Sunday, January 27, 2008

sonnet written after the Swift Boating of Adlai

Here is an example of what the author of this sonnet called the "vituperative political style." It's awful but so wonderfully telling - and the final couplet is a hoot. (Click on the image of the typescript and see a readable version.)

A few days after the presidential elections of November 1956, the poet John Frederick Nims wrote a poem that he meant to be read only by his friend Henry Rago (the editor of Poetry magazine).

That November of course it was Adlai Stevenson - egghead, liberal, articulate, mild-mannered, the candidate who would not "go negative" against Ike know-nothingism - versus the just-mentioned Dwight Eisenhower, incumbent. Stevenson didn't have a chance. Ike sent Nixon (and Nixon's little proto-plumbers) out to Swift Boat poor hapless Adlai. It was ugly. (One of the rumors circulating about Adlai was that he was gay.)

Nims was one of those saddened by the result, politically hungover the next morning. In his letter to Rago, sent with the poem, he wrote: "Frankie [his son] burst into tears Wednesday morning when he heard Stevenson lost. Bonnie's bringing him up right."

Nims sent Rago a sonnet. To introduce it, he wrote: "Want to see a specimen of my vituperative political style? See enclosed sonnet." And added: "Needless to say, this is NOT a submission; no need to return." (The political sonnet was not Nims' known public style.)