Notes on Lapdog Hagiography and the Three Charlies
Fed, paid, and pampered by the very men
By whom his muse and morals had been mauled:
He had written much blank verse, and blanker prose,
And more of both than anybody knows. […]
—Lord Byron, “Laureate Southey’s Presumption”
What crap ye write on poesy, Ron Charles! And they call you a journalist? Your WaPo essay, “A Pair of U. S. Poets Laureate for the Price of One,” was absolutely mind-numbing. How did you manage to question and challenge nothing at all? Rather than journalism, that’s lapdog hagiography!
You illustrate the fundamental problem with literature (and journalism) today in America: the absence of hardcore questioning and challenging of celebrity literati and the academic/literary established-order machine that rewards their conformity, groupthink, banality, and general innocuity—the safe lubricant of literature-as-usual wrapped in a tube called BRILLIANT. How can you and the two laureatasters idolized in your essay, Charles Wright and Charles Simic, be so blind as to what it takes to climb the literary ladder: kowtowing, cronyism, backslapping, self-congratulating, and all those other dubious traits that should NOT be rewarded?
One should expect wisdom from poets laureate. Instead, we—or at least I—have come to expect banality and poesy-as-usual. Your article clearly fails to manifest any wisdom at all. Instead, all it presents is hot- air inanity (i.e., pomp).
“The only rule for the poet laureate of the United States is that there are no rules,” you state either as a blatant ignoramus or a willful participant in that Congressional sham. Rules, of course, do exist, especially Basic Rule #1: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. The triumphirate of the monkeys is indeed the true credo of ladder-climbing poets laureate. In fact, it is evidently yours too! After all, how else can one rise to lit critic for the Washington Post… if not by not criticizing the diverse hands that feed you to keep your mouth shut?
To back your first statement of “no rules,” you note, “So when retiring laureate Charles Wright decided he didn’t want to follow tradition by delivering a closing lecture this month, nobody called the Capitol Police. And besides, he had a better idea: a public conversation with his friend Charles Simic.” Wow! What courage! What a fabulous illustration of the “no rules” observation!
Awe-stricken you fawn: “But it made the star-power of Thursday evening’s presentation at the Library of Congress all the more impressive. There was the 20th U.S. poet laureate sitting on stage with the 15th U.S. poet laureate, their Pulitzer Prizes tucked discreetly behind them.” How nauseating! With all the crap going on in America, they (and you) sit in pomp and circumstance in the court-jester limelight of an out-of-touch elitist utopic cocoon, o poetasters of the U. S. Congress! Bravo! And again, as a journalist, how can you not question and challenge the literary prizes like the Pulitzer? Who were the judges behind the scenes who awarded the prizes? What prejudices regarding poetry do they hold?
And then things get oh-so exciting in your reportage when lit-hack host of the event Don Share, editor of multimillion-dollar Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Magazine, asks: “What the heck does the poet laureate do, anyway?” Oh my, how did he get away with saying, “heck”? And how can you not wonder aloud, what Poetry Foundation’s $200 million dollars can do and has done to the public face of poetry, including outright castration and overall high-brow bourgeois palatability?
And then Wright unintentionally sums up the sad reality of the inanity illicited from Share’s question: “You don’t do much.” And when Share pushes for a longer or better response, Wright adds “Every state has a poet laureate—snore—so you might as well have one for the whole shebang. It’s been fabulous. I mean, people bow to me as I go down the street.” And you pump it all up by describing the response as “wry disregard for the position’s pomp,” as if somehow Wright in a position of pomp was not pompous, but rather noncoformist. Insane! How do you guys get away with it? Both you and Share should have instead asked why so many Americans knee-jerk open wide and swallow the crap and actually “bow” to it? In fact, why doesn’t Wright have the intelligence to wonder about that… and openly? As for the laureateship, you note he simply said: “What does it mean? You’re loved. What’s better than that?” Well, I (and hopefully others who think for themselves) sure as hell do NOT love that embarrassing suckup.
And how to explain Wright’s blather about his writing “private kind of poetry,” while climbing right to the top of the ladder of public kind of poetry and public recognition—anything but private? Ah, a little self-slap on the back explains it: “But the best of private poetry eventually becomes public knowledge.” Yes, I see. Sure, that makes sense. What wisdom!
Finally, at least Simic got it right when asked where poetry will likely be in 50 years: “It probably won’t change at all: ‘I’m all alone; nobody loves me; it’s always raining.’” Ah, again what wisdom! And then Wright’s response to it: “I’ve written that!” And to top it all off, your conclusion: “Two jokers, two brilliant poets.” Ah, the hackneyed term “brilliant” to describe less than brilliant academic poetasters! How original! But you did at least hit the bull’s eye with “jokers” as in court jesters… of the U. S. Congress.