Monday, January 21, 2008

The limits of sincerity

One of Oscar Wilde's less celebrated quips was 'All bad poetry is sincere'. Somewhat ironic, you might say, considering that Wilde didn't write any good verse until the fervently gritty 'Ballad of Reading Gaol'. Wilde's maxim holds true, though, for Maya Angelou, who has just excreted a few words in honour of Hillary Clinton's assault on the White House. What I find most remarkable about Angelou is the number of cliches she manages to squeeze into relatively short poems. Here are some of the used goods in 'State Package for Hillary Clinton':

bitter, twisted lies

You may tread me in the very dirt

at her wits' end

She has been there and done that

in this race for the long haul

to make a difference

every woman and man who longs for fair play


Well, at least she didn't rhyme 'Sheik' with 'Greek' this time. But I find Angelou's 'poem', with its worn-out, vague, and sentimental language, indistinguishable from the stump speeches, soundbites, and TV spots which constitute the bulk of American political discourse. Poetry is supposed recompose and renew our language and our perceptions of the world, not recycle talking points from candidates' debates on CNN. Maya Angelou may be sincere, but her language is not. Poets should be the vanguard party of language, not clerks at the Ministry of Propaganda! As my mate Kendrick Smithyman used to say:

If we live, we stand in language.
You must change your words.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha read this:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pamela-redmond-satran/i-wrote-maya-angelous-be_b_56824.html
Sincere? My arse!

12:06 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Maya Angelou's poetry is terrible bilge.

12:46 am  
Anonymous Lover of worn out sentimental language said...

I disagree with this very procrustean idea of what poetry or poets "should be."

The world is big enough for all of us, Mr Maps.

10:37 pm  
Anonymous webbyshop said...

Maya Angelou, who was considered by many as the most visible black autobiographer. I hope she continues to inspire people and open the hearts of many...

8:02 pm  

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