A new poetry collection masterminded in Vancouver is a great example of the killer business instinct for giving as many people as possible exactly what they want.
There may be deep disagreement over what we want in the White House, whether Republican brawler or Democratic “snowflake,” but that’s no problem for Gregory Woodman. His “Collected Poems of Donald J. Trump” has both camps covered. Hard-covered, that is, at $39 a pop plus shipping.
“We’re capitalists. We want to make money,” Woodman said. He and his business partner, Ian Pratt, created a single-book publishing firm, Golden Goose (www.goldengoosepublishing.com). Sales have been surprisingly strong — nearly 1,000 copies — since the book was released before Christmas, Woodman said.
The poetry even smells presidential. “We spritz each book with Trump’s own cologne,” Woodman said, which is called “Success.” “It’s the strongest, most long-lasting scent of all.”
Even while cashing in, Woodman said he hopes buyers do some genuine thinking about what they’re reading and what it means — about our times and about themselves.
“It’s up for interpretation by anyone,” he said. “It’s a case study of what it means to be human in 2020. It’s a test of what your emotional, guttural reactions are.”
But can you really call it poetry — and should you? The source material is not poetry, it’s tweetery by our tweeter in chief. In “Collected Poems of Donald J. Trump,” hundreds of his short dispatches, from before and during Trump’s presidency, have been artfully designed to mimic shapely abstractions of modernist poet e.e. cummings.
Woodman said he loves reading cummings, the famously childlike poet who observed few rules and didn’t even capitalize his own name. Trump observes few rules too, Woodman said, but he sure has a fondness for capitals.
“Is there another public figure who ever has been this polarizing, on either side?” Woodman wondered. “Can you think of anybody else who says one thing and everybody hears completely different things, based on their own bias?”
“Whether you like him or you don’t,” said book buyer and Trump supporter Nathan Ellis, “he has absolutely changed the way a president communicates.”
Room in the middle
Woodman, 29, is an accomplished photographer and co-founder of Weller Creative, a Portland advertising firm. He grew up in Puyallup and recently moved to Vancouver with his wife. He spent years revving up a photography career in Los Angeles, working for corporations like Nike, Apple and Disney, he said, but what pleased him most was taking pictures for humanitarian nonprofits.
He also did political photography “that put me in some interesting rooms,” he said. One of those rooms was full of Christian conservatives who dislike Trump, he said.
That group is lost on today’s political landscape, Woodman said.
“There’s really no one for them,” he said. “The right has to be for Trump no matter what, and the left has to paint him as the most evil person. I thought, you poor people in the middle, there’s no room for you at the table.”
Woodman describes himself as a politically moderate Christian. Neither presidential candidate earned his vote in 2016, he said. In 2019, he grew intrigued by Trump’s torrent of tweets and the automatic reactions they reliably generate at opposite ends of the political spectrum.
“Any time he tweets, you can make a choice,” he said. “You can add to the outrage, on whatever side you’re on, or you can stand back and think.”
Woodman decided to promote thinking.
“Maybe the only way to get out of how quick and instantaneous this cultural moment is, is to make it solid,” he said. “How can I make this moment permanent, how can I present it so it’s not just inside the echo chamber?”
He considered signs and billboards before settling on the ultimate exaltation of language: poetry. He did legal research to make sure he won’t get sued. But if that does happen, “I’ll be pretty stoked,” he said.
Actually, he added, Trump will likely be plenty proud if he ever does get wind of this book. “They’re his own words,” Woodman said.
To select the very best of those words, Woodman turned to an exhaustive, searchable database called TrumpTwitterArchive.com. (When The Columbian took a look Jan. 10, that archive contained 44,372 tweets.)
Cheap print-on-demand paperbacks definitely wouldn’t do for such a grand project, so Woodman and business partner Pratt decided on a stately tome that looks like a natural addition to any library shelf of literary greats. It even says so in the publisher’s preface, which compares “the poetical genius of our time” to renowned authors like Thoreau, Hemingway and Toni Morrison.
“Collected Poems of Donald J. Trump” wound up nearly 400 pages separated into one dozen verse styles, including “Portraits,” from Sen. Hillary Clinton to Kanye West; “Nocturnes” composed in the wee hours when most of us are sleeping, but not our restless leader; “EXCLAMATORY,” that is, TWEETS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS; “Amores” and “Loathings” for heroes like Tiger Woods and villains like journalists; and even “Free Verse” where you can ponder the mysticism of “covfefe.” (That one little nonword, likely a misspelling of “coverage,” whipped up a storm of controversy in 2017 as media called it an obvious gaffe and the White House insisted it was intentional and understandable to “a small group of people.”)
The resulting read is a lot like a Rorschach-blot personality test, Woodman said. Buyers across the political spectrum appear to see what they want to see in it, he said.
“If you like it, you’re not going to like all of it,” he said. “If you hate a lot of it, you’re still going to laugh. Everybody’s going to find something hilarious, something interesting, something horrifying in it. It’s balancing on the knife’s edge.”
Puyallup Realtor and Woodman family friend Nathan Ellis investigated the book for himself, he said. His conclusion: Regardless of your politics, “Collected Poems of Donald J. Trump” is a chuckle.
“We may be laughing for totally different reasons, but at least we’re laughing,” Ellis said. “Maybe this is supposed to be parody or satire, but I’m a Trump supporter and I was amused enough to order three of them as gifts. I’m not bothered in the least by someone who takes the tweets and turns them around on me.”
Ellis doesn’t really believe that Trump tweets are poetical gems, he said, but he does believe that many pack punches of truth. Redesigning them as faux poetry adds a tongue-in-cheek element that everyone should be able to enjoy, he said.
“It’s brilliant,. The way it’s laid out, it’s so creative,” he said. “I think everyone can look at this, his supporters and his nonsupporters, and agree that this is just fun.”
It ought to serve as a bridge between mutually alienated political camps, he said.
“Come on, relax,” he told a liberal friend who blanched at the idea of Trumpisms as poetry. “In today’s society, there’s so little commonality. This is a lighthearted way of sharing our common culture and enjoying some political winds.”
But what about people who find Trump’s language truly offensive and not at all funny? Ellis stayed cheery on the phone, but his amusement thinned.
“If you want to use it as a wedge, you can use it as a wedge,” he said. “When everyone is wagging their fingers at each other, we can’t get anywhere. I see this as the lighter side of politics.”
Ellis’ favorite aspect of the book is its index, he said. “I’ve taken his poetry to heart, whether or not it’s really poetry,” he said. “My enjoyment so far has been looking up specific topics in the index. When a topic comes to mind, it’s like, ‘What does Donald say about that?’ “