Colley Cibber redivivus



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.

21 thoughts on “Colley Cibber redivivus

  1. “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.”

    Christ, Smiff, you owe me another new keyboard.

    Watchit with that shit, man, somebody could be seriously injured.

  2. So, Smiff, this one’s a stinkburger for sure, but how does it compare to the Obama Coronation’s Noise Poem, one of the main reasons I hate poetry these days, a poem I wanted to knee in the groin it was so bad.

    I watched just enough of the Inaugural circus to know that it sucked, and managed to catch a bit of that hipster word salad. Do you know if they had a pantomime string quartet this time?

    There were only a hundred or so at the Arc Of Justice anti-drone warfare march up at Malcolm X Park, but it was fun enough… certainly more fun than all the crap that people were scalping tickets for downtown.

      • Well, I can’t speak to that as I’ve never been much of a dancer.

        It saddens me, though, when I stop to think of all the American poets whose work I’ve enjoyed, and the most recent one I can think of is Kerouac, or perhaps a bit of Gil Scott-Heron.

        (Unless you want to count Robert Hunter’s work with Jerry Garcia, but, technically, Hunter’s a lyricist.)

  3. See the advantages of all those years tuning your ears father S ?

    This itemization is the replacement for figures

    Figures… nasty baroque brass bell obviously contrived figures

    It’s all because of Johnny you know

    It had to come to this

    Laundry lists follow directly from paradise lost

    Any smaller reaction and hintbof adornment regained
    would betray the ambitions of these suffocating epigone of influence

    • Homer has the catalogue of ships, and there’s nothing wrong with catalogues. But they have to *tell* you something.

      hintbof? Lost me on that one, comrade.

    • The inventory-taking of American poets descends from Leaves of Grass. Whitman accepted all, rejected nothing; but I think he’d sigh a tad before embracing Richard Blanco.

      Walt is a good companion. Sauntering, “loafing,” he sees it all, as idlers often do. I’d think twice before going on a promenade with Blanco. One imagines him dully observant, notepad in hand. “Okay, now we’ve got schoolkids, an old lady, some homeless guy, a man in a wheelchair – a veteran, maybe? That would be great. A veteran in a wheelchair. Let me write that down. What about a stray dog? I’m sure we can find one. Yeah, I see the stray cat. I guess that’ll do.”

      Courtesy of Wikipedia, a solution to the baleful riddle of Obama’s choice: “He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the youngest person to be the U.S. inaugural poet.” Four for the price of one. Political economy. Too bad he didn’t also have a prosthetic robotic hand, but he was probably the best composite they could rig up for the nonce.

    • Of course the other thing about Homer’s catalogues, and Virgil’s, and Milton’s, is that the language is lively and there’s some *music* to it — in the case of the first two, the intricate nimble dance of the dactylic hexameter, and in Milton’s, the springy iron of the English decasyllable. But Blanco’s prosody is mere broken prose, and bad even as prose. Remove the arbitrary line breaks. You’ve improved it. It *looks* like an essay, now, and not a pretense at verse. So far so good. But you still have a prose that lies as dead on the floor of its cage as that famous budgie in the Monty Python sketch.

    • One would certainly like to see the truant officer follow them. Although if there are different destinations on the Other Side, as has been suggested from time to time — one would also like to see the truant officer end up in a warmer climate.

  4. Now in its 48th year, Contempo continues as the vanguard of adventurous new works and cutting-edge programs. Under the direction of Artistic Director Shulamit Ran, Contempo introduces audiences to the bold visions of today’s most innovative composers.

    hintbof? – probably ‘hint of’ or [maybe (of) ‘hintbit’]

    a small tqual.c maintained cache
    of hint bits will
    effectively eliminate
    hint bit i/o issues surrounding bulk loads.

    A mating tanager fired a shot across the bow
    regarding general worthiness

    I don’t think there is any way to remove the hint bits without
    suffering some other problem.


    • Well, I’ll tell ya, I had the misfortune to actually catch a few lines of it being read as I passed the bedroom on the way down to the kitchen for a fresh cup, and maa-aan, was it boring as hell — even more soul-crushingly tedious than the infamous “noise poem” from Obummer’s First Coronation.

      The prayer wasn’t much better. It sounded like Obummer way overcompensated with the guy he chose to replace the gay-basher he’d booked originally. (Sonofabitch just doesn’t learn, does he?)

  5. Here’s my contribution to the subject of worthy poets and poetry : Désemparé poem of Comrade Gaston Miron, the great Quebecois poet. It couldn’t have been more appropriate for our time and yet, it was written in the 50’s. Here’s the original poem and my very amateurish translation that follows:
    Par la nuit de tempête où les phares s’engouffrent
    Comme des fouettés et des déterminés,
    Nous marchons, ignorants de la trappe des gouffres,
    Vers l’horreur des demains sans paix ni charité.

    Vents, étoiles, déserts, la Ville va nous prendre
    Chères amours, et bois et montagnes et prés,
    Et lacs de bleus reflets et couleurs de ciel tendre,
    Pour enchaîner et abrutir vos libertés.

    Où irons-nous, mon âme, à quelle heure servile ?
    Ô forces de la vie, ô lumières d’été,
    Quels pays fabuleux, quelles secrètes îles
    Vous hébergent encore en toute intégrité ?

    Dites-dites-le-nous, les oiseaux de passage
    Qui avez bu le vent des pays visités :
    Lors d’une escale autour d’un étrange village
    Auriez-vous eu cette vision d’un enchanté ?

    In the stormy night that devours the beacons
    Battered and determined
    We walk, unaware of the trap of abyss
    Towards the horror of tomorrows with no peace or mercy.

    Winds, stars, deserts, the City will take us
    Dear loves, and forests and mountains and meadows,
    Lakes with their blue reflections and the sky with its tender colors
    chain and drain us of our liberties.

    Where and what servile time do we go, my soul?
    Oh forces of life, oh summer lights
    What fabulous country, what secret islands
    Still harbors you with full integrity?

    Tell us, tell us you traveling birds
    Who’ve drunk the wind of countries passed by:
    When stopping over a foreign village
    Would you have had a delighted vision?

  6. So, out of that morbid kind of slowing-down-to-see-the-wreck curiosity, I went to the Washington Times link to read the full poem. Christ, that goddamn’ spewage is broken up across five pages, f’crissake. I managed to get through two before my brain started dribbling out of my ears. Man, oh, man, what a bunch of lame banalities painted blue. It’s like his goddamn’ to-do list, or something.

    If you ask me, American poetry was ruined by the Beats — not because they created poor work, or intentionally set out to ruin modern poetry, but because ever since then, every wannabe in America seemed to think that simply scribbling disjointed, busted prose with arbitrary line breaks separating vague ideas was all it takes to create great modern poetry.

    It’s sort of like the deterioration of stand-up comedy in America… it seems that ever since Bruce, Carlin and Pryor, every stand-up comic in this country thinks that all you have to do to be as great as Lenny Bruce or George Carlin is to just be shocking and filthy.

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