A Poet Critiques Al Gore's Poem

Al Gore should stay away from poetry. The poor man has absorbed so devastating a pummeling of late that he scarcely needs yet another crippling body blow that could finish him off for good. One must, of course, admire him for the resilience he has shown up to now, despite the damning revelations that have brought most of his “global warming” work into terminal disrepute. Nevertheless, he soldiers on, publishing yet another book, the ambitiously titled Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, which appeared in November of this year, and in which he does his utmost to salvage both the earth and his respectability.

As it happens, the earth and Gore’s true reputation stand in inverse relation to one another, the former actually doing reasonably well, the latter in shreds. Though one would never know this from the MSM, where -- with a couple of exceptions -- we discover that the earth is wobbling toward its doom while Gore strides forth undaunted to complete his redemptive mission. But then, the MSM are also on their last legs, whistling “Kumbaya” as they totter past the graveyard, so perhaps we should take their depositions with a grain of salt, if not the whole salt shaker.

To return to my subject. There are two insults one must be wary of giving when speaking to or of another, for their effect is particularly injurious. One is to assert that a person has no sense of humor and the other is to suggest that a person has no poetic talent. Nevertheless, there are times when honesty must trump discretion, and this is one of them. The plain fact is Gore is a bore. He fails on both counts.

I have never heard him crack a joke and never read anything by him in any way distinguished by wit, verve, levity, or even a hint of paronomasia. He is deadly earnest and his pomposity knows no bounds. In his defense, one might object that he is dealing with issues of such forbidding gravity that no margin remains for playfulness or creative vivacity. Yet even the gloomiest philosopher of all time, Arthur Schopenhauer, who saw human existence as a rupture in the harmony of the universe, acknowledged in his The Wisdom of Life the importance of laughter and gaiety.

No less damaging to Gore’s prestige is his pretension as a poet. It is surely no sin for a talentless amateur to set about writing poetry, but it is undeniably a transgression of the first magnitude should he seek to publish it. For it is not only a disclosure of personal foolishness which an individual may not survive -- not much harm there -- but it brings the noble craft of poetry down from Mount Olympus into the drains and sewers of the age, infecting the public sensibility, deluding the naive, contaminating the respect for tradition and high culture that should animate the life of a people, and reducing by contagion the faculty of aesthetic taste and judgment in all the fields of artistic endeavor. OK, so I’m going over the top, but I’m apprehensive that the gods might not forgive the would-be poet for so grievous a trespass. One can just see a distraught Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, squirming on her pedestal.

I hope it will be understood that I am not engaging in what David Denby in his new book calls “snarking,” a term popularly derived from Lewis Carroll but repositioned to mean the practice of gratuitous malice. I focus on the poem because it is symptomatic of Gore’s encompassing delinquencies, a textual microcosm that merits examination. It is what the French call a mise-en-abîme, an inset or miniature of the larger picture. But the poem also interests me because poetry is a serious matter, especially in an age which has lost its memory of the lyric afflatus. Thus, to adapt W.H. Auden writing on the death of W.B. Yeats, we might say that November 3, 2009, was “a dark cold day,” indeed, a black day for the spirit of poetry which looks increasingly like it may have joined Yeats in the grave. For on that day Gore released Our Choice, which featured the poem in question:

One thin September soon

A floating continent disappears

In midnight sun

Vapors rise as

Fever settles on an acid sea

Neptune’s bones dissolve

Snow glides from the mountain

Ice fathers floods for a season

A hard rain comes quickly

Then dirt is parched

Kindling is placed in the forest

For the lightning’s celebration

Unknown creatures

Take their leave, unmourned

Horsemen ready their stirrups

Passion seeks heroes and friends

The bell of the city

On the hill is rung

The shepherd cries

The hour of choosing has arrived

Here are your tools

I have read worse poems than “One Thin September,” but not all that many. It is a dull, anaphoric litany riddled with malapropisms and marred by an unabashed tendency to pure bathos -- no different from his prose. Close assessment of the piece might offer a corrective to those who continue to venerate its author.