Inauguration Day is a grand national spectacle, seen by the whole world! The nation puts forward its best! State-of-the-art security, troops marching in perfect formation, the very latest in ladies’ fashions, patriotic songs sung (well, lip-synched) by the nation’s best-loved voices, stirring rhetoric from mature speechwriters freighted with the wisdom of the ages…yes, this is the USA showing off our best.
Why not have a poem read at the ceremony? You’d want it to be something stirring and uplifting, and by one of our best poets of course. Such a work can echo down through the ages, defining a moment in the life of a nation. Think of Horace’s triumphal odes or Kipling’s “Recessional.” There are precedents: four inaugurations (1961, 1993, 1997, 2009) have included poets reading their verses.
Hold up there just a minute, though. This word “best” that I’ve been throwing around: Isn’t it kind of invidious? Judgmental? If some poet were best, wouldn’t that mean the rest of us are…inferior? (Gasp! Swoon! Smelling salts applied.) Instead of using these arbitrary, normative standards, should we not base our selections on what’s really important—which is to say, as every authority figure in our culture from academics to generals has told us, on diversity?
OK, let’s get a black poet out there. No, wait: been there, done that. The 1993 and 2009 poets were both black, or at least black-ish. In any case, the black thing is kind of passé, what with a black president and all. America’s future belongs to the Hispanics—didn’t the vice president tell us so? The poet should be Hispanic, then. And oh, those black-ish poets were both gyno-Americans, so this one better be a male, a Hispanic male.
We’re not there yet, though. We need to pack a little more diversity into our choice. Hispanic is OK, but male? Yeccchh! Wait—how about a gay Hispanic male—a twofer? That’s the ticket! We got any gay Hispanic male poets? Send emissaries to the four corners of the land!
And so the nation of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant, of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Mark Twain, of Daniel Boone and Neil Armstrong, found itself on Monday, in between the president’s inaugural address and the benediction, looking at a homosexual of Cuban ancestry named Richard Blanco.
(Just a quibble here. Why, when we’re told that some bloke is homosexual, are we not told what kind of homosexual he is? I mean, you know, pitcher or catcher, giver or taker, bugger-er or bugger-ee, fudge-tamper or mattress-muncher? If we know from the subject’s testimony or from observation of his dating habits that a man is straight, then we know who’s doing what to whom. Why should we not be vouchsafed the same level of information on homosexuals? Although if I have been correctly informed that the gripe heard most often around gay bars is: “A hundred bottoms looking for a top,” then the issue may be moot. End of quibble.)
And please don’t think that Blanco is one of those old-style Cuban-Americans, the ones that hate Fidel Castro. Heaven forbid! Richard Blanco is progressive.
So what does he have to tell us, this gay caballero, this butt-bandit bard, this sonneteer of the shirt-lifting sodality (or, depending on precise preference—see above—this pillow-pounding poet)? Check it out.
Blanco’s poem is simply, crassly, stupendously, awful. I’d like to count the ways, but the wretched few hundred words I am allotted here at Taki’s Magazine cannot do justice to the sheer toe-curling badness of this “poem.” Just a few:
It’s free verse. I have in the past tried to be tolerant toward free verse. There are, after all, a handful of striking, memorable examples. Tolerance wanes with age, though, and I am now ready to say that 99.9 percent of free verse is worthless crap. Blanco’s “poem” is not one of the exceptions. Perhaps he believes, like the Beat poets, that rhyme and scansion are “fascist.” Or perhaps he just thinks they are fussy, restrictive, and, er, anal.
And then, Blanco’s grasp of grammar and vocabulary seems to be shaky.
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming
We keep dreaming an English sentence? I don’t think I ever have.
every head of wheat sown by sweat
I’ll take correction here, never having had much work experience in the agricultural sector, but I do not believe that anybody, in the entire history of the human race, ever sowed a head of wheat, by sweat or any other agent.
hands gleaning coal
Back in the Depression, George Orwell observed men picking usable coal out of slag heaps, and I think “gleaning” could fairly be the right verb there. I doubt anyone has done this in the USA for several decades, though.
or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm
Eh? How do deserts and hilltops keep us warm? And shouldn’t there be an “on” before “hilltops”?
Et cetera, et cetera, et godawful cetera. What a heap of dog poop!
In Chapter 43 of my book Fire from the Sun, an English college hosts a company of young opera singers drawn from around the world. The college principal composes a poem of welcome. I tried hard to make the thing as obviously bad as possible. Thus:
One World, One Song
New voices for peace resound
Dimming the throb of war,
The shrill screech of greed.
From forest and savannah,
From sand-fringed isle and mountain perch,
All races, all colors, coruscating—
A community of voices.
The kaleidoscope swirls.
Strange new patterns appear.
New voices for a new world of hope—
Voices raised for peace
In multicultural harmony.
I seriously doubt, however, that a nation raised on the formless narcissistic gibberish of “poets” such as Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, or Richard Blanco would think this bad at all. Heck, on the basis of this poem I could be tapped for the 2017 inauguration! I can be reached in care of Taki’s Magazine.
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