Friday, November 2, 2012


Presidents and Their Poetry

In classier election-related news, Elizabeth Harball tells us all about what poems presidents like (or claim to like) reading.

Woodrow Wilson was famously fond of reading and writing limericks. When the future president was speaking to a large crowd in Jersey City in 1908, a man heckled him and shouted, “You ain’t no beaut.” Wilson responded with this limerick by Anthony Euwer:

For beauty I am not a star;
There are others handsomer, far;
But my face, I don't mind it,
For I am behind it;
‘Tis the people in front that I jar.

The incident received so much press that the limerick is often misattributed to Wilson.

Amongst other tidbits, George Washington was much enamored of Phillis Wheatley, of whom Henry "Skip" Gates, Jr. has said really fascinating and thought-provoking things which everyone should read in full.

23 Comments / Post A Comment


John Quincy Adams, I can't handle you.


This was cool@t


Woodrow and my mom would get along very well.


JFK & Frost just seems so.... Can I ask a weird question? What do y'all think of Frost?

I just...I don't know what it is, I cannot even form an opinion. It's so ubiquitous and just - Frost feels to me the way I'm sure Nirvana feels to younger than me Rock & Roll kids....it's just some institutional "thing", detached from any real meaning at this point.

Like, I respond for real to a lot of other "Canon" poets, but for some reason Frost, I just can't get a 'read'.


@leon s Ah, you've hit the nail on the head for me! I've always felt pretty apathetic toward Frost, but I never really thought about why. The "detachment" feeling is very appropriate as a definition.

I'm also turned off by overly sing-songy poems, which Frost loves to write.

Reginal T. Squirge



@leon s Frost is not my favorite, but after studying him in a few classes, I have a lot of appreciation for his brand of formalism. That shit is tough! He doesn't really give me the warm fuzzies, though. His favorite of mine right now is probably 'Directive' - I think it's improved by reading it out loud. "Back out of all this now too much for us..."


This made me think of other "canon" poets I either dislike or am apathetic toward, so I re-read "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" and threw up in my mouth a little.


@meetapossum I was a TA in a poetry seminar, and the professor had written the full text of "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" on the board. When I came back later to erase it, somebody had written "Cool story, bro." next to it, and then I died of laughter.


Frost's nowhere near the top of my list, but I can still appreciate some of his poems. Apart from that ubiquitous quality you mentioned, he has a few that are very pretty and moving, in my opinion. But then again, it's more that I'm surprised by how lovely some of the turns of phrases are when I happen across them—I never seem to seek them out on my own.

To me, it's kind of the same as, say, Starry Night, except in poetry form. Starry Night is, in its own right, still a great painting, but I've seen it more on mugs and umbrellas and mousepads than anything else, so when I see it, I don't think, "wow, Van Gogh hit that one out of the park!"

Reginal T. Squirge

How dare you compare Frost to Van Gogh. How dare you.


@Reginal T. Squirge Eh, I was comparing their commercialization and ubiquity more than their actual work.

Reginal T. Squirge

Sorry. I get kind of touchy with these things.


@leon s Frost isn't really my jam, either. Other poets of his era sound fresh and exciting to my ears-- his poems just sound old. I don't think it's the formalism, either, since Seamus Heaney is one of my favorites.

But the streets in my parents' neighborhood are all named for Frost's poetry, so every time I visit they're talking about "the Smiths on Oven Bird Green" or "the Theodorakises, who live over on Mending Wall." Very weird.


@leon s I just think "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" is such a great, great line.


@leon s


Around the world
With stones and shells.
The nicest ones I lost.
Around the world
without a boat
and just a quote from Frost
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood."
A lovely crossing on
Around the world
The world around the attic wall


@leon s I appreciate that people who don't like poetry often like him.


@leon s Though, in fact, that makes me think that JFK didn't like much other poetry.


@aphrabean He's the YA lit of poetry


James Garfield had a special chair made, as he liked to read sitting sideways - back against one arm, legs slung over the other. So one side was higher than the other, for maximum book-curling-up-withing. Also, I believe he was a fan of Jane Austen.


@emkay That is also my preferred way of sitting! Garfield just jumped, like 27 places on my list of favorite presidents. (Insert lasagna joke here.)


@cuminafterall Between this and his love of the Jersey Shore, I have developed a fondness for Garfield.

Hot Doom

Christ. Poor Phillis.

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account