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Alberta Clipper 11/25/2014: “Unpatriotic Art” by Anna Boothe

November 22, 1963 was a day of mourning across American when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Three days later, on Thanksgiving Day, his body was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.  In “Unpatriotic Art,” through ekphrasis, Anna Boothe discusses a painting of Kennedy that hangs in the Truman Library. Published in Prairie Schooner in the fall of 1970 (a mild season in Lincoln, as the temperature averaged a cool 52 degrees Fahrenheit), Boothe’s poem not only considers the physical act of painting but also remarks on Kennedy’s casualness rather than his presidential air. Boothe’s commentary on Kennedy as a person suggests that he was far more than only a dignitary, leader, or chief. – Evan Berry

Anna Boothe
Unpatriotic Art

I wonder at the daring
of her stroke,
yellow and green
in the face of a president,
hands with a haze of fingers,
a grey body in a green suit.

As art it pleased me,
the laity of that priestly school,
and my layman’s eye
reposed on his turquoise nose
and rose to a puff of cantaloupe hair
caste carelessly across his head.
Others would have made him stiff and official instead.

But Kennedy was a casual man,
windblown, dapple colored,
burned in sun, his colors run
with outdoor green
and prematurely grey with death.

It’s understanding
that makes the painting,
not the norm.
Patriotism does not command
a grey pose
for a green man.
And image outlasts form.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Fall 1970)


The Alberta Clipper is a biweekly gust of history—brushing the dust off of a poem from our archives and situating it in the current events and local Nebraskan weather reports of days gone by. Explore the Alberta Clipper archives here.

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