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.