Just Saying ‘Nay’ to Inaugural Poetry

So George W. won’t have a poet recite at his inauguration.

No bard

For him, pard.

Not even doggerel,


At his inaugural.

Do poems

The wrong way

Rub ya,



We can go on forever this way, you and I, but at some point we have to shut the meter off and acknowledge: Maybe it’s not so amazing that government has little room for poets.

For proof, just take a look at what Caltrans has wrought on California 33.

For about a month, a scrappy citizens group in Casitas Springs has posted Burma Shave-style verses--one line per roadside eucalyptus--to protest too much traffic and not enough movement on a planned highway bypass.

Steve Durfee, one of the group’s leaders, had two dozen poems all plotted out for a campaign that would last the better part of a year.

For instance:

Drunk drivers

Racy speeders


Coming fast and thick

Toxic waste

And trucks in haste-

I think I’m getting sick!

Now they’re gone, though; the 28,000 motorists who pass through Casitas Springs daily have been poetically deprived since Caltrans deemed the signs illegal advertising and took them down.

Never mind that the 33 is dotted with signs advertising rental property and firewood; it was the poetry that got to Caltrans--which, then, of course, got to the poetry.

So it shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, that versifiers don’t have a natural home in governmental ceremonies such as Bush’s swearing-in, though they’d be at his beck and call, him being chief exec and all.

Pardon me. It’s a lousy, rotten habit and I swear I’ll stop it.


Poets have been invited to speak at only three inaugurations--John F. Kennedy’s and both of Bill Clinton’s. That might be why so many poets don’t see their omission on Saturday as a terrible slight to their muse; they’re not necessarily happy about it, but they also don’t really feel that they’re ode.

Besides, Joyce La Mers points out, the assignment to be worshipful is no fun.

La Mers, who lives in Oxnard, is one of the classiest practitioners of light verse around.

“If I were to be asked to read a poem for George W. Bush, I’d probably rack my brain trying to think of some sort of lovely, ironic thing that would go over their heads but that everyone else would get,” she said. “I don’t think they’ll ask me.”

Of all the local poets I contacted, only Gary Robertson, a cowboy poet from Thousand Oaks who works on an honest-to-God ranch, came up with a couple of his own poems that would be suited for inaugural use.

His lament on the dying cowboy--entitled “OSHA"--has what they call in nonpoetic Washington serious policy implications:

“Them high-topped boots you’re wearin’

They’ll surely have to go

They’ll make you wear them lace-ups

With the safety-rated toe.

They’ll never let you near a horse

Why, don’t even ask

Oh, and if you hear a cow belch

Put on your breathin’ mask.

No, time and change ain’t killed him

It won’t be the likes of that.

What’ll kill the cowboy

Are them OSHA bureaucrats.

It’s not Robert Frost, but it beats Caltrans any day.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at or at 653-7561.