What if he is kidnapped by the Surrealist Liberation Army, or another group dedicated to radical meters and rhyme schemes? Join Of Poetry and Politics moderator Cleanth Wilmot for an exclusive interview with Willard Shea, who would step in in the event of Mr. Blanco's inability or refusal to perform his functions.
Blanco: "Really--I feel fine."
WILMOT: Good afternoon and welcome to Of Poetry and Politics, the rarely-listened to radio show that tries desperately--some would say tragically--to get people to stop listening to KISS 108 and tune in for some verse. Our guest today is Willard Shea, the current poet laureate for the U.S. Department of Commerce, who under the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is next in line to read a poem should anything happen to prevent Ricardo Blanco from fulfilling his poetic duties on Inauguration Day. Good afternoon.
SHEA: Glad to be here.
WILMOT: Who's the other fellow you've brought along today?
SHEA: He's my Secret Service guy. I can't even go to the bathroom without him.
WILMOT: That's fine, but we only have one T-shirt and home game version of "Of Poetry and Politics" to give you. So tell me--what's it like being a heartbeat away from giving the inaugural poem?
SHEA: It's nerve-wracking, let me tell you. I've re-written my 3" x 5" card several times.
WILMOT: Any hint you can give to us about what your poem is like?
SHEA: Well, the weather's probably going to be cold, so I plan on keeping it short.
SECRET SERVICE GUY: Thanks--I appreciate that.
WILMOT: Lyric, tragic, epic, comic?
SHEA: Pragmatic. "Now we've got a two-term president, Who will be a D.C. resident."
WILMOT: (pause) That's pretty . . . pedestrian.
SHEA: I learned to keep my poetry brief and to the point at the Commerce Department. "Some folks call Department of Commerce trade missions 'junkets'. They're so stupid, if they took a urine test they'd probably flunk it."
WILMOT: Pithy. How exactly did the Department of Commerce end up hiring its own poet laureate?
SHEA: It was a mistake. There was a line item in the FY12 budget for a window air conditioner, and a congressional aide spilled her Starbucks Mochachino on it.
WILMOT: So as signed into law . . .
SHEA: I get paid $147 a year, after mail-in rebate.
WILMOT: Wow--that's not much.
SHEA: Actually, it's more than I made as a part-time faculty member in my last job.
WILMOT: Where was that?
SHEA: Orono Junior College in Maine.
WILMOT: Did it at least come with health and dental?
SHEA: No--we got unlimited chamomille tea in the faculty lounge, and that was it.
WILMOT: What do you see as the future of poetry under an Obama administration?
SHEA: I wish he'd bring back Burma-Shave signs.
WILMOT: I've never heard of them.
SHEA: Are you serious? They brought poetry to the highways and by-ways of America, all in the service of Burma-Shave, America's favorite brushless shaving cream.
WILMOT: Well, I hope we could aim a little higher than that.
SHEA: Oh, you're one of those poetry snobs.
SECRET SERVICE GUY: You think you're better than us, don't you?
WILMOT: No, it's just that, poetry is a heightened form of language that we use to express our most exquisite sensibilities.
SECRET SERVICE GUY: I got your "exquisite sensitibilities" right here, pal.
WILMOT: Well, what kind of poetry do you like?
SECRET SERVICE GUY: I dunno. I read a good poem in the Daily Nebraskan the other day.
SHEA: The independent student newspaper of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?
SECRET SERVICE GUY: On the nosey.
WILMOT: What was it about?
SECRET SERVICE GUY: A kid from Nebraska who kicked a 57-yard field goal in a game against Colorado!
SHEA: See what I mean? You academic types are missing out on a whole lot of great poetry with your lavendar-scented fool's cap.
WILMOT: That's about all the time we have today. Next week we'll have Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate, who is also from Nebraska.
SECRET SERVICE GUY: What position does he play?