An Unknown Unacknowledged Master

Updated: Jul 27

It is time—past time, really—to put aside differences and preferences and ideology, and acknowledge one of the great minimalist masters of poetry in the 20th century.

I refer, of course, to the fabulous unknown poet, Richard Milhous Nixon.

He is known for other things, with many ascribing to him a mastery of the arts of politics and policy and govenment, and he has been—there is no getting around it, I suppose—controversial in many respects, even and often reviled.

He is in some ways the most confusing of our presidents, a large-visioned chicken thief, a paranoid whose internationalist activities and policies broke down barriers between American and the world, a big-government conservative who enshrined many policies that were anathema to and then forgiven by the right (arts, environment, almost a reverse income tax), a brilliant self-pitying paranoid realist and political tactician, and I expect others will cite many other things and other more fulsome descriptions.

The very smart Gary Wills, for example, once wrote a book about him (Nixon Agonistes) in which he described him as capable of being almost everything at once, and Rick Perlstein one (Nixonland) in which he all but accused Nixon of being Satan, and never having a good or virtuous thought, so that even his best actions were motivated, so the author believed, by a sociopathic venality.

What is astounding to this reader is how well Nixon has ploughed those controversial and extreme political fields with honesty and transparency, often at moments of extreme pressure and under sway of total paranoia, in the service of his poetry.  It is all collected in The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon (compiled by Jack Margolis, Cliff House Books, 1974, unpaginated). The book is long out of print, but should not be. Consider the mastery shown here—who has handled the variable foot so well?  Or the intrusion of a line of sprung rhythm (“In it”) with such careless aplomb?


We are all In it Together. We take A few shots And It will be over.

Don’t worry. I wouldn’t Want to be On the other side Right now.