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Tag Archives: Andrew Ferguson

Poetic Injustice

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.

Composite Characters Composed Out of Whole Cloth

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson draws attention to a little problem with President Obama elucidated by David Mariness’s mostly loving biography, Barack Obama: The Story, which was released today: The president is a committed fabulist.

Ferguson focuses on a section of the book in which Mariness describes some irregularities concerning Obama’s taking of literary license in his book, Dreams From My Father.

As Ferguson notes, Obama acknowledges in the book that “for the sake of compression,” some of the characters therein are “composites.” But this, Maraniss reveals, is an even more damning fiction. Because some of the characters are little more than Dreams from Obama.

Ferguson writes:

The book derives its power from the reader’s understanding that the events described were factual at least in the essentials. Maraniss demonstrates something else: The writer who would later use the power of his life story to become a plausible public man was making it up, to an alarming extent.

That is, some of the pivotal characters in Obama’s book who supposedly had a profound influence on his life don’t exist. Not real. Not a combination of anything, except falsehoods.

Reminds me of how Ronald Reagan used to draw derisive chuckles from liberals because he seemed to be confusing real events with those he saw in the movies. At least Reagan’s anecdotes had a basis in celluloid.

In Dreams, we find Ray, Obama’s black radical friend from his Hawaiian high school who couldn’t get dates with white chicks. That Obama had found a radicalized black friend at an exclusive private school in Hawaii should have been a tipoff that something wasn’t right.

In fact, Maraniss finds, Ray was someone named Keith Kakugawa, who was but a quarter African American and, it turns out, was busy dating the base admiral’s white daughter.

And then there was Regina, the black gal from Chicago Obama says he met at Occidental College who made him start feeling comfortable, literally, in his own skin. Wrote Obama:

Her voice evoked a vision of black life in all its possibility, a vision that filled me with longing—a longing for place, and a fixed and definite history.

Nope. No Regina. Doesn’t seem there was anyone like her at Occidental, which apparently was brimming instead with privileged white girls.

The role of Regina in Obama’s life, Maraniss thinks, may have been played much later by a woman named Michelle Robinson, who of course became Michelle Obama.

Ferguson neatly summarizes the book’s impact:

He did in effect what so many of us have done with him. He created a fable about an Obama far bigger and more consequential than the unremarkable man at its center.

Many, even those who voted against him, thought the Obama they were presented with was real. And even those who voted for him and thought he walked on water – even though nothing ever showed up on YouTube – are by now at least a little disappointed. Which is why Jim Messina over at campaign headquarters is analyzing every block of Cleveland to get out the vote.

The mainstream media, which surely would have been all over any lies contained in Dreams from Dick Cheney’s Father, is sure to sidestep all of this.

But perhaps it doesn’t matter. Obama in 2012 has shed all the deceptions of 2008. He’s running as committed liberal and an unabashed politician. Americans who vote for him this time should know precisely what they’re getting.