The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A known unknown: Rumsfeld the poet

Los Angeles, June 10 (Reuters): You might think that he’s just secretary of defence, but Donald H. Rumsfeld is also a poet even though he doesn’t know it.

In fact, says journalist, humourist and verse compiler Hart Seely, the man’s poetry has been hidden — embedded, if you will — deep inside his numerous press briefings and it took round-the-clock perusals of Pentagon transcripts to liberate the poems, free the verses.

Seely says there’s gold to be mined in Rumsfeld’s words as in the poem The Unknown which takes pride of place in the just-published book he edited, Pieces of Intelligence: the Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld (Free Press):

“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 unknown unknowns

The ones we don’t know we know.”

Seely, a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard who specialises in “the long stories in the paper that people never read,” said he first realised that America did not know what it had in Rumsfeld during his rambling Iraqi war press briefings.

A lot of the Pentagon press corps just thought that the 70-year-old former Congressman was just a garrulous old codger and they would click off their pens at the moment when Seely started taking notes.

In classic journalistic style, Seely realised that the circumlocutions and gerunds gone astray contained a folk wisdom worthy of a Spiro T. Agnew, Casey Stengel or even Yogi Berra, who once noted of a popular restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Take for example this poem on a woman journalist that Seely titled Cheating woman in a section in the tiny 118-page book called Nine Poems for the Media:

“She said she had a question

And she asked three

I asked for an easy one

And she gave me a tough three.”

Seely said he even found a Rumsfeld poem that rhymed, which he titled Flying, Too:

“Now that is not always true.

Think of the B fifty-two.

It’s still flying just fine, thank you.

“And so am I ... thank you.”

Seely said the book is all Rumsfeld’s words and that he was helped in recognising the value of Rumsfeld’s “poems” by a book he collaborated on about a decade ago about a similar figure in public life, Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto, the great Yankee shortstop and broadcaster.

“If I did anything except use Rumsfeld’s words, it would be cheating. As a result my eyes practically had a film on them because the Pentagon’s transcripts don’t have paragraph marks. I have driven roads that are shorter than some of these paragraphs; they’re longer than a baby’s leg,” Seely said.

So far, the secretary of defence has had no comment.

But as he said in the poem Gerbil:

“I feel like a gerbil

I get on that thing

And I run like hell.”

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