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Charles Bernstein's “The Ballad of the Girlie Man”

Updated on October 8, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Charles Bernstein

Source

Bernstein's "The Ballad of the Girlie Man"

—For Felix

The truth is hidden in a veil of tears
The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear
A democracy once proposed
Is slimmed and grimed again
By men with brute design
Who prefer hate to rime

Complexity's a four-letter word
For those who count by nots and haves
Who revile the facts of Darwin
To worship the truth according to Halliburton

The truth is hidden in a veil of tears
The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear

Thugs from hell have taken freedom's store
The rich get richer, the poor die quicker
& the only god that sanctions that
Is no god at all but rhetorical crap

So be a girly man
& take a gurly stand
Sing a gurly song
& dance with a girly sarong

Poetry will never win the war on terror
But neither will error abetted by error

We girly men are not afraid
Of uncertainty or reason or interdependence
We think before we fight, then think some more
Proclaim our faith in listening, in art, in compromise

So be a girly man
& sing this gurly song
Sissies & proud
That we would never lie our way to war

The girly men killed christ
So the platinum DVD says
The Jews & blacks & gays
Are still standing in the way

We're sorry we killed your god
A long, long time ago
But each dead solider in Iraq
Kills the god inside, the god that's still not dead.

The truth is hidden in a veil of tears
The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear

So be a girly man
& sing a gurly song
Take a gurly stand
& dance with a girly sarong

Thugs from hell have taken freedom's store
The rich get richer, the poor die quicker
& the only god that sanctions that
Is no god at all but rhetorical crap

So be a girly man
& sing this gurly song
Sissies & proud
That we would never lie our way to war

The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear
The truth is hidden in a veil of tears

Commentary

Charles Bernstein calls for poems that are "bad for you." He has therefore written "The Ballad of the Girlie Man," a fine example of poem that is definitely not good for you and is terrible for the world of poetry. Of course, the piece is not a true ballad, despite its titular claim.

Bernstein's essay, "Against National Poetry Month As Such," castigates the Academy of American Poets’ attempt to enhance the reputation of poetry annually every April. He crows: "The kind of poetry I want is not a happy art with uplifting messages and easy to understand emotions. I want a poetry that's bad for you."

The poem, "The Ballad of the Girlie Man," offers a stunning example of a poem that is, indeed, "bad for you." The piece is merely political propaganda masquerading as a poem.

"The Ballad of the Girlie Man" is a piece of doggerel which could certainly tickle the fancy of certain politicos who would be inspired as it feeds their utter ignorance, encouraging their emotion-filled reactions to world events of which they have little understanding.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Girlie-Men"

A Saturday Night Live skit featuring comedians Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon dramatizes the Arnold Schwarzeneggeresque type body builders, Hans and Franz. Mimicking Schwarzenegger's accent, they label folks without their muscular frame, "girlie men." Governor Schwarzenegger referred to SNL skit by humorously labeling the members of the California congress "girlie-men" because they would not pass his budget.

Bernstein’s employment of the term, "girlie-men" remains flimsy and contrived, without literary value: "A democracy once proposed / Is slimed and grimed again / By men with brute design / Who prefer hate to rime."

In order to fall in line with such claims, one has to have accepted at face value propagandistic slogans like "Bush lied, people died." Those who have continued to accept as truth that particular slogan have remained blissfully unaware of the multiple sources that demonstrate that President George W. Bush did not lie.

War Propaganda

The poem is taking aim at the Iraq War, of course, not the California congress's failure to pass the budget of the governor. However, the poem's speaker is employing the term "girlie man" to ironically single out the correct thinkers—those of the Michael Moore ilk that yammer propaganda such as "Complexity's a four-letter word / For those who count by nots and haves / Who revile the facts of Darwin / To worship the truth according to Halliburton."

The reader might possess an inquiring mind, wondering if Bernstein, like those hypocritical Michael Moore and his ilk, are benefitting from ownership of some stock from the evil Halliburton, even as they denigrate the company’s reputation.

What becomes a kind of mantra for this exercise in self-flagellation is, "The truth is hidden in a veil of tears / The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear." This feckless couplet repeats itself three times, and then again a fourth time in reversed lines, as it concludes the piece.

Capitalism, of course, is a culprit for these miscreants: "Thugs from hell have taken freedom's store / The rich get richer, the poor die quicker." These lines also repeat, mantra-like.

In a word, the girlie-men are far superior to those who are not girlie-men: "We girly men are not afraid / Of uncertainty or reason or interdependence / We think before we fight, then think some more / Proclaim our faith in listening, in art, in compromise."

Sounds quite lovely though utterly naïve in facing radical Islamic jihadis: After all that listening, thinking, compromising, and making art, you will be just as dead after your recalcitrant jihadis have slit your throat or dazzled you with bullets. What then?

Class-Bailing Ditty

The poem features a little ditty coupled with the mantras of ad hominem attacks and class-baiting: "So be a girly man / & sing a gurly song / Take a gurly stand / & dance with a girly sarong."

Note that "girly" becomes "gurly" in the second and third line, yet it remains a mystery what the altered spelling indicates. Also it remains unclear why "girlie" transitions to "girly" in the first line.

A sarong is a garment that in many parts of the world both men and women wear; therefore, it remains unclear why wearing a sarong is a "girly" thing to do.

The purpose of this piece of doggerel soon becomes laughably apparent. It offers a sense of self-righteousness to the so-called superior girlie-men—who not really girly-men at all but are, in fact, the real men-men.

These real men-men, whom a Republican governor would label "girly-men," are far and away superior to those who follow a different political religion. Turning propaganda on its head will have to wait for a different "bad for you" piece.

With ideological bullet points, the yapping, however, remains ungrounded in historical reality. The blind political stance without any reference to actual world events becomes yet another victim of disingenuousness and hasty posturing.

A man of this word, however, Bernstein has foisted upon the world of poetry a poem that is, without doubt, "bad for you." At least he has been consistent and true to his officious pandering claim.

"Against National Poetry Month as Such" — Charles Bernstein

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