Thursday, September 09, 2004

This week’s New Yorker. One poem by Charles Simic, “the Alarm”. What am I missing? This is terrible, vague, cliche. Easy measured sound, though, so a forgivable clunker, if it weren’t for the last line “In some other century, less violent than ours.” What century, just out of curiosity, was less violent than ours? (Ours being, I suppose, the ‘short 20th’ (1905-2001) or the ‘long 20th (1905-) or the ‘short 21st (2001-)? Or should I not look for more than the sentiment of a hackneyed statement, ‘our century’ being the gauzy desire for civilization to bring the peace it promises to those within, an ‘eternal’ artifact of nation-building?) Is he nostalgic for the 19th? The 18th? The 17th? The 16th? Which?

Or maybe he’s using a sophisticated and subtle Ashbery-like technique, meant to expose just the mentality I’m responding to, by ending on such a vague, nonsensical statement. &, no water imagery in this poem, though I think it could have used it.

And one poem by Anthony Hecht, “Spring Break,” a pair of sonnets to which I’ll limit my response to “oh, god, no.” Water imagery limited to the first two words, “The beach,” and a line in the second stanza, “views of the changeless ocean leave them bored” (one thing you can say about Hecht, he gets his lines to serve his prosodic purposes. I suppose this is why risk is important.). It occurs to me that maybe more water imagery would have served him well in this poem, though probably, actually, on reflection, not.

The rest was worth having read these, though. Great article by Philip Gourevitch, “Bushspeak,” on the appeal and limitations of Bush’s public speaking. I’ve been a great fan of Gourevitch ever since his reporting on Rwanda in 1998. A few quotes from this article:

“Bush campaigns with the eager self-delight of a natural ham. There’s an appealing physicality about him. When he says he wants your vote, he does not just mouth the words but follows them through with his entire body, rising to his toes, tilting toward you yearningly. When he works his way along the stage, waving, shaking hands, he has the concentration of an athlete in the thrall of his game. He seems to hold nothing back. He reaches for the hands around him, tipping so far forward that it appears, in the frozen fraction of a second captured in photographs, that he has lost his balance. He twists, and stoops, and spins, and stops abruptly to wave, and the raised hand seems to lift the rest of him with it, up and forward. Bush is said to be charming, and polls show that Americans tend to find him likable than his policies, but one does not even have to like him to admire how truly at home he appears in his body.

He has a repertoire of stock poses and expressions, as does any professional performer, but the freedom of his movements is striking. Flip through snapshots of him, and you’ll find any number that catch him in a bizarre or comical position. The mobility of his face leaves him open to lampooning, not least because of its simian modeling, which is underscored by his affectation of an equally simian gait—the dangle-armed swagger, like a knuckle-walker startled to find himself suddenly upright. But even when he looks foolish, or simply coarse, Bush is never less than an expressive presence.

The same can be said of his language.”

I know that’s an overly long excerpt, but it is (as is what follows) the best description of what Bush’s appeal is I've read. “To watch Bush work a room, however cheesy his salesmanship and however canned his hucksterism, is to behold a master of the American vernacular, that form of expression which eschews slickness and makes a virtue of the speaker’s limitations—an artfulness that depends on artlessness, an eloquence that depends on inflection and emphasis.” As a poet, can you say that this expressive demand (of the ‘American vernacular’) doesn’t play a significant part in your writing, one way or another?

And another worthwhile, by Adam Gopnick, “Will Power,” a review of Greenblatt’s new bio of Shakespeare titled “Will in the World.” Gopnick makes the book sound like a necessary read, and Shakespeare sound like the kind of artist you could be. Which is no small essayistic feat (the second, that is; the first, I bet even I could do).

My two-part conclusion to this week is that a) I love the New Yorker and b) not the poems. The essays can go on long, but are all the good things essays should be.

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