The Verse of Joy Skilmer
Reviewed by Steven Martinovich
It might be my love of John Wayne movies showing through but I can't claim to be a great lover of poetry. With the exception of Robert Frost, I have to admit that most poetry, often written in an impenetrable style that only an English teacher could love, goes over my head.
That's why I was initially reticent to review a book of poetry that dealt with current affairs and the American political scene. If anything can kill a poem, besides the incompetence of a writer, it is the choice of subject matter. This book's author, however, has an impressive pedigree when it comes to politics, taking care of at least that worry.
Writing under the nom de plume Joy Skilmer is none other than Lyn Nofziger, former journalist, Republican heavyweight under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and author of several western novels. If you were as surprised as I am that Nofziger, a man who always struck me as overly serious, would author poetry you'll be even more surprised to know that much of it - at least what's in this volume - is entertaining.
Nofziger was inspired to write poetry, as he states in his forward, when he heard of a fundraising project for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Library fundraisers hit upon the idea of planting a grove of trees on the grounds of the library and offered the trees for a mere $10 000 each. Too rich for Nofziger's blood, he instead composed the poem that opens his book, Unbridled Joy: The Verse of Joy Skilmer.
From there the book's offerings mainly deal with the events of the late 1990s and particularly with respect to all the shenanigans of the Clinton Administration. Whitewater, Charlie Trie, the Lewinsky saga, the impeachment hearings and the various personalities behind those major stories all are dealt with, as is the outcome in this poem:
His sardonic prose isn't only directed at Bill Clinton, with occasional shots taken at Pat Buchanan fleeing to the Reform Party and it's $13 million war chest, the blandness of Al Gore and George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton's waffling on whether to run for the Senate seat in New York, and the primary season which saw several early exits. His commentary isn't one-sided, however, as he occasionally surprises readers with his opinions. That includes some praise he delivers in a poem entitled "Sue McD" to key Whitewater figure Susan McDougal for refusing to testify against Clinton.
It's not all politics as Nofziger fortunately turns his attention occasionally to other matters with poems on Michael Jordan, spring training, the death of Joe DiMaggio (They've buried Joe DiMaggio./One thing we hope is so,/That he will meet on heaven's street/His Marilyn Monroe), John Glenn's return to space, the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., and gun control, among others.
The collection ends as it began, with a pair of tributes to his old boss Reagan, the first of the two particularly poignant given recent news of the increasing severity of the Alzheimer's that the former president suffers with. It also should have been the last poem given the one chosen to be the final poem is a catalogue of Reagan's achievements. It ends thus:
Nofziger won't be confused with Sylvia Plath or T.S. Elliot any time soon but his vignettes on cultural and political events are entertaining and still fresh enough to bring a laugh to someone reasonably aware of recent news. All sides of the political aisles will enjoy this book and fans of Nofziger will be pleased to know that his most recent work - both poetry and commentary -- can be found at his web site (www.lynnofziger.com).
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer and editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.
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