Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Palin as Poet?

A TWR NOD GOES out to new parent Jeff Paris for turning us on to Julian Gough's funny article on Sarah Palin as Poet Laureate. Paris was spot on when he lamented that Gough got to this story before TWR; indeed it represents a marriage of two of this blog's most common topics of late. If Palin as Poet Laureate shows up on Stuff White People Like, then that's like the TWR trifecta.

For Gough, Palin isn't incomprehensible, merely poetic. To prove his point, he scans and breaks one of her responses to Greta van Susteren thus:

Here she is, in a work I have taken to calling “The Relevance of Africa.” (Not a single word or comma has been changed, but the line breaks are placed where they naturally fall.) In it, Palin blends the energy of free verse with the austerity of a classic 14-line sonnet.

It reads: “And the relevance to me /With that issue, /As we spoke /About Africa and some /Of the countries /There that were /Kind of the people succumbing /To the dictators /And the corruption /Of some collapsed governments /On the /Continent, /The relevance /Was Alaska’s.”
How bold to connect so many thoughts with so many prepositions. As with much else, Palin leaves standard poetic rules by the side of the road and charts her own linguistic course.

To be fair, Gough steals a little from Hart Seely, who played this same game with Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, Jonathan Silverman and I published the following "poem" in the second edition of our book, The World is a Text:

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

It's difficult to say whose poem is deeper. Certainly Rumsfeld is more philosophical, while Palin more elliptical. Rumsfeld is clearly grounded in Modernist notions of knowledge (think Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man"), while Palin fully embraces the fragmentation of Postmodernism.

What do these poems say about our politicians and statespeople? Probably not much. In fact, I suspect they say more about what Gough, Seely, Silverman, and Rader think about poetry . . .

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