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Poetic Injustice

by Keith Koffler on January 29, 2013, 4:50 pm

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.

{ 28 comments }

srdem65 January 29, 2013 at 5:06 pm

As one of the 280 million Americans who did not watch the inaugural, it seems we were spared a lot more than a sham swearing-in ceremony.

Susan January 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Amen, srdem.

OldTimer January 30, 2013 at 6:33 am

On Inauguration Day I watched movies. I watched about 2 minutes of this stuff and stopped. My concern is that this week end when the Super Bowl is on Obama will deliver some sort of message. I’d like to have at least one day of rest from him.

Scottso January 29, 2013 at 5:07 pm

The poem may have been embarrassing but not more embarrassing than watching the President of the United States give “shout outs” to high school kids and teachers in the audience today.

Seriously, flying 9 hours to give out props to kids and teachers.

Here’s a poem:

Guns, Ammo, Don’t let the Immigrant have them
Flying from east coast to west of the Rockies
Into the Desert. “Don’t go to Vegas and waste Government money,” I say
Hey Amanda! Hey Ashley! Hey Mariah! Hey Thomas!
It’s me. Is Senator Reid in the House? Holler!
We are a nation of Immigrants.
We are a Nation

Janna January 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I did see Blanco’s reading. Complete and utter drivel. Give me Robert Frost anyday of the week!

Star January 29, 2013 at 6:08 pm

…and miles to go before you sleek.”

gracepmc January 29, 2013 at 5:35 pm

But of course everyone pronounced it a wonderful thing.

Of course, in this land ruled by the Emperor with no clothes, it was a wonderful thing.

Mike Lester January 29, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Embarrassing adoration of public servants has finally brought us a white minstrel. Just reparations on display.

Dan January 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Yeah, he sucked

Susan January 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Glad I didn’t suffer through the bread and circuses. Know it is part of your job, Keith. Just seems to be above the call of duty to watch that tripe.

While it looks like everyone in D.C. has gone around the bend, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is a taking it to the Marxists. I don’t mean to brag, but this Texan is fearless. If you get a chance, read the entire letter Senator Cruz sent to the banks and gun makers who were threatened by the Creepy Ballerina. I’m still doing somersaults after reading it!

http://freebeacon.com/cruz-to-rahm-dont-mess-with-texas/

srdem65 January 29, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Wasn’t that SarahPalin’s choice? I recall she endorsed a few Congressional candidates last year.

Susan January 29, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Yes, Senator Cruz personally thanked Sarah Palin for her support. Her support was an unpopular move in the establishment because Dewhurst was supposed to be next in line. Even Perry supported Dewhurst. Cruz had a lot of help from grassroots, but he was tireless on the campaign trail. He would travel to every podunk town just to spread the cause. He is a real gem who won’t be overtaken by the pod people.

Star January 29, 2013 at 6:07 pm

“Delivered” and “livered” are what I call “rap rhyming.” You know–sorta.

Girly1 January 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm

One more reason I am happy to have missed one of the darkest days in my lifetime – the second coronation of the Kenyan wunderkind. It appears that Mr Blanco is no more qualified to be the Poet Laureate than Barack Obama is to be a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. The dumbing down of Amerika is well under way!

Just2old January 30, 2013 at 8:11 am

We are living Idocracy (the movie)….sucks

DeniseVB January 29, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Glad I missed it, and what’s funny, The History Channel ran a Pawn Stars marathon all day :D

Otis Driftwood January 29, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Even Robin Williams could wrote better prose –

Red Sand Between My Toes, Summer Vacation In Outer Space ( a Martian Haiku)

Otis Driftwood January 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

lmao – remove “could” … I need to proof better :-)

Julie Brueckheimer January 29, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I’ll say this, Keith. I didn’t watch, but from reading your post and the analysis of this poem, I’d say Obama got the mediocrity he deserves. I’m sounding like Obama with his “I” trouble, but I can’t get over some of his nominees for the Kennedy Center artistic medals. Dave Letterman? Sorry!

Sol January 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm

“There once was a [two-syllable-'illegal'-word] named Obie…”

LaToya Greene January 29, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Some folk cook that chicken.
Out where the cold winds blow.
Slippin’ and slidin’ and spittin’ and hissin’
Way up on the outside of the stove.
And I know some folks like to eat it, uh huh,
But that ain’t the way my baby go.
I said, “Now, Baby heat up that oven
I don’t like my chicken fried.”
“Oh, Baby heat up that oven
Uh huh, I don’t like my chicken fried.”
“Get that oven nice and toasty, yeah.
Put my chicken wing inside.”

My baby don’t bake no biscuits
She don’t cook no rice and beans
But the way she cook that chicken
Make a grown man holler and scream.

Bloodshot Heart

Tea Party at Perrysburg January 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Actually these poems are all in keeping with the artistic spirit of the day. Did you follow Alicia Keys’s “Obama’s On Fire-uh” lyrics? Appallingly bad, nonsensical and, surely, like the poets, she must have been absolutely drunk out of her mind.

Langley Spook January 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm

HaHa! I did not watch any of the Inauguration and I am a better man for it. -lol

nellyq January 29, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I didn’t watch any of the love fest in DC–I had toilets to clean. . .

Knothead January 29, 2013 at 11:14 pm

” If I had a son I’d think long and hard about him being a poet.”
“Now basketball, that’s a real sport for a little bro BO.”

sportinlife10 January 30, 2013 at 8:27 am

Wasn’t there a “son” who looked like Trayvon (remember him?) Martin?

Shofar January 30, 2013 at 7:29 am

I watched the coronation, and listened to Blanoc’s tripe. A friend stopped by that day to check on me, and sat with me watching the ridiculousness of it all. She is politically naive, having grown up in a home where politics was eschewed, but even she saw the entire day as a joke.

While Blanco was a waste of time and I am sure taxpayer money, what is worrying me most is not his or others lack of poetic or prosaic talent, but rather all of the homage that is being paid to Obama. If one takes a quick glance at the history of geopolitics you will see that it is counties that have slipped down the slope to tyranny where the “LEADER” has odes, poems, songs and what have you all written about him.

We once celebrated the strength of the American spirit in this country, now we sing the praise to a man. Very un-American if you ask me. I am waiting for him to order May Day celebrations, where the military or his civilian corps marches down the National Mall all saluting him as he stands poised on a reviewing platform.

cincycinco January 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm

How about a haiku instead?

Indonesian Barry
Became Prezzy Obama
Mass Chaos Ensued!

Not great, but better that THAT guy…