Season’s Beatings, Dadaists, and the Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld

Ah, the holiday season. For some, it is a religious time. Others just like coziness and Christmas carols. For the rest of us, it is a time for worming through trenches, praying to Krampus we won’t set off some gnarly childhood-memory landmine. (That’s me dressed as Krampus in the photo, by the way. Tomorrow, my wife [who is infinitely patient with  my costume-lifestyle] will dress as St. Nicholas, and we will deliver licorice and pretzel sticks [from Krampus] and chocolate [from Santa] to our little three-year-old neighbor. I think it’s important to take stressful holidays by the horns [pun intended] and turn them into something that doesn’t make a switch and cage seem par for the course.)


Last year, this time, I was at the beginning of what I now refer to as my “year of the mixed bag.” On the one hand, by the end of 2016, Voldemort had finally collected enough unicorn blood to take power and make America gross again. On the other hand, I was planning what was to be a beautiful and happy wedding in the following month. 2017 began in the best way possible: I married my now wife, and the memory of that day, and the fact of our marriage, has provided a backdrop for the year, one that has kept me from ever feeling too dark for too long. On the other hand (there are too many hands in this narrative) I lost a dear family member to mental illness and watched as friends, old and new, either moved far away or changed so drastically that I could no longer recognize them. (Or was I the one who changed? I can’t tell sometimes. Either way, friendship’s fault lines cracked once more.) Work went smoothly…or horribly. My sweet 18-year-old cat died. 2016 has definitely been a good candidate for a sad country music song.

As for Christmas, I think that the commercialized version of it comes at a bad time. I am a mixture of extrovert and introvert, but the latter definitely takes over in winter. It seems as though shopping and making merry are activities better left to spring. In winter, I like to take quiet walks and notice how the branches hold hands across the skyline without leaves to keep it private. Most plant life is either dead or asleep, and I like the silence of the outdoors.

I recently bought my first house. Each spring, I am still surprised to see what types of flowers and vegetation pop up. In winter, though, I am left to find clues about what might have been and what will be. My house is warm, and there’s something in the crockpot. The spices develop and the vegetables soften. I’m not sure what I’ll find in myself during winter, but I know that it won’t quite be ready until spring.

I have always loved the last line of Joy Harjo’s poem “The Path to the Milky Way Leads Through Los Angeles”: “But like crow I collect the shine of anything beautiful I can find.” This month, I want to talk about found poetry and offer a writing prompt. If you, too, are experiencing the affects of “the mixed bag,” perhaps you can write a found poem where you pick out the jewels from a conversation you overheard, from a math textbook, from a fashion magazine, or any other source, really. If you do write a found poem, I hope that you share it in the comments below! In the meantime, here’s a brief lesson on the found poem. Hope you enjoy!

But first, let’s start with…

The Dada Movement

The Dada Movement arose in the early 20th century and philosophized that logic and reason had lead to world war and believed that the only response to such chaos was anarchy and irrationality. Also, Dadaists were none too fond of the bourgeoisie, whom they believed were responsible for society’s rigid imposition on art and society. Dadaists fought against rigidity by producing “anti-art,” flipping the bird to aesthetics, meaning, and morality. Dada art’s meaning was to express meaninglessness. They wanted to offend and to destroy tradition (which is understandable if you’ve ever studied the horrors of World War I).

Meanwhile, many believe that “found poetry” stems from the Dada Movement. It’s easy to see why. Below, Dadaist Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is a good example of one of his “readymades.” (Yes, it’s a urinal.)


L.H.O.O.Q. (below) is another version of Duchamp’s readymades, which was created from a cheap postcard of the Mona Lisa that Duchamp doctored by drawing on a mustache. The name of the piece is a pun: the letters sound like “Elle a chad au cul,” which, in French, means “She has a hot ass.”


Found Poetry

Found Poetry is a form that is what it sounds like. The poet finds “poetry lines” from unexpected places such as textbooks, advertisements, news headlines, and conversations overheard. The poet may decide to take the lines verbatim, and distinguish them with line and stanza breaks, or may pick and choose parts of the “found poem” and heavily edit it.

My hope is that you, dear readers, write a found poem this December and post it in the comments below! Until then, please enjoy the found poems of D.H. Rumsfeld (that’s not something you hear everyday, is it?) from Hart Seely’s wonderful book, Pieces of Intelligence. Seely’s found poetry comes from Rumsfeld’s briefings and media interviews, and reveals an existential brilliance that I bet you’ve never thought to associate with our former secretary of defense.

Happy winter, everyone, and be nice to yourselves!

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession

Once in a while,
I’m standing here, doing something.
And I think,
“What in the world am I doing here?”
It’s a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times


You’re going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don’t happen.
It doesn’t seem to bother people, they don’t—
It’s printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.
Everyone’s so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story’s there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven’t happened.
All I can tell you is,
It hasn’t happened.
It’s going to happen.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

The Digital Revolution

Oh my goodness gracious,
What you can buy off the Internet
In terms of overhead photography!
A trained ape can know an awful lot
Of what is going on in this world,
Just by punching on his mouse
For a relatively modest cost!

—June 9, 2001, following European trip

The Situation

Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won’t see.
And life goes on.

—Oct. 12, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing


You may think it’s something
I ought to know,
But I happen not to.
That’s life.

(July 9, 2003)

On Reporters

If you do something,
Somebody’s not going
To agree with it.
That’s life.

(Feb. 19, 2003)

On the Budget

If you do anything,
Someone’s not going
To like it and
That’s life.

(May 7, 2002)

On Leaks

Look bumpy? Sure.
But you pick up
And go on.
That’s life.

(May 17, 2002)

On Democracy

People elected
Those people to office.
That’s what they think, and
That’s life.

(Feb. 20, 2003)

On Criticism

It makes it complicated.
Sometimes, it makes
It difficult.
That’s life.

(Sept. 11, 2003)