Poetic laurels to Obama, but not as poet laureate
President-elect Barack Obama often alludes to his time at the Harvard Law Review. However, it took the Library of Congress and its study of presidents as poets to unearth Sen. Obama's poetic side.
When President-elect Obama was a 19-year-old student at Occidental College, he published two poems in the spring 1982 issue of Feast, the school's literary magazine.
Following Sen. Obama's victory at the polls, the Library of Congress offered the poems to the nation (maybe not the best thing to to do a president-elect looking for places to cut the budget).
The first poem, "Pop," appears to capture a moment between the young Obama and his maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham. The bond between the two is reinforced at the end of the poem by the framing and reflective properties of Pop's glasses.
Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes,
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I’m sure he’s unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He’s so unhappy, to which he replies...
But I don’t care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shink, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ‘cause
I see my face, framed within
Pop’s black-framed glasses
And know he’s laughing too.
"Pop" is received kindly by one critic, who says it could be worse.
When asked to comment on the merit of "Pop," Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale University, described it as “not bad—a good enough folk poem with some pathos and humor and affection.... It is not wholly unlike Langston Hughes, who tended to imitate Carl Sandburg."  Obama's poetry, Bloom makes clear, is much superior to the poetry of former President Jimmy Carter (Bloom calls Carter "literally the worst poet in the United States").
President-elect Obama's second poem, "Underground," is more exotic and obscure:
Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.
Bloom feels that "Underground" is the better of Obama's two poems, reminiscent of some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry: “I think it is about some sense of chthonic forces, just as Lawrence frequently is—some sense, not wholly articulated, of something below, trying to break through.” 
While President-elect Obama's poetry displays some signs of talent, by choosing politics over poetry he made, like the other poetry-writing presidents before him, the right career choice. As Bloom notes: “If I had been shown these poems by one of my undergraduates and asked, Shall I go on with it?, I would have rubbed my forehead and said, On the whole, my dear, probably not. Your future is not as a person of letters.“
1. All quotations by Harold Bloom from Rebecca Mead's "Obama, Poet," (http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2007/07/02/
070702ta_talk_mead, The New Yorker, July 2, 2007).
2. To read other assessments of Obama's poetry, many less positive than Harold Bloom's, see "Obama's Poetry Skills Draw Scrutiny" (http://media.www.oxyweekly.com/...007/04/04/News/
Obamas.Poetry.Skills.Draw.Scrutiny-2822022.shtml, The Occidental Weekly, April 4, 2007).