Thursday, January 22, 2009

Deciding the Next Decider by Calvin Trillin

This is the fourth time Trillin has published a collection of his "deadline poetry" -- I wouldn't go that far; I'd settle for calling it verse -- with Deadline Poet covering the decade of the '90s and Obliviously On He Sails and A Heckuva Job coming closer and closer together to chronicle the Bush years. Deciding the Next Decider takes an even smaller compass: purely the Presidential race of the last two years.

And it's easily the least of a series of decidedly minor books. Deadline Poet had a long span of time to play with and Obliviously got to channel the Left's growing anger with Bush in the second half of his first term. Heckuva was the same as the previous book, only more so. And now Deciding is a verse account of the presidential race, with nuggets of shorter poems interpolated.

In fact, the longer verse leads right up to each of the shorter poems, and -- though the book never actually comes right out and says this -- it's pretty clear that the short poems are the ones Trillin wrote for The Nation during the race and the bulk of the book was composed later, with the benefit of hindsight. So -- if I'm right -- Deciding is much less "deadline poetry" than its predecessors, which makes it just a mediocre, vaguely humorous long poem (with interpolations) on the campaign just passed. If you're any less of a Calvin Trillin fan than I am, there's no reason for you to buy or read this book. (And that's sad, since Trillin is usually one of our most thoughtful and funny writers. It might just be time to re-read Travels with Alice, in fact.)

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