Triumph of the Swill: Why Amanda Palmer's poem about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev needs a replacement

I often try to temper talk about musicians or artists I don’t personally care for with a healthy dose of understanding that making good art is quite hard to do. I often look back at my own earlier works of poetry and wonder how I thought they were worthy. It’s part of the deal. And accurate description of a work of art is more useful than mere opinion anyhow.

But there’s a problem at the core of Amanda Palmer’s work, most especially her writing, that provides a bright dividing line, a love-or-hate point of departure. She, like too many folks, seems to believe that the heat of the moment of creation is itself the thing that matters; the resulting words are, apparently, to be honored for simply having made it to the page. Which means she writes dreadful poetry.

The poem that’s currently giving Palmer far too much press is her recent piece of poorly realized (she claims to have written it in 9 minutes, thereby proving it’s not had time to bake) verse that purports to be about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but is instead, according to her rundown of her life in the days and minutes leading to her act of writing, about the details of her life. The marathon bombing suspect is sort of in there, too, in monumentally sophomoric lines about things like an iPhone battery running out inside a boat. Here are a few lines:

you don’t know how to separate from this partnership to escape and finally breathe.

you don’t know how come people run their goddamn knees into the ground anyway.

you don’t know how to measure the value of the twenty dollar bill clutched in your hurting hand.

you don’t know how you walked into this trap so obliviously.

The trap in question, is apparently, the trap of having to talk about lines spawned in 9 minutes by a mediocre poet.

We have “controversy” and widespread nattering (and of course, that’s where she wins–you can’t talk about this without spreading her name around) about her daring to write something that maybe kind of sympathizes with Tsarnaev, itself no crime, if not a particularly well-advised choice at the moment. But what I find fascinating is that, as a performer, Palmer has reasonable talents in the musical department, but has seldom written a lyric or verse that’s more advanced than what you’d find in a sophomore English class. Yet she plays the media/publicity machine like a mad organ grinder. Her brand of half-baked, feckless writing becomes part of the conversation, and that in a culture that boasts, quite literally, thousands of poets and musicians who could take on the same subject and make something remarkable of it.

I’m hoping one of them will do so, and move the diva of mediocrity aside for a while.

James Heflin

Author: James Heflin

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