Calvin Trillin's Epic Take On Election 2008 The 2008 presidential race was many things to many people, but almost everyone agrees that it was long — epic even. So what better way to tell the story of the past political year than in an epic poem? That's where Calvin Trillin's Deciding the Next Decider comes in.
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Calvin Trillin's Epic Take On Election 2008

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Calvin Trillin's Epic Take On Election 2008

Calvin Trillin's Epic Take On Election 2008

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The 2008 presidential race was many things to many people, but almost everyone agrees that it was also very long. You could even say it was epic. So, what better way to tell the story of the election than in an epic poem? Calvin Trillin thought so. And his epic verse appears in the new book, "Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme." And Calvin Trillin joins me now. Mr. Trillin, welcome back to the program. I feel a little bit bad about not introducing you in verse.

Mr. CALVIN TRILLIN (Author, "Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme"): Well, thanks very much, but I think prose is just fine with me.

NORRIS: Oh, good, good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: Sometimes people complain about one of my Deadline Poems, and they write it in verse, and I always welcome it because it's just about the time I'm beginning to think I'm the worst poet in the world, some evidence to the contrary is presented on the letter page.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: But I think prose will do.

NORRIS: You've been doing this for quite awhile. When and why did you start writing comic verse?

Mr. TRILLIN: I was inspired by John Sununu.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: I think I'm the only poet who is inspired by John Sununu, not the recently defeated senator from New Hampshire, but his father, who was the White House chief of staff for George H. W. Bush, and he had that marvelous characteristic that draws the attention of people I meet, as he was very interested in showing he was the smartest person in the room. And he also had that wonderful name, Sununu, which I think is a lovely name, and I found myself sort of mumbling it. And one day, I thought of a poem called, "If You Knew What Sununu." That sort of launched me on whatever this is.

NORRIS: Some of the smaller poems in this book are meant to be set to music, in one case, a poem that's meant to be sung to the tune of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." And in this case, it's "On a Clear Day, You Can See Vladivostok." In the book, you suggest that this Streisand tune should be sung by Sarah Palin, but I wonder if I dare ask you to break into song.

Mr. TRILLIN: I think that I'm - singing on the radio is just one step beyond my hammy-ness, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRILLIN: It's a short step. It's a short step. I thought maybe you would sing it...

NORRIS: Oh, no.

Mr. TRILLIN: Because it's right in front of you, and you're known for your voice...

NORRIS: Not a bet. Not on your life.

Mr. TRILLIN: Around the office.

NORRIS: Not on your life.

Mr. TRILLIN: No. Oh, well.

NORRIS: But perhaps you can recite it for us.

Mr. TRILLIN: (Reading) On a clear day, I see Vladivostok, so I know world affairs. Don't say, no way. Though I know elites mock, It's osmosis that does it - well, that and our prayers.

And Joe Biden sees New Jersey from his shore. And that's just a state. That doesn't rate. It's me who knows the score. On a clear day, on a clear day, I see Vladivostok and Novosibirsk, And Krasnoyarsk, and Novokuznetsk, and Omsk, and Tomsk, and more.

NORRIS: There's one in particular that I would love if you would read for us. It's called, "Obama Rising."

Mr. TRILLIN: (Reading) According to a long, established tenant, he should mature for years yet in the Senate. Producing legislation at a trickle, some Senate members don't mature; they pickle. Obama thinking time would not improve the chance he had resolved to make his move. He went to Springfield where he could invoke the spirit of Abe Lincoln as he spoke to thousands cheering in the bitter cold. He may have been by many fans ex-told but pro said, it was a long shot bet - to think the nomination's what he'd get. When faced with Clinton's powerful machine they said, he might collapse like Howard Dean. Experience was what he seemed to lack, and to be frank, they pointed out, he's black.

NORRIS: When you started writing this, the race was already pretty far along. If you had started writing about him back in Springfield...

Mr. TRILLIN: Right.

NORRIS: When he first jumped into the ring, do you think you would have been writing about him differently?

Mr. TRILLIN: I think that I - I was always sort of, I guess, conflicted on whether he had a chance or not. And so I think I would have been as skeptical, I guess the word is, of his chances as the people who talk on Sunday morning on television, what I call the Sabbath gas bags, were. On the other hand, I remember saying to people early on, well, this may not work, but we've got to try it.

NORRIS: Calvin Trillin, this has been an interview so nice that we'd like to do it twice. So, I hope that you will come back and talk to us again and soon.

Mr. TRILLIN: Thanks very much, Michele.

NORRIS: Thank you very much. Calvin Trillin, his new book is called, "Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme." You can read excerpts from the book at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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