from A Gallery of Ethopaths

Schools are diploma mills that provide
Credentials for people who have to hide
In the small chinks of some corporation
Or a bureaucracy’s minor station.
Pay your tuition and get your paper
And you’ll be ready for your next caper:
Type up a résumé—if it’s phony
No one will know that it’s pure baloney.
Go to a tailor and buy a suit
With shirts and silk ties that look really cute,
Then visit some company that is vast;
Brag that your energy’s unsurpassed.
Tell them you feel that their star is rising
And that you believe all their advertising.
Curry their favor, respect, and trust—
Date the receptionist if you must.
If such initiative leaves you nervous
Just take a test for the Civil Service.
Those jobs are designed for the truly dense—
All that you need is a bit of sense
In order to pass and get on their list
And thus be a fellow whom fortune’s kissed.
Business or government, what’s the diff?
Just avoid being a working stiff.
Work is destructive of mind and health
And never brought anyone massive wealth.
Corporate structures and federal bureaus
Are where you can gather up scads of Euros.
Simply make sure that they take you on—
Once that’s arranged, all your cares are gone.
If you’re incompetent, or a dunce,
People won’t learn of it all at once—
As long as you’re hired and on the payroll
You can go running around the Maypole
Acting the part of a first-class worker
Though really you’re only an idle shirker
Going through motions that are complex,
Faking it all and collecting checks.
After a while you will fit right in—
Then just sit back with a Cheshire grin.
You now have a sinecure, uncontested,
So count off the months till your pension’s vested.
Once this is done, ignore the world.
Sit home at night in your armchair curled
Up with a book of absorbing matter
And disregard all of the mindless chatter
And noise of modernity’s futile ravings.
Live off the interest of bonds and savings.
Pour yourself brandy and smoke cigars;
Smile and give thanks to your lucky stars
That you’re not caught in the swirl and rush
Of public existence. Just take a plush
Seat in your private abode that’s graced
With comfort, intelligence, and good taste.
Now and then, certainly, you’ll be troubled
By impudent meddlers who’ll make redoubled
Efforts to capture your mind’s attention
And shake your complacency with dissension.
You’ll be addressed by compulsive teachers,
Crusaders, reformers, and earnest preachers,
Obsessional crackpots on moral benders,
Activist weirdos with strange agendas,
Whiners who’ll tell you “You ought to be
Involved with humanity!”—they don’t see
Why you’re absorbed in your petty self
And rolling in comfort and excess pelf
While poor homeless people are on the street
Walking about in their stocking feet,
Or why you eat filets mignons and veals
When some other loser gets Meals on Wheels.
There’s not much to say to these drooling nerds—
I don’t see the purpose for mincing words.
Pause for a moment, expel a yawn,
Then open your eyes like a startled fawn,
Clear your soft throat with a gentle cough
And tell these complainers to bugger off.
Once they have left and you’re all alone
Repair to your living-room telephone.
Call a girl over for drinks and dinner
And finish the night as a carnal sinner.


Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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22 Responses

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    The best satire reveals the often shallow pathos of the human condition reduced to a state of nature and deprived of supernatural redemption. Although unsettling, that mirror of truth, when held up to the face of society by a truly gifted hand, is all that I mean by the satiric. Joseph Salemi has raised this most necessary of arts to a level of perfection our Anglo-American poetry had not seen prior to the “Gallery of Ethopaths”—a breakthrough in the history of letters.

    • Joe Tessitore

      I not sure that a poem can be both unsettling and funny. I read this excerpt several times and find that I agree with you – unsettling indeed, rendered all the more so by the fact that it comes to us from a poet that teaches in two universities.

      I’m sure you’re correct in describing it as satire, but I find myself struggling with that description.
      Isn’t satire, as practiced, for example, by Mark Twain, supposed to leave some room for laughter? This was such a comprehensively negative portrait that even the obviously funny lines ( like dating the receptionist) lost their humor for me.

      Nonetheless a spectacular portrait and a tour d force of rhyme.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        1. Satire and light verse are separate genres.

        2. Mark Twain was not a satirist. Mark Twain was a humorist. There’s a difference.

        3. A Gallery of Ethopaths is Juvenalian satire. Such satire is cold, harsh, and unforgiving.

        4. It’s not always the job of poetry to make people happy.

        5. The truth is not uniformly pleasant, child-friendly, upbeat,and Smiley-Faced. That’s a peculiarly North American misconception.

      • Joseph Tessitore

        I did not say that Twain was a satirist – I said that he practiced it.

        Neither did I say that it is always the job of poetry to make people happy.
        Evan has rejected poetry from me that he felt was too dark:


        Snow flies
        The willow cries
        A nation dies

      • Joseph Tessitore

        Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps our most beloved poet and certainly one of mine.

        He was far from child-friendly, upbeat, and Smiley-Faced.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear Joseph–

      Thank you for your kind words. They are deeply appreciated. I have wanted to revitalize the art of satire, in strict Juvenalian style, for many years. Whether I shall have succeeded in the eyes of posterity is something none of us can determine now. But the fact that a certain tedious and posturing lame-brain who posts comments here regularly has taken the occasion to insult you in this thread is unfortunate, though perhaps not unexpected.

      It’s an act of charity to ignore him.

  2. Sally Cook

    Accurate, piercing, and so much fun! Thanks again, Joseph, for once more reminding us of our wandering human ways.

  3. David Paul Behrens

    A masterful and humorous description of life in our world. However, before one asks the receptionist for a date, I recommend checking with the Human Resources department to inquire about their sexual harassment policy.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    No doubt Mr. Salemi has seen more than his share of morally vacuous future career apparatchiks pass through his classroom at Hunter College looking for an easy “A” and threatening a lawsuit when they don’t get one! Insofar as poets tend to find their inspiration close at hand, Mr. Salemi is most fortunate indeed, since there are few places more vulnerable to satire than a college campus!

  5. Wic E. Ruse Blade

    Though at moments, in Mr. Salemi’s “Advice to an Aspiring Careerist” from A Gallery of Ethopaths, I am reminded of Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Mr. Salemi is not as careful in his meter as the Middle English poet; in fact, I would say his tetrametres are downright clumsy at times. But they are interesting. A typical line runs two dactyls followed by two trochees (with or without the final unaccented syllable), as in the following couplet:

    “Type up a résumé—if it’s a phony
    No one will know that it’s pure baloney.”

    At times the final trochee becomes a spondee,

    “As long as you’re hired and on the payroll
    You can go running around the Maypole.”

    [Note the Byronic rhyme play, but also the natural two-syllable pronunciation of hired!]

    or even earlier, and almost iambic’lly, as in

    “Then just sit back with a Cheshire grin.”

    Though I am equally guilty of it, I really don’t like a run-on past a couplet’s rhyme, as in

    “That you’re not caught in the swirl and rush
    Of public existence. Just take a plush
    Seat in your private abode that’s graced
    With comfort, intelligence, and good taste.”

    That being said, Mr. Salemi’s diction is rich, and as Ms. Cook has pointed out…”fun”. He also comes close, at times, to that Chaucerlike ability to be both satirical and cordial. This is a rarety that even the greatest satirist in the English language—Swift—could not carry off.

    However, I must vociferously disagree with Mr. MacKenzie when he states that Mr. Salemi has “raised this most necessary of arts to a level of perfection our Anglo-American poetry had not seen prior to the “Gallery of Ethopaths”—a breakthrough in the history of letters.” Though Mr. MacKenzie may be unaware of it—that quote is positively hilarious, and I couldn’t stop laughing for at least two minutes and thirty-four seconds after I read it. Though the statement is ludicrous, it does show Mr. MacKenzie’s flair for words…à la Molière. I do hope our Secretary of Noughtiness, Mr. Besmirch, is taking notes.

    • Joseph Tessitore

      “our Secretary of Noughtiness…” – a truly remarkable line that begs the question, but far be it from me to ask!

  6. Rajendra Singh Baisthakur

    A good poem with a simple theme expressed in a lucid manner. Reflecting a piece of life.

  7. Michael Dashiell

    Witty and sardonic with enough variation in words and shaping that the stream of couplets isn’t monotonous.

  8. Mark Stone

    Dr. Salemi, Hello.

    1. I agree with Wic E. Ruse Blade’s general point about the meter of the poem. I read the first four words of the poem (“Schools are diploma mills”) and concluded that the poem would be in trimeter, since the first two metrical feet are dactyls. Then I read through the poem, expecting it to be in trimeter, and it seemed that nearly every line was short by one syllable.

    To illustrate, I have taken the first 12 lines of the poem and added one syllable to each line (except for line 10, which did not require any changes). I have made a few other revisions so that all lines are in trimeter, dactylic meter to be specific. The words I have added are in full caps. Here goes:

    Schools are diploma mills that JUST provide
    SO-CALLED credentials for people who’ll hide
    In the small chinks of some BIG corporation
    Or a bureaucracy’s LOWER GRADE station.

    Pay your tuition BILL and get your paper
    And you’ll be SET for your UPCOMING caper:
    Type up a résumé—if it IS phony
    No one will know that it’s pureLY baloney.

    Go to a tailor and buy a NEW suit
    With shirts and silk ties that look really cute,
    Then YOU WILL visit A FIRM that is vast;
    Brag that your energy IS unsurpassed.

    In short, I am not familiar with the meter of the poem. I do think that if you chose to put it into trimeter, it would flow smoothly, like a trimaran sailing elegantly through the prosodic seas.

    2. For me at least, reading an 80-line poem that is all in one stanza is like trying to put all of my dinner into my mouth at once and then swallow it, without having any time to chew (or enjoy the taste and texture). I may be a lightweight, but it’s just too much for me. If you put the poem into quatrains, I would be able take my time and savor each morsel.

    3. Regarding content, I would say that the poem is creative, clever, funny and wise, and that it reflects an understanding of the way the world is (in many cases), as opposed to the way it should be.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I’m sorry to say this, but both you and Mr. Wise are sadly deficient in the understanding of English meter.

      My poem (which is a short section of a 5000-line epic, by the way) is written in IAMBIC TETRAMETER. Your notion that it was supposed to be in trimeter, and Mr. Wise’s even more bizarre idea that it could be compared to the iambic pentameter of Chaucer’s prologue to the Canterbury Tales, are blunders that do your critical reputations no good.

      Iambic verse can be varied by substitutions. In fact ANY formal line of verse can be so varied. An iambic tetrameter line need not read “da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM.” Trochees and spondees and even dactyls can be substituted, as long as the line has four stresses. It is a schoolboy mistake of young formalists to think that a formal line of verse has to show absolute and perfect adherence to the ideal pattern. Have you read Shakespeare’s sonnets? Have you noted where the stresses fall? Are they always in an unvaried pattern?

      Here is the proper scansion of my first four lines:

      / u u / u u / u /
      u / u u / u u / u /
      / u u / u u / u / u
      / u u / u u / u / u

      This particular section of A Gallery of Ethopaths had more substitutions than usual, and might have thrown an inexperienced reader off. Here’s a small and more digestible chunk from another part of the poem, where anyone can see that the poem is in iambic tetrameter:

      The literary sense has died
      And we’re left with the putrefied
      Golems from miasmic mists
      Who fill up college reading lists.

      • Mark Stone

        Dr. Salemi, Your feedback is valuable to me, since you are an experienced and successful poet. Your comment is educational. Anything that can help me improve my skills as a commentator I am fully in favor of. Thank you.

  9. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    I find is simply astonishing that those who most pretend to an understanding of metrics on this and other threads are entirely ignorant how meter functions in our English prosody.

    The metrical form of Dr. Salemi’s poem could not more perfectly espouse the poem’s sense.

    If this is not completely obvious to the self-styled and shamefully untutored experts in this discussion, then they are truly without hope and might reconsider their pathetic quest to denigrate works infinitely superior to their own, notoriously shabby productions.

  10. Wic E. Ruse Blade

    Mr. Salemi has accurately scanned his first four lines presented here; but call them what he may, under no stretch of the imagination are they iambic tetrametres. I have noticed for some time that Mr. Salemi demands excellence in others that he does not demand from himself [cf. Oscar Wilde].

    But speaking of irregularity, from what I have read so far, his “Gallery of Ethopaths” seems closer to a mock-heroic poem than an epic. I must admit I prefer Pound’s wretched “Cantos” as a more serious attempt at epic [though a failure] than Mr. Salemi’s ethopathic “iambic tetrametres”. Still, despite his pompous claim, there are excellencies in his verses.

    I certainly did not bring Chaucer up, because of Mr. Salemi’s meter. Chaucer’s meter is frankly much more regular. I brought Chaucer up because of the kind of satire Mr. Salemi was exercising in this section of his “epic”. In retrospect, I think I may have been wrong to attribute such subtlety to Mr. Salemi’s verses.

  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    Where to begin?

    Wise hasn’t even read the entire Gallery of Ethopaths, but he decides that it’s a “mock-epic.” Really? Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” is a mock-epic. Homer’s “The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice” is a mock-epic. Butler’s “Hudibras” is a mock-epic. “The Adventures of Doctor Syntax” is a mock-epic. These are comic frivolities, not based on serious subjects. Does Wise have any idea what he’s talking about?

    If Wise didn’t bring up Chaucer’s work because of any metrical issue, then he must have brought it up as an example of “satire.” Again, WTF? The Canterbury Tales are not satiric. They are a connected series of verse stories illustrating every kind of short medieval genre: the moral exemplum, the fabliau, the saint’s life, the Breton lay, the chivalric romance, the laudatio uxoris, and mixed forms. These aren’t “satires,” Bruce — they are individual tales linked by the narrative framework of a pilgrimage, and which serve as a speculum mundi in the medieval sense. Just because there are funny parts of Chaucer that make you laugh does NOT mean that he is writing satire.

    If you don’t know what satire is (REAL satire, of the sort produced by Juvenal, Horace, Catullus, Martial, Luxorius, and early Greeks like Archilocus), then why are you criticizing my work?

    Every poet has the right to make substitutions in a line of verse. It is the hopelessly amateur poets who insist on composing da-DUM, da-Dum, da DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM. In tetrameter verse, which is close to the core of the original Anglo-Saxon line, all that is crucial are the four solid, recognized beats.

  12. Aedile Cwerbus

    The Ancient Poet

    There are those who judge me ferociously; one goes beyond
    the limits of good taste conceded to the genre’s pond;
    and others do maintain that all I write lacks nerve and strength,
    and verses similar to mine can be produced at length—
    ten thousand in a day. My God, perhaps I need to stop.
    I should not write another line, and let my poor muse drop.
    The problem is, if I do that, I will not sleep at night.
    Perhaps I need to grease myself and swim the Tiber thrice,
    or irrigate my restless body with the likes of wine
    and summon up the courage to show rulers aren’t divine.

    Alas, I lack the strength. Not everyone can speak of those
    brave Frenchmen dying or Iranians killed by their foes.
    If I could write of justice, as Lucilius once did,
    or like Horatius could do, when the occasion bid;
    then, if one heeds my words, which rarely happens in this place,
    I’d likely rub him wrong, and he’d respond with little grace.
    Buffoons and wastrels hover round with envy, hate and dread.
    What can I do? Start dancing when the wine-fumes hit my head?
    See double moons, like Mr. Flood? or box with Pollox’ myth?
    I’ll take my pleasure fitting words, like L— and H— and kith.

    Note: for me an epic is heroic.


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