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Con Chapman

Con Chapman
Boston, Massachusetts, US of A
September 28
. . . is the author of over fifty books--some with paper!--available on and elsewhere.

JANUARY 18, 2013 8:48AM

An Interview With the Standby Inaugural Poet

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          Ricardo Blanco, a gay Cuban-American who is named after Richard Nixon, has been selected to read an original poem at President Obama's inauguration.  But what if he gets writer's block, or has a sore throat on January 21st? 

Not that Liberation Army.


          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?

Robert Frost:  "Big deal, so you're getting colder--think of me, I'm so much older."


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."

U.S. Commerce Department


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.

"I've got this freaking poetry assignment, but I need to take my car in for an alignment."


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.

Burma-Shave roadside poetry


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.

SpongeBob SquarePants stationery--perfect for the budding poet in your house.

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?

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You know Con how much I love you. In the scenario sometimes it is hard to comment on humour. Usually doing my daily blog is just about the extent of smiles I can get out. There has not been a day I have not read you as you brighten my day. I just have one thing to say:

“If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live.”

― John F. Kennedy
Thanks. As I understand it Kennedy had sex with Angie Dickinson on the day of his inauguration. Must have read her some poetry.
Ya think we can get together one of those petitions to the White House to bring back Burma-Shave signs? I loved those things. Inspirational stuff.
America was a better country when it had drive-by poems.
All the world is a stage, and we in it merely players

Poet's get all the chicks. It's a kind of numchuck skill I think.
Girls like guys with skills. Bow-hunting skills, line-scanning skills.
Write a poem book
with nary a look
be sure to keep
old shoes to cook

the longer you drive
don't forget to sleep
let dreams strive
let whiskers thrive

look out for cows
and rounded sows
when it snows
follow the plows

(all stanzas to include 'Burma-Shave' as a fifth line.
it was nothing at all believe me)