"To mash the pie of truth into the face of power": such, the poet declares in the opening sentence of a prose preface, was his purpose embarking on The Trumpiad, mock epic to end all mock epics of our Gilded Orange Age. A certain slapdash quality goes with the territory. In the back-of-book acknowledgments of supporters and advisers—"too numerous," endless roll call notwithstanding, "to enumerate"—the author takes ceremonial ownership of any "clubfoot rhythms and imperfect rhymes."
Egregious humblebragging, Your Honor! His stanzas—torrential, merciless, coruscating, and often irreproachably scabrous—bristle with Hudibrastic brilliance, though here and there it takes a second reading to crack the meter. Not in this tidy précis, however.
Nor here, in this segue into flashback:
Recall if you can, that innocent Age
Of moguls, nymphs, and satyrs
(Halcyon? Golden? Take your pick)
When dear old Don was just a dic-
Not yet aspiring to -tator.
As luck would have it, I assigned and/or edited short-form prose of Eisenberg's once or twice before the twentieth century ran its course, and our families became friendly. So, I know from gatherings of the Upper West Side intelligentsia, a stone's throw from Zabar's, not only how easily Evan assumes but also how lightly he wears the mantle of smartest person in the room.
His ideal reader would bring to the party Evan's own encyclopedic command of literary and political history from the ancients to the present, a fan's familiarity with pop culture of the present day, a newshound's nose for the telltale detail, and a news junkie's total recall both of headlines and the granular trivia behind them—along with sheer Joycean delight in the prismatic slippery-slidy-ness of the English language. Add to these qualities the punctilio of a scribe who brooks no typos. Evan's lexicon encompasses both coven and covin, and if you don't know the difference, get thee to a dictionary.
As for the allusions Evan plants with often subliminal Pavlovian panache, resign yourself to missing your share. His is a Waste Land devoid, thank God, of end notes. Some references, I reckon, flew right over my head, while presumptive verbal echoes left me frankly at a loss. Happy the doctoral candidate who once swallowed the Norton Anthology of English Literature whole, filling a basket now with Evan's Easter eggs from the stores of Shakespeare, Coleridge, Keats.
My single reservation—and it's yuge—is that the Trump administration is no joke. That our country, never mind the planet, should have cause to hang on every whim of this vain, bullying fraudster without a decent or a funny bone to his name is a disgrace and humiliation Trump grinds the world's nose in daily. Satire from quarters too numerous to enumerate cuts him down to size, or aspires to, affording the cold comfort of moral superiority. But with the punch line, if not before, relief has already turned to ashes. Do you choke on the gags and gag on the jokes? I do. Like Baudelaire's, Evan's showy fleurs du mal root in poisoned ground. Worse luck for humankind: clock's ticking. Midterms out of the way now, 2020 is just around the corner. We are doomed to a sequel.
Originally published online (though only in part), The Trumpiad chronicles the dystopia that dawned on June 16, 2015, when the eventual big-time loser of the popular vote rode down the escalator of his self-named Manhattan tower (a less lofty structure than he always claims). The print version is now on press in Estonia for publication in January, dressed up in the graphics of Steve Brodner, hailed by the literary kingmaker Lewis Lapham as "a born arsonist," in the red-white-and-blue line of Bierce, Twain, and Mencken.
Those who can't wait until the New Year may want to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign (target $10,000; $2,464 in hand as of this hour). Perks on the table range from a penthouse in Trump Tower, Baku ($1) to live readings by the poet, with musical accompaniment, at the patron's home or other venue of choice ($2,500). Early copies are promised in time for Christmas. Heavier hitters will opt for the ten numbered copies, signed by the creators in fool's gold.
Without (I trust) forgetting American antecedents, Evan doffs his hat to a rogues gallery of Old World forerunners including Swift, Pope, Byron, Heine, Hogarth, Gillray, Goya, and Daumier, and heck, why not throw in Horace and Juvenal for good measure—even if, as Steve (if I may, I've never met the guy) gracefully avers, they are "not fit to fill those boys' inkwells." Yeah, but where are the snows of yesteryear? The title image alone belies the disclaimer. Go ahead, judge the book by its cover. For here and now, these boys will do.
By and large, illustrators toil in the shade of anonymity, but if his handle fails to ring a bell, subscribers to quality periodicals from The New Yorker on down will recall Steve's Zorroesque flamboyance in media from charcoal and ink to magic-hour Winsor & Newton. Devotees of razzle-dazzle cult nonfiction know Evan from the nonpareil Recording Angel: Music, Records, and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa and his Virgilean elegy for our embattled environment,The Ecology of Eden.
On this occasion, Evan has tipped the hand of secret ambition by devising a poetic form of his own. "I find it hard to believe I could have invented it," he blushes in the prefatory prose. "More likely it was the product of a wild night shared by Emily Dickinson and Edward Lear." Within the poem proper, he styles his template "the Fourteen-Wheeler, or Emilick"—ick (I surmise) from limerick, Ned's go-to metric. Like Ned, Evan opts for five lines (as against Em's four), at the same time a) expanding each line a foot beyond the rotating threes and fours favored by Em and Ned, and b) exempting the first line from the rhyme scheme. Tedious to spell out the specs, I grant, but examples will have demystified the technique already.
Beyond those dropped in above, I'll close with just three more. Remember the Wheel of Fortune lollapalooza that gave us the Secretariat of DeVos, Perry, Carson, Pruitt, Zinke et al? Evan memorializes it like so:
Description is defied by picks
So sinister, so sorry;
But heck, I'll take a stab at it:
The Grand Guignolest cabinet
Since Dr. Caligari.
Lest we forget, the Donald's Gang of Sixteen also includes Mike Pence, immortalized thus:
Trump's running mate, a cunningly carved
The Evangelicals will wow:
He's holier than I, than Thou,
Than Martin Freaking Buber.
In Pence's mouth won't melt one pat
Of butter from your pantry;
Though they may seem like night and day,
Mike and Donald are just two ways
Of casting Elmer Gantry.
Though he exercises poetic license with liberal abandon, Evan cleaves to the straight and narrow where veracity is concerned. His, he would have us know, is "fact-based art." You can't make this sh*t up. Exhibit A:
When Puerto Rico's smashed by storm
Compassion melts [Trump's] bowels;
Upon the blighted littoral, he
Dispenses Bounty literally
By tossing paper towels.
I promised three excerpts, and here I am, way over quota already. So, give me four Pinocchios. Okay, I'll toss the Tolkien bit (search term for the electronic reader: "Saruman to his Sauron"), the taboo twitting (find "feline"), and even the lick of graceful moralizing, worthy of La Fontaine (see: "clever sheep"). Yet conscience demands that I share at least one sustained flight of Evan's fancy. Here's one of dozens that would do the job.
"Fingers short, nose long"—so taunt
His truth-obsessed accusers;
Truly, Donald's far too smart
To blurt the words that gird his heart:
Truth? Truth is for losers!
The sunset tints of cheek and jowl
That in his fans inspire
Daydreams of riches, glitz, romance,
Are but the mirrored glow of pants
Perpetually on fire.
"He speaks his mind." Let me remind
Those flummoxed by that phantom—
His mind's a jumble of paste pearls
Whose correspondence to the world
Is somewhat less than random.
Can bitch and moan and sob.
Total losers! Lightweights! Fools!
The wise man knows that words are tools
You use to do a job.
In fact, it isn't jewels, it's tools
That pack his cabinet mental:
File, pick, chisel, slim jim, axe—
Any relationship to facts
Is purely accidental.
But as Trump's tools tend to be blunt
Or jagged, or uncouth,
"He speaks in mind!" cry those who take
Civility for something fake
And boorishness for truth.
The press was his oyster, but now they're all crabs—
Those fact-checkers—too picky, too nitty!
They're missing the lesson he's trying teach"
What's the point of "freedom of speech"
If a guy can't lie with impunity?
This website's software seems to override the by no means inconsequential five-line, partially indented format of theTrumpiad stanza. For this reason, I reproduce the first excerpt in a screenshot from the proofs of the book, inviting the reader to make a mind's-eye adjustment for the excerpts that follow.
Myself have alas but small Latin and less Greek.