Poetry News

The New Yorker Draws Attention to a Somewhat Literary Moment on the Campaign Trail

By Harriet Staff


In her debate recap at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson points out a remarkable moment between Sanders and Clinton: HRC's odd statement that "you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose." What does it mean? And when poets conquer the campaign trail, does that mean that they are doomed to fail, because prose...?

"Here’s the Senator’s ad,” Chris Cuomo, of CNN, said to Hillary Clinton, who was standing with him on the stage for a Democratic town-hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. There was a sudden jolt of music—Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”—and scenes of Bernie Sanders speaking to large, happy crowds, with ecstatic young campaign workers high-fiving and embracing him, appeared on a large screen above them. Clinton, her smile shrinking, stood perfectly still, as if held in a tractor beam—or tractor Bern. When the clip finally ended, after a shot of Sanders waving his fist at a field of cheering supporters next to a bright blue lake, Cuomo turned to Clinton for a response.

“I think that’s great!” she said. And then, with more feeling, “I think that’s fabulous! I loved it.” The audience applauded, and Clinton quickly pivoted to what was, for her, the key point of the evening. “You know, look, you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose. And we need a lot more poetry in this campaign and in our country. So, I applaud that! I love the feeling. I love the energy.” She would, she said, just be “the better person” for the job of President. After a couple of weeks of scattershot attacks on Sanders, including suggestions that he would destroy the health-care system, Clinton is now trying out a two-fold message. First, there is fond but dismissive indulgence: Sanders, the poet from the woods of Vermont, should go back there while she heads to the White House and gets on with it. And second, his poems all sound the same: he is a one-issue candidate who just keeps talking about billionaires, while she has lots of issues. (“Not only economic inequality: racial inequality, sexist inequality, homophobic inequality … education inequality, cultural inequality.”)

Sanders, though, didn’t quite coöperate on Monday night. He spoke first, followed by Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who spoke earnestly enough, and then Clinton. (The candidates each had a half hour to answer questions from Cuomo and undecided or “leaning” voters.) Sanders talked in a more varied register than he often has in speeches and debates. The format called for the candidates to sit cozily with Cuomo, a setup that lasted only until Sanders got to see his opponent’s ad. “The world a President has to grapple with, sometimes you can’t even imagine. That’s the job. And she’s prepared for it like no other,” the narrator says. A montage follows of Clinton on darkened tarmacs and at foreign summits, and of protesters, gunmen, and what appeared to be an Asian stock-market board, resolving in the tag line, “Getting every part of the job done.”

Consider genre at The New Yorker.

Originally Published: January 29th, 2016