Common Controversy

So, a rapper has said some stupid and hateful things — thanks for the Muppet News Flash.

What’s most annoying about the Common brouhaha is that we citizens of the nation that produced  T. S. Eliot and Walt Whitman apparently are now expected to pretend that such semi-literate rodomontade as Common’s constitutes poetry. I like rap as much as the next middle-aged right-winger from rural Texas, and Ice T is great music for the gym, no doubt. But, poetry? No, it isn’t.

I offer a sample:

A guinea won’t see the sun

with his family stung.

They want us to hold justice,

but you handed me none,

the same they did to Kobe and Michael Jackson. 

It is on par with “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” Fine pop song, perhaps, but not poetry. If you think it is poetry, you are a boob, and your aesthetic judgment should not be taken seriously.  You should sue your English teacher for fraud. 

Granted, contemporary poetry is mostly a racket. For technique and mere compositional competence, compare the work of most any celebrated modern poet in the English language (never mind pop musicians, for Pete’s sake!) with a random stanza of, say, Marvell:

As lines, so loves oblique, may well   

Themselves in every angle greet:

But ours, so truly parallel,    

Though infinite, can never meet. 

And that’s not even top-shelf Marvell.

Can’t see the difference? As a friend of mine is fond of saying: I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

The scandal here isn’t that Common says and believes stupid and indefensible things — T. S. Eliot did, too. The scandal is that a presidential administration charged with, among many other things, managing government support for art and culture cannot tell poetry from piffle. And that’s the main case against things such as the National Endowment for the Arts: Politics is full of barbarians who ought to be kept well away from our cultural institutions, such as they are.

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