A poetic respite from politics

By:  Brian MacQuarrie

Broadsides and partisan bickering pass for business as usual in Washington these days, but the chief of staff for the Senate's liberal firebrand has created an unlikely patch of common ground.

That place lies in the power of the poetry that longtime University of Vermont professor Huck Gutman, aide to US Senator Bernie Sanders, distributes by e-mail to 1,700 readers who include all the Senate chiefs of staff, several White House staffers, university presidents, academics, journalists, and former students.

"It's to remind them there are other things than the debt ceiling and Social Security,'' says the 67-year-old Gutman, who began teaching at UVM in 1971 and has known Sanders, an independent, for nearly as long. "I don't have a political test for poetry. I don't think of Washington when I do it.''

Instead, he says, the poetry and his attached commentary are provided for the noncombatant pursuits of intellectual pleasure and personal enrichment. Even staunch conservatives who disagree with Gutman and Sanders on nearly everything but the time have been impressed.

"It's far too rare,'' says Mark Schwartz, chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. "The problem is that everybody is so focused on our jobs that we tend very rarely to look over the edge at other dimensions of reality.''

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