What You Need to Know About the Trump Inaugural Poem

First off, it’s not. No poetry will be read at the Trump inauguration, per the program.

The poem was written by a certain Joseph Charles MacKenzie (more on him later) and posted to a site he, whatever his real name is, obviosly runs (see the comments): Classical Poets, on January 15, 2017.

Somehow The Scotsman got word and reprinted it the following day: “Scotland-inspired poem created for Donald Trump inauguration.”

The day after that, The Independent covered it as “Poem celebrating Donald Trump inauguration describes Barack Obama as a ‘tyrant.’” Then the interwebs went nuts.

So far there’s no indication the Trump camp had anything to do with the writing, initial posting, and subsequent dissemination of the poem.

And who is this Joseph Charles MacKenzie? If he is real (and I suspect that name is an alias), he comes off as quite the troll and résumé padder. He writes in his site, Mackenziepoet, among other things:

For my translations of some important sonnets of the French Renaissance (into Middle English), I earned the Henry M. Austin Poetry Prize then sponsored by the Witter Bynner Foundation.

French into Middle English. Of course. Also, that prize does not seem to exist, though the Witter Bynner Foundation does. Also:

One of my professors, an Oxonian named Charles Bell, indicated that some of my sonnets surpassed many of Shakespeare’s. Indeed, a sequence of 154 sonnets I had then completed later received First Place in the Long Poem Section of the Scottish International Poetry Competition.

154 sonnets! Some surpassing many of Shakespeare’s! One can only gasp. Also, the referenced prize does not seem to exist. Also, Charles Bell was a prominent Scottish surgeon (nice touch), though he was not associated with Oxford.

However, I suspect Joseph Charles MacKenzie is not real — he’s an alias, a cover for a troll.

Here the man (he is a man) behind the screen gives his name as Joseph McKenzie (the name of a Scottish photography piooneer) and claims he “received his M.L.S. from Texas Woman’s University School of Library and Information Studies. He is a humble librarian.” This picture is used:

                        Mr McKenzie, I presume?

Whereas here, the man in the shadows gives his name as Joseph Charles MacKenzie, and states “At St. John’s College, where I obtained my B.A. in Literae Humaniores, I read the Nine Lyric Poets of Greece in their original dialects.” Of course. 

He also claims he has an M.A. in French Studies with a minor in Italian from the University of New Mexico, and uses the same photograph as above (towards the bottom of the page), and this one at the top:

Well, it’s hard to say if they are the same person, but there is a tempting similarity, no? But I suspect the photos aren’t of the person behind the mask.

Fun and games.

I suspect the “real” McKenzie or MacKenzie (I think the former) has been having fun via his various aliases. A day’s search led me to a likely candidate, neither librarian nor linguist/poet, and perhaps belonging to a so-called higher calling. However, any further speculation on my part would be just that. 

I’ll close with the mission statement (scroll to the bottom) “Joseph Charles MacKenzie” (the linguist/poet, not the librarian incarnation) put forth, who first posted the Trump  poem:


You have boycotted modernist so-called “poetry” for over half a century, but arrogant publishers have ignored your rejection of pseudo-intellectual nonsense in chopped-up prose.

Backward old elites have censored traditional lyric poetry because it clashes with their Marxist-totalitarian world view. The result has been complete censorship of traditional lyric verse and the loss of the ability to produce it.

The only solution to the crisis is the triumphant appearance of Joseph Charles MacKenzie’s Sonnets for Christ the King, the first significant body of traditional lyric verse produced since the poems of W.B. Yeats and Charles Péguy.

“MacKenzie” is nothing if not modest. Oh, and he claims to be “New Mexico’s first traditional lyric poet.” Of course.

A “Cocoanut” Cake From Emily Dickinson

Dickinson discussed baking in many of her letters — evincing both her trademark wit and a zest for life that belies the common image of her as a depressed figure. Note the animation in her letter to a friend about some burnt caramel rule: “I enclose Love’s ‘remainder biscuit,’ somewhat scorched perhaps in baking, but ‘Love’s oven is warm.’ Forgive the base proportions.”

A Coconut Cake From Emily Dickinson: Reclusive Poet, Passionate Baker, by Nelly Lambert
      The “cocoanut” cake recipe in Dickinson’s own hand.

World War I Poetry by Women: Anna Gordon Keown

Reported Missing

by Anna Gordon Keown

My thought shall never be that you are dead:
Who laughed so lately in this quiet place.
The dear and deep-eyed humour of that face
Held something ever living, in Death’s stead.

Scornful I hear the flat things they have said
And all their piteous platitudes of pain.
I laugh! I laugh! – For you will come again –
This heart would never beat if you were dead.
The world’s adrowse in twilight hushfulness,
There’s purple lilac in your little room,
And somewhere out beyond the evening gloom
Small boys are culling summer watercress.
Of these familiar things I have no dread
Being so very sure you are not dead.

More on this poem at Behind Their Lines.

World War I Poetry by Women: Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Ruth Comfort Mitchell’s “He Went for a Soldier,” published in 1916:

He Went for a Soldier

He marched away with a blithe young score of him
With the first volunteers,
Not very clear in the kind young heart of him
What the fuss was about,
But the flowers and the flags seemed part of him —
The music drowned his doubt.
It’s a fine, brave sight they were a-coming there
To the gay, bold tune they kept a-drumming there,
While the boasting fifes shrilled jauntily —
Billy, the Soldier Boy!

Soon he is one with the blinding smoke of it —
Volley and curse and groan:
Then he has done with the knightly joke of it —
It’s rending flesh and bone.
There are pain-crazed animals a-shrieking there
And a warm blood stench that is a-reeking there;
He fights like a rat in a corner —
Billy, the Soldier Boy!

There he lies now, like a ghoulish score of him,
Left on the field for dead:
The ground all around is smeared with the gore of him
Even the leaves are red.
The Thing that was Billy lies a-dying there,
Writhing and a-twisting and a-crying there;
A sickening sun grins down on him —
Billy, the Soldier Boy!

Still not quite clear in the poor, wrung heart of him
What the fuss was about,
See where he lies — or a ghastly part of him —
While life is oozing out:
There are loathsome things he sees a-crawling there;
There are hoarse-voiced crows he hears a-calling there,
Eager for the foul feast spread for them —
Billy, the Soldier Boy!

How much longer, O Lord, shall we bear it all?
How many more red years?
Story it and glory it and share it all,
In seas of blood and tears?
They are braggart attitudes we’ve worn so long;
They are tinsel platitudes we’ve sworn so long —
We who have turned the Devil’s Grindstone,
Borne with the hell called War!

Read more at Behind their Lines: Poetry of the Great War.

Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Is My Work Any Good?

Elisa Gabert (of Dear Blunt Instrument) on that question:

There may be important and famous writers who went to the grave tortured and doubtful of their own talent. It’s possible that you can find great success as a writer without ever feeling like you “know” if you’re “good.” To me, that sounds like no way to live. So when I write, the standards I try to meet are my own: Do I want to read what I’m writing? It’s that simple. If I write a poem or an essay that I want to read and re-read after I’ve finished writing and editing it, then it’s good by my own lights.

If you don’t feel that way about your own writing, the challenge becomes:  Write something that you would want to read. It may sound obvious, but I don’t think most writers hold themselves to these standards. Did you know that people are faster to recognize photos of themselves that have been photoshopped to make them look slightly more attractive? Self-assessments are often self-flattering. (It’s not easy, but I think working at being a better reader and editor of other people’s work makes you a better reader and editor of your own work too.)

Ok, I want to say, but what if my taste is no good? Or out of touch with what the journals I want to get into are publishing?

Read more to improve my taste? And hope I am capable of such improvement.

Here’s the entire article, which is very much worth reading in its entirety.

Paterson: The Movie

In Jim Jarmusch’s  Paterson, a poet named Paterson drives a New Jersey Transit bus in Paterson, New Jersey:

Because Paterson [the movie] regards these people with the same kindness and interest as its main character, we too become interested in them and their world. And Paterson seems to find something to praise or encourage around every corner — partly because his idol is William Carlos Williams, the New Jersey poet who wrote a five-part epic poem titled — you guessed it — Paterson. Williams, a master of imagism (a movement in poetry that strove for clear language and precise description of images), intended the poem to be a sort of documentary of the place, and published it as five books between 1946 and 1958. (Williams also wrote the “The Red Wheelbarrow,” studied by American schoolchildren for decades.)

But Williams had another vocation: He was a physician, and chief of pediatrics at Passaic General Hospital for almost 40 years, a job requiring no small measure of attention and compassion. The interplay of vocations, both artistic and more quotidian, is a strong theme in Paterson: Everyone’s got something they do on the side to brighten the world, whether it’s chess tournaments or country music or acting or poetry.

Alissa Wilkinson: Paterson, the quietly philosophical tale of a bus-driving poet, is one of 2016’s best films

World War I Poetry by Women: Margaret Sackville


When all the stress and all the toil is over,
And my lover lies sleeping by your lover.
With alien earth on hands and brows and feet.
Then we may meet.

Moving sorrowfully with uneven paces,
The bright sun shining on our ravaged faces,
There, very quietly, without sound or speech,
Each shall greet each.

We who are bound by the same grief for ever,
When all our sons are dead may talk together,
Each asking pardon from the other one
For her dead son.

With such low, tender words the heart may fashion,
Broken and few, of kindness and compassion,
Knowing that we disturb at every tread
Our mutual dead.

                             Margaret Sackville

Read more about her at Behind Their Lines: Poetry of the Great War