Poet's Notebook: Notes from the Notebook

Cultural bullets from the mind of Florida’s poet laureate.

click to enlarge poet's notebook notes glasses - JEANNE MEINKE
Jeanne Meinke
poet's notebook notes glasses

Why are the stamps adorned

with kings and presidents?

That we may lick their hinder parts

   and thump their heads.

—from “Power to the People” by Howard Nemerov (1920-1991)

When I started doing these Notebooks, that’s what I had in mind: short notes about various subjects like art, family, and politics, in small bites, though they soon developed into a loose essay format. As the torture of this endless election winds to its close, here’s a throwback to semi-related notes that I haven’t been able to fit in the essays. (After all, I only have 700 words to do these things.)

*I've been in hundreds of locker rooms, and am not surprised to see that just as Donald Trump has lowered the bar for political discourse during this long, distasteful year, he's even succeeded in lowering the bar for "locker-room talk" as well.  His vocabulary may be similar, but his crass and selfish appetite is the grossest I've ever heard.

*People compare Trump to Joe McCarthy, Putin, even Mussolini, but his constant disparagement of the media and the educated (“I love uneducated people”) reminds me of Pol Pot, the murderous leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, who hated not just “intellectuals,” but anyone who wore glasses, so hordes of Cambodians broke their glasses and stumbled around to avoid getting purged. 

*Ignorance of the uneducated is natural — Nobody taught them nothin’ — but the ignorance of the rich is chosen. The poor don’t believe in climate change because they see snow in the winter; the rich don’t believe in it (see Rubio, Scott, Trump, et al.) because they’re not “scientists,” i.e., their money comes from billionaires who depend on Big Oil.

*The difference between the parties is that the Republicans nominated Trump while the Democrats rejected Sanders. Psychologically, the GOP went with its gut, while the Dems stuck with its head. This is a reversal of the intellectual tradition of the right. We grew up watching William Buckley’s Firing Line, where serious ideas got intelligently, and often wittily, debated.

*Recently I pulled out Edgar Allan Poe’s book of poems, the one I loved when I first started reading by flashlight in my little room in Brooklyn. But the poems seemed heavily out of date — “Lo, Death has reared himself a throne” — with faults sticking out of his lines like a potbelly on an old flame. But Emily Dickinson sounds contemporary.

*Trump, like Poe (and unlike Dickinson) has no sense of humor. He often says he’s “joking,” but that’s just another straight lie: he’s simply taking back some coarse insult made the previous day. Buffoonery’s gross: the humor of heroes is quiet (John Kennedy and Obama, for example; or Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, or even that Republican Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry). Trump saying that New York Times columnist Gail Collins has “the face of a dog” isn’t funny.

*Today’s troubles began 400 years ago when Copernicus and Galileo proved that the earth moved around the sun, rather than vice versa. Since then it’s been believers against unbelievers, patriarchy against feminism, the Bible against The Double Helix. But the pace and heat of this debate have been picking up: the Good Old Days against LGBTQ.

*Muslims are our friends, allies, and relatives. Islamic terrorists are just the mad dogs of Islam that need to be quarantined or exterminated the way the law handled Timothy McVeigh and the Tsarnaev brothers.

*Watching Trump pick on people more or less at random, I was reminded of Tom Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Buchanan — a prejudiced bully who inherited his money — with his wife Daisy “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they made.” Literature prepares us for what might happen.

Of the Great World he knew not much,

But his Muse let little in language escape her.

Friends sigh and say of him, poor wretch,

He was a good writer, on paper.

—from “Epitaph” by Howard Nemerov 

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