A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Praise Song for the Wealthy… White and Black

Why beat a dead horse… poet? The "change" mantra was why. Being unmoved by the "change" promises of DemRep politicians, I did not watch the Obama brouhaha on CNN hosted by fawnalist Wolf Blitzer, who made the brilliant observation that "It looks like the new president is taller than the old one."

However, a couple of days after the "event of a lifetime," I thought I’d take a look at the inaugural poem to be published in an initial 100,000 chapbook copies by Graywolf Press for $20 each. That's an initial $2,000,000. The poem was on the Internet (www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-poem.html?ref=books), so I read it, as well as diverse articles with its regard. Evidently, a dissident like me would not like it.

Elizabeth Alexander was a tenured professor poet at Yale University, from a moneyed black family, and quite comfortably distant (like Wolf Blitzer, Bush and Obama) from the strife currently felt by the average American citizen. Yet she seemed to equate herself with the latter, as in “I know there’s something better down the road./ We need to find a place where we are safe.” Well, there wasn’t much better or safer than the Yale tenured life! Alexander was selected because she was a friend of the new president, not because she was a concrete manifestation of the “change we can believe in” mantra, which she evidently was not. Selecting her was rather a manifestation of the business-as-usual faux-change we couldn’t believe in. Selecting friends or friends of friends was perhaps as commonplace in the literary established-order milieu as it was in the political milieu.

As for the poem, it was the kind of verse that would have been given the stamp of approval by the former Union of Soviet Writers because of its utter innocuousness. The Huffington Post dared not even criticize it, while The Yale Daily News titled its article: “Inaugural poem garners praise.” “It’s a beautiful psalm of praise, celebrating an extraordinary historical event by means of praising ordinariness, or the heroism of everyday life,” noted John Rogers, director of undergraduate studies for the English Department at Yale. But could one actually have expected gut truth from someone in a position like that? Certainly not! What one could expect, however, was the reigning collegiality provoking widespread blandness in academe. Indeed, blandness like the inaugural poem itself.

“I heard, I wept, I took great pride,” noted Yale English professor Leslie Brisman. “Elizabeth Alexander did most admirably in a particularly difficult genre. The poem makes us feel we are all heirs of those who have died so this day could come to be. Praise to her song for walking us forward in that light.” Brisman too was likely bathed in the comfortable light of wealth and the Yale easy life. So, it certainly didn't take much at all to walk her in it. The only thing I liked about the poem was its lack of mention of Jesus and God, though it was nevertheless bathed in an aura of blind positivism in a time where most of us would likely have preferred some gut anger in the poetry--most of us, that is, with the evident exception of the corrupt bankers and their political puppets that stole our life savings. Fuckem. Yes, why wasn't "fuckem" in the poem?

“It reminds us of the way democracy in America is ideally the chance for all people to speak in the public sphere,” noted Yale literature professor Amy Brundage regarding the poem. But what the hell was Brundage talking about? Only the moneyed had voice in the “public sphere”! Only the moneyed would be able to get Obama's ear... just like they got Bush's.

"Elizabeth Alexander is a superb choice for the Obama inauguration: She is from Washington, she represents Obama's generation, and she has written about the civil rights conflict and other historical events that have shaped the character of this country," noted Tree Swenson, executive director of the Academy of American Poets. "At the same time, her intense personal vision reveals the commonplace life illuminated from startling new angles as good poetry always does."

Only an established-order poet like Swenson could have written such a well-turned vacuous statement on a lousy poem. Swenson, by the way, was an evident proponent of politically-correct censorship (see www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets.htm). Was Alexander also such a proponent?

"I don't envy her," noted ex-U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. "Such poems are nearly impossible to bring off. Because of the heaviness of the subject the risk is that you will end up under it rather than on top. I wish her well and I'm certainly glad Obama is making room for a poet." But sometimes, perhaps often, no poet was better than a poet. Of course, the highly buffered like Collins wouldn't be able to understand that. Contrary to what he stated, such poems ought to have been very possible indeed to bring off, especially for a president calling for CHANGE! Of course, Obama would have had to select a poet, not of the established order, but rather one with a track record of daring to risk now and then, daring to make waves, and daring to go against the static grain! Change was what was called for! So why the same ole thing, though with a black face? True, the last inaugural poet, Maya Angelou, also had a black face, but wrote Valentine verse. Wanda Coleman, on the other hand, would have been a breath of fresh air… a real CHANGE… and with a black face!

"I think what I hope to symbolize and demonstrate is the important role that arts and literature can play in this moment when the country is thinking so keenly about moving forward and coming together," noted Alexander regarding her poem. Unfortunately, the only role the arts and literature had been playing was an entertainment and diversionary one, certainly not a critical one. And the problem with “coming together” was that it mandated the rejection of critical voices and reality. "You're always trying to catch a rhythm," noted Alexander. Well, while she was always trying to catch a rhythm, I was always trying to catch a corrupt intellectual in flagrant delit, which of course was perhaps a lot easier than trying to catch a rhythm.

Salon.com ran a long blathering open-wide-just-say-ahh article “How to write a poem for the president” by Jim Fisher. “What poet today would allow his or her voice to be yoked to the policy of a presidential administration, even one as popular as Obama's?” asked Fisher. Yet the answer was more than evident: 99% of the poets in America, including Fisher and Alexander. Money, prizes, tenure, sabbaticals, invitation and publication possibilities served to muzzle most poets because most poets did not possess strong principles. Alexander would be making a ton of money by “yoking.” “At what point would the poetry become propaganda?” asked Fisher. Sadly, he must have been keeping his head ostrich-like in the sand. Most American poetry was propaganda by eagerly fulfilling a diversionary role.

Finally, as evidence of the poem’s utter blandness, the established-order itself seemed unable to present a common front of praise. A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, for example, called the poem “less than praiseworthy,” a euphemism for lousy, while a reviewer for the Chicago Tribune labeled it “prosaic,” another euphemism for lousy.

The inaugural poem was inevitably a poem written in service of the politician, lobbyist, and Wall Street financier oligarchic culture. It would not shake up the status quo because it was the status quo. It was a cliché poem serving to further entrench the cliché of the poet as a harmless personage unlikely to make trouble, which of course served the power structure. It was the kind of poem that only someone entrenched in a safe, comfortable cocoon could write. For a moment in time, Alexander had held the national podium and attention. Imagine the great poem that could have been written and read to surprise, shock, shake up, piss off, and move… perhaps even a poem that would have challenged the demi-god Obama himself! Why couldn't Yale seem to give us more than a Bush or Alexander?


mather said...

I heard the poem on the radio while I was working (driving). Rush Limbaugh was commenting and for the first time in my life I agreed with every comment he made about the poem. He made fun of it all the way through. The reading and the poem were embarrassing. The delivery was also very bad. Then the black preacher who spoke after Alexander was about as piss-poor as she was, with his "the yellow man should be mellow, and the red man should be allowed to get ahead, man..." Yes, I'm still reading your site/blog. I can't help it.

G. Tod Slone said...

Wish I had heard Limbaugh! You might be happy to know that an old subscriber just labeled me (and The AD) a sexist and aversive racist! I'll likely be posting those comments in a future blog. Next blog will be on Tufts University Experimental College. Thank you for your comment.

mather said...

"Aversive"? Aversive to what?

And you might be happy to know that I have been looking around at some other poetry blogs and man they are pretty fucking bad. At least yours has some content besides a lackluster discussion of the merits of David Foster Wallace! I got into the Thieves Jargon messageboard, and I said a couple of possibly rude but relevant criticisms, and guess what? It was like bees all over me! These femmy bloggers started making fun of my name, (Matherhorn, what does it mather?, Cotton, etc.) and pretty much laughed me out of town with their clever inside jokes and playground mentality. I thought, Shit, I'm G. Tod Slone! The editor of Thieves Jargon said he believed in "the power of community" and even called himself a "socialist". These bloggers/writers get on the net for like six months and then sit around their monitors like they're old veterans! And the stupid handles, o, jesus! Rennaisance Joe, Johnny Riverbed, Crap, Crack, Slimeman H2O, and of course the old favorite, Anonymous. The Anonymous handles are always the best at dealing out the low blows! Haw! These blogs are like circle jerks, completely useless and embarrassing teenager jabber.

mather said...

Can't believe they're selling that poem as a broadside for twenty bucks! 100,000 copies? I'm going to be sick...

mather said...

I assume they called you a racist because the thugs who mugged you were black, right? Amazing, I've been mugged twice, once in Portland and once in Tucson, both times by groups of THREE black youths.

G. Tod Slone said...

Making fun of a guy’s name is as low as it gets and only underscores the lack of logical retort on the part of the name caller. I’ve even had college professors do that with my name. One called me “Bone.” Man, that really hurt! I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.
As for the racist epithet, it’s not the first time. The reason for it being hurled at me now and then is that I’ve openly criticized the black colleges (profs and administrators) once employing me. Also, I’ve criticized black poets. Of course, the persons calling me a racist don’t give a damn that I’ve also openly criticized the white colleges employing me. Strange. Where’s the logic? No where.
BTW, Snyder said she’ll miss your great book reviews. Also, I did not only publish because you subscribed. I said that to piss you off. Hell, you were pissing me off.

mather said...

Thanks for that. I'll read your latest blog later on tonight, looks interesting. I'm done with the Thieves Jargon gang, good god, two days was enough! One guy threated to come over to my house, spit in his hand, bend me over my computer and rape me! Yeegads! I gave him my address, posted it right there on the blog, and then he said he lives in Phoenix, just hop skip and a jump. Actually it worries me a bit... Somebody who calls himself Renaissance Jones. I did go into the blog with an attitude, that's true, I was an asshole, I called them "pussies" and "fags". I was drunk, pissed at the editor's superior email to me. Editor Matt Digangi told me I had to CONVINCE him I was worthy of submitting to his e-zine (this is done by ass-kissing and name-dropping). Anyway, I have a big mouth, yes, I better be careful or I'm going to get myself hurt! Still, what lame reactions those bloggers had! The other bloggers were pretty wimpy about the whole thing, just made fun of my name mainly. Matherfucker, A word to your mather... One guy called me a baby, said I should stop whining, I was not part of the family... I researched him until I found his personal e-mail and e-mailed him. He immediately wrote back and said he was sorry, and then he asked me if he could LINK to my My Favorite Bullet page! Ha! Digangi posted a video on the blog that was meant to put me to shame, but I have no speakers and can't hear it. The whole thing was so ridiculous I'm depressed about it.

I'm not sure who Snyder is but I appreciate the words.

G. Tod Slone said...

That blog battle you had sounds precisely like the one I had on the Academy of American Poets website.

Polly said...

Actually, it's $8.00. Not $20.