For some reason I’m re-reading Animal Farm. Perhaps it’s for the very same reason that much of literate America read Orwell’s 1984 when the United States entered into an unjust war with Iraq; a war that has proven disastrous to our future and without the pleasures of the “Two Minute Hate.” I just want to go into the Obama administration with my eyes wide open.

Don’t misunderstand: I ran around Grant Park that historic Tuesday morning with tears in my eyes for what was imminent and was in U Street for the post-Obama D.C. street party. Both of my daughters have Si Se Puede Obama t-shirts. During the primary I was a strong Clinton supporter and then, really in the voting booth, I flipped to Obama and fulfilled the precipitous switch of allegiances, which was very strange and unnerving experience. My wife did exactly the same thing.

Maybe I’m reading Animal Farm because of the exquisite graphical representations of Obama on buildings and billboards and tshirts and buttons that litter the East Coast, and, I suppose, other liberal bastions across the country. That red and blue Obama silhouette with HOPE beneath it seriously smacks of old-school propaganda and will be something our grandchildren will behold as uniquely ours and get this image tattooed on their bodies, like Rosie the Riveter.

Shit, for once, seems to good to be true. And this, amid a historic stock market meltdown.

In Animal Farm, Old Major, the wise old pig, had his dream of a human-free farm and that idyll of equality and prosperity infected the other animals and quite by accident they had an uprising and expelled Jones off the farm and was able to defend it from a counter-attack. But, and such is politics, the in-fighting set Napoleon and Snowball (the self-appointed co-leaders) against one another and Napoleon had the muscle and chased Snowball off the farm. Shit went seriously downhill from there and the pigs, especially Napoleon, slipped into acutely human behavior and re-wrote the rules as he went along and ended up alienating the populous that followed him in the first place.

Do I think the Obama administration is going to take the same liberties and abuses as Napoleon and his legion? Of course not. Not even close. But there are a lot of people that are going to give him some purchase, who won’t be able to get past the veneer–“four legs good, two legs baaaaad”–and I want to really look at the record of a man who has an incredibly difficult job ahead of him.

I guess this was the circuitous route to Robert Wrigley’s poem in the November 17, 2008, issue of the New Yorker. And perhaps necessary route. The first stanza, especially, is aggrandized; a kind of propaganda. Wrigley, with the puffed-up series of “beholds” that tic off his sentences, is holding your head and making you look at the costs of war. But at the same time he seems to be twisting the truth for his own ends (thus the Uncle Sam Wants You creep-o feeling I get from this poem).

Wrigley is a figure I know absolutely nothing about so please consult the Further Reading section for the Wrigley skinny. He is the director of the MFA program at the University of Idaho and he was under the tutelage of Richard Hugo whose book on writing, The Triggering Town, seriously messed me up for a while.

Knowing Wrigley was a student’s of Hugo’s, I was expecting something different, something more workshoppy. Instead it’s a poem that is shocking it its wordplay and themes, at least for the first few stanzas. I particularly liked the descriptors for “firearms.” Then, I’m afraid (and afraid of how I’m phrasing it) the poem is heavy-handed and overtly political. Got it. We’re fighting for oil. Soldier sliding his bankrupt debit card into the slot of a filling station with the artificial hand he “earned” in Iraq. Got it. I’m pissed off too.

The poem seems a bit rangy and loose, though it has some qualities that Wallace Stevens’ longish poems have and that tendency, the Stevens tendency, is forgivable. But, as far as I know, Stevens was never political. Or if he was it was subversive, something like “Sunday Morning,” though that poem could never be called political.

The overarching problem I have with this poem is that Wrigley is ordering me to see and think in the way he wants me to see and think. This is a treatise against the war and my conclusions are largely inconsequential to the poet. And although I agree with everything Wrigley has to say here, when it appears in poetry, overtly, it pisses me off.

Further Reading

An interview with Wrigley.

Another: the Frank Lloyd Wright of contemporary poetry.

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