10:15 am || Receives the Presidentail Daily Briefing 12:30 pm || Lunch with Hillary Clinton 3:55 pm || Interviewed by Jose Diaz Balart of Telemundo 4:15 pm || Interviewed by Maria Elena Salinas of Univision
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Did you find the poet at President Obama’s inauguration as insufferable as I did?
Did your child look at you, like mine did, and say, “Nothing rhymes”?
I found Richard Blanco’s “poem” – it wasn’t much of a poem, more like narrative recited as if it were poetry – both prosaic and long, which is a really bad combination. Also, it was incongruously adulterated with lines addressing the poet’s own mommy and daddy issues, making it prosaic, long, and odd.
But of course everyone pronounced it a wonderful thing.
When people react to poems, they often remind me of the director of some awful British costume drama I once saw performed in Philadelphia. He acknowledged to me that the production wasn’t that great, but remarked that when Americans hear British accents, they think they are getting quality.
That is, people confronted with bad poetry seem to take leave of common sense and believe the poem is brilliant because, ipso facto, it’s a poem.
Unfortunately for Blanco, the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson, who understands literature and never writes anything insipid, also took notice:
Like Lennon and McCartney, Blanco’s poem followed the sun. From the first line his imagery was confusing. When the sun rose, it “kindled over our shores.” Can you “kindle over” something, like a shore, without setting it ablaze—especially if right away you go on “peeking . . . greeting . . . spreading” and “then charging across the Rockies”? It makes the sun sound like an arsonist on the lam. In addition to the one sun, there are also one sky, one light, and one ground. This one ground is “rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat . . .” I can see how the stalk could be rooted to the ground, but not how the ground could root us to the stalk. And I’ve thought about this pretty hard. As for the sweat sowing heads of wheat . . . never heard of such a thing.
Compounding the Blanco tragedy, Yahoo! News asked some other esteemed poets to create some additional bad verse.
Ferguson took notice of this too:
We sang, sang Brenda Shaughnessy (National Book Critics Circle Award), for example, a song of saying so, singing O / So we might be heard, we voted. O, out of many, one. / Out of everyone, you. The “you” here is, of course, the Big O himself, the president. O you are still president / and that is our poetry. The plain truth made beautiful. It’s not hard to imagine Brenda Shaughnessy, thinking up her poem, making an “O face” of her own. In her favor, she also refers to Rachel Maddow as a “flotation device”—a poetic image that makes more sense the longer you think about it.
In “Oath,” Kevin Young (National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award) offered an orthodontic image of the president getting sworn in: this smidge of sun—shine it down into your mouth. Glug. James Tate (Pulitzer, National Book Award) wrote a letter to the president, “Dear Mr. President,” instead of a poem. It resembled a poem only in that it was impossible to decipher. (A “pile of leaves” working as a loan officer in a bank and offering discount loans! Go figure.) Paul Muldoon, in “For Barack Obama,” rhymed “deliver” with “chicken livered.” I’d say “Give that man a Pulitzer!” if he didn’t already have one.
Personally, I felt a little chicken livered myself after the Inauguration. And part of it was Blanco’s fault. At least he could have made it rhyme.
First Lady Michelle Obama appears to have abandoned, at least for now, her oft-criticized “Let’s Move” initiative to promote exercise and healthy eating among the nation’s youth, halting public appearances and statements related to the program.
Mrs. Obama does not appear to have done anything much to personally publicize the initiative in more than four months – since she released a video in early September welcoming children back to school and telling them about the “healthy, delicious new choices” on school lunch menus. In August she had a “Kids’ State Dinner” at the White House to showcase healthy eating.
Michelle’s exit from the Let’s Move campaign coincided with growing reports and a widely circulated satirical video alleging that the new food guidelines were leaving children hungry. The bad publicity clashed with President Obama’s efforts to stir support among young voters for his candidacy. Many of Obama’s campaign events were held at high schools – presumably among students who might have been attending rallies on relatively empty stomachs.
Let’s Move was also proving a juicy target for Republicans, who alleged Michelle’s food strictures promoted a “Nanny State” that intruded on free choice and personal responsibility.
But the Left also had unkind words for Mrs. Obama’s initiatives, accusing her of focusing on exercise while failing to aggressively take on the powerful food industry.
Political contributions may also have influenced Michelle’s decision to back off.
According to the latest tallies at Opensecrets.org, the food industry contributed millions during the last election cycle to various political campaigns. In the presidential contest, Mitt Romney took about $2.1 million from the industry, while Obama received a little less than $1 million.
Since the election, Michelle has not revived her participation in the Let’s Move campaign. Nevertheless, the White House website devoted to the initiative continues to operate, though blog posts on the site are written less frequently than before.
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