In today’s “What I’m Reading,” Susan Schultz, editor of Tinfish, a journal of experimental poetry from the Pacific (art by Gaye Chan), talks about those viewing Rumsfeld as a poet (sort of) because of his obsession with diction. “Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld,” is one book she’s read, which selects pieces of Rumsfeld speeches that are most verse-like, but as Schultz explains, usually come from places where he was trying to evade and honest answer.
It’s a scary concept, and Schultz agrees: “I find it really spooky because I like to think of poetry as something ethical and something that can change the world for the better.”
Read more below, or by clicking the link above (which may or may not work as time goes on). Also check out some cringeworthy Rumsfeld publishing gossip.
What I’m Reading | Susan Schultz
Poet, Publisher of Tinfish
Q&A with Christine Thomas
–What are you reading?
Right now I’m reading “Rumsfeld” by Andrew Cockburn. The reason I’m reading it is I’m interested in Rumsfeld and poetry. I’ve just been writing an essay on Rumsfeld’s poetry that someone found in his speeches and made into poems, and then published. I teach poetry and write poetry and publish poetry, and my whole life is about it. I’ve noticed that poets now seem to be writing about Rumsfeld, so I’ve noticed that I’m on a Rumsfeld kick.
–What do you like about it?
Well, I don’t. What I find kind of spooky is this guy named Hart Seely published this book years ago called “Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld,” and I went into Rumsfeld’s speeches and press conferences to find out where they took these parts from, and they were always places where Rumsfeld was dodging a question. So they’d ask, Why haven’t we found a WMD?, and he’d launch into his famous “there are no knowns, there are no unknown knowns.” I think we’ve all heard it by now…I find it really spooky because I like to think of poetry as something ethical and something that can change the world for the better. Clearly this is clever wordsmithing, but I’m interested in other poets writing about Rumsfeld who are trying to let people know that he was being evasive and that his use of language, however clever, is also a little bit sinister. That’s the angle I’m taking, but Rumsfeld actually is really good with words and obsessed with how he uses words. He is kind of like a poet because he’s very obsessed with word choice.
I think the reason poets are fascinated with Rumsfeld is because he’s actually very good at words. We can all laugh at Bush because sometimes it’s just very ridiculous. But Rumsfeld’s actually very good, but trying to get something different out of them than most poets.
–Does reading about Rumsfeld’s evasive use of language connect to Tinfish’s emphasis on language poetry, which is often resistant to interpretation?
We have a lot of books that I’m told are very hard to read. Some are on the literal level because we’ve published volumes that include more than one language. That’s a way to try to get cultural specificity really right in some ways, but makes it difficult for someone reading in English to comprehend in the way we want to comprehend. … Rumsfeld wants to get people off his scent so he can do things. The poetry in Tinfish is the scent, you could say—it’s really trying to get you deep into a cultural moment or political moment, or just into how language works. That’s why I find Rumsfeld so spooky and think Tinfish is so necessary.
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