by Jack Foley
Things That Go Trump in the Night: Poems of Treason and Resistance, by Paul Fericano, a collaboration between Poems-For-All-Press, San Diego, California, and YU News Service/Little City Press, San Francisco, 2019, 90 pages, $7.00 paperback, www.yunews.com/things-that-go-trump-in-the-night.
I don't care what you say about me as long as you say something about me and as long as you spell my name right.AMONG THE MANY ASPECTS of Donald John Trump, the pride and/or embarrassment of Queens, is his function as Muse. His presence as the forty-fifth president of the United States has unleashed an unprecedented amount of words from all sorts of people—people who support him and, significantly, people who don't. Trump is perhaps the most talked about president who ever lived. He has been praised, certainly, but—at least in my circle of friends—also denounced roundly. One wonders at times whether any of it matters. Much of the writing on both sides of the fence—or rather, wall—has been dreadful, frequently marred in the praise by a certain empty-headedness or I-don't-care-if-he's-lying in the praiser and in the denunciations by a distasteful self-righteousness on the part of the denouncer. Perhaps bad presidents necessarily generate bad prose. In the midst of this whirlwind of brouhaha, however, comes a breath of fresh air: Paul Fericano's Things That Go Trump in the Night: Poems of Treason and Resistance.
—George M. Cohan to a reporter
Breathes there a poet with soul so dead s/he is unfamiliar with William Carlos Williams's iconic, untitled poem first published in 1923 in the poet's Spring and All, a highly experimental book printed by Maurice Darantière, a printer based in Dijon, France who had printed the first edition of Joyce's Ulysses in 1922?
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
This is how the poem shows up in Things That Go Trump in the Night:
so much offends
an orange peel
filled with waste
inside the white
("William Carlos Williams Trumps Himself," page 20)
Parody simultaneously elevates and denigrates its subject, though the denigration is what wins out. It is perhaps the most manic-depressive of all poetic forms, an elevator which goes up only to come thundering down.
Williams himself wrote that his poem "sprang from affection for an old Negro named Marshall. He had been a fisherman, caught porgies off Gloucester. He used to tell me how he had to work in the cold in freezing weather, standing ankle deep in cracked ice packing down the fish. He said he didn't feel cold. He never felt cold in his life until just recently. I liked that man, and his son Milton almost as much. In his back yard I saw the red wheelbarrow surrounded by the white chickens. I suppose my affection for the old man somehow got into the writing." (Wikipedia)
The man who emerges from Fericano's poem—"an orange peel/ barrel// filled with waste"—is a far cry from Williams's fisherman and the mystery of his work, yet both still remain in the poem to some extent.
In another poem, Fericano's hatred of the man is given full rein:
RULES FOR PLAYING
TRUMP ROULETTE ALONE
1. Load six bullets in revolver.
2. Spin cylinder.
3. Point muzzle at head.
4. Pull trigger.
5. Pull trigger again.
The shock of the poem is considerable ("Pull trigger again"), and its edginess is intensified by the flat tone of its language.
"STRAW MAN" has a fairytale quality:
Today, today, the lie I make,
tomorrow, tomorrow, the truth I fake.
Nothing you hear will be the same,
for Trumpelstiltskin is my name.
And both the Bible and the Beatles show up in "SAINT PAUL STUMPS FOR TRUMP BEFORE BEING STONED BY THE CORINTHIANS"—based on 1Corinthians 13. Fericano notes that the Epistle was "authored by Paul the Apostle whom [sic] some theologians argue distorted the teachings of Jesus and invented Christianity":
Verily, I say unto you
that all who consume with him
shall ensure a sizeable profit justly returned.
For I am he, as you are he, as you are me
and we are all together.
Yea, though his fingers be like long ties,
You know not what he is up to…
When he was a president,
he thought not as a president
and reasoned not as presidents do.
But when he grew a tail
and fumbled and groped many girly bits,
and they let him do it,
he embraced his presidential ways.
F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked in The Love of the Last Tycoon that "Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person." Paul Fericano allows his imagination to roam into all the corners of Western Culture to find the Trumpery hidden there. In a way, it is a megalomaniac's dream: Donald Trump is everywhere, everyone. Yet the elevator takes that turn downward, and suddenly "everyone" is specific, ill-mannered, anxious, mean. Here he is as Marlon Brando ("You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it"). Note the lower-case I.
you don't understand
i could've had brass
i could've been an enforcer
i could've been some gotti
instead of a trump
which is what I am
let's face it
("Trump On The Waterfront," page 66)
Paul Fericano allows his anger and frustration—anger and frustration felt by many of us—to emerge not as fulmination but as the gold of art. May this book be Donald Trump's lasting legacy. The only criticism I have of Things That Go Trump in the Night is that in the first edition, Fericano was evidently misinformed about the authorship of "The Lady is a Tramp": the song wasn't written by Rodgers and Hammerstein; it was written by Rodgers and Hart. But happily, the attribution has been corrected in the second edition and all subsequent copies.
Jack Foley is a poet, critic, and host of KPFA FM's "Cover to Cover" book show. His most recent books are Riverrun, Grief Songs, and The Tiger and Other Tales, fiction. He is a Poetry Flash contributing editor.