Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Presidential Poetasters: Verse Adversity

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Presidential Poetasters: Verse Adversity

Article excerpt

Two ex-presidents published volumes of poetry, according to the Library of Congress. Both men were ousted from office after one term, and both discovered that literary critics can be even less charitable than voters.

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When Always a Reckoning, and Other Poems appeared in 1995, The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani judged former president Jimmy Carter a "mediocre poet," whose "well-meaning, dutifully wrought poems ... plod earnestly from point A to point B without ever making a leap into emotional hyperspace? Kakutani observed that "Mr. Carter's own life is his favorite subject:' His poems include an account of his mother's visit to India, "Miss Lillian Sees Leprosy for the First Time," and his recollections of a strike by farm workers, "The Day No One Came to the Peanut Picker."

Carter got off easy compared to a predecessor in poesy, John Quincy Adams. Dermot MacMorrogh, or The Conquest of Ireland: An Historical Tale of the Twelfth Century in Four Cantos (1832) is "a moral tale," Adams explained in the preface, "teaching [readers] ... the virtues of conjugal fidelity, of genuine piety, and of devotion to their country. …

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