Thursday, July 19, 2018
IF THEY HADN'T WORN WHITE HOODS... by JOHN BLOOMBERG-RISSMAN and EILEEN R. TABIOS
NEIL LEADBEATER Reviews
If They Hadn’t Worn White Hoods, 8 Million Would Have Shown Up in the Photographs by John Bloomberg-Rissman and Eileen R. Tabios
(Locofo Chaps, Chicago, 2017)
This politically charged chapbook is a good fit for Locofo Chaps (an imprint of Moria Books) which is dedicated to publishing politically-oriented poetry.
The cover image “Soft Bricks” (2013), digital print on fabric by Janna Añonuevo Langholz is, in relation to the content, loaded with several layers of interpretation. For me it conjures up a word like “brickbat” (a critical remark) or phrases such as “to drop a brick” (to say or do something tactless or indiscreet) and “to make bricks without straw” (to make something that will not last), but these are also soft bricks, made for a child.
This satirical take on President Donald Trump comprises a single prose poem which is set out in a number of (not very) presidential statements that, with very few exceptions, begin in the egotistical first person singular. There is then a pause, a space in which there has to be an initial to make the statement authentic. It is telling that none of the spaces are actually initialed / authenticated by anyone at all. After that, there is the word “regret”. This hints at the fact that words spoken in haste are frequently regretted later on.
The title of the chapbook is derived from the following statement that is positioned near to the end of the sequence:
"I, ____________ (please initial) regret that eight million of the people who attended my inauguration were dressed in their white hoods. That’s why they didn’t show up in the photographs."
The art on the back cover image—a “Sansovino-style frame” (mid 16th century), Florence, from the Robert Lehman Collection, 1975, Metropolitan Museum of Art lends extra emphasis to this statement because it does not frame a picture, it is just the frame. We are looking at a blank, white space, at something that has been “framed.”
The statements are humorous because humor can be such a powerful vehicle for conveying otherwise unpalatable truths:
"I, ____________ (please initial), regret poetry. Poets see (through) me. Note to Self: Count how many poets vote. And where they vote."
Note the attention to detail, how “Self” is written with a capital “S”.
There is more humor where the President interacts with the poet directly:
"I, ___________ (please initial), regret that John Bloomberg-Rissman added 'only' in between 'the' and 'beauty' to my statement, 'The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.'”
Climate change, immigration, “fake news,” the media and the big business of the corporate world are just some of the topics satirized in this poem. At one point, there is an illustration of an elephant superimposed over a graph revealing changes in real income whose curve happens to coincide with that of the shape of the elephant. This maybe is the elephant in the room that everyone is aware of but chooses to ignore.
The statements are populated with reference to government officials, political consultants, media executives, brand ambassadors and others who have been, or are, very much in the media spotlight of the Trump Administration.
There is a satirical twist in the last of the “I….regret” sequences which runs as follows:
"I, __________ (please initial), regret….what? OK. Let’s get serious. I am perfect. I have no regrets."
A helpful and informative section at the back of the book details the sources that were used. They include newspaper articles from The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The New York Times; Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and other forms of social media; historical works; literary extracts; and lines from popular music.
I have a feeling that our great English satirists, Pope and Dryden, would have really enjoyed reading this collection if they had been alive today.
Such is the smallness of the present moment, the “era of 45,” compared to the greatness of the past. Where indeed are the snows of yesteryear?
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014) and Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017).
Posted by EILEEN at 10:18 PM