Who Won the Bush Inaugural Poem Contest?

George W. Bush’s decision to drop the inaugural poem seems to have dismayed Slate readers as much as it did Chatterbox. There has been an overwhelming response to the inaugural poem contest, with entries from more than 200 would-be Angelous.

The prospect of a Bush presidency inspired every kind of poetic creativity. We were bombarded with haiku and limericks. (Chatterbox never knew so many words rhymed with “subliminable.”) Many poets decided that a nursery rhyme would most appropriately launch the Bush administration. Several folks parodied Dr. Seuss, and half a dozen submitted “The Ballad of George W.,” a satire of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song that is making the rounds on the Internet. More literary souls rewrote Shakespearean sonnets and monologues, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (“The Chad Not Punched”), and Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” among other works. A special prize for fecundity goes to Tamara Lynn Scott, who submitted a 200-line epic. And an award for bravery goes to Carol Gorman, who wrote the only poem that actually glorifies the president-elect.

Now, the winners:

Limericks were a favorite of the inaugural poets, and Chatterbox is hard-pressed to choose among many fine entries. Lawrence Cotman hits a popular theme, substance abuse:

There once was this President Bush

Who was reputed to be quite a lush

He insulted our brain

With appointments insane

So we threw him out on his tush

But the champion limerick belongs to “Richardahorner,” who strikes just the right Bush tone of good-natured incoherence:

To lead us we have a new Bushie

Plain-spoken, modest, not pushy.

Since the Hammer succeeded

And Al Gore conceded

Hopefuller a nation, there couldn’t be.

Haiku writers were also energized by Bush’s laconic style. Scott Messenger offers this plaintive cry:

Dubya at the helm

Unspeakable foreign names

Do I have to, Pa?

While “Fletch” welcomes Bush’s hands-off style:

For my policies

You will have to ask Cheney.

Tetris, anyone?

A number of entrants make a strong case that the winner of the George W. Bush inaugural poem contest should be George W. Bush himself. Several poets string together Bush quotes into rather moving poems. “I think we agree, the past is over,” begins Paul Wells’ entry. Only Stefan McGrath’s verses really captured the sparkling dada brilliance of Bush’s speech. His 21 poems include:



Is where our nation finds hope

Where wings take dream

“Who Them Was”

When I was coming up,

It was a dangerous world,

And you knew exactly who they were.

It was us versus them,

And it was clear

Who them was.


We are not so sure

Who the they are,

But we know they’re there.

And “Koan No. 9”

I understand

Small business growth

I was one.

Hallie Leighton deserves mention for her “clerihew,” an obscure poetry form that she helpfully explains: “A humorous verse, usually consisting of two unmatched rhyming couplets of irregular meter, about a person whose name appears as the first line.” One verse from her poem:

Condoleezza Rice,

Will give George the Younger advice

In security matters. He’ll heed it.

(That’s not to say that he’ll read it.)

Read all the wonderful clerihew here.

A few of the best poems defy categorization. The two most evocative entries, in Chatterbox’s opinion, are Sue Drummond’s ”Morning” and Elizabeth Anderson’s “No Wrinkles, No Sweat”.

There were many updates of famous poems. The finest included knockoffs of W.B. Yeats’ bleak “The Second Coming”–you know it: “… things fall apart …”–by Larry Gainor and Kevin Carey. This is Carey’s version. David H. Orr honors the history of inauguration poetry by satirizing “The Gift Outright,” the work Robert Frost read for John F. Kennedy. Orr’s version starts, “The count was ours before we did the count.” Read the rest of it.

The grand-prize winner–well, there’s no prize, grand or otherwise–is also a poetic homage. Nathaniel Daw has revised T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” producing a poem that captures the surreal grim essence of the inauguration for Bush opponents. (Though it’s a “Wasteland” tribute, Daw has titled it after another Eliot poem. It’s called “The Love Song of Rutherford B. Hayes.”) It begins:

November is the cruelest month, breeding

Butterflies out of dead votes …

The entire poem is here. Memo to Bush-Cheney: FedEx Mr. Daw his inaugural invitation immediately.