One State Two State, Red State Blue State

Poetry and limericks were replaced in popular culture by television, music lyrics, and cultural consumerism long ago. But just as modern-day poets keep fightin' the good fight and Anne Carson successfully reinvigorated the epic poetic form with Autobiography of Red, scribes such as Don Davis are struggling to bring back the art of rhyming satire.

Thus, Davis' One State Two State, Red State Blue State: A Satirical Guide to the Political and Culture Wars is a bold attempt to render contemporary American society in rib-tickling verse. But how receptive, really, will today's society be?

To quote the ever-present Sex and the City, wherein lead character Carrie Bradshaw's erudite suitor tries to turn her on to the finer aspects of metric verse:
Carrie: How about I read you a little bit of my favorite poetry?

Aleksandr: Please.

Carrie [Reading from a Vogue magazine]: "Cocktails at Tiffany's calls for classic charm. Oscar de la Renta, sleeveless silk full-skirted dress with black patent leather bow belt." Now that is pure poetry.
Ah, yes: products and fashion. That is poetry to many. Or should I say, "too many"? Red State Blue State, then, may be a change of pace that not everyone can appreciate. But for those willing to plunge into the depths of Davis' old-school comedy stylings, many chuckles await, with chapter headings along the lines of "Was Jesus Red or Blue?," "Can There Be a Culture War Without Any Culture?," "The Age of A-queer-ius," "Iraqnaphobia," and "Desperate Democrats" signaling the many topics being wittily marinated, skewered, and barbequed.

If Red State Blue State has a weakness, it namely lies within its timeliness: Jokes about Bill Clinton and Al Gore are already growing dreadfully stale, pop-culture references quickly lose bite, and John Kerry is barely a memory. Once George W. Bush and the current crop of congressmen leave office, Red State Blue State will likely lose its relevance.

And yet it's hard to fault the writer for this failing since it's the same trap that snares most of-the-moment cultural and writing—becoming timeless while staying timely is near impossible. The book is funny because it's timely, but that timeliness is also what marginalizes the material since you have to understand its social and historical context and it's many little news references in order to get the jokes.

On the other hand, if Hilary Clinton and/or Jeb Bush run for the presidency within the next decade and the Iraq War and Al Qaeda terrorist conflicts remain unresolved—all of which seem likely—then Bush, Clinton, and Mid East gags will automatically become relevant all over again, so Red State Blue State may be able to keep some of it's edge for a few years to come.

That said, the best time to read the book is now, while it's still fresh. And when you're done flipping through it, it'll make a perfect little gift for your hard-to-shop-for political-fanatic compadres. One caveat: Although Red State Blue State heckles both the left- and right-wings of society, the book saves it's sharpest and most frequent jabs for the conservative right (the author is a New York Blue Stater). For me, that's perfect. For namby-pamby Republicans, it might be a problem.

Political affiliations aside, it's of interest to remember that Red State Blue State has antecedents in the works of famed wordsmiths like Shel Silverstein and Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who wrote rhymes for children that appealed across generations, but also worked in the realms of social and political satire. In turn, this makes me wonder if Davis should have taken a cue from those esteemed men and laced his verse with inventive drawings.

Clever illustrations would make Red State Blue State a superior gift and worthy coffee table piece. The most memorable Silverstein and Geisel works, editorial cartoons, Joel Andreas' hilarious and frightening Addicted to War graphic novel, and illuminate biblical scriptures all benefit from artistic renderings juxtaposing against text, and the lack of detailed, risible art is what makes the numerous pages of Red State look more imposing and less entertaining than its lighthearted contents actually are.

I'll close this review by stealing the inscription from the opening of Red State Blue State: "You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it." – Art Buchwald

Like Red State Blue State, that quip is witty, sad, and awfully, wryly, kinda true.


Hardball, Crossfire, The McLaughlin Group
All yelling at the top of their lungs
Would the national dialogue be better served
If we simply cut out their tongues?
But on second thought, all this white noise
Really does serve the nation
After all, man can't live by smut alone
He also needs mental masturbation...

...The media's coverage of politics
Is usually like a horserace
Who's up, who's down, who's leading the pack
Who's falling down on their face
But if an ambitious reporter attempted
To boil down a candidate's views
She'd find herself off the network
Covering cooking on the local news...

...But for those truly worried
About the Red/Blue Divide
It's not quite time
For National Suicide
With erectile dysfunction
And wardrobe malfunction
This whole country may be obscene
But one thing is clear
What we all hold dear
Is not Red or Blue, but the GREEN.


Check out "Dr. Seuss Went to War" (political cartoons) and "The Advertising Work of Dr. Seuss," both curtesy of the Mandeville Special Collections Library's Dr. Seuss Collection.

Also, many of Shel Silverstein's adult works were stored at (regrettably this website disappeared at the end of 2006, but most of the site's content can still be found via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine), while info on his magical children's books can be found at

And author-lawyer Don Davis has a new blog up and running, The Satirical Political Report: An Offbeat Look at the Hot-Button Issues of the Day.


Note: The review portion of this post will be mirrored at and


John Fast said...

Broken link to "Dr. Seuss Went to War" -- an extra "h" at the beginning of the URL.

Lucas Brachish said...

Thank you, John. I've fixed the link!

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"This whole country may be obscene
But one thing is clear
What we all hold dear
Is not Red or Blue, but the GREEN."
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