Common Represents the Beauty of Uncomfortable Poetry

COMMENTARY | When faux outrage is spread by Fox pundits like Glenn Beck, the desperate attempts to smear anything having to do with President Obama reach laughable proportions. Such is the case when hip-hop artist Common was invited to White House poetry night.

Common actually is a fairly conservative and socially conscious artist. In the January 2009 issue of Remix magazine, Common is described as an “activist, peacemaker, rapper and actor.” He isn’t considered a controversial choice, except in the rarefied air of the angry right.

When a person thinks about poetry, the definition can be very subjective. Some rely on well-known names like Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson or perhaps Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps a particular style like that strikes the fancy. Poetry actually can be so many things, coming from innumerable sources of inspiration. Following are three artists whose work I consider poetic, whose words some might find controversial.

Leonard Cohen

A genius with lyrics and sound, Leonard Cohen has inspired and entertained millions over the course of his long career. Writing poetry, spoken-word lyric, and incredible music, he is much less famous than he should be. Many people today only know of Cohen through his ethereal song “Hallelujah” and its myriad covers.

Cohen’s body of work represents so much more. He writes of love, politics, war, peace, and hate. I was lucky enough to see a live performance in 2010, and count it among the most memorable concert experiences I’ve had.

Lawson Fusao Inada

An incredible talent you might not have heard of if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, Inada’s work has found international acclaim, but he is best known in this region. Lawson Inada is an emeritus professor of English at the Ashland’s Southern Oregon University, and was named poet laureate by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2006 — the fifth poet to have been so honored.

Here’s a link to some of his work available online.

Tina Fey

Known mostly for her live comedy and acting roles, The Saturday Night Live alum also writes poetry. She wrote a very funny piece about moms and daughters, “The Mother’s Day Prayer for Its Daughter.”

Of course, her most famous delving out of poetic justice comes in the form of performance art. When Fey gives her identity over to her portrayal of the former half-governor of Alaska, the transformation is indeed poetic. See the most recent reprisal of the role here. In the end, the dust-up over Common will fade away, only to be brought up by conservative pundits on talk radio. Until then, perhaps we can all reflect on the beauty of uncomfortable poetry.