BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Calvin Trillin's Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin.
Displaying the form that made bestsellers of Obliviously On He Sails and A Heckuva Job, tales of the Bush Administration in rhyme, Calvin Trillin trains his verse on the 2008 race for the presidency.
Deciding the Next Decider is an ongoing campaign narrative in verse interrupted regularly by other poems, such as a country tune about John Edwards called “Yes, I Know He’s a Mill Worker’s Son, But There’s Hollywood in That Hair” and a Sarah Palin song about her foreign policy credentials: “On a Clear Day, I See Vladivostok.” It covers Mitt Romney’s transformation (“Mitt Romney’ s saying now he should have known / A stem cell’s just a human, not quite grown”), the speculation about whether Al Gore was trimming down to run (“Presumably, they looked for photo ops / To see what Gore was stuffing in his chops”), the slow-motion implosion of Hillary Clinton’s drive to the White House (“Some pundits wrote that Hil’s campaign might fare / A little better if Bill wasn’t there”), and the differing responses of Barack Obama and John McCain to the financial crisis (“Though coolness has its limitations, it’ll / Prevent comparisons with Chicken Little”).
Beginning at the 2006 midterms, Deciding the Next Decider resurrects the nonstarters like George Allen (“He fit what’s often valued by the Right: / Quite cheerful, Reaganesque, and not too bright”) and the low-energy Fred Thompson (“The pros said, ‘That’s a state he has to take, / And he just might, if he can stay awake’ ”). And it carries through to the vote that made Barack Obama the forty-fourth president of the United States.
Calvin Trillin, who became The Nation’s “deadline poet” in 1990, has also written verse on the events of the day for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. His political beliefs are so colored by rhyme and meter that he once criticized Hillary Clinton for being “insufficiently iambic” and publicly advised against a presidential run by the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. He is the author of Obliviously on He Sails and A Heckuva Job.
From the Hardcover edition.
As a religion reporter, Calvin Trillin showed himself as something of a Doubting Thomas.
He was working for Time in the 1960s, and he didn't much like his assigned beat. So, he turned to one of the standard tricks of a good reporter: He hedged. "I finally got out of that by prefacing everything with 'alleged,' " he told Publishers Weekly. "I'd write about 'the alleged parting of the Red Sea,' even 'the alleged Crucifixion,' and eventually they let me go."
Fans of Trillin's writing -- his snapshots of ordinary U.S. life for The New Yorker, his political poetry in the Nation, his search for the ideal meal with his wife good-naturedly in tow -- will recognize his style in this early exercise in subversion. He is warm, gentle, and human, but there can be a dash of mischievousness for taste. Even the unwelcome sight of a brussels sprout at a buffet provoked his ire. Turning to his wife, he said, "The English have a lot to answer for."
Humorist Mark Russell took note in the pages of The New York Times in 1987: "Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and [S. J.] Perelman are dead, but Calvin Trillin is right there with the post-funeral cocktail to assure us that life goes on."
Born in Kansas City but transplanted to the West Village of New York City, Trillin has kept in touch with his midwestern roots for much of his writing. A collection of articles from The New Yorker on so-called ordinary murders from around the country became the book Killings, called by The Wall Street Journal "one of the most low-key, dispassionate, matter-of-fact books on murder ever produced."
In its review, the Los Angeles Times said: "He may be The New Yorker's finest stylist, and his writing is quite different from the careful accretion of detail that characterizes much of the magazine's writing. Trillin omits as much as he possibly can; he leaves spaces for resonating, like a guitar string stopped and kept mute to sound the overtone from the next string down."
In Travels with Alice he writes of looking for hamburgers on the Champs Elysées in Paris. Even in a classic New York story, Tepper Isn't Going Out, he writes not of theater or restaurants or even a rent-controlled apartment equidistant between Zabar's and Central Park. Instead he seeks out deeper pleasures: finding the perfect parking space, and holding onto it.
Humor is a Trillin trademark. He began writing a humor column for The Nation in the late 1970s called Uncivil Liberties that became two book collections. In 1980, The New York Times chuckled gratefully at his first novel, writing that "the antics around the nameless news magazine in...Floater are as funny as The Front Page and as absurd as playground pranks."
In 1990, he began treating Nation readers to a new column, a weekly spot of verse on the political hijinks of the day, pieces with names like "If You Knew What Sununu." This, too, became a book, The Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist. He even shares insights into the creative process: "A fool is fine. A pompous fool's sublime. / It also helps if they have names that rhyme."
Trillin's résumé has a sense of elasticity: journalist, novelist, humorist, satirist, poet. But there is a commonality to his work: It's approachable. And The Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley points out that, for a journalist, this may be the toughest feat of all.
"Calvin Trillin is like an old shoe," he wrote in a 1998 review of Trillin's Family Man. "Whatever he may be writing about, he always makes you want to slip into it and get comfy. This may seem like a modest compliment, but it is a high one indeed. Few tricks are more difficult for the journalist to pull off than being consistently likable and engaging, making oneself and one's little world interesting and appealing to others."
Good To Know
Growing up in Kansas City, Calvin Marshall Trillin was known as Buddy.
The family name was originally Trilinsky.
He staged two one-man shows showcasing his humor in the late 1980s and early 1990s.