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"Your future is not as a person of letters..."
February 18, 2011 9:08 AM   Subscribe

In 1982, the young Barack Obama published two poems in a literary magazine while an undergraduate at Occidental College. Many years later, political and literary commentators looking for insight into the leader's inner workings unearthed the poems: The New Yorker gave readers Harold Bloom's mixed reaction, Ian McMillan assessed the juvenile work in The Guardian, the Times (UK) tried to place the poems within the context of American presidents who published poems, and even Huffington Post took a crack at figuring what the poems tell us about the politician. A little later, the Blue Rose Arts Collective used the text of the poem "Underground" in a short video piece. Obama maintains his interest in poetry: also in 2008 the president was photographed holding a copy of Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott's Collected Poems. (U.S. Presidents and poetry more generally, previously.)
posted by aught (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I'm ever president, somebody's going to dig up my LiveJournal from when I was 14. *Shudders*

This is probably why I'll never be president.
posted by schmod at 9:09 AM on February 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Poems that were actually written by ... Frank Marshall Davis.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:14 AM on February 18, 2011


I never write anything down, just in case I'm destined for greatness.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:14 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with Bloom. I thought Underground was pretty good.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:16 AM on February 18, 2011


Luckily I burnt all my teenage poetry
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:18 AM on February 18, 2011


I actually kind of liked both of them--I mean, I wish he'd taken a more disciplined approach with his line breaks and maybe spent more time thinking about the shapes of these poems. But this is actually on par with some of the better stuff you're likely to see in literary journals--especially academic ones--in my opinion (which may be fainter praise than I'm intending). Whether it lends any credibility to my opinion or not, I did study this stuff, and have been published in a couple of literary journals myself. Honestly, I've seen a lot worse in the Best American Poetry series (but then, I've also seen better). And I've also written a lot worse doggerel myself (even recently), so count me among the impressed.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2011


When I read stuff like this, I want to weep for joy that we again have a president who has an intellect.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:27 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Underground is pretty typical Young Kid poetry. I want to mock it, but I think everyone's been there & done that. Pop is definitely better.

Given all that, I'm not sure why Ian McMillan was given the choice to review the poems. Has anyone seen McMillan live? I have, and the man writes some execrable poetry.
posted by seanyboy at 9:37 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Though, I think it's rather telling that the first characters in those poems form the acrostic "Allah, Peace Be Upon Him."
posted by seanyboy at 9:40 AM on February 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


What we really want to know is not what poems he wrote but whether he was able to defeat that machine gun-firing spider monster in the last level of Doom.
posted by storybored at 9:47 AM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The figs are the low-hanging fruit that Paul Ryan tells us we've already picked when he talks about the 2012 budget.
posted by blucevalo at 9:54 AM on February 18, 2011


Referring to the Bloom article, could 'shink' just be a typo for 'shrink'? When I google shink it doesn't come up with the meaning that Bloom asserts.
posted by Corduroy at 9:55 AM on February 18, 2011


You know, one day a Metafilter member is going to become President, and hordes of journalists are going to descend, analysing every comment, every favorite, posting long editorials about the cabal *.

The metatalk is going to be awesome.

P.S. Dibs on the Lincoln bedroom for the best Mefi meetup ever!

* There isn't one.

posted by madajb at 9:56 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite part was Bloom's barbs for both Carter and Cohen.
posted by safetyfork at 10:06 AM on February 18, 2011


I shudder to think of anyone finding and reading poems I wrote in the early 80's. Thankfully, none of them were ever published anywhere and live exclusively in the tattered spiral notebook on the shelf behind me.

Reading these two poems creates the same feeling in the pit of my stomach as reading my own juvenile attempts at poetry. Sort of a combination of "Eek! Hide it! Run Away!" with "How precious!" Still, it's nice to know our president was the sort of boy who wrote poetry. I'd have liked a boy like that and would have written pages of poetry about him.*

*At least 80% of the poems in my tattered notebook are about the star football player who graduated and went away to college without so much as ever once asking me out on a date. Sure, he didn't write poetry, but he was HAWT. I don't think any of the boys at my high school wrote poetry, or at least none ever admitted doing so.
posted by Orb at 10:10 AM on February 18, 2011


The old adage "Campaign in poetry but govern in prose." is painfully apt, no?
posted by Danf at 10:15 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I found a Sarah Palin haiku:

So nice ta meetcha.
I heard a lot aboutcha.
Can I call ya “Joe”?

link
posted by toastchee at 10:38 AM on February 18, 2011


Sure beats clearing brush.
posted by newdaddy at 11:05 AM on February 18, 2011


MetaFilter: Musty, wet pelts/Glistening in the blue.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading these two poems creates the same feeling in the pit of my stomach as reading my own juvenile attempts at poetry.

Really? Because, speaking as a former teacher of undergraduate creative writing, I would have been excited to have someone write poems even this good (I probably had several this good over a couple years but they were few and far between, outweighed by those whose chief influences were bad music lyrics, songs found in Tolkien books or other fantasy works, or Hallmark -- and who had zero interest in actually reading poetry by established authors). Obama's sophomore-year poems are juvenile works by definition, but to me they look like the juvenile works of someone who's intelligent, actually reads (as some of the commentators I linked to have noted, echoes of Langston Hughes, Chicago icon Carl Sandburg, maybe Gwendolyn Brooks; though I'm not sure I see the D.H. Lawrence, honestly), and has some basic talent for the music of language to start with.

MetaFilter: Musty, wet pelts/Glistening in the blue.

Heh. I was sorely tempted to use those lines for the title of the FPP.
posted by aught at 12:21 PM on February 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think anyone's going to turn those into chart-topping hit songs, so Obama's got a way to go before beating Vice President Charles G. Dawes on that front.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:49 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, one day a Metafilter member is going to become President, and hordes of journalists are going to descend, analysing every comment, every favorite, posting long editorials about the cabal

Well, I hope it will be Greg Nog. And I hope these journalists will use this to explain President Nog's tax proposals and foreign policy initiatives.
posted by Auden at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Poetry? What that, like, song lyrics?
posted by America at 2:54 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


insight into the leader's inner workings

Obama just named an executive of JP Morgan his new chief of staff.

How much poetry do you need?
posted by Twang at 3:07 PM on February 18, 2011



I don't understand
What all the fuss is about
Geez, Prez can write words
posted by bengalsfan1 at 11:06 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Io triumphe!
posted by Thomas Tallis is my Homeboy at 6:58 PM on February 19, 2011


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