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Charles Bernstein's "The Ballad of the Girly Man"

Poetasters, dirty politicians, and other liars soil the cosmos. Exposing them remains in my toolkit. I read charlatans so you don't have to!

Book Cover of "Girly Man":

Book Cover of "Girly Man":

Introduction and Text of "The Ballad of the Girly Man"

Charles Bernstein's essay, "Against National Poetry Month As Such," castigates the Academy of American Poets’ attempt to enhance the reputation of poetry annually every April. He crows: "The kind of poetry I want is not a happy art with uplifting messages and easy to understand emotions. I want a poetry that's bad for you."

The piece, "The Ballad of the Girly Man," offers a stunning example of a poem that is, indeed, "bad for you." The piece is merely political propaganda masquerading as a poem. "The Ballad of the Girly Man" is little more than a piece of doggerel which could certainly tickle the fancy of certain politicos who would be inspired as it feeds their utter ignorance, encouraging their emotion-filled reactions to world events of which they have little understanding.

This piece of doggerel, "The Ballad of the Girly Man," appears as the final offering in Bernstein’s collection titled eponymously, Girly Man. Vacuous poetry begets vacuous literary criticism; thus, in her response to the radical Islamist attacks of 9/11/01, Professor Eun-Gwi Chung offers her thoughts on Bernstein’s 30th published collection. The following from her diatribe, "'The Falling Man' to Girly Man: American Poetry after 9/11 and the Logic of Mourning," trivializes the genuine emotion of mourning while revealing herself as a mere sycophant of the father of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement:

Bernstein’s prompt responses to what happened to America are meaningful not as therapy or commemoration, but as the song of an ethical, political troubadour questioning the logic of mourning. As a form of manipulating and re-conceptualizing American political discourse, his poetry constructs an alternate path where a new real is explored.

The notion of "questioning the logic of mourning" spews out a base hatred of humanity. Each human being’s mourning is off limits to critics. Those who impose a "logic" onto a human emotion can by called none other than tyrannical thought police. Thus, there is nothing "ethical" about a buffoonish poetaster who would attempt to make such out-of-bounds judgments about his fellow human beings.

Chung’s shameful critical analysis perfectly reveals, however, the empty rhetoric of the poem; in that one might consider her piece a resounding success.

The Ballad of the Girly Man

—For Felix

The truth is hidden in a veil of tears
The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear

A democracy once proposed
Is slimmed and grimed again
By men with brute design
Who prefer hate to rime

Complexity's a four-letter word
For those who count by nots and haves
Who revile the facts of Darwin
To worship the truth according to Halliburton

The truth is hidden in a veil of tears
The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear

Thugs from hell have taken freedom's store
The rich get richer, the poor die quicker
& the only god that sanctions that
Is no god at all but rhetorical crap

So be a girly man
& take a gurly stand
Sing a gurly song
& dance with a girly sarong

Poetry will never win the war on terror
But neither will error abetted by error

We girly men are not afraid
Of uncertainty or reason or interdependence
We think before we fight, then think some more
Proclaim our faith in listening, in art, in compromise

So be a girly man
& sing this gurly song
Sissies & proud
That we would never lie our way to war

The girly men killed christ
So the platinum DVD says
The Jews & blacks & gays
Are still standing in the way

We're sorry we killed your god
A long, long time ago
But each dead solider in Iraq
Kills the god inside, the god that's still not dead.

The truth is hidden in a veil of tears
The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear

So be a girly man
& sing a gurly song
Take a gurly stand
& dance with a girly sarong

Thugs from hell have taken freedom's store
The rich get richer, the poor die quicker
& the only god that sanctions that
Is no god at all but rhetorical crap

So be a girly man
& sing this gurly song
Sissies & proud
That we would never lie our way to war

The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear
The truth is hidden in a veil of tears

From SNL to Mathias Cormann, girlie man goes meta

Commentary

Originally in this piece of doggerel, the Schwarzenegger term, "girlie," is spelled three different ways: girlie, girly, and gurly. Kudos that the poet or editor or whoever managed to pare down those spellings to two for his published collection titled, Girly Man. This original oversight, however, signaled a confused mind, for there is no literary merit in three different spellings of this word that features importantly in the title and the rest of the work, in which it becomes a mantra.

The spelling of the term used by the SNL skitsters, Hans and Franz, and then by Schwarzenegger was spelled, "girlie." Bernstein appears to prefer "girly" and "gurly"—so those two spellings grace his collection title and poem in that collection.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Girlie-Men"

A Saturday Night Live skit featuring comedians Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon dramatizes the Arnold Schwarzeneggeresque type body builders, Hans and Franz. Mimicking Schwarzenegger's accent, they label folks without their muscular frame, "girlie men." Governor Schwarzenegger referred to the SNL skit by humorously labeling the members of the California congress "girlie-men" because they would not pass his budget.

Bernstein’s employment of the term, "girly man" remains flimsy and contrived, without literary value. The propagandistic lines, "A democracy once proposed / Is slimed and grimed again / By men with brute design / Who prefer hate to rime," fall in line with such slogans like "Bush lied, people died." Those who have continued to accept as truth that particular slogan have remained blissfully unaware of the multiple sources that demonstrate that President George W. Bush did not lie.

War Propaganda

The poem is taking aim at the Iraq War, of course, not the California congress's failure to pass the budget of the governor. However, the poem's speaker is employing the term "girly man" to ironically single out the correct thinkers—those of the Michael Moore ilk that yammer propaganda such as "Complexity's a four-letter word / For those who count by nots and haves / Who revile the facts of Darwin / To worship the truth according to Halliburton." One might wonder if Bernstein, like the hypocritical Michael Moore and his ilk, may be benefitting from ownership of some stock from the evil Halliburton, even as they all denigrate the company’s reputation.

For this propagandistic exercise, the lines, "The truth is hidden in a veil of tears / The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear," becomes a mantra of sorts. This feckless couplet repeats itself three times, and then again a fourth time in reversed lines, as it concludes the piece. Capitalism, of course, is a culprit for these miscreants: "Thugs from hell have taken freedom's store / The rich get richer, the poor die quicker." These lines also repeat, mantra-like.

Ultimately, the girly men are far superior to those who are not girly men: "We girly men are not afraid / Of uncertainty or reason or interdependence / We think before we fight, then think some more / Proclaim our faith in listening, in art, in compromise." Sounds quite lovely though utterly naïve in facing radical Islamic jihadis: After all that listening, thinking, compromising, and making art, you will be just as dead after your recalcitrant jihadis have slit your throat or dazzled you with bullets.

A Class-Baiting Ditty

The poem features a little ditty coupled with the mantras of ad hominem attacks and class-baiting: "So be a girly man / & sing a gurly song / Take a gurly stand / & dance with a girly sarong." Note that "girly" becomes "gurly" in the second and third line, yet it remains a mystery what the altered spelling indicates. A sarong is a garment that in many parts of the world both men and women wear; therefore, it remains unclear why wearing a sarong is a "girly" thing to do.

The purpose of this piece of doggerel soon becomes laughably apparent. It offers a sense of self-righteousness to the so-called superior "girlie-men"—who not really girlie-men at all but are, in fact, the real men. These real men, whom the Republican governor would label "girlie-men," are far and away superior to those who follow a different political religion. However, in the end, turning propaganda on its head will have to wait for a different "bad for you" piece.

With ideological bullet points, the yapping remains ungrounded in historical reality. The blind political stance without any reference to actual world events becomes yet another victim of disingenuousness and hasty posturing.

A man of this word, however, Bernstein has foisted upon the world of poetry a poem that is, without doubt, "bad (for you)." At least, he has been consistent and true to his officious pandering claim, yet without any genuine sense of purpose.

Sources

"Against National Poetry Month as Such" — Charles Bernstein

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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