Book Review: Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme (Calvin Trillin)

Book Review: Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme (Calvin Trillin)

Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme by Calvin Trillin

Political Satire

Political satire through rhyme, who knew. A look at the time in office of President Bush. Published during his presidency; this doesn’t cover his last year (year and a half or so) of his second term. Calvin Trillin writes about the various aspects of Bush’s presidency, his campaigns, all obviously from a certain slant, a certain bias. So you will have to go into it full well knowing if you are extremely pro-Bush this will most likely come off as bashing or as very negative of his presidency. I think it helps with accountability though and it helps to act as a reminder of a president’s legacy, of a president’s time in office, his achievements or in this case lack of achievements or issues and problems. These accounts, either through satire and humor or through purely historical lenses offer us a valuable insight into what transformed all of our lives who lived through these times.

Back of Cover Blurb

Does the Bush Administration sound any better in rhyme? In this biting array of verse, it at least sounds funnier. Calvin Trillin employs everything from a Gilbert and Sullivan style, for describing George Bush’s rescue in the South Carolina primary by the Christian Right (“I am, when all is said and done, a Robertson Republican”), to a bilingual approach, when commenting on the President’s casual acknowledgment, after months of trying to persuade the nation otherwise, that there was never any evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11: “The Web may say, or maybe Lexis-Nexis / If chutzpa is a word they use in Texas.”

Trillin deals not only with George W. Bush but with the people around him—Supreme Commander Karl Rove and Condoleezza (Mushroom Cloud) Rice and Nanny Dick Cheney (“One mystery I’ve tried to / Why Cheney’s head is always at an angle . . .”) The armchair warriors Trillin refers to as the Sissy Hawk Brigade are celebrated in such poems as “Richard Whose Fault Is He?” and “A Sissy Hawk Cheer” (“All-out war is still our druthers— / Fiercely fought, and fought by others.”).

Trillin may never be poet laureate—certainly not while George W. Bush is in office—but his wit and his political insight produce what has been called “doggerel for the ages.”

Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme – GoodReads

Book Review: Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme

“Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme” by Calvin Trillin is a sharp and witty collection of political verses that focus on the tenure of President George W. Bush. Initially published in 2004, the book compiles pieces that Trillin, a renowned journalist and humorist, wrote for “The Nation” among other publications. Known for his incisive humor and political satire, Trillin utilizes his poetic prowess to cast a critical and often humorous light on the policies and personalities of the Bush administration.

The book is structured around a series of poems that encapsulate key events, decisions, and controversies of the Bush presidency, including the Iraq War, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the often polarizing figures within Bush’s cabinet. Trillin’s style is accessible yet biting, employing simple rhyme schemes that lend a sing-song quality to his serious critiques. This juxtaposition of form and content creates a uniquely effective satire, making complex political situations understandable and engaging to a broad audience.

Trillin’s poems are notably brief and pithy, capturing the essence of political figures with sharp characterizations. For example, he famously skewers Donald Rumsfeld’s evasive rhetoric and Dick Cheney’s secretive maneuvering. His ability to distill political complexities into concise, amusing rhymes is a hallmark of his writing style that serves him well throughout this collection.

One of the strengths of “Obliviously On He Sails” is Trillin’s fearless approach to satire. He does not shy away from pointing out what he sees as the follies and failures of the Bush administration. Yet, there’s an underlying playfulness to his critique, which prevents the poems from becoming overly harsh or mean-spirited. This balance is crucial in maintaining the reader’s engagement and fostering a reflective rather than reactive response.

Critics and readers may find that Trillin’s pointed satire reflects partisan perspectives, which could be a drawback for those seeking a more neutral analysis of political events. However, for fans of political satire and poetry, Trillin offers a compelling blend of entertainment and insight. His work not only serves as a historical reflection on the Bush years but also as a reminder of the power of poetry to influence public discourse.

In conclusion, “Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme” is an exemplary piece of political satire. Calvin Trillin’s ability to weave political critique into verse makes this book a delightful and thought-provoking read. It is recommended for those who appreciate a humorous take on serious topics and are keen on exploring political events through the unique lens of poetry.

My GoodReads Rating: ***
My LibraryThing Rating: ***
Global Average GoodReads Rating (as of 2.7.24): 3.83

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