Back in college I took a course on poetry of the Spanish Civil War. To someone from outside academia, that probably sounds irrelevant. But there was some great writing during that time. We also read some pretty terrible poetry, especially the lyric mash notes to Franco.
And it’s more relevant than it’s ever been before today, with the publication of a new poem praising Donald Trump.
You can pretty much guess how it’s going to go. It calls Obama an illegitimate tyrant, specifically calls out academic elitism and women being uppity, and describes a strong immigration policy as necessary:
Lest a murderous horde, for whom hell is the norm,
Should threaten our lives and our nation deform.
Because everyone knows that racism goes better in rhyming couplets.
So, it’s not a surprise that it’s a pretty terrible poem. And it’s probably not a surprise that this is not the first poem the author has written for Trump. The one congratulating him on his election describes liberals as “men of blood with fists for necks” led by a “feral queen.”
The author is former seminarian Joseph Charles MacKenzie. He’s a traditional Catholic and traditional lyric poet. He makes sure you’re clear on the traditional part. Make poetry rhyme again, make students read the classics in the original Greek.
What may surprise you, however, is that at the bottom of the page, where he promotes his book of sonnets (of course, sonnets):
You have boycotted modernist so-called “poetry” for over half a century, but arrogant publishers have ignored your rejection of pseudo-intellectual nonsense in chopped-up prose.
Backward old elites have censored traditional lyric poetry because it clashes with their Marxist-totalitarian world view. The result has been complete censorship of traditional lyric verse and the loss of the ability to produce it.
The only solution to the crisis is the triumphant appearance of Joseph Charles MacKenzie’s Sonnets for Christ the King, the first significant body of traditional lyric verse produced since the poems of W.B. Yeats and Charles Péguy.
Let’s unpack this. He thinks that there’s a vast audience of people pining for old-fashioned poems, but because of a Marxist academic conspiracy, his rhyming couplets are being repressed. That’s certainly a more comforting thought than the fact that nobody wants to read his poetry because it’s terrible, and the whole “Marxist academics” thing is a standard trope on the right that hardly bears examination or thought.
What truly gets me is the last bit: Comparing his sonnets (of course, sonnets about Jesus, because traditional Catholic poet) to Yeats and Péguy.
Comparing yourself to Yeats is hubris, which makes sense because MacKenzie already thinks his poetry is suppressed, not ignored.
Comparing himself to the early-20th Century French poet Péguy is a little stranger. I wasn’t familiar with him, but I looked him up on Wikipedia and the guy is apparently pretty well-known in France and was a favorite of DeGaulle, and so forth. However, his best-known work is free verse, which doesn’t strike me as all that traditional.
Wait, there it is:
Benito Mussolini referred to Péguy as a “source” for Fascism… Robert Brasillach praised Péguy as a “French National Socialist”, and his sons Pierre and Marcel wrote that their father was an inspiration for Vichy’s National Revolution ideology and “above all, a racist.”
So, there you go. Lyric mash notes to fascism. Still a thing.