Of course it’s quite unfair to compare Richard Blanco, the perpetrator of yesterday’s unspeakably horrible inaugural poem, to Colley Cibber. The latter may have been a bit ridiculous at times, but he had real gifts and he wrote a terrific book, while Blanco plumbed abysses of tedious, insipid, tin-eared, maudlin bathos hitherto unexplored by humankind.
Who says there’s no such thing as progress? In the art of sinking we certainly have the 18th century beat all hollow.
Blanco’s vast slab of Heepery is very long, longer than the average ode of Pindar, and composed entirely of infelicities that howl like timber wolves with the toothache. In such a Boschian garden of misshapen delights, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But here’s a contender:
“finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.”
Hey girl. Yield to mah jutting resilience. You won’t be sorry. And yes, I finished the report for the boss, so don’t worry your pretty little head about that.
I should really stop there — in a sense, the thing speaks for itself, describes itself, exhibits the poor fool who wrote it and the insensate philistines who chose it, and it sheds a pitiless glare on all the besotted lotos-eaters who were so carried away by the brummagem grandeur of the great occasion that they thought they liked it. (The last-mentioned group should go into rehab.)
And yet I can’t stop gnawing at it. It’s just so spectacularly, emblematically, diagnostically bad, like some ominous elevated enzyme level, on the checkup you should have had six months ago. A thing that bad has a strong gravitational field: it’s so bad that you want to read into it everything that’s bad about Amurrica.
Well, liberal Amurrica, anyway. Blanco has a poetic tic closely aligned with one of liberalism’s political tics: he thinks it’s enough to mention things. The giddy Obamaphiles dribbling all over Facebook about Obie’s characteristically empty speech were ecstatic that he had mentioned gay people. Nunc dimittis! The president said nice things about gay people! In the beginning was the word — and it pretty much ends there, too, if Obie’s previous form is any guide.
Blanco’s poiesis operates the same way: light, color, stained glass windows. Check. On to the next thing that needs mentioning. Like for instance:
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
Ugh. Perhaps there are places where those children are more missed than at their ‘desks’? One hopes so. But Blanco, clearly a good student himself, thinks of the empty desks.
Those poor kids. They will never have the opportunity to get an MFA in ‘creative writing’. It would be heartless, of course, to say ‘just as well’; but then, anybody who could weep over the empty desks has a heart of stone. To paraphrase another — and much better — poet.