Blagojevich and Poetry

“Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.”

We saw this item on GalleyCat last week and couldn’t let it pass without comment. It seems disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, having infamously quoted Kipling’s “If” in a defiant press conference after scandal erupted around him, has quoted yet another poem in his post-impeachment press conference—this time Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” Evidently no longer content to rust unburnished in the dreary confines of Chicago, he is launching forth into new conquests on the high seas of life, determined “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Though he did not say so explicitly, we can presume that he is doing this not because he has become a laughingstock and a pariah but because his spirit is “yearning with desire / To follow knowledge like a sinking star / Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.”

For his literary pretensions Blagojevich has of course been roundly mocked, and yet…as this ludicrous popinjay exits the stage to the jeers of the masses, we have to admit that there is a certain literary quality about him, a kind of hilarious anti-grandeur reminiscent of Shakespeare’s or Dickens’s petty fops and tyrants. There’s something marvelous about a man who, as has been widely reported, is so vain about his poofy coiffure that his aides refer to his hairbrush as “the football”—i.e., a nuclear football that must under no circumstances be let out of sight—and at the same time imagines his implication in a squalid corruption scandal as a tragic circumstance worthy of Lord Tennyson. Even the name “Rod Blagojevich” is somehow perfect, its homely syllables comically clashing with the fame he sought for it (and also, like his accent, suggesting humble origins for which his poetic bombast may be an attempt to compensate).

And so, even though Mr. Blagojevich deserves whatever punishment he gets, we’re almost sorry to see him go. We’re also nagged by the feeling that there’s an exact analogue for him somewhere in literature: a minor comic character in a nineteenth-century novel, or even a fairy-tale villain, or something…readers, help us out? If you can think of a literary personality or a short passage of poetry that Blago reminds you of, leave a note in the Comments section. We’ll pick the best suggestion next Monday and name its contributor our Stylish Reader of the Week, with all possible attendant fanfare (including a featured website recommendation). Good luck—and thanks for helping secure ex-Governor Blagojevich the literary immortality he so desperately craves.


Filed under Books and Publishing

7 responses to “Blagojevich and Poetry

  1. Well, some have compared Blago to Iago. But here are some poems penned by me about me:

    Gov. Blago Shakespeare.

  2. abbeville

    Iago (an evil genius whose machinations had but one fatal flaw) and Blago (a muskrat-headed twit whose schemes were a disaster from the start) would seem to have little in common besides the rhyming name. However, your website provides the equivalent of several amazing entries in the contest. Well done, sir.

  3. The Shakespearean O’s have it: not just Blago-Iago but also Blago-Malvolio. The preening and the poetic overreaching, the overestimating of one’s position at court. At least poor Malvolio was motivated by love for Olivia, not Obama-linked lucre.

    You may also want to check out my recommendation of Zadie Smith’s podcasted lecture from Live at the NYPL, “Speaking in Tongues,” in which she does not mention Blago but does compare Obama’s skill at writing dialogue with James Baldwin’s:

  4. abbeville

    Good call – we had thought of Malvolio, and Osric too, but couldn’t justify the comparison as well as you have. At the same time, Blago wasn’t just a bootlicker of power; he did have some power himself, making us also think of Richard II (the absurd vanity, the self-dramatization). But he’s not even that grandiose…we need a perfect happy medium, so we’ll keep thinking, and looking out for responses.

    Love the Zadie Smith podcast; very cool stuff.

  5. Thanks.

    Gd pt about Blago having some actual power to dispense.

    Did you know that Martin Amis often refers to his unformed self as “Osric” in his memoir Experience?

    Looking forward to finding out who’s the happy medium of Blago in literature.

  6. I think he’s just building up to his day in court. Just as the judge is about to lay a sentence on him, Blago’s going to spout some of Pound’s Cantos and then make his escape during the Ezra-induced confusion.

  7. abbeville

    Could be–who would put anything past him at this point? We’re predicting a memoir written from prison (à la Mandela, or so Blagojevich will tell himself) featuring extensive selections from the Norton Anthology.

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