Just as it's hard to get a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, the only way a prominent artist can become a member of the 250-member American Academy of Arts and Letters is if a, um, vacancy occurs.
Eight such vacancies apparently occurred over the past year. Newly elected members include humorist (and poet) Calvin Trillin, someone to whom I turn when I despair of the world in which I live. From Trillin's little gem of an anthology Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme:
Cheney’s Head: An Explanation
One mystery I’ve tried to disentangle:
Why Cheney’s head is always at an angle.
He tries to come on straight, and yet I can’t
Help notice that his head is at a slant.
When Cheney’s questioned on the Sunday shows,
The Voice of Reason is his favorite pose.
He drones in monotones. He never smiles---
Explaining why some suspects don’t need trials,
Or why right now it simply stands to reason
That criticizing Bush amounts to treason,
Or which important precept it would spoil
To know who wrote our policy on oil,
Or why as CEO he wouldn’t know
What Halliburton’s books were meant to show.
And as he speaks I’ve kept a careful check
On when his head’s held crooked on his neck.
The code is broken, after years of trying:
He only cocks his head when he is lying.
At the ceremony, which will not only include induction of new members but also the awarding of many awards, "Academician Wallace Shawn will deliver the Blashfield Foundation Address, titled The Unobtrusives." And I do believe we're talking about that Wallace Shawn.
Edit: Looking over a list of members, living and dead, I spy at least one of those who has recently given up his seat at the table: Kurt Vonnegut. It feels sort of right for Trillin to have taken his place.