David Berman, a poet of negligible academic value who nonetheless remains popular among the aging hipsters now clawing their way into positions of authority within the rotting carapace of the academy, has a line, “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” Voice, then, is a function of confidence, not talent. Poetry, then, is a function of faith, not intellect. The singer who believes against all countermanding evidence in his own truth, and who projects it most ferociously into the echo chamber of public discourse, tasseled in seeming unconcern for its critical reception, is heard for longer and listened to more fully than the smoothest nightingale. House limps. McNulty drinks. Whitman sheaths his penis in the anuses of boys. Christ bleeds. Tony Soprano feels. Obama is black. Palin is female. I am a sexually frustrated megalomaniac. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is so burdened by honor he rides horses through Rohan while tumorous Gondor metastasizes into political cannibalism. The othering power of perceived defect is the bedrock upon which empire heteronormativity erects its omnipotent steeple. This is the paradox of the West, and the mystery warms the core of our every art form, personal relationship, and social endeavor. The song of singers who aren’t meant to sing is the only music or literature that matters, or will ever.
The King’s Speech hits every note in this symphony so effortlessly that even the most cynical elitist will find it at least periodically rousing, for cynicism itself is aaa critical stutter. Hate Hitler? The most talented singer of German of all? Then it’s hard not to root for his stammering Limey foil. Especially when everyone around Colin Firth is becoming a douchebag right when England needs a hero. I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. It’s everything horrible about poetry multiplied by money, fame, and the most corrupting influence of all, an actual audience—so I don’t know who or what movies won for what things, but after watching The King’s Speech, I bet it won for best adapted screenplay, direction, and picture. I also bet Colin Firth won best lead actor. Geoffrey Rush probably didn’t beat out Christian Bale’s virtuosic crackhead in The Fighter, but that’s not to say Rush doesn’t still soar in The King’s, racking up what must be a world record for tender, knowing twinkles-in-the-eye per scene. As Hannah found in January1, the lessons re: finding one’s voice that effloresce across the consciousness after even cursorily reflecting upon Speech are so large and obvious that for a poet to illustrate them would be counter-poetically tedious and self-serving. But fuck it. We must stop trying to sound so much like each other. A good poem should make half of us hate you and half of us adore you, not all of us like you. Light dies without an anchoring darkness to break through. Voice is an iceberg of which technique is but tip; courage the voluminous, submerged most. Your nations need you. In a form unrecognizable now as then, the spirit of Hitler, of Voldemort, of Black Swan, of AWP is always calling the weak, increasing its flock, hissing across the world like wind between buildings. Who but a poet will reach inside, wrest the ember of their own weakness out with bare hands, let it burn through their fingers, and hammer it into a sword in the forge of creative writing workshops? Who will give neutral onlookers cause to open their mouths and whisper to no one, “Sweet, fancy Moses…” Who will give their voice to the voiceless.
I remember going to see Cloverleaf alone at a cineplex in Cedar Rapids one night after a small fight with my girlfriend, and the roads encircling the mall seemed riddled with potholes as jagged and deep as time itself; Cloverleaf categorically blew. Then, once, leaving the composition class I taught at a community college in Cedar Rapids, I slipped backward on an ice-packed parking lot space. The soles of my shoes swung into the sky as the back of my noggin found cold, hard ground. Swerving back home to my sweetheart, woozy, through sleet, my little Honda Civic’s defroster petered out, and I kept having to wipe the inside of the windshield with my forearm; this repetitive, frustrating game kept me awake and alive, I believe, as I would learn that night at the hospital I’d sustained a mild concussion. I trace these dull annals of autobiography to prove I too know the seamy world of betrayed idealism that Cedar Rapids is the very devil’s banquet of. Cedar Rapids succeeds sweetly at charting Ed Helms’ jejune insurancér through similarly lubricious matrices of Midwestern hypocrisy-piety, naïveté-valor, and epiphany-pain. John C. Reilly is a forceful Falstaff, offering viewers a far more nuanced comic agitator than those to which we are used in the post-Talladega Nights C. Reilly-verse; and Anne Heche is just as lovable as the stifled wife-slut-Madonna.
Afterward over milkshakes at the Route 9 Diner, Hannah and I talked a lot about what it takes to make this template—white male idiot Z learns life lessons Y en route to inevitable triumph X—or any other template for that matter, fresh. As always, the mercuric character of poetry allows me to slap down an easy answer. A home form earns the velvety pallium of originality to the degree it imports and meets the authenticities and expectations of an alien one; the foreigner the grit the fuller the ultimate pearl. Dickinson conscripts hymns and suddenly the same old puzzles of consciousness and death seem raw again. Whitman assimilates journalism and sermon. Pound photograph, Chinese, encyclopedia. Berryman dreams. Minnis television and tantrum. Metaphor itself is the same game shrunk down to the stage of phrase. Rapids director Miguel Arteta and writer Phil Johnston squirt into the insipid womb that could’ve been any late-career Carell or Ferrell vehicle the sperm of a fledgling realism. Helms’ wacky sidekicks, like the wet noodle Isaiah Whitlock Jr plays (upsetting yet recapitulating expectation set by his marquee role, slick state senator Clay Davis on The Wire), shine as a result of good lines, and a sincere treatment by the camera. Cedar Rapids isn’t beautiful film, but gag is subservient to character just enough to make it welcome comedy. If a latent Midwesternness in all of us whispers psalms of our perceived innocence, Cedar Rapids deconstructs and amplifies that whisper. If that whisper happens to reach us through the unclean tunnel of someone’s anus, so be it; CR lights the fart on fire.