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Forget for a moment your emotions over Bill Clinton's impeachment and the criminal and legal issues.  Consider only this aspect of the entire mess: the debasement of the language. Think of the sheer volume of words that were expended over the course of the scandal--by the accused, by co-conspirators, by defenders, by pundits--which were intended not to get to the truth of the matter, but to get through another day with Bill Clinton in office.  This abuse of language did not merely demean the speakers and undermine the process, it was an insult to the listener and a fundamental attack on the meaning of the language itself.  For this book, Tom Simon has taken the testimony of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, their own words before the Independent Counsel, and has turned choice bits into found poetry.  The effects are devastating.

For those of you who, like me until recently, don't know what found poetry is, you may be familiar with the old Village Voice feature where they ran snippets of Phil Rizzuto's Yankee game dialogue in the form of free verse poems.  [These were collected in the very funny book, O Holy Cow! : The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto (see a sample)]  Similarly, I once found a book of poems collected by Annie Dillard (see Orrin's review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) called, Mornings Like This : Found Poems.  She lifted verses from things like old catalogues or boys magazines and turned them into poems.  This technique has a really weird effect; it somehow transmutes the mundane into the profound or the mythic.  We are so immersed in language, particularly in today's media culture, that words become cheap.  But putting them into the form of poems makes us pause and consider them seriously.

Here are just a few of Mr. Simon's found poems:

     From the Testimony of William Jefferson Clinton:

    'In the Context of Her Desire'

    She raised the issue with me
    In the context of her desire
    To avoid testifying

    Which I certainly understood

    Not only because there were
    Some embarrassing facts
    About our relationship

    That were inappropriate

    But also because a whole lot
    Of innocent people were
    Being traumatized
    And dragged
    Through the mud
    By these Jones
    Lawyers
    With their
    Dragnet
    Strategy

    'It's Possible'

    Yes, that's correct

    It's possible
    That she...
    While she
    Was working there

    Brought something
    To me and
    That at the time
    She brought it to me

    She was the only person there

    That's possible
 

    'There Are No Curtains'

    There are no curtains on the oval office
    There are no curtains on my private office
    There are no curtains or blinds that can close
    The windows in my private dining room

    The naval aides come and go at will.
 

    'Paranoia'

    After I went through a presidential campaign
    In which the far right tried
    To convince the American people I had

    Committed murder
    Run drugs
    Slept in my mother's bed
    With four prostitutes
    And done numerous other things

    I had a high level of paranoia
 

    'The Correct Answer'

    Let me begin with
    The correct answer

    I don't know for sure

    But if you would like me
    To give an educated guess
    I will do that

    But I do not know for sure
 

    'For Example, Kissing'

    I thought the definition
    Included any activity by
    The person being deposed
    Where the person was the actor
    And came in contact with
    Those parts of the bodies
    With the purpose
    Or intent of gratification
    And excluded
    Any other activity

    For example
    Kissing is not covered by that
    I don't think
 

    The Word 'Is'

    It depends on what
    the meaning of the word
    'is' is

    If the--
    if he--
    if 'is'
    means is
    and never has been
    that is not--

    that is one thing

    If it means
    there is none
    that was a

    completely
    true
    statement
 

    'What I Said'

    I don't know
    That I said that

    I don't

    I don't remember
    What I said

    And I don't remember
    To whom I said it
 

    'A Friend of Betty'

    You know
    She was a--

    She had worked
    In the White House
    She had worked
    In the Defense Department
    And she was moving
    To New York

    She was a friend of Betty
 

    'Never'

    No . . .

    It's certainly not the truth
    It would not be the truth

    . . . I have never
    Had sexual relations
    With Monica Lewinsky

    I've never had
    An affair
    With her

From the Testimony of Monica S. Lewinsky:

    'He Was Just Angry'

    And he was just angry with me
    And he told me it was none of my business
    What--you know
    What he was doing...
    He had never been treated as poorly
    By anyone else as I treated him
    And that he spent more time
    With me
    Than anyone else
    In the world

    Aside from his family
    Friends and staff...

    I didn't know exactly which
    Category that put me in
 

    'Little Tiny Spot'

    I told him
    That I really cared about him

    And he told me
    That he didn't want to get
    Addicted to me
    And he didn't want me to get
    Addicted to him
    And we embraced at that point

    And that's--
    I mean it was--it's just a

    Little tiny spot
    Down here

    And a
    Little tiny spot
    Up here
 
 

    'Oh, No'

    Yes

    And at that point
    I noticed it
    And I kind of thought, oh
    This is dirty

    It needs to get cleaned

    And then I remembered
    That I had worn it
    The last time
    I saw the president

    And I believe it was
    At that point that
    I thought to myself
    Oh, no
 

    "Another Time"

     Oh

    Our meeting ended up
    Or was cut short
    By the fact
    That he had to have
    A meeting with Mr. Bowles

    So

    He told me
    That he'd give me
    My Christmas present
    Another time and

    That he wouldn't
    Jerk me
    Around and
    Abandon me.
 

    'A Crime in Washington'

    I'm a friendly person
    And -
    And I didn't know
    It was a crime
    In Washington

    For people - for you
    To want people to like you

    And so I was friendly

    And I guess
    I wasn't
    Supposed to be

We live in age that wallows in irony and cynicism.  We trust no one and nothing.  We are always alert for hidden meanings and secret motives.  We assume hypocrisy and are suspicious of genuine belief.  None of this is healthy for a society.  It has given our culture a coarseness which almost all of us feel has gone to far.  We must act to reverse this course, to begin to reclaim language, so that we can once again put some faith in words and those who speak them.  Leaders--be they politicians, academics, journalists, clergy or whoever--must enforce certain standards of intellectual honesty if we are to restore meaning to words and returm their power to coommunicate universally.

But to read these poems, based on the words of a president and his consort, is to be bombarded by double entendres and obfuscations and outright lies.  They are supreme examples of the use of language, not to communicate with others, but to confuse others and to serve political ends.  One of the little noticed crusades of the past century was the effort of conservative critics like George Orwell, CS Lewis, EB White, Jacques Barzun, and others to defend the English Language from those who would corrupt it for their own purposes. This little book is an excellent example of what they were fighting against, and a useful reminder that the fight goes on and that they (we) are losing.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -UNDER OATH:  A Political Cantata for Tenor, Mezzo-Soprano  and Independent Counsel  Music by Steve Hilton Texts* from the sworn testimony of William Jefferson Clinton and Monica Lewinsky  *Edited by Tom Simon
    -William J. Clinton  Forty-Second President 1993- (Whithouse.org)
    -AMERICAN PRESIDENTS LIFE PORTRAITS (CSPAN)
    -ETEXTS: IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON (Government Documents in the News, U of Michigan)
    -The Impeachment of President Clinton (North Texas Libraries)
    -Full Coverage : Clinton Accused (Washington Post)
    -Clinton: Impeaching the President (CBC)
    -Clinton in Crisis (Guardian Unlimited)
    -The History Place - Impeachment: Bill Clinton
    -The Committee to Impeach the President
    -CLINTON SCANDAL SUMMARY  (Harold Kahl)
    -ARCHIVES: "Lewinsky" (NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Mar 5, 1998 Lawrence E. Walsh: Kenneth Starr and the Independent Counsel Act (NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Apr 23, 1998 William A. Edmundson: CLINTON & THE JONES CASE  (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Poetry Under Oath Book reveals the poetry in Monicagate (Linda Quigley, The Nashville Tennessean)
    -REVIEW: Elizabeth Hardwick: Head Over Heels, NY Review of Books
        Monica's Story by Andrew Morton
    -REVIEW: Anthony Lewis: Nearly a Coup, NY Review of Books
        A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly
        Brought Down a President by Jeffrey Toobin
        The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill
        and Hillary Clinton by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons
    -REVIEW: Ronald Dworkin: Philosophy & Monica Lewinsky, NY Review of Books
        An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of
        President Clinton by Richard A. Posner
        The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory by Richard A. Posner
    -REVIEW: Joan Didion: Uncovered Washington, NY Review of Books
        Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Story by Michael Isikoff
        Active Faith: How ChristiansAre Changing the Soul of American Politics
        by Ralph Reed
        Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline
        by Robert H. Bork
    -REVIEW: Lars-Erik Nelson: The Republicans' War, NY Review of Books
        The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution? by Linda
        Killian
        Conservative Reformers: The Republican Freshmen and the Lessons of the
        104th Congress by Nicol C. Rae
        Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Personal Report by Newt Gingrich
        Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional
        Crisis by Alan M. Dershowitz
    -REVIEW: Lars-Erik Nelson: The Not Very Grand Inquisitor, NY Review of Books
        Communication from the Office of the Independent Counsel, Kenneth W.
        Starr: Appendices to the Referral to the United States House of
        Representatives pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, §595(c), Parts 1
        and 2 Submitted by the Office of the Independent Counsel
        ...And the Horse He Rode In On: The People v. Kenneth Starr by James
        Carville
        The Clinton Enigma: A Four-and-a-Half-Minute Speech Reveals This
        President's Entire Life by David Maraniss
    -REVIEW: Joan Didion: Clinton Agonistes, NY Review of Books
        Referral to the United States House of Representatives pursuant to Title
        28, United States Code, §595(c) Submitted by the Office of the
        Independent Counsel
    -REVIEW: Lars-Erik Nelson: Whatever Happened to Whitewater?, NY Review of Books
        Arkansas Mischief: The Birth of a National Scandal by Jim McDougal
        and Curtis Wilkie
        Friends in High Places: Our Journey from Little Rock to Washington,
        D.C. by Webb Hubbell

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