From Contemporary Authors:
MALL, Jim 1939-
PERSONAL: Born October 12, 1939, in Charleston, West Virginia; son of Mary Louise and James Holland; married Bonita (Karstens), March 16, 1971. No children.
EDUCATION: College of Wooster, BA, 1961. University of Iowa, M.A., 1970.
ADDRESS: Business–Jim Mall Antiques, 4626 N. Lincoln, Chicago, Illinois 60625.
CAREER: Assistant professor of art, University of Nebraska-Omaha, 1971-’75; antiques dealer, 1975-present.
WRITINGS: The Ballad of Sunny Warbucks, 2002; contributor of poems to www.washingtonpest.com.
SIDELIGHTS: A poet and polemicist, Mall did not pursue a writing career until his early 60s. By training, he is an artist; by profession, an antiques dealer. But in early 2001, he found himself fuming whenever he saw George W. Bush on the evening news, and decided he needed a productive outlet for his anger. “I was really upset about the whole election,” Mall says. “I think it stirred me up emotionally to a point where I had to get rid of it.” One dreary afternoon, while brooding and surfing the Net, Mall discovered the anti-Bush site www.washingtonpest.com, which was holding a limerick contest. In three minutes, he wrote his first poem: “An ex-CIA spook named Bush / Who kicked old Saddam in the Tusch / Now dangles a puppet / As dumb as a muppet. / A coup or a theft or a putsch?”
The site awarded Mall an honorable mention, and named the novice writer its “Notpoet in Residence.” Inspired, he turned out a series of longer poems (“Junior G Man,” “Transition Blues”) and began work on his epic, The Ballad of Sunny Warbucks, or Gorilla Warfare, An Un-Bush Ambush Anti-Poem for the Post Millennium.
Unlettered in poetry, Mall based his style on the alliterative scandal-sheet headlines in James Ellroy’s novel LA Confidential. In early 2002 he began exhibiting his poems in the window of his shop, presented as the front pages of a newspaper titled the Dick Times. The multimedia presentation, which melded Mall’s interests in fine art and poetry, evolved from a Christmas display. The previous December, Mall had devoted his front window to a creche of rubber figurines representing politicos who got up his nose. Inspired by the satirical Web site bushorchimp.com, he cast Bush as a gorilla in a red tie, leaning against a Yale padlock.
Playing the role of the right-wing judiciary was an alligator, his jaws chomping shredded slips of paper labeled “Bill of Rights” and “Constitution.” A few months later, Mall discovered a cache of Dick Tracy dolls at Quake, a vendor of pop-culture artifacts next door to his shop. That inspired the newspaper’s name. Soon, the plastic political zoo left over from yuletide was joined by a squad of little Dicks in yellow raincoats brandishing the broadsheet newsboy-style.
A “deadline poet” in the tradition of the Nation’s Calvin Trillin, Mall can produce a verse in under an hour. So the Dick Times is usually updated weekly to comment on whatever is making the poet’s veins throb with outrage. After Enron went bankrupt, Mall turned out this quatrain: “SONNY DOES END RUN AROUND ENRON, / DENIES LAY TIES! FEARS OUTBREAK / OF ROYKO-WRIGLEYVILLE SYNDROME / (MAKING WEE WEE ON THE BUSHES).
Passersby have often stopped to browse Mall’s headlines. Republicans have a lot of money, and they love antiques (viz., Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Donald Rumsfeld), but Mall seems not to care about alienating customers. The antiques market is doing poorly, anyway. If Mall’s store is not selling a lot of old lamps, it is at least warning the neighborhood about his 42nd-favorite president.
“I just dislike the guy so much,” Mall says. “I feel he’s an incompetent boob. He’s the apotheosis of the Peter Principle. He’s risen several levels above that. For some reason, we wound up with this guy, and he’s just a front man for the oil industry, Dick Cheney, the military-industrial complex in general. The poems give me a positive outlet. I think by communicating my feelings, through one person a week who looks in the window, I may be effecting political change.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Saverio Truglia.