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So, how was it for you?

Never such tristesse! The post-mall swearing-in of President Obama has left the world collectively experiencing a disappointed lull. Did the earth move for you during Yo-Yo's sub-Star Wars turn? How about the poem?, which I could barely follow.

Odd, how the actual words seemed to stumble from the great man's mouth, as he swore on Lincoln's bible. Did you enjoy Reverend Warren's brimfire valediction? Still, the speech - though delivered at a rat-a-tat pace and with the solemnity of a News on the March announcement - was rhetorically and poetically superb - though apparently written in Starbucks.

The power of it, from a literary perspective, was in its use of allusion, allegory, intertextuality, and, symbolism. It was a truly multi-dimensional text, hyper-potent because the speaker's performance of the words had an uncanny echo in so many other aspects of the traditional spaces he was filling, and by his presence, changing forever - that is, the very monuments and buildings, the very geography, supplied his themes - from reference to the wintry Washington soldiers huddling by the Potomac, - to, as several commentators have already written, key figures, such as Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR, and King.

It was the Milton, then, not the Shakespeare, of all speeches - but it may be the most compelling, and dramatic, in Western history, rivalled only, perhaps, by those of Cicero, or Caesar. Simply put, Obama is dramatic in a way that usually only characters in great drama or poetry are - because his very presence signals immense change, and there is much to be put right. The suspense is immense, to be Cassius Clay about it.

I wonder how Harold Bloom reads all this canonicity and influence, these quotes upon quotes of older speeches, the use of ancient tropes, dusted off for new work. One yearns to have Walt Whitman around, to see this. Obama makes one feel that even that resurrection is almost possible.


BarbaraS said…
If you look on Mark Doty's blog you can see the poem the way it's meant to look, in tercets with a closing line hanging on its own. I felt sorry for Elizabeth Alexander reading it as the cameras cut away to droves of people leaving.

With regard to the speech, I thought it was pretty much what you say, full of non-specific goals, plenty of references to past historic events and delivered as a good orator would. It's a start, I guess. What comes after is more important than those words.
Anonymous said…
Self-important much? I wonder how god reads your blog. One yearns to have the prophet Elijah around to listen to your pronouncements.

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Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
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of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.