Saturday, 24 January 2009

Maya Angelou and Robert Burns are awful poets

Both Maya Angelou, who bored the world at Obama's inauguration, and Rabbie Burns are truly dreadful poets. What they have in common is that they've been adopted as cultural figureheads in spite of, rather than because of, their artistic talents. And this is fine; cultural figureheads are good.

Poetry is perhaps the one area for which it is claimed that cultural origin justifies awful art. We don't excuse visual art in which the painter has no control of his medium, no concept of composition and has a woeful appreciation of form and scale on the basis that the painter was a Maori, and it's therefore brilliant. We don't excuse film makers who have no control of their camera, can't light a set, can't capture dialogue convincingly or edit footage coherently on the basis that the auteur was an Eskimo and therefore it's fine. But we do this all the time for poetry.

The best English poetry is of course written by the Irish. But this aside, you'll excuse me if this weekend I dip into A.E. Housman or Robert Graves as a prophylactic against accidentally hearing a rendition in a cod-Scots accent of some painful piece of dreadful doggerel.


Sue said...
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Anonymous said...

I would contend that we do, in fact, excuse very weak art in other media on the basis of the social or racial background of the "artist".

Most modern art looks like it was produced by a retarded three year old but it's lauded by the imbecilic guardians of the art world who heap wealth and celebrity on talentless hacks whose sole qualification is their gender, their social background or the colour of their skin.

If you are a black man from London, paint a picture of Jesus Christ being fucked up the ass by a rhinoceros - and, in fact, "paint" it using human excreta. Give it a name like "Butt-Fuck Christ". I guarantee you'll earn more money from that endeavour than you would from ten years of actual work. The art luvvies will announce that this is Outsider Art or Primitive Art and you'll be on The South Bank Show with Tracey Emin and that guy who chops up cows before you know it. (Yeah, I know - TSBS isn't on any more but you get my meaning.)

Of course, if you're white, male and middle-class and looking to break into the art scam, you probably need to dye your hair green and go even further in your attempts to shock - perhaps lighting a cat on fire in an art gallery.

There was once a time when art was about art. Now it's just a scam, a performance, by people whose sense of aesthetic worth is defined by their commitment to post-modernist theory and their need to impress all their trendy post-modern liberal luvvy friends.

I'm reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where Homer is held up as an example of Outsider Art. At one point, one of the art critics leaves explaining "I must be back to my hotel and practise my affectations for tomorrow. Bon soir!". Which is pretty much the entire modern art world and all its worthless denizens defined in a sentence.

talwin said...

Our Maya's 'trendy' you see. And she's 'venerable' now. But she's a cunning old vixen to boot. Saw her on telly once and thought she seemed interesting, so bought a book thinking it was her autobiography. Got it home to find that the full biog. was written in about as many volumes as Encyclopedia Britannica, so without buying all of them I'd wasted my wedge.

Maya's trendiness (and not a little pretension)is perhaps exemplified by some of the titles to her books, viz.

'Wouldn't take Nothing For my Journey Now';
Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas';
'Even the Stars Look Lonesome';
'All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes'; and,
'Just Give me a Cool Drink of Water Before I Diiie (sic)'.


Anonymous said...

Maya Angelou is worthless as a writer. She's very skilled at marketing and at exploiting the guilt of white Americans and the resentment of black Americans but her literary work is, well, not terribly literary.

Now, you could say that Maya is symptomatic of the general malaise of modern American writing. You could say - and you would have some justification - that she's not very different from shitty pseudo-writers like Don DeLillo. But I'd posit that Maya is much worse than your bog-standard American postmodernist literati because Maya whole career is founded not just on the kind of politicking that's normal in American literature but specifically on playing the race card over and over and over again.

She's made herself immune to criticism by making any criticism of her necessarily an act of racism. By presenting herself to American blacks as their one and only opportunity for a contemporary female literary voice, she's mobilised the entire educated black community behind her.

But for one thing I could forgive all of this, and possibly even salute her cunning and her skills at manipulation. That one thing is the snide, patronising condescension with which she bludgeons everyone she meets.

I hope she dies soon. In great pain.

Rush-is-Right said...

The "poet" who read out her dreadful doggerel at the Obama Imacculation was not Maya Angelou (that would have been quite bad enough) but another talentless twerp by the name of Elizabeth Alexander.

If you have enough time to waste, you can read it here

Anonymous said...

I watched the inauguration but the second that silly fat cunt, who looked like an inner-city middle school teacher gone wrong, appeared on screen and uttered "Praise song for the day", I was praising my remote control for the off switch.

Love said...

Maya is a impressive writer because she speaks from the soul. In fact, she's one of my favorites~!! Her work is powerful ( she speaks the truth in her poetry about life)

13&openminded said...

Maya Angelou presented her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," in 1993 at Bill Clinton's inauguration. My 10-year-old brother could have told you that.
Sorry to tell you "Rush-Is-Right"-
its called an INAUGURATION. At least for us who speak english and are not hoodlums. Only a "twerp" would use that term, which refers to Obama as the "Messiah." Angelou's writings are soulful and real, which you might recognize if you actually looked into her background. She is a magnificent poet, and if any of you think you can do better, then post it here; I commend you on such an achievement. These comments are naive and immature; Do you people have nothing better to do?

Book burner said...

Burns awful? Stick to fishing and shooting things my friend.