Tom O'Toole
A poet for the know-it-all: the "poop" on Alexander's black but not so beautiful verse
By Tom O'Toole
December 23, 2008

While it's fair to say I'm not the most qualified to judge President-elect Obama's choices for the Interior (I was never much for decorating) or the Treasury (as every other Thursday I'm lucky if I have enough money for lunch), but Christianity and poetry are two of the few things I'm qualified to critique. And, although I may have some bones to pick with Rick Warren about how he sometimes trades Truth for tolerance, at least he's promoting a theology that for the most part is based on the Trinity. On the other hand, Elizabeth Alexander, Obama's choice to compose and recite the Inauguration poem, is probably far more revealing, for her verses elude to an intellectual elitism and black-feminist agenda that excludes Our Lord and Savior.

In taking a stroll through Alexander's poetry, we see she runs the typical Modernist gamut from obscurity to obscenity, with a few old-fashioned gross-outs in between. In Autumn Passage, Elizabeth's scratch-your-head images ("On the dazzling toddler/'Like eggplant' he says/when you say 'Vegetable'") makes the average reader long for the straight forward power of Robert Frost, chosen by John F. Kennedy to be the first Inaugural poet, who wrote in The Gift Outright for JFK's big day, "Summoning artists to participate/In the august occasions of the state/Seems something artists ought to celebrate." Meanwhile, back in Alexander's sad-to-say celebrated poem Neonatology (does the average reader even know what this word means?) we hear...

funky, is
leaky, is
a soggy, bloody crotch, is
sharp jets of breast milk shot straight across the room,
is gaudy, mustard-colored poop, is..."

I know that
self-respecting sites
do not like its authors
to use base-slang words
to criticize others' works —
But this really is
A bunch of crap, is
it not?

Finally, in Alexander's poem The Venus Hottentot, we find images like...

"Science, science, science!
Everything is beautiful...

Her genitalia will float
in a bottled pickle jar...

Pivoting nude...
My buttocks are shown swollen
As luminous as a planet...

Monsieur Cuvier investigates
between my legs, poking, prodding...
I half expect him to pull silk
scarves from inside me... then a rabbit..."

Granted, this poem tells the tragic tale of a woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was taken from her tribe in Africa and basically made into a circus act in 1820s Europe in the name of science, but Alexander's treatment merely seems not to ease Baartman's pain, but to expose her to humiliation a second time. In contrast, my poem The Blood of the Young Patriots (which also deals with prejudice, including the 21st Century version against the unborn) has been criticized by the literary elite as simplistic moralizing, but it provides a definite Christian solution to this problem, whereas in the end, Alexander's Baartman saga elicits angry feelings of black vengeance against white society... a cry we've heard from a (former) Obama friend before...

Thus, although Alexander's words may be a bit more subtle than Reverend Wright's, Obama's choice of Elizabeth once again proves Barack is first and foremost black and elitist and secondly Christian, which of course really isn't Christian after all. And in the light of Barack's choice of poetess, his recent announcement that his administration will stress "science" (a not-so-subtle swipe at Bush's evangelical beliefs) now becomes not only ironic but eerie, considering his pseudo-scientific justification for the destruction of the unborn bears a remarkable resemblance to the "scientific" way the 19th Century European hot-shots treated the young "Hottentot."

Yesterday, while reviewing Alexander's poetry, I also went back to reread the Old Testament's Song of Songs especially Chapter Two, Verses 8-14, which is the usual first scripture reading (except when the 21st falls on a Sunday) at Catholic Mass for that day. I was struck once again by the passage's Truth and Beauty (so absent from modern poetry), how love can be depicted so sensually without being overtly sexual or pornographic. Of course, the fact that Song of Songs is a love story between a man and a woman, not two of a kind, is essential (are you taking notes, Rev. Warren?), but also that it's a love story that will end in total self-sacrifice for each other and the children. If God is not dead, then neither is holy poetry, and thus we must inspire our youth to be devoted not only to science and mathematics but reading and writing, so that some may come up with modern Christian classics to counter this New-Age pagan poop.

© Tom O'Toole


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Tom O'Toole

Thomas Augustine O'Toole was born in Chicago and grew up in a devout Catholic family with five brothers and two sisters. He was the sports editor of Notre Dame's Scholastic magazine, where his story "Reflections on the Game" won the award for Best Sports Feature for the Indiana Collegiate Press Association... (more)


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