Harold Bloom, who in fifty-three years of teaching literature at Yale University has had many undergraduate poems pressed hopefully upon him said, when reached by telephone in New Haven last week, that he was not familiar with Obama’s oeuvre. But after studying the poems he said that he was not unimpressed with the young man’s efforts — at least, by the standards established by other would-be bards within the political sphere. “At eighteen, as an undergraduate, he was already a much better poet than our former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who keeps publishing terrible poetry,” Bloom said. (Cohen has published two collections of verse: “Of Sons and Seasons,” in 1978, and “A Baker’s Nickel,” in 1986.) “And then there is Jimmy Carter, who is in my judgment literally the worst poet in the United States.” (Carter’’s first volume of poetry, “Always a Reckoning and Other Poems,” which was published in 1994, included a work called “Why We Get Cheaper Tires from Liberia”: “No churches can be built / no privy holes or even graves / dug in the rolling hills / for those milking Firestone’’s trees, who die / from mamba and mosquito bites.”)
Of the two Obama poems, Bloom said, “Pop” was “not bad — a good enough folk poem with some pathos and humor and affection.” He went on, “It is not wholly unlike Langston Hughes, who tended to imitate Carl Sandburg.” Bloom was fascinated by Obama’s use of an unusual verb, “shink” He . . . Stands, shouts, and asks / For a hug, as I shink, my / Arms barely reaching around / His thick, oily neck”), a word that does not appear in any of the dictionaries that Bloom consulted but which is defined in an online slang dictionary as “an evasive sinking maneuver.”
"It undoubtedly was a word that was in common usage, having to do with feeling very strong emotion, in this case a very strong need for comfort,” Bloom said. He takes the subtext of the poem to be Obama’s reckoning with his absent father, for whom his grandfather is, inevitably, an inadequate substitute. “This is, in effect, his own father,” Bloom said. “That’s very touching, and it also shows a kind of humane and sad wit. There’s a mind there.” “Underground,” Bloom said, is the better poem of the two. “It gave me the oddest feeling that he might have been reading the poems of D. H. Lawrence – it reminded me of the poem ‘Snake,’ “ Bloom went on. “I think it is about some sense of chthonic forces, just as Lawrence frequently is —\
from The New Yorker, July 2, 2007. Click here for the full article.