Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Once I Am Thoroughly Drunk ..."

It seems that President Obama enjoys Urdu poetry.

This is no surprise; he is a cultivated man, and there is a lot of extremely fine poetry in Urdu. We ourselves are deeply moved by the works of Fakrhuddin 'Iraqi, the brilliant 13th century poet whose Divine Flashes often use the language of wine and drunkenness to describe the believer's experience of God:

Once I am thoroughly drunk, what matter if I wind up in a church or in Mecca?
Once I've abandoned myself, what matter if I win Union -- or separation?

By the standards of Muslim orthodoxy, it's daring stuff -- as if Charles Bukowski were telling the Christmas story.

Nor are we surprised by the Politico report which, without ever quite saying so, seems to treat the president's recent claim to read this stuff, in an interview with a Pakistani newspaper, as something between an eccentricity and outright pandering. Politico, like many similar organizations, seems to be run by the kids who worked their tails off to get good grades, so that they could get good jobs. They were not the kids who, say, did well in English because they liked poetry, or in history because they liked stories, or who visited museums because they were full of beautiful objects. They are the kids grow up to run much of the world, and they run it with vigor and enthusiasm -- they were smart kinds, and unlike the poetry-lovers, they were actually hard workers. They wind up in Congress, in business, and in the media. And yes, they go to the theatre, they go to museums -- hell, they sit on museum boards, they'll remind you in a heartbeat. They've been to cocktail receptions at the Temple of Dendur.

But all these years later, they still can't quite believe that anybody likes poetry. At least not without seeking some advantage from it.

And that's why the piece, by Ben Smith, begins with this inane lede:

If you want to make high-brow small talk at one of President Barack Obama’s cocktail parties, don’t bother brushing up your Shakespeare. Try reading Urdu poetry.

See, that's what poetry is for: high-brow small talk. And you have to pick one genre, the way people pick sports teams. Smith can't -- quite -- believe that a bright, ambitious person might also be well-enough rounded to enjoy both the poetry of both Renaissance England and medieval Pakistan. Nor, despite the obvious pains he took to google "Urdu poetry" and learn that "the ghazal is the most common form" and that "One of the most popular poets was [sic] Mirza Ghalib," does Smith imagine exploring the ways that his taste for poetry, especially poetry rich with philosophy and religion, might have shaped Obama as a person or as a leader.

1 comment:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

This reminds me on an acquaintance who once said that she needed to get some classical music "for background music." Hmmmm. I love classical music, well, much of it.