Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Genitalia?....Tinny! Tinny!

I am not an Elizabeth Alexander fan. I do not think she is a particularly good poet, though far from an utter fraud such as Maya Angelou. If we must have an "inaugural poet", I would prefer that it be another.
Having said that, the criticism of her poem "The Venus Hottentot" from NRO's Candace de Russy is simply pathetic.
Alexander's best-known poem, "The Venus Hottentot," contains the following lines: "Her genitalia will float inside a labeled pickling jar," "Monsieur Cuvier investigates between my legs, poking, prodding," "Since my own genitals are public I have made other parts private."

I don't much care for the specific language of the poem, which strikes me as unmusical and ordinary....traits it shares with the rest of Alexander's ouvre. However, given the horrifying details of the story behind the so-called "Venus Hottentot", some form of morbid sexual expression seems nearly unavoidable. To do otherwise would be like writing a war poem without reference to death, which arguably has been done, but not often.
I fear that Professor de Russy give her game away with the title of her post, "X-Rated Yale Poet at Inaugural?". It is hard to imagine a poem less likely to evoke an erotic or prurient response in most audiences. Could it be that de Russy is unaware of the unusual aspects of the historical model's genitals? The encyclopedia is your friend, Ms. de Russy. I regretfully suspect, though, that the mere appearance of the word "genitalia" in conjunction with the words "poking, prodding" is enough to disqualify the poet.

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