Hirschman’s poem “The Painting:” Progressive politics is sacred.

As APR March Madness poetry fans know, Hirschman’s poem “The Painting” fell to Robert Penn Warren’s “Night Walking” in first round play this year, but Warren’s victory is now coming under scrutiny by March Madness officials after it was pointed out that one of the contest referees was a New Critic with ties to Warren.

Hirschman bristled when asked if he intentionally courts controversy. “I court the truth!”

Robert Penn Warren may be the most honored American poet after Robert Frost, and so far there has been no comment from the poet or his camp.

Hirschman fans, however, are in take-no-prisoners mode, pointing out Warren’s membership in the far-right Southern Agrarians, the 1930s group of Southerners who eventually became the conservative New Critics who dominated the 1940s and 50s.

Animosity to the New Critics runs deep: their high-brow purity is seen as anti-democratic.  The New Critics wanted to focus on the text, and this may be a noble aim, critics concede, but New Critical purity unfortunately tends to deny the world outside the text.  Another New Critical crime: they chased music out of poetry.  In Robert Penn Warren’s influential poetry textbook, published in several editions from the 1930s to the 70s, Understanding Poetry, “The Red Wheel Barrow” is praised and “Ulalume” is condemned.

About 50 people milled around the entrance of the John Crowe Ransom Arena this morning, carrying signs that read, “The Painting” Was Robbed!”

Upsets at Scarriet’s APR March Madness—and now controversy.


  1. Noochness said,

    March 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    The Painting

    So there it is:
    a painting of the late black heroic
    mayor of Chicago
    in woman’s underwear
    in the name of artistic iconoclasm
    and free expression
    and constitutional liberty
    and individual civil rights.

    And there they are at last,
    the city aldermen
    taking it off the walls
    removing it from the exhibition
    in the name of the working masses
    whose constitutional liberties
    and free expression
    and civil rights

    have been smothered, censored,
    bribed, shunted, overlooked;
    and now whose heroes
    are made into kitsch,
    pornogrified, transvesticized
    to reflect the most cheapshot
    degrading and racially humiliating
    business-as-usual nation on earth.

    Well, what do you say?
    Were they wrong to remove the painting
    of the progressive mayor
    who’d led the working people
    toward the destruction
    of a rotting fascist machine
    that wants to re-assert
    its disgusting oppression
    now that Harold Washington is dead?

    Bubbubbubbut removing a painting!
    Bubbubbubbut the artist’s individual…
    the artist’s individu
    the artist’s individ
    the artist’s indiv
    the artist’s in
    Whawhawhawhat about the artist?

    What about the class?

    Provoprovoprovoprovocation is the essence of art!

    Provocation for what, Mr. Curator?
    Mr. Institutional Curator,
    Mr. Corporate-Funded Institutional Curator,
    Mr. Elite Corporate-Funded Institutional Curator,
    Mr. Deathshead Elite Corporate-Funded Institutional Curator,
    Provocation for what?

    Bubbubbubbut what about the empty wallspace, the violation
    of the artist, the damage to culture…!

    You are the empty wallspace, Mr. Curator,
    you are the violation of the artist
    and the damage to culture.
    David Nelson painted Mirth & Girth
    out of the hundred twisted fantasies
    of the sleaze of politics and the politics of sleaze,
    of the terror of the sex of blackness
    and the blackness of sex—
    fantasies used by capitalism
    secretly through racist aesthetics
    or openly through markets of porn
    to displace imagination with a price,
    to keep artists and workers alike
    filthy in their purity,
    paralyzed in dirty-minded liberty,
    fugitives from human dignity
    and political struggle,
    stupefied when confronting collective life
    or revolutionary action.

    We are partisan, Mr. Make-It Curator,
    and you, Mr. Make-It-New Artist,
    we’re at war
    with art as privilege,
    with the kitsching up of soul,
    with the gooning of the truth
    about those who help working people see
    how beautiful the reality
    of their imagination as a class
    in motion actually is.

    Do we acclaim the removal of the painting?
    Emphatically, provocatively

    Jack Hirschman

  2. Al Cordle said,

    March 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Nobody ever said poetry was fair!

  3. Noochness said,

    March 12, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Hirschman reading his poem “Virginia Tech”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kj7xhvdBsRc&feature=related

  4. June 4, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Hanging the Artist

    We just can’t!—I trust you realize, Morimura-san, what a powerful and possibly traumatic impression these pictures of yours are apt to make on our Houston art-lovers… Perhaps the word is unfamiliar to you—no, not art-lover, traumatic. I must say it is truly impressive how much English you have managed to learn… Of course there will be some words you haven’t had the chance to master, words like traumatic—it means “deeply painful psychologically.” But what I mean is that for our audience, which to this day believes the camera can’t lie, photographs like yours… No, of course, how could there be any photographs like yours… except yours? I’m speaking purely hypothetically, if you know what that means. Oh, what the hell… Your work may cause pain as well as pleasure. I’ve tried, as you’ll see, to arrange the show to avoid the unfortunate kind of misunderstandings that arise in cases like yours—no, that’s not what I mean: there are no cases like yours, really, but provincial museum-goers (and Houston is provincial, there can be no doubt about that), even if they are art-lovers, tend to be repelled by images that seem to question or repudiate—you follow me?—the status quo of gender. Its seems to upset people when standard notions of male and female are so disoriented—if I may use such a word—that they are completely fooled, at least at first glance, and first glance is all most Texans will spare for what they don’t have to pay for… Now you have posed and photographed yourself with such verisimilitude, damn, so accurately as classic heroines of the screen in fabled predicaments—oh dear, let’s say in dramatic moments familiar to us all—not only recognizable but convincing, that I thought we’d best start with you as Kate Hepburn in Dragon Seed—no one could resent something as high-minded and as… Oriental as the scene you’ve chosen where Peony says, “Come into the garden. Wan Lung, bring a reed and a bowl of hot water, for I am with child.” And then we move on to the scene in Of Human Bondage where your Bette Davis screams at your Leslie Howard (wonderful, how you do them both), “You pity me? Well I pity you, you cripple !” After that, I think your images can make their own way in any order you like—Marlene and her marvellous coq feathers, Vivian Leigh in the gown made of green plush portieres, Liza Minnelli on that chair in Cabaret, down to your hallucinatory (don’t bother) version of Marilyn trying in vain to gain control over that little white dress. I know you sent us two Marilyns, but Morimura-san, we couldn’t show that first one: the dress was up to her waist, the girl was naked, I mean you were naked, and right in the middle of that big black bush of hair was a prominent penis (I know you know what those words mean). Morimura-san, believe me, the fact that it wasn’t a real penis makes no difference whatever. The Houston Contemporary Art Museum will not show Marilyn Monroe with a penis, now Get. That. Straight. How the rest of the show is hung is open to change. Let me repeat, I welcome you and your wonderful art to Houston, though I must remind you that there is a point of pro-vo-ca-tion beyond which tradition, and our trustees, will not be moved. I hope you’ve understood my English. Sayonara.

    Richard Howard


  5. Anonymous said,

    June 4, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    And the con-tro-ver-sy continues!

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