Confession: in the past year I’ve been far more exercised by the words of Donald Trump than by any number of iniquities far more consequential (and closer to home). I’m not proud of this hold he’s exerted over me, but I know I’m not the only one. So rather than just impotently fuming after each new verbal transgression, I decided to do something with his quotes.
Where the idea of assembling them into fully footnoted poems came from is hard to say, but I do remember entertaining – after an especially brash debate performance against Hillary Clinton – the perhaps unlikely idea that there might be more to Trump than he lets on. Perhaps this bravado hides a secret sensitive side.
The first poem came easily. I typed the indispensable Trumpian adjective “beautiful” into a few online search tools, collected some quotes and citations, and started arranging them. I tried to make the second poem rhyme – a much harder task, especially as I’d made the decision not to alter Trump’s original words in any way.
As the poems became more formally ambitious, the hunt for source material took me deeper into the archives. I bought his books, looked up interviews from the 80s and 90s, viewed a string of campaign speeches, transcribed his paid appearances on wrestling shows and McDonald’s commercials, and trawled through his seemingly infinite Twitter feed.
This research provided the material for compositions including haikus and one narrative poem that nearly fell apart when I could not verify a source. (It eventually turned out better, if more surreal, than I’d expected.) I did have to abandon an attempt at a sonnet – finding enough effective 10-syllable rhymes turned out to be beyond me – but in the end I completed more than enough poems for a collection.
At times I convinced myself (perhaps in order not to give up) that there was a higher purpose to this labour. The comedian Peter Serafinowicz’s Sassy Trump videos gave Trump a comically camp voice, allowing us to listen to Trump’s patter anew in isolation from his normal baritone. Maybe my poems could defamiliarise his words in a similar way, by packaging them as poetry not news content. Maybe I could help readers get out of the well-worn grooves of response that tired media formats have created.
Having got some distance from the project, I can gladly accept now that the poems are 90 per cent nonsense. But I still believe that taken as a whole the collection reveals something interesting about Trump. It’s a snapshot of his verbal output through the ages and across his guises (as washed up playboy, as reality TV star, as political Messiah). It captures the flavour of how he speaks and thinks.
Having read so much of Trump’s oeuvre, the thing that struck me most was how consistent he has been stylistically. The choppy short sentences, pared down vocabulary and preoccupations are always there, as is his ability to sense what his core audience wants, give them slightly more than they asked for, and make them think they wanted that, too. I found very few moments where he “breaks character” or reflects on his strategies for manipulating an audience or dominating an opponent. He just does it.
So having wondered at the start if there was another Trump hidden beneath the surface of the one we know, I arrived at an answer. No, there probably isn’t. As he’s repeatedly said himself, he is who he is. And who he is is a weirdly authentic bullshit artist.
Will Smith did a great job by smacking the guy “reporter” who kissed him2
Together we’re going to fix our rigged system3
Sarah Jessica Parker voted “unsexiest woman alive” – I agree4
We must keep “evil” out of our country5
A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a ten6
We’re going to make America great again7
1 Tweet criticising Hillary Clinton, 21 December 2015
2 Tweet referencing Will Smith’s red carpet incident, 21 May 2012
3 Campaign rally in St Augustine, Florida, 24 October 2016
4 Tweet criticising Sarah Jessica Parker, 26 October 2012
5 Tweet, 3 February 2017
6 Discussing female beauty in an interview on The Howard Stern Show, 2005
7 Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 22 April 2016
Pittsburgh, not Paris1
Kate Middleton is great – but she shouldn’t be sunbathing in the nude2
It’s really cold outside3
NBC News just called it the Great Freeze4
Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord5
We want global warming right now!6
1, 5 Paris Climate Accord exit speech, 1 June 2017
2 Tweet, 17 September 2012
3 Tweet, 19 October 2015
4 Tweet, 25 January 2014
6 Tweet, 27 May 2013
Rob Sears is the author of The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump (Canongate, out now). He’s previously written fiction and comedy for McSweeney’s and Audible.