For someone who’s claimed a complete aversion to reading books cover-to-cover (“I don’t have the time”), President Donald Trump is an unlikely target for a literary protest campaign. Yet the organizers of the poetry project Lofoco Chaps are sending chapbooks of verse with titles like Driftwood Monster, In These Days of Rage, Liberal elite media rag. SAD!, and Defying Trumplandia: Pithy Peminst Poetry by the bagful to Trump’s current address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
“Poets have become much more political this time around than I’ve seen in the past -- even with some other administrations they’ve spoken up about,” says William Allegrezza, a poet, author, and Indiana University Northwest literature professor who is orchestrating the Lofoco Chaps protest campaign. The goal: to deliver 100 chapbooks during the Trump administration’s first 100 days. “Sometimes, people will argue that poetry shouldn’t be partisan," Allegrezza says. "But some of the great poets, like Dante, whose Divine Comedy is extremely partisan, wrote from a very specific political point of view.”
Allegrezza runs his own publishing concern in Chicago. After Trump was elected, the publisher called on poets around the world to contribute protest chapbooks that he’d publish and send to the White House. Allegrezza says the response has been overwhelming, with 126 poets submitting chapbooks from all over the United States, as well as from places like Ireland, England, Sweden, Luxembourg, Australia, the Philippines, Tunisia, and Iran.
Much of the poetry in the collection is -- unsurprisingly -- damning, caustic and angry. Eileen Tabios, an award-winning Filipino-American poet who lives in St. Helena and is recognized internationally for her experimental poetry, was the series’ first contributor. Tabios' chapbook, To Be An Empire Is To Burn!, features a poem titled “The Dictator’s Daughter,” which takes literary aim at Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, for her naiveté and excuse-making. In the poem, Tabios links Ivanka to the denialism of Imee Marcos, who's father is the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
You praised Chaucer — you understood
the significance of the poet (and philosopher
and astronomer) for legitimizing
Middle English vernacular at a time
when French and Latin dominated
Now you’re relegated to claiming youth
as an excuse for not protesting
your father’s abuses. 29 is young?
No doubt — but only — to a centenarian
Ivanka Trump, meet Imee Marcos
— a future you do not want to be yours
Despite delivering a hard-hitting message to Trump, the work featured in Lofoco Chaps is also, at times, funny. Like Tabios, Melinda Luisa de Jesús, a poet and diversity studies professor at California College of the Arts in Oakland, is among Several Bay Area contributors to the project. Her poem titled “Kwansaba: Espionage” in her chapbook Adios, Trumplandia! is as biting as it is hilarious:
If there's anyone in this
administration who DID
NOT meet the Russians or
act as a foreign agent
please raise your hand. We have a
brand new microwave for you.
Kellyanne has the details.
Poets aren’t of course the only artists protesting Trump’s policies. But Allegrezza and de Jesús say that poets are uniquely positioned to critique the president because they have a special way with words, and occupy a liminal place in culture that can make them powerful commentators on mainstream events. "Especially in the U.S., poets are considered marginal or outside figures," Allegrezza says. "So they are used to fighting as underdogs for cultural projects."
Allegrezza is excited about the public interest the project has generated so far. So far, almost 50,000 people have gone to Allegrezza’s publishing site to check out the chapbooks, which can all be downloaded for free. (The site also sells hard copies for $5 apiece.)
Meanwhile, the Lofoco Chapbookpoets are working to get as much exposure for their protest poems as they can, through undertaking public readings and sharing poems with educators for use in their classrooms. De Jesús recently read her poems before a large audience of academics at the Association for Asian American Studies conference. She says the institutions that have used Lofoco Chaps as teaching aids so far include Western New England College, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the University of Redlands.
Poets are continuing to send Allegrezza their best anti-Trump chapbooks, and Allegrezza is continuing to direct these works (with notes tucked inside the covers that explain the chapbooks’ purpose) to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He intends for the project to continue past the original 100-chapbooks-in-100-days mandate.
Yet there’s no evidence that Trump or his family are actually reading the books. Allegrezza doesn’t even know if staff are even logging them in when they arrive in the mail.
While Lofoco Chapbook contributors are under little illusion that the president might actually sit down to read their words, that doesn't stop them from daydreaming about the possibility. De Jesús says she fantasizes about Trump digging into a chapbook she wrote titled Petty Poetry for SCROTUS’ Girls, with poems for Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Obama. “My fantasy,” de Jesús says, “is that he reads them aloud, or Ivanka reads them as some kind of family story time.”
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED