Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Monday, January 21, 2013

Poetry 'n Politics - Part II - Occasional Poems

    What happens when you give a business card poet the job of an audience-oriented poet?

    As you are no doubt aware, today was Squirrel Appreciation Day.  This year we are proud to share our special moment with two great humans:  Martin Luther King and the reinaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama.  Both of these fine men are revered among us squirrels because of their unmatched ability to bring out the nuts.

    The inauguration offered another rare opportunity for English language poetry to make a positive impression on the country, if not the world.  Poetry lovers looked forward to this with some apprehension after the debacle in 2009 with Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day".

     My apologies to those who were trying to forget a crowd-clearing disaster so complete that one pundit quipped:  "Poetry's only selling point is that it is cheaper than tear gas."

     So how did it go with Richard Blanco's "One Today"?

     Compared to what?  "Praise Song for the Day"?  Well, by a factor of infinity, a person with a penny is wealthier than someone who is broke, but both are extremely poor.

     Compared to the words and delivery of the two men being honored today, Barack Obama and MLK

     On my Sonic Rhythms Meter Richard Blanco's cringefest demonstrated fewer repetitions than three prose samples:  a snippet of Twitter banter, a paragraph from a mathematics text and a transcript of commentary from yesterday's San Francisco 49er - Atlanta Falcon NFL game.  The run-on sentences sustained by ubiquitous, random em dash abuses disqualify it as good writing.  It is far too rambling for prose, taking as long as five sonnets would take in order to say far less than we'd expect from one.  Worst of all, it was boring and, especially given that it's a poem written for a historic occasion, it was self-absorbed.

     That said, unlike "Praise Song for the Day", "One Today" was not entirely devoid of poetry.  After a clumsy single repetition of "Great" in Strophe 1 we hear:

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,

     Fair repetitions of "face[s]" and nice "m" alliteration, presaged in the previous line with "moving".

the empty desks of twenty children marked [as] absent

     Good short "e" assonance and strong iambs until the missing "as".  Unfortunately, like the movie "Lincoln", which should have ended with the natural exit line "I'd love to stay but I have to go", Mr. Blanco blows it with the maudlin and redundant "today, and forever."  For God's sake, man, let the audience do some of the work!

     I suspect that those will be among the very few fragments remembered in the next few days.  For the most part, though, this was at best an outline for a poem, the penultimate paragraph of which should never have made it to, let alone past, the first draft:

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

     As a whole, the "poem" was wordy to the point of chatty, endlessly iterating quotidian details like dead-end crime scene clues in a dime store mystery.

     How did others view it?  Predictably, the blurbosphere loved it.  As you know, some believe that dull, forgettable* prose largely bereft of technique qualifies as poetry.  Oblivious to the irony, a group of these people ridiculed the "10 People Annoyed That [the] Inauguration Poem Didn't Rhyme".

     And you humans call us squirrely?

* Nota bene:  Even its author didn't bother to memorize and recite/perform "One Today", despite the importance of the event and with more than a month to do so.

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