Book Article

Plains-Spoken Poetry

Presidential poetry -- Jimmy Carter shows his sentimental side with "Always a Reckoning"

Lately, Republicans have portrayed Democrats as starry-eyed dreamers, filled with pie-in-the-sky notions that have no concrete applications.

Did we mention that Jimmy Carter has released a book of poetry?

Not to dispute that Carter is a man of action. Always a Reckoning simply adds one more title to his ever-growing, alliterative list: Plains native, peanut farmer, President, peacemaker, and poet.

Actually, Carter's bardic behavior began way back, when he composed verse for Rosalynn during their courting days. Skip to 1991, when he sent off a batch of poems to Peter Osnos, his longtime editor. Osnos' reaction? ''I was surprised that he wrote poetry. Here is a man who is so deeply active. He's a woodworker, a fly fisherman, and he's got several full-time jobs.'' A dialogue about the works ensued. Carter even sent a limerick about a poem he had read in a magazine to Osnos: ''He was saying, if this person can do it, why can't I?''

The book's 44 poems are non-rhyming (or barely rhyming), pseudo-Frost affairs, and most have cumbersome titles, such as ''A President Expresses Concern on a Visit to Westminster Abbey.'' Subjects include the funeral of his Harley-riding sister; an African-American neighbor from childhood from whom he, naturally, learned much; and his mother, Lillian. In one poem about his father, he writes: ''...I feel inside/the hunger for his outstretched hand,/a man's embrace to take me in,/the need for just a word of praise.''

Originally posted Jan 27, 1995 Published in issue #259 Jan 27, 1995 Order article reprints