[Published in Poets & Writers Magazine, Sept./Oct., 2016]


Dear President,

“The countless complex problems facing the world require complex critical thinking. Because I am a poet, I thought I would impart to you that nugget of non-trite wisdom. Please reinvest in public higher education systems like UC, SUNY, CUNY, and the other once-strong and accessible state systems of higher education so we poets can keep having jobs and paid trips to China. Make the Pentagon hold a bake sale to get their drones. —Kazim Ali

“I would like President Clinton to know that I support her and her agenda fully, because anyone who believes the Democratic Party is just one of two shells in a really fast two-shell shell game gamed by the banks and the arms industry and the energy conglomerates is clearly naïve. The single greatest problem facing our species is the erosion of the environmental conditions that allowed us to evolve and thrive and tap out messages like this one on our phones and computers, which, yes, do accelerate the implosion of the environment, but we can’t have everything.” —T. C. Boyle

“America has often seen itself as a beacon of democracy, but the American project has always been about a settler project of inclusion and exclusion, even if in Academia things are more or less pretty democratic and OK. As we like to say in our offices, where we poets are on the front lines in the struggle against imperialism, except when it’s election time and we vote Democrat, like we’re getting paid for it, or something: The United States has colonized or destabilized many places, most recently Iraq and Libya. Please, please, oh please, Madame Clinton or Mr. Trump, don’t do that shit anymore, OK?” —Ken Chen

“There is no present or future without immigrants; white supremacy (and all of its sequelae) is one of the gravest threats to our democracy. I don’t at all know why I used the word sequelae to make my point, but it looks like I did.” —Junot Díaz

“Eight million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. Our government has to get involved in legislation that reduces one-use plastics, invests in alternative-packaging ideas, and dramatically decreases pollution in the oceans, or by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish, except for jellyfish, and who wants an ocean covered over by yucky jellyfish, vote GREEN!” —Anthony Doerr

“I would say to the president that she should work to dismantle the global culture of corruption present at all levels of society, which prevents any meaningful change or accountability, and whose primary victims are the powerless and disenfranchised. I know, Madame Clinton, that you will do this, in concert with your friends in the Chinese Communist Party. —Robert Fernandez

“The stakes are too high for you to ignore the grievances voiced by those of us who believed you when you spoke of progress and equality. We can’t afford for you to go slow. And if you do, we will write totally nasty poems about you, Mr. Trump.” —Angela Flournoy

“Climate change—stop dicking around. War—use only as the ultimate last resort. Especially (since you both have threatened it) nuclear war against Iran. Thank you, and may the best candidate, dick or not, win!” —Ben Fountain

“I’d like our next president to know compassion and compromise. I’d also like her to know how thrilled I was when I received a thank-you note from her husband after I sent Chelsea a birthday card when I was fifteen. I wouldn’t have become a poet without that card written by a dyer’s hand. Or was it Monica who wrote it, that just occurred to me.” —Carrie Fountain

“President Clinton, after celebrating with a tall flute of Prosecco, please make gun reform your first order of business. In four years, I hope to live in a country where the pen is mightier than the gun (and mightier than the alcohol that gives people happy trigger fingers).” —Eleanor Henderson

“Your country is complex; it is hard to imagine a foreigner being able to fix it for you. Keep this in mind when you consider invading another nation. Nevertheless, I’m still going to vote Democrat.” —Karan Mahajan

“Please put climate change at the front and center of our national conversation, and follow up by funding initiatives toward developing and using sustainable energy. I don’t say nuclear, because that’s not PC, even though most climatologists, including Mr. Hansen, are now saying that a massive, short-term investment in nuclear is the only emergency measure that can save the world.” —Cate Marvin

Peace is a good word for politicians to look up, understand the meaning of it, use it once in a while, learn to practice it. YOU NEVER USE THE WORD, YOU KNOW. WHY DO POLITICIANS NEVER USE THE WORD PEACE, YOU KNOW? You are committing environmental child abuse by poisoning our food, polluting our air, and totally destroying the environment so that a few of your cronies can make a few extra billion or two while the rest of us will not survive even to serve you. So take that, goddammit, AND LISTEN TO SOME LEVEL-HEADED, REASONABLE POETS, FOR ONCE.” —Alejandro Murguía

“Dear Madam President, we bow before thee. Help us lift up the least advantaged among us. Put your strength and determination behind education, jobs, and equality. We have benefited greatly from the moral guidance of the last administration. Hallelujah. Please keep the spirit of ‘yes we can’ alive. Hallelujah. God bless you. Amen, and I am available to serve as Ambassador to France in your Administration.” —D. A. Powell

“What the world wants, demands, deserves, and needs from you is that you guide your leadership and base your decisions on just one principle: Poetry for tenure. Because isn’t that the whole point to it all—Poetry for tenure? Isn’t that why we all keep on going?” —Mira Ptacin

“There should be a new cabinet post—Secretary of the Arts. For the inaugural six poets: European, Hispanic, Asian American, African American, Native American, Muslim. I would like to be one, thank you very much, and I do hope Fox is wrong about all that head-jerking thing.” —Ishmael Reed

“I want the president to know that we are tired of having our voices silenced and our needs unmet. I want the president to know that we want better gun control, higher minimum wages, recognition of women’s rights, better education, and most of all a greater sense of our shared humanity—unity, not division. I am a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of America, Long Live Bob Avakian.” —Roxana Robinson

“The growing disparity in wealth in this country undermines any hope we have for achieving social justice. Changing this won’t be easy, and will require more courage, conviction, and political leadership than you have exhibited in the past. There goes my Poet Laureate appointment.” —Dani Shapiro

“Since arts and humanities programs enrich our American lives beyond measure, connecting and inspiring people of different backgrounds and inclinations better than anything else does, it would be reasonable to support them threefold or more, without question. The fact that Bernie Sanders, a Jewish American, found it possible to be frank about the injustice and criminal oppression that Palestinian people have suffered for the past sixty-eight years suggests other politicians might be able to do this too—injustice for one side does not help the ‘other side’ and everyone knows this but does not act or speak as honestly or honorably as Sanders did. I say this even as it was once suggested by a leading American poet on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog that I openly plagiarized an anti-war poem by Kent Johnson.” —Naomi Shihab Nye

“Did you know we need to find more jobs for the unemployed? Also, Palestine and Israel need to work it out. What’s wrong with them gosh darn Jews and Arabs, anyway?” —Tom Spanbauer

“Free Leonard Peltier. Free Chelsea Manning. Stop picking on Kenneth Goldsmith. He’s President Obama’s favorite poet!” —Justin Taylor

“No language is neutral. To speak is to claim a life—and often our own. That sounds like I mean we should commit suicide via language, and maybe I am. If more Americans speak to one another, in writing, in media, at the supermarket, we might listen better, because no one speaks to anyone anymore, I mean, take off your damn headphones, you know? It is difficult, I think, to hate one another when we start to understand not only why and how we hurt, but also why and how we love. I trust that now, after reading these perfectly rational words, you will be a better President of the United States, and will be less likely to bring about a species-ending nuclear winter.” —Ocean Vuong