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Posted at 03:09 PM ET, 05/11/2011

Common, the White House Poetry Night, and the danger of metaphors


The infamous Common (Rick Diamond - Getty)
Sarah Palin and Karl Rove, among others, have a beef with Common.

The “conscious rapper” was been invited to speak at the White House Poetry Night Wednesday evening, and it’s created a firestorm, since in the course of his life as a poet-rapper he has made several references to accused cop killers and at one point rhymed about an Uzi.

Rove has gone on record against Common for his misogyny and lyrics like “Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button/Killing over oil and grease/no weapons of destruction/How can we follow a leader when this a corrupt one/The government’s a g-unit and they might buck young black people/Black people In the urban area one/I hold up a peace sign, but I carry a gun” that might or might not be incitement to assassinating George W. Bush. I can’t really tell because I am confused by the apparent absence of meter or rhyme scheme. The only thing this would incite me to do would be to hit someone on the head with a rhyming dictionary.

I have a beef with Common for unrelated reasons: he was in the Queen Latifah vehicle “Just Wright,” the worst torment I have ever been subjected to on an airplane except for the time a couple elbowed me repeatedly in the ribs while they joined some sort of altitude club.

But if we’re getting upset about tonight’s invitees, let’s not exclude the rest of the list: Billy Collins, Elizabeth Alexander, Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles, Aimee Mann and Jill Scott? Can you believe these people? All anti-American, misogynistic, anti-cop, anti-disestablishmentarianists!

Take Billy Collins. Have you seen the despicable sentiments that practically ooze from every line of the man’s writing? To think that children are reciting this filth. It’s so un-American, it’s practically Canadian!

He wrote a whole poem about taking off Emily Dickinson’s clothes. I can’t think of any more anti-American sentiment than that. If our troops aren’t out fighting so lecherous poets can’t sneak into Amherst, Mass., and imaginatively disrobe Our Lady of Dashes, what’s the point of anything?

And while we’re talking about Emily Dickinson, I’m glad that cop-hater didn’t get anywhere near the White House during her lifetime. Sure, she was a shut-in, but what do you think all those dashes are? Bullets, clearly, probably aimed at the constabulary. “My Life had stood — a loaded gun?” I think we all know what that means.

And what about Rita Dove. “ Just when hope withers, the visa is granted”? That’s pretty clearly an unfavorable commentary on comprehensive immigration reform.

“The door opens to a street like in the movies,

clean of people, of cats; except it is your street

you are leaving.”

Looks like poetry on the page, but read it out loud, and it’s just the phrase, “I have extremely limited respect for law enforcement” over and over again. At least this is what I’ve been told by those who know.

At least Common was fairly overt, saying things like “Burn a Bush” and “Something something something/Something that doesn’t rhyme with that/Several words that can’t be printed in a newspaper.”

Don’t ask me whether rap is poetry. The secret of poetry is that if you read anything slowly enough and while wearing baggy clothing and a scarf, it is safe to assume that it is probably poetry. I tried this once with a Crate and Barrel catalogue at an open-mic evening, with admittedly mixed results, but that was probably because there were traces of mirth in my face, generally frowned upon among poets.

It might be worse if rap were poetry. Poetry is always bad.

In fact, I have serious objections to all these anti-American, poetry-writing clowns descending on the White House. Frankly, the White House is not a place for poets. Poets belong in, say, France, where they can say whatever they like but at least it won’t be in a language I have to pretend to understand. Trying to understand poetry just gives me a headache and the vague desire to invade something, and I think there ought to be a law against it.

Get these poets off the streets and into the consumption-ridden garrets, where they belong.

No poem is safe, except for that one by Joyce Kilmer about never having seen a poem lovely as a tree, and that other one that helps you remember the letters of the alphabet. Poets tend to take on the voices of others. And poems tend to include metaphors and images.

Metaphors ought to be outlawed. They’re a way of saying one thing but secretly saying something else.

Call it “imagery” if you like, but it sounds more like “lying” to me.

Metaphors are like guns – they can be loaded, they can be dangerous in the hands of people who don’t know how to wield them, and I certainly don’t want them anywhere near the White House.

By  |  03:09 PM ET, 05/11/2011

 
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