Obama, Poet

Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker:

ObamaIn his first book, “Dreams from My Father,” Barack Obama described the marijuana that he smoked as a young man as “something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory.” This confession of youthful indiscretion was at once more sober and more lyrical than those proffered by Presidents Forty-two (“I didn’t inhale”) and Forty-three (“When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible”), and it comes as little surprise to discover that another, less publicized intoxication to which the young Obama succumbed was the composition of lyric poetry. In 1981, Feast, a literary magazine produced at Occidental College, published two poems by Obama, who was then a student there. The first, “Pop,” appears to be a loving if slightly jaded portrait of Obama’s maternal grandfather, with whom he spent a large part of his childhood. Free in structure and with a bold use of enjambment, it begins, “Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken / In, sprinkled with ashes, / Pop switches channels, takes another / Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks / What to do with me, a green young man / Who fails to consider the / Flim and flam of the world, since / Things have been easy for me.” The second, “Underground,” offers a vivid if obscurely symbolic description of a tribe of submarine primates. An exemplary few lines go, “Under water grottos, caverns / Filled with apes / That eat figs. / Stepping on the figs / That the apes / Eat, they crunch.”

Harold Bloom, who in fifty-three years of teaching literature at Yale University has had many undergraduate poems pressed hopefully upon him said, when reached by telephone in New Haven last week, that he was not familiar with Obama’s oeuvre. But after studying the poems he said that he was not unimpressed with the young man’s efforts—at least, by the standards established by other would-be bards within the political sphere. “At eighteen, as an undergraduate, he was already a much better poet than our former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who keeps publishing terrible poetry,” Bloom said.

More here. (Note: I cannot think of a better ending to our Black History Month tribute than a reminder of where this amazing race has arrived. Leader of the Free World.)