Saturday, February 21, 2009
Ought Congress to pass a law, banning the reading of official state poems at presidential inaugurations? Or should we instead use the ritual as a barometer with which to measure America’s cultural decline?
In “Something there is that doesn’t like an inauguration,” my friend Jim Bowman writes of inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander, and a high-brow discussion of her merits in The New Republic (passages in quotes are from TNR),
For a thoughtful assessment, this commentary got off to a fatuous start? I think so.
“Obama’s inauguration was just the kind of event that might inspire genuine poetry: it was that rare moment when the public intersected with the private for good instead of evil.”
It’s about the dumbbell poem read at the grand event by Yalie Elizabeth Alexander, who is black, says Adam Kirsch in The New Republic blog, “The Plank.” She is? Could have fooled me.
“Her best poems–especially in her first, reputation-making book, The Venus Hottentot–do not accept that there is an antagonism between African-American ‘folk’ culture and ‘high’ culture.”
Reminds me of the woman sitting next to Winston Churchill at dinner who said she had decided to accept the universe. “By God, you’d better,” fumed Winnie. But this woman would rather not, apparently.
Kirsch likes her, but she
“suffers . . . from excessive self-consciousness about her role as spokesman and example. As she writes in ‘Ars Poetica #92: Marcus Garvey on Elocution’:
To realize I was trained for this,
Expected to speak out, to speak well.
To realize, my family believed
I would have words for others.
As Bowman puts it, with the proper pith about the “pedestrian” poet, “this lady reads like a telegram.”
In 1961, at JFK’s inauguration, Robert Frost read his 1942 poem, “The Gift Outright.”
The Gift Outright
The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, Still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely; realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
It’s a clunky affair, far from Frost’s best, but at least appropriate to the occasion.
Frost had been commissioned to write an original poem, but with the sun reflecting off the snow and onto his manuscript, the 86-year-old had been unable to read it, and instead recited “The Gift Outright” from memory. For the occasion, he had written, “Dedication.”
Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found….
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.
“Dedication” has its moments, but it too is forced. Perhaps this inaugural poem business is a minefield to be avoided by prudent poets. Still, Frost’s offering was Bard-like, compared to what would follow.
In 1993, we were subjected to “Inaugural Poem,” by that font of self-esteem, census-taker laureate Maya Angelou. I’ll spare my readers the entirety of Miss Angelou’s enormity:
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree….
And now, at the apogee of American progress, comes Elizabeth Alexander.
PRAISE SONG FOR THE DAY: A POEM FOR BARACK OBAMA’S PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see….
Can members of the public sue for pain and suffering, and for the misappropriation of taxpayer funds?
Alexander’s “poem” reminds me of the summer I spent teaching in a federally-financed, “Summer Youth Employment Program” for 14-16 year olds at a Chinese ethnic organization. I taught college in those days, usually remedial courses, though they were often given misleading names, with which to cheat the taxpayers (“developmental”), but that summer, I got the rocket scientists.
One girl of about 14 was a better writer than I was, and took me to task in class for inflicting an unnecessary comma on one of her essays. Before surrendering to her greater wisdom, I responded, “Someday, you’ll be on a talk show with your new bestseller, and complain about some writing teacher you once had, who inflicted unnecessary commas on your essays.”
A colleague got the remedial-level kids I usually taught. She was very popular, because she never corrected her students’ work. She had her kids write essays, but employed the ruse of telling them to insert a line break after every sentence. Voila! They had all written poems, and thus were all poets. And so it is with “PRAISE SONG FOR THE DAY: A POEM FOR BARACK OBAMA’S PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION.” Mind those caps; mind that length.
If “Obama” is “the nation’s orator,” does that make Alexander “the nation’s poet”?
It seems to me that this tenure-holder, Alexander—whom my wife also had not realized was an "African American"—is not a poet, but a professional role model and member of the Black School of Rhetorical Bombast. She doesn't know the difference between "iron" and "irony," though I'm sure she frequently abuses the term "ironic" to her audiences. To do justice to her inaugural essay would require satire.
Speaking of iron-filled prose, take a glance at her official autobiography:
Elizabeth Alexander is one of the most vital poets of her generation. She has published five books of poems: The Venus Hottentot (1990), Body of Life (1996), Antebellum Dream Book (2001), American Sublime (2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and was one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year;” and, most recently, her first young adult collection (co-authored with Marilyn Nelson), Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (2008 Connecticut Book Award). Her two collections of essays are The Black Interior (2004) and Power and Possibility (2007), and her play, ‘Diva Studies,’ was produced at the Yale School of Drama.
Alexander is a pivotal figure in American poetry. Her work echoes the inflections of earlier generations, as it foretells new artistic directions for her contemporaries as well as future poets. In several anthologies of American poetry, Alexander’s work concludes the twentieth century, while in others she serves as the inaugural poet for a new generation of twenty-first century voices. Her poems are included in dozens of collections and have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic and Bengali.
Professor Alexander is the first recipient of the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.” She is the 2007 winner of the first Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. Other awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, the George Kent Award, given by Gwendolyn Brooks, and a Guggenheim fellowship.
Bengali, indeed. Pity the poor Bangladeshis. Pity the poor trees!
I can appreciate the iron in this “Incoming Chair, [Yale] Department of African-American Studies” having received a fellowship for “improving race relations” and “further[ing] … Brown v. Board of Education.”
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Usurper-in-Chief and President-for-Life Barry Barack Dunham-Soetoro-Obama has undergone a rhetorical makeover, which my new colleague at Western Front America, Clay Bowles, nails in “Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: The Worst Forgotten Bailouts in the History of Worst Forgotten Bailouts”:
It was a time of economic unrest. Over the period of the first month, the same theme was repeated over and over and over. This is this worst case scenario in the history of all worst case scenarios. In the eyes of one young, black man, nothing about America looked good. He quickly went to work proposing massive, big-government spending unlike any massive, big-government spending in the history of massive, big-government spending. Despite it being one of the most unpopular bills in the history of unpopular bills, he signed it into law anyway. The next day he proposed to spend billions more to solve another crisis that was the worst crisis in the history of worst crises. This man, Barack Obama, only knows one way, spend and spend fast. No other pocket has burned faster in the history of burning pockets than the money burning from Obama’s pocket….
February 26, 2002
Every year, during Black History Month, we celebrate the triumphs of Martin Luther King Jr., and retell the Gospel According to the Civil Rights Movement. And yet another, politically incorrect black history, once much better known, goes untold. To the degree that that history is silenced or revised out of existence, black American history, and hence American history, are both diminished, and falsified.
One such politically incorrect hero was Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915). Washington, born into slavery in Virginia to an illiterate but immensely practical and supportive mother, rose to become the unofficial leader of Negro (the term used until well into the 1970s) America.
Upon being emancipated, little Booker Washington (then unaware of his middle name) lacked access to a school, didn't know anyone who knew how to read, and for obvious reasons, did not ask any white folks to teach him to read. So, he taught himself! Washington used the same kind of classic, "blue-back," Webster's spelling book that Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) had used. Eventually, Booker T., still a little boy, was able to attend school, when he wasn't working in the local salt mine to help support his mother, stepfather, and siblings.
Eventually, Washington was able to attend Virginia's Hampton Institute, one of America's first black colleges. Traveling by stagecoach, hitching rides on wagons, and traveling by foot; going days at a time without eating or sleeping; and in Richmond, Virginia, finding work unloading a ship's cargo of pig iron, while sleeping nights under a wooden sidewalk, it took weeks for Washington -- who could not bathe or change clothes -- to reach Hampton. At Hampton -- today Hampton University -- the penniless young man earned his keep doing janitorial work for the school. The plucky workhorse not only graduated from Hampton, but was asked to stay on as a teacher.
Soon thereafter, in 1881, the 24-year-old Washington was asked to found the Tuskegee Institute in the Alabama backwoods. Starting with the burnt-out husk of a plantation "big house," Washington built the buildings that for a generation made Tuskegee -- today Tuskegee University -- America's most influential black institution of higher education. Washington built Tuskegee the old-fashioned way -- with his own bare hands.
Possessing perhaps enough money to contract to have an outhouse built, Washington told his students that they would have to help him erect the school's buildings. Seeing as he had neither bricks nor money with which to buy them, Washington resolved to build a brick-baking kiln. This shocked his students, many of whom had gone to Tuskegee to escape such "common" labor.
The first kiln collapsed on its maiden firing. A second attempt resulted in ... abject failure. The third go-round, too. Fortunately for Tuskegee, Washington did not believe in "three strikes and you're out." While all around him wallowed in despair, Booker T. built a fourth kiln, AND IT WORKED! Not only were all of Tuskegee's early buildings built by Tuskegee students and faculty using the bricks they had baked, but when word got around in the neighboring region as to the superior quality of Tuskegee bricks, white businesses got in line to buy them. Tuskegee became the biggest local supplier of bricks.
(Tuskegee also has a central place in American literary history. One of its most famous alumni, Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), depicted Tuskegee in several early chapters of his seminal novel, Invisible Man. Referred to always as "The Founder," Washington's shadow loomed large over the often surreal proceedings.)
With Washington's successful, 1895 Atlanta Exposition Address before a mixed (if physically segregated) crowd, and the 1901 publication of his inspirational memoir, Up from Slavery, as told to white ghostwriter Max Bennett Thrasher, he became the unofficial leader of black America. Washington's doctrine of self-reliance involved asking little of whites, and saw blacks gaining economic success, and eventually the respect of whites, through their own businesses.
Based on his ability to placate white and black audiences alike, Washington became known as "the Wizard of Tuskegee." Nowhere was that talent more in evidence than in his Atlanta address, where many of his critics and supporters alike had expected him to offend one or both of the races. Instead, Washington propounded the accommodationist doctrine, which the vast majority of Americans of both races accepted, that "In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."
While Washington was an accommodationist, he was anything but the "Uncle Tom" that his detractors paint him as having been. Consider the following words from Up from Slavery:
I do not believe that any state should make a law that permits an ignorant and poverty-stricken white man to vote, and prevents a black man in the same condition from voting. Such a law is not only unjust, but it will react, as all unjust laws do, in time; for the effect of such a law is to encourage the Negro to secure education and property, and at the same time it encourages the white man to remain in ignorance and poverty. I believe that in time, through the operation of intelligence and friendly race relations, all cheating at the ballot-box in the South will cease. It will become apparent that the white man who begins by cheating a Negro out of his ballot soon learns to cheat a white man out of his, and that the man who does this ends his career of dishonesty by the theft of property or by some equally serious crime. In my opinion, the time will come when the South will encourage all of its citizens to vote. It will see that it pays better, from every standpoint, to have healthy, vigorous life than to have that political stagnation which always results when one-half of the population has no share and no interest in the Government.
As a rule, I believe in universal, free suffrage, but I believe that in the South we are confronted with peculiar conditions that justify the protection of the ballot in many of the states, for a while at least, either by an educational test, a property test, or by both combined; but whatever tests are required, they should be made to apply with equal and exact justice to both races.
His public persona notwithstanding, Washington also secretly funded civil rights lawsuits. Note, however, that in Washington's day, such lawsuits were a serious matter, and not the routinely frivolous exercises in extortion they have in recent years become.
Washington's philosophy, which many whites found unthreatening, and thus pleasing, was anathema to the founder of the civil rights movement, W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963). In 1903, in DuBois' literary masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, he fired his first salvo against Washington. A socialist (and later, communist) who in 1909 was the sole black co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), DuBois believed that black progress lay in the government immediately granting them full political rights, and providing them with social welfare programs. DuBois' model was the Reconstruction-era (1865-1877) federal Freedmen's Bureau in the South.
DuBois also favored giving blacks a classical education, which Washington had derided as a waste of time for people who did not know how to earn a living. DuBois obsessively attacked, as a pedagogy for Uncle Toms (though without using that phrase), the vocational ideal with which Washington was inextricably linked. As long as Washington was alive, DuBois' attacks on any educational notions favoring vocational over classical education were also thinly veiled, personal attacks on Washington. Consider a famous DuBois quote from 1908:
But if ... the standards of a great Negro college are to be set by schools of lower and different object, whither are the ideals of this University falling? If you find that you cannot give technical courses of college grade, then give high-school courses or kindergarten courses and call them by their right names. There may often be excuse for doing things poorly in this world, but there is never any excuse for calling a poorly done thing, well done.
The times are perilous. A stubborn determination at this time on the part of the Negro race, to uphold its ideals, keep its standards, and unceasingly contend for its rights, means victory; and victory a great deal sooner than any of you imagine. But a course of self-abasement and surrender, of lowering of ideals and neglecting of opportunity -- above all, a philosophy of lying in word or deed for the sake conciliation or personal gain, means indefinite postponement of the true emancipation of the Negro race in America, for the simple reason that such a race is not fit to be freed.
Such attacks ceased with Washington's death in 1915, and DuBois' subsequent ascendance. As reported in 1993 by Stephen G. Thompkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and in 1995, by Tony Brown in Black Lies, White Lies: The Truth According to Tony Brown, during World War I, DuBois offered his services to the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Division (MID) to spy on prominent blacks. MID offered DuBois a position, but withdrew its offer, when the story was leaked to the public.
DuBois, who loved the centralized, unlimited power of the totalitarian state, praised Hitler's national socialism in pre-war Germany, and embraced Stalin's Soviet Union.
W.E.B. DuBois was one of America's most brilliant thinkers, and surely would have beaten Booker T. Washington in an IQ test. Indeed, DuBois' vision of a black university, and the educated, black opinion-makers (who would comprise what he called "the talented tenth") those universities would produce, was beyond the means of the greatest white universities, and all but a handful of the most brilliant whites of his day. The more humble Washington, however, possessed that unquantifiable virtue that DuBois sorely lacked: Wisdom. Washington's notions were educationally, economically, and politically of much greater benefit to the blacks of his day, and beyond.
Since DuBois' followers control the writing of history textbooks, and the media's coverage of black affairs, we get a sanitized version of his place in American history, and often as not, no version at all of Washington's. In spite of the DuBoisians' alternate neglect and disrespect of Washington, Washington's memoir, Up from Slavery, has continuously been in print since its 1901 publication, and is available in cheap paperback editions. (My favorite version is the Penguin Classics version, which has an introduction by historian Louis R. Harlan). More recently, Louis R. Harlan wrote a splendid, two volume biography of Washington, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901, and Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
As I teased below, VDARE.com is running me tonight simultaneously on the front page and inside the book. The cover story is entitled, Ann Coulter Fans Didn’t Murder Anne Pressly—It was the “Usual Suspect.” But No One's Apologizing.” (Permalinked here.)
As part of a twofer, VDARE.com is running my blog item, “Winchester Atrocity Update: DA Seeks Death Penalty,” on the torture-murder of white, 24-year-old USMC Sgt. Jan Pietrzak, and the gang-rape-torture-murder of his black, 26-year-old wife, Quiana Jenkins-Pietrzak, “inside the book,” and an article on a similar crime as its cover story tonight.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
It’s Saturday night, which means that while some people have pre-Super Bowl parties, and others count the days till “pitchers and catchers” report (it says here, Valentine’s Day, February 14, though that sounds awfully late to me.), at VDARE.com, it is time for the Saturday Forum devoted entirely to letters from readers and responses, usually by letters editor/columnist, Joe Guzzardi.
While VDARE readers routinely bring disturbing facts to light, I can’t recall the last time I read a more disturbing Forum.
Betsy Hammond is a racist, alleged reporter for Portland’s The Oregonian newspaper. Two weeks ago, she editorialized in a “news” article, “In a changing world, Portland remains overwhelmingly white,” that Portland has way too many white people, and is a racist redoubt. A white VDARE reader, a transplanted Portlander living in Atlanta, criticized Hammond in a letter to VDARE, noting the repeated violent and property crimes he had suffered at the hands of Atlanta blacks, offering to switch places with her.
The reader’s letter had been published by VDARE pseudonymously, and without naming the writer’s employer. However, the letter writer had made the mistake of showing Hammond the courtesy of writing to her under his own name, and mentioning the firm he works for. Hammond responded by writing to the man’s employer, calling on him to fire the employee for his honesty, painting the employee as a racist for being honest about his experiences and his desire to protect his family, and attempting to blackmail the employer into firing the reader, by making a veiled threat to ruin his business by depicting him as employing racists, if he did not submit to her demand.
Fortunately, this particular employer did not submit; as Hammond well knew, most would have.
Betsy Hammond is a monster, but she is hardly unique. The so-called news business has thousands of monsters, just like her. When they learn that some private citizen has disagreed with their politics, they try to destroy him personally and professionally. They will call his employer, and ask the latter how he feels about employing such a man, until the boss fires the worker, to avoid further embarrassment. (I know of a current New York Times “reporter” who did just that a number of years ago to get an American patriot fired from his job. Rather than being fired from his job, the alleged reporter was celebrated for his malicious conduct, and rewarded with his present job.) They will go to the point of inducing people to commit crimes, in order to furnish the alleged reporters with material with which to smear private citizens, as “reporters” did to “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher last summer, when Wurzelbacher disagreed with “Barack Obama” at a public forum, and got “Obama” to drop his guard, and reveal his socialism.
Another tactic will be, when writing a story about a private citizen a “reporter” hates who has not been formally charged with a crime by the criminal justice system, but who has nonetheless been unofficially charged by enemies with having committed crimes, for the “reporter” to walk around the target’s neighborhood, knocking on every door, saying, “Did you know that your neighbor, Joe Schmoe, has been charged with X, Y, and Z? What do you think about that?” The point is to ruin the target’s life.
The “news” business is dominated by extremely opinionated leftists who, like the Führer, don’t give a damn about truth. They are concerned only with power. The Betsy Hammonds of the world are not journalists; they are political commissars.
The danger the Betsy Hammonds of the world pose, is one reason why I recommend submitting pseudonymous letters to newspapers.