Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Chris Matthews Really Forgot

After Obama's State of the Union address Wednesday night, Chris Matthews claimed that he "forgot" Obama was black. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in at The Atlantic, argues that Matthews actually suffered temporary amnesia regarding his own race.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Obama's Biggest Failure

Junot Diaz, author of the beautifully minimalist short story collection,
Drown, and the buoyantly baroque novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, writes in The New Yorker this week that Obama's biggest failure thus far has been as storyteller. I tend to agree. Nobody expected Obama to solve the ingrained problems of America in a single year. The challenges we faced, and continue to face, are far too severe. But we did expect him to continue that which he did so well during his historic presidential campaign: to make sense of the mess that is our American experiment: to provide coherence and clarity in the midst of a crisis. This, as Diaz maintains, is the work of poets, not policy wonks. One used to think Obama encompassed both; a year into his presidency, one begins have second thoughts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Essay: Alone in the Belly of the American Beast

by Alex Gallo-Brown

Author's Note: The following was written in the days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, which took place one year ago today.

We Are One. That is the title—and presumable theme—of the free concert held at Lincoln Memorial two days before the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. The list of musicians scheduled to perform spans genre, culture, and generation: Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, and Sheryl Crow are just a few of the featured stars. The start time is pegged at 2:30 pm, but the morning newspaper advises arriving closer to 8 am, when the gates will first open. I decide to chance it—not least because the same newspaper predicts an afternoon temperature of 25 degrees—and head down to the National Mall just after noon.

I have no map, but it isn’t difficult after I exit the Metro to discern which way to go. A human stream, decked out in Obama headbands and beanies, sweatshirts and scarves, flows toward the Capitol.

Twenty minutes later, I reach the edge of the Mall. The people converge onto the winter-yellowed grass from every conceivable direction, Let It Shine blaring from the giant speakers, an image of an American flag fluttering over the giant screens. The Washington Monument, staggeringly tall, juts skyward in the distance. The sky is like marble—layers of blue and gray and then blue again.

As I near the Memorial, a line begins to form—more of a sprawling mass than any kind of organized procession. Our shepherds alternate from civilian volunteers crowned with red beanies to police officers wearing blue uniforms to military personnel clad in camouflage; the irony is that no one seems to be in charge. We stall, start, then stall again. Around me, the crowd radiates a low-key, affable acceptance. I hear the guy next to me say to his girlfriend, his voice betraying the faintest hint of hope, “Maybe there’ll be a stampede.”

The gridlock offers me the opportunity to pause, to look around. The people here are myriad in every sense of the word, their skin tones ranging from dark brown to near-translucent, their ages spanning from infancy to the elderly, their styles of clothing varying from the bright and the jarring to the mundane and unobtrusive. For me, considering such human disorder is nearly painful, like staring into the sun. Or perhaps the opposite of that.

Instead, I concentrate on a row of trees clustered beyond the far fence. Scraggly and leafless, the branches seem to strain upward towards the marbled sky. I find something reassuring in the trees, something vulnerable and appealing, as though the branches’ desire, usually hidden behind the cover of canopy, has for a moment been laid bare, and by nothing more uncommon than the changing of season. I have just a few minutes to admire them before we begin to move again. We make it a dozen yards down the path before the line halts—just far enough that we are out of sight of the trees.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The GMNs vs. the GSPs

Katie Roiphe, in a
wide-ranging essay from the most recent issue of the New York Times Book Review, pits a clique of American authors once labeled by David Foster Wallace as the Great Male Narcissists (Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Saul Bellow) against a clique of more contemporary authors that a friend of mine has cleverly titled the Great Sexless Paranoiacs (Wallace, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Franzen, and Benjamin Kunkel).

Steve Almond rebuts less than satisfactorily here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Poker Poem

by Alex Gallo-Brown

Pockets Poker Club, Portland, Oregon.
I sit around the corner,
picking poppy seeds out of a muffin
and savoring the sharpness
of my black, black coffee.
Just now
in order to remember the name of the club,
in order to begin this poem,
I had to check my cell phone,
where I had the number saved.
You know, swarmed by impending joy,
the function of memory blurs.
Swimming in an ooze of pleasure,
the mind necessarily dims and retracts,
even as it understands
all too clearly
the temporary nature
of the ooze.
Understanding more than it knows,
the mind moves toward the game,
reveling in the content of no context,
in a present detached from its history.

Saturday, January 2, 2010