By Alan Nitchman, Contributing Writer ||
‘One Today’ casts shadows on the status quo of our country and fails to illuminate a hope for change in myself as a reader and listener of poems.”
Richard Blanco’s Common Hour — now just three weeks in the past and no longer very topical — has confirmed my belief that F&M is a pseudo-“liberal arts” college filled with pseudo-liberals who invite pseudo-artists to pseudo-solidify our love for pseudo-intellectualism. Blanco is a pseudo-poet and I was pseudo-ly-impressed.
Anyone who’s ever read or listened to his inaugural poem, “One Today,” should have known that Blanco was not worth inviting to our school for Common Hour. I say that almost entirely for shock value, but also because I don’t believe Blanco had anything compelling to say to us in that poem. In fact, I believe that’s exactly why the Obama administration chose him to speak in 2013. As a token gay man who is not very progressive in his own gayness, Blanco posed the perfect poet who would say nothing in regards to politics or social change. Rather, he would present us with “One Today”— a homage to American mediocrity, exploitation, and everything else that will never change in this country, so why not have faith in the sun?
Read the poem again and I hope you’ll see it for what it is — an empty guarantee ridden with words of appeasement that offer no hope for a better tomorrow. The poem itself is hypocrisy — an apology waiting to happen to our children, nation, and planet. Blanco speaks of pipelines and coal mines as if they are good things. “Silver trucks heavy with oil . . .teeming over highways” are actual words of praise presented in the poem. He also talks about working shitty jobs with terrible conditions as if that is good a thing. He claims that the sky is “our sky” but fails to mention the fact that we stole it from the Native Americans; our entire country founded on rape. He also talks about working shitty jobs with terrible conditions as if that’s good a thing — to “clean tables,” ring up groceries, and “cut sugarcane.” He talks about the “I have a dream” we keep on dreaming but never actually reach as if that’s a good thing — to never actually reach it. Ask me and Blanco’s poem is an excuse for inaction; a series of general observations about the American landscape that provoke no depth of thought, but instead accept our social failures for what they are.
I can’t blame Blanco for turning to art, but I also can’t help but find fault in the American dream he so obviously believes in. I wish he had used his language in the inaugural poem to do more than just praise the exploitation of many because it offers privileged opportunity for the few. “One Today” casts shadows on the status quo of our country and fails to illuminate a hope for change in myself as a reader and listener of poems.
If F&M wants to be regarded as a socially-conscious institution (which so far as I can tell, it does not), it will have to do better than speakers like Blanco. Our Geology department accepts money from oil companies while refusing to admit the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. Our president writes excuses for why we haven’t divested from fossil fuels while our deans fall in love with poets like Blanco who perpetuate the farce that is the American dream.
If we want to consider ourselves liberally minded and educated thinkers who care about the future, we must stop flattering our country’s shit stains and praising the flaws for which we should have no pride.
Alan Nitchman, a senior Creative Writing major, is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.