Dreams of the Presidents: From George Washington to George W. Bush by Charles Barasch was recently reviewed in Seven Days newspaper in an article entitled â€śDreamers-in-Chief: A Plainfield poet imagines the night lives of our leaders.â€ť
Mike Ives writes:
One day about 12 years ago, Plainfield poet Charles Barasch had a vision: It was â€śBobo Brazil,â€ť the first African-American professional wrestling champion, pinning former President Richard Nixon to a mat. And there, staring incredulously from an imagined grandstand, was Nixonâ€™s wife Pat.
Barasch, a speech pathologist, town moderator and baseball umpire who inks crossword puzzles for The New York Times, picked up his pen and set to work on a Nixon-inspired poem, rendering it in the protagonistâ€™s own voice. He then wrote similar verses about Presidents Buchanan, Jefferson, Pierce and Wilson. On and on Barasch went for the next 10 years, creating presidential portraits following the twists and turns of his creative process and the literary footsteps of famous poets Robert Bly and William Carlos Williams.
By 2006, Barasch had written dream sequences in the voices of all 43 U.S. presidents, including one in which an airborne George W. Bush declares, â€śI realize I donâ€™t know how to fly.â€ť After a few unsuccessful queries to literary agents, Barasch sent his manuscript to Berkeley, California-based North Atlantic Books, and the independent publisher agreed to put out Dreams of the Presidents in September 2008.
A slender volume that traverses 232 years of history in a mere 104 pages, Dreams is at once breezy and politically astute. Fifty-eight-year-old Barasch doesnâ€™t take his presidents too seriously â€” Martin Van Buren muses for a full stanza on the pleasures of his new White House bathtub, for example, and Andrew Johnson converses with characters from Lewis Carrollâ€™s trippy 1865 novel Alice in Wonderland. At the same time, however, the soft-spoken poet uses crystal-clear objective correlatives â€” T. S. Eliotâ€™s term for hard facts in poetry â€” to indict presidents for human rights violations and moral missteps.
Most of Baraschâ€™s â€śdreamâ€ť poems feature a string of off-beat images loosely grounded in progressive-leaning historical narratives â€” imagine fantastical filmmaker Federico Fellini consulting with historian Howard Zinn. Why write about dreams? Friend and fellow Vermont poet Judy Chalmer suggests they allow Barasch to pull quirky facts from his encyclopedic brain without fussing over chronological order or reportorial accuracy. â€śHe doesnâ€™t have to worry about fictionalizing history,â€ť she notes. â€śItâ€™s all transparently fanciful…â€ť
The stuff of dreamsâ€”hopes, fears, and longingsâ€”represents universal subjects to which everyone can relate. Dreams take on a new cultural currency in this collection of dream-poems, one for each American president. Exploring power, as well as its limits and possibilities, linguistics instructor Charles Barasch plays no favorites, making light of the sense of entitlement and self-importance that afflicts too many politicians. Fun to read, humorous, and laced with events of historical interest, each poem gives a dose of insight into the presidentâ€™s life and his relationships with others, including his family, allies, and rivals. Where contemporary people or important references to American historyâ€”such as slavery and the Indian warsâ€”occur, notes explain and contextualize them within the poemâ€™s meaning. Published during an election year, this book offers a well-timed look at politicians, some much-needed laughs at leaders who take themselves too seriously, and a fun platform from which readers can start to explore the lives of those who, for better or worse, have led America.
Charles Baraschâ€™s poems have been published in many literary and general-interest magazines, as well as in the anthology Baseball, I Gave You All the Best Years of My Life. He has created crossword puzzles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major publications. A linguistics instructor at the University of Vermont and a speech pathologist working with children, he lives in Plainfield, VT.
Dreams of the Presidents will go on sale September 9, 2008.