the caliber of the 2,750 poems submitted to my Trump poetry contest. With the help of the Poetry Society of America, I’ve picked my winners, and here they are, offering us a mix of humor, bite and hope.
Richard Kenney, a published poet from Port Townsend, Washington, offered “A Prayer”:
Dear Generals Three:
If he asks for The Football,
Link arms: Take a knee.
Lisa Grunberger, an associate professor at Temple University who is Jewish, wrote about the vandalism of her house in Philadelphia. An excerpt:
A “J” spray-painted on my olive green house in South Philly,
Its white-hooked tail grazes my daughter’s head.
A skinhead, says my neighbor Jorge,
Un racist blanco, no entiendo,
Holding my hand inside his hand
Far longer than any gringo would.
He smells of sawdust and cologne.
I shoot a picture with my phone
Of my daughter underneath the “J.”
Evidence is always good to gather.
She traces the letter with her small finger.
She’s just learning about how letters
Make words, and words make sentences.
Doesn’t yet know sentences can kill:
Arbeit macht frei. Sentences can lie:
Make America Great Again. Sentences
Can heal: I have a dream. She’s fished
A pen from my bag and draws a “K” beside the “J.”
Advanced Placement students at Pittsburg High School in a high-poverty part of the San Francisco Bay Area offered several excellent poems. Natalie Calderon, a 17-year-old Latina student, wrote “Deception”:
America, the so-called land of the free
But is it still free if I take a knee?
Our president wants to “Make America Great Again”
But keeps putting roadblocks in the path of equality
I’m worried things will only get worse from here
I adjure to feel secure but how can I when
My so-called leader is acting so immature
My hope in humanity is fading
Because of all the degrading
My heart hurts as racism is pervading
I feel anger in my soul as it anchors my stomach
My spirit is damaged by the baggage of hate I carry
But I must stay strong for the struggles to come
I just hope my pride doesn’t go numb
Many entries attacked Trump, but not all. John Zengel of Asbury, New Jersey, says he’s a conservative who disagrees with Trump but thinks Democrats need to drop the condescension. He wrote this poem, “Perspective from a hard-working American,” to reflect the thinking of his father:
What the liberal elite don’t get
Is that Trump speaks my language.
If that makes me a racist, so be it.
I’m a hard-working American.
You say you love the poor,
But your sympathy goes to Africa,
And my taxes are given to takers.
What about hard-working Americans?
Your tree-huggers are after our jobs;
Your “values” are after our families;
Your diversity is after our God
Threatening hard-working Americans.
So go ahead, ignore us “deplorables”
And laugh at his scandals, his stupidity, his immorality, his hair.
But who will be laughing in ’20?
Us hard-working Americans.
Some of the verse was despairing, but Michael Collins of Salem, Oregon, wrote about making a difference in “no matter how small”:
I’m sorry for my tone, of late.
It’s tiring, decrying hate,
And likely tiresome as well
But ever since the hammer fell
And Trump ascended to the throne
I’ve told myself my voice alone
Won’t make a difference, but that I
Should not interpret that: Don’t try.
The Whos that only Horton hears
In Dr. Seuss’ book reached ears
Besides the elephant’s when they
Cried all together, so, OK,
I’ll keep on shouting, We are here!
A waste? Perhaps, but it’s sincere.
In a similar vein, Lee Robinson, a retired lawyer in Comfort, Texas, ended her elegy on an uplifting note. Her poem, condensed here, is called “Who Says Trump and Poetry Are Incompatible?”
We know a poem can be maniacal, the best ones
Always unpredictable. Don’t poets sometimes rave?
Pound for example: profound, but mad as the Hatter,
And maybe a traitor. As for the tweets, if Dylan Thomas
Were still with us, might not he tweet his late-night sullen art?
Perhaps only poetry, after prose has failed us,
Is brave and big enough for this Trumpian time.
Think of Wordsworth, The world is too much with us,
Or Arnold: And we are here as on a darkling plain.
Dickinson would tell us to turn the TV off, the phone
And iPad too: The Soul selects her own Society.
Did Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock foretell our president
Come whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbling…
But if I had to choose one poem to give to him,
I’d give him Angelou: You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. Reach him at Facebook.com/Kristof, Twitter.com/NickKristof or c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2017 New York Times News Service