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Two Poems by Malcolm M. Sedam: "Desafinado" and "Joseph"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Poem # 1: "Desafinado"

The speaker in Malcolm M. Sedam's "Desafinado" belongs to that group that finds little to no literary value in Ginsberg's rant and thus holds the Beat poet accountable for what the speaker deems to be the attempted degradation of the soul of humanity.

Introduction and Text of "Desafinado"

Written in 1955 and published in late 1956, the long poem "Howl" from Allen Ginsberg's collection, Howl and Other Poems, caused a stir that ultimately brought the book's publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founder of City Lights Bookstore, to trial for obscenity. The poem dramatizes certain sex acts; for example, "those who let themselves be f*cked in the a** by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy.” The Ginsberg poem also spewed it glowing approval of illegal drug use.

Ultimately, Ferlinghetti was not convicted of his alleged crime of obscenity, because "nine expert witnesses, including literature professors, editors and book reviewers from the San Francisco Examiner and The New York Times," testified that the work had literary value, that is, it offered "a significant and enduring contribution to society and literature." They also testified that it was a “prophetic work” and “thoroughly honest.”

Since that time, traditionally, however, many readers, including teachers, parents, critics, and other literary scholars have resisted the notion that Ginsberg's hysterics had literary merit. (One might note that the quotation above from the poem is not welcome on a number of Web sites even in 2019—even this one; thus I have blocked full spelling of the offending words.) The poem's main claim to fame has always been its confrontational struggle with dignity and morality, not its literary value.

Desafinado

(For Allen Ginsberg, et al)

Through this state and on to Kansas
more black than May’s tornadoes
showering a debris of art —
I saw you coming long before you came
in paths of twisted fear and hate
and dread, uprooted, despising all judgment
which is not to say
that the bourgeois should not be judged
but by whom and by what,
junkies, queers, and rot
who sit on their haunches and howl
that the race should be free for pot
and horny honesty
which I would buy
if a crisis were ever solved
in grossness and minor resolve
but for whom and for what?

I protest your protest
it’s hairy irrelevancy,
I, who am more anxious than you
more plaintive than you
more confused than you
having more at stake
an investment in humanity.

Please note: The word processing system used by the HubPages site does not allow non-traditional formation of text. To see how the poet set this poem down on the page, please go to Maya Shedd’s Temple to view Sedam’s collection titled The Man in Motion; scroll down to the fifth poem.

Commentary

Out of touch with humanity, but certainly spouting the postmodern ethos, Ginsberg's work finds its ultimate critic in Sedam's "Desafinado."

Flat or Off Key

The musical term "desafinado" denotes an out-of-tune sound; a note that is flat or off key may be labeled "desafinado." Thus, Sedam's speaker in his poem, "Desafinado," from The Man in Motion, insists that the Beat poets, Ginsberg and his ilk, are definitely out of tune with human dignity and morality. Featuring Sedam's signature indented lines, the poem is displayed in free-verse and in twenty-four lines.

It seems likely that the speaker of the poem is reacting to having attended a poetry reading wherein one or more of the scandalous Beats—perhaps even Ginsberg himself—have performed their wares. The speaker claims that Ginsberg in his travels through the mid-west is "showering a debris of art." That debris is blacker than the tornadoes that assault the landscape in May.

Literarily Littering the Minds

The speaker suggests that the Ginsberg "art" litters the mind in a way that even the devastating tornadoes fail to equal across middle America. The speaker understands that influence on the mind of an individual and thereby society can have far reaching consequences. Cleaning up the damages from damaged minds far exceeds that of cleaning up the damage hurled by strong winds in spring. The speaker berates the Beat poet and his ilk for degrading the art of poetry by dragging it down paths of hatred which is twisted with fear and unhinged from reality. Also these protestors hate being judged, criticized, corrected, or held to any traditional standards.

The speaker asserts that he does not believe that the "bourgeoisie" is perfect, nor is it thereby above judgment. However, he forces out the question regarding who is really able and qualified to make those judgments about the middle class. The speaker affirms that such judgment will never be made effectively by "Junkies, queers, and rot.” If one finds the speaker's name-calling off-putting, one must ask, is it name-calling or simply naming? Is he not accurate in describing the characters who are appearing the works of Ginsberg and the Beats?

What Redeeming Value?

According to this speaker, the Ginsbergian ilk does not offer anything useful to the society from which they benefit greatly. Those of that ilk continue to "sit on their haunches and howl / that the race should be free for pot / and horny honesty." The speaker is, of course, alluding to Ginsberg's infamous "Howl," which was coming into prominence in the early 1960s in the United States, as the Sixties decadence was setting in.

The speaker asserts that he might be able to agree with some of the radicals' protesting moral standards if such protest ever solved any of society's problems. The speaker, however, deems that the Beats' low-energy "resolve" and the grossness of the bellyachers as they just "sit on their haunches and howl" cannot, in fact, alter society and cannot benefit humanity.

The speaker then declaims that he protests against their protests. The irrelevance of those long-haired hippies, those who merely howl while sitting on their butts cannot convince this speaker of any righteousness of their stance. This speaker revolts against the moral corruption of these dopers. The speaker then further supports his claims by emphasizing his own invested interest in a just and moral society. The speaker insists that he remains even more agitated, melancholy, and befuddled than those hairy protestors.

One Man's Investment in Humanity

The speaker finally punches his last punch attempting to knock out the feeble but brazen howling cries of the hairy, dirty doping protesters, whose selfish self-aggrandizing leads only to a society of decay. Instead of only a selfish concern, this speaker's stake is much higher: he professes that he struggles mightily because for him what is at stake is his "investment in humanity."

Even though this speaker is aware that he cannot vanquish the debauchery that is on its way, leaking into the culture like a punctured sewer pipe, he knows he can register his own protest against the moral equivalency that is leading to the degeneracy of the next generation. Of course, the period known as the hippy sixties would continue down its fatalist path, yet where it would lead would remain open for discussion.

My Personal Reflection on Ginsberg’s "Howl"

Allen Ginsberg’s poem, "Howl," can arguably be considered to have ushered in the onslaught of postmodernism in America; however, this work as a piece of literature has stood the test of time as a game changer in literature, whether one agrees that the gamed needed to be changed or not.

The style of this slack-jawed piece is loosely reminiscent of that of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, even though Ginsberg’s obscene posture is anathema to Whitman’s measured, disciplined stance, as well as to that of the poet of "Desafinado."

In my personal opinion, what saves "Howl" from becoming just a piece of trash to assign to the dustbin of literary history—as the Sedamian ethos would suggest—is that it offers a view of American life along with a revelation of the mindset dedicated to the aberrant life styles that a significant portion of American society would never be able to experience otherwise. Most of America—and likely even the entire globe—would never consider taking the kinds of trips taken by the Beats.

Information can be useful, whether one agrees with it or not, nay, even if the work is nonsensical or brushed through with immorality, nihilism, and naïveté. And while poetry's first function is not to impart empirical information, it does rely on empirical information to empower its focus on the human experience in feeling and emotion.

A piece of literature based on information that is abominable and morally repugnant in its content offers the opportunity explain to children and students that the behavior in the work should be disdained, discouraged, and avoided.

Censorship vs Editorial Choice

My first commandment regarding the written word is, "Thou shalt NOT censor!" Despite the possible, ultimate degradation and depravity of any text, nothing should be censored.

Editorial choice regarding the fitness of any text for any publication does not become censorship, unless the editor is denying the work based on prejudice, political bias, or personal preference, that is, the discussion of ideas with which an editor does not agree does not give the editor the moral right to censor.

Essentially, censorship bans ideas not necessarily the form in which those ideas are delivered. If the form, including the use of grammar and mechanics, is faulty, the editor has the duty to reject for publication the submitted piece, as faulty grammar and lax mechanics often suggest that the ideas may be weak as well. The experienced, knowledgable editor should sustain the resources to determine the difference between a few insignificant mechanical errors and those that suggest a sloppy writer with sloppy thoughts.

But if the editor rejects or devalues a piece simply because s/he despises the politics, societal attitudes, or spiritual tradition of the writer, then that rejection would equal censorship, which is an abomination and a danger to a free people.

Sources

Poem # 2: "Joseph"

Disavowing the feasibility of virgin birth, the speaker of Malcolm M. Sedam's "Joseph" dramatizes his iconoclasm as he attempts to speak for the Biblical wise man.

Introduction and Text of "Joseph"

Malcolm M. Sedam's poem "Joseph" from The Man in Motion plays out in fifteen free-verse lines. The speaker poses as the Biblical character of Joseph, husband of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in order to press his misguided opinion that even tough the virgin birth story is likely only a fable, the fact that Joseph actually attended upon the rearing of the child Jesus, Joseph, not God (or god as this speaker prefers), is the real father of Jesus—strangely referred to as "Christ" instead to the more secularized name, which the speaker would seem to prefer.

This speaker's position is likely that of an agnostic, rather than an atheist, even though he appears to enjoy what he deems the task of "myth busting" or iconoclasm. A heaping helping of hubris runs strongly through the veins of such a one who would myth-bust religious narrations about which they possess so little understanding. But such is the postmodernist mindset, ever a wonder unto itself.

Joseph

Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:
A man's biological role is small
but a god's can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth—
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

Commentary

Disavowing the feasibility of virgin birth, the speaker of M. M. Sedam's "Joseph" dramatizes his iconoclasm as he attempts to speak for the Biblical wise man.

First Movement: Cosmic Drama Prophesied in Earlier Scripture

Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:

The following vitally significant lines from the Gospel of St. Matthew 1:19-20 must be recognized as the reader encounters this poem:

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

In that same dream, the angel further reminded Joseph that these cosmic events had, indeed, already been revealed in prophecy, and about which Joseph himself had been aware: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son." Thus, Joseph was well aware of his role in the cosmic drama featuring the coming of the messiah, and he acted according to that role.

To the secular, postmodernist mind, the pseudo-science of Darwinian principles led to the inability to appreciate or even understand the spiritual truths explicated in scriptural texts. Materialism's chokehold on the mental processes of the postmodernist mind thus rendered the idea of virgin birth outside the real of "reason."

Not only was the concept of virgin birth therefore considered not subject to debate, but it was however subjected to ridicule and scorn.

Joseph would find such claims attributed to him as preposterous, likely wondering if the one uttering such nonsense could even read. The ancient man of wisdom could never have exclaimed, "Some things were never explained to me," because the angel, in fact, did explain everything to him.

The notion that Joseph believed Mary's condition was divinely ordained because he "chose" to believe it, not because it was true, is also preposterous. Joseph believed the virgin would give birth because an angel had explained the situation to him, and he had already been aware that the cosmic drama had been prophesied in earlier scripture.

Second Movement: Postmodern Misunderstanding of Biblical Lore

A man's biological role is small
but a god's can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth—
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

This self-professed iconoclastic speaker, attempting to pose as Joseph, remains a blind fool led astray by his own testosterone. Thus he makes ludicrous claims that bulge with a false modesty as well as unmitigated prevarication.

The speaker asserts, "A man's biological role is small / but a god's can be no more." If God's role can be no more than a man's, then it is likely that a man created the universe, and rings in the cosmos, and causes the seasons to appear on time, and the sun and moon to move with a regularity that no human being can even begin to understand!. It takes an humongous load of hubris to assert that God and man's influence on creation are the same!

And then the small-minded human secularized mind asserts in the final lines that he was always there: "I who was always there." This "I" who fed him, clothed him, taught him, nurtured his growth constitutes the vanity of inserting himself as the "I, I, I" — up to his final farcical claim, "I was the father of Christ."

Joseph, the wise man of the Bible, would find it laughable, even if in a sad way, that anyone could ever be so blinded by materialism and false science and masculine hormones as to assert such nonsense by characterizing the events of his life in such an absurd fashion.

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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