What Can Penn and Teller Teach Us About Poetry?
Penn and Teller, a staple of the Las Vegas Strip, open their performance with a little act where Penn discusses the seven basic principles of magic:
Palm- To hold an object in an apparently empty hand.
Ditch - To secretly dispose of an unneeded object.
Steal - To secretly obtain a needed object.
Load - To secretly move an object to where it is needed.
Simulation- To give the impression that something that has not happened, has.
Misdirection - To lead attention away from a secret move.
Switch - To secretly exchange one object for another.
As I watched the video, I was thinking about the intersection of poetry and magic and how Kwame Dawes in “New Day” (Thanks, Rethabile!) masterfully deceives us into thinking that his poem is about the inauguration of Barack Obama when throughout the poem he is taking us on a journey through myth, music, history (personal and collective) and balances Lincoln and Obama—with even a little Farrakhan thrown in for good measure.
“New Day” by Kwame Dawes
1. Obama, January 1st, 2009
Already the halo of grey covers his close-cropped head.
Before, we could see the pale glow of his skull, the way
he kept it close, now the grey - he spends little time in bed,
mostly he places things in boxes or color coded trays,
and calculates the price of expectation - the things promised
all eyes now on him: the winning politician’s burden.
On the day he makes his speech he will miss
the barber shop, the quick smoke in the alley, the poem
found in the remainder box, a chance to just shoot
some hoops, and those empty moments to remember
that green rice paddy where he used to sprint, a barefoot
screaming boy, all legs, going home to the pure
truth of an ordinary life, that simple place where, fatherless,
he found comfort in the wisdom of old broken soldiers.
For the rest of the poem, please follow this link: Poem Commemorates Inauguration
Palm: Dawes appears to be speaking about Barack Obama.
Ditch - To secretly dispose of an unneeded object—our personal attitudes towards Obama by humanizing him (discarding his "foreigness") with details that make him appear to be just like one of us: “mostly he places things in boxes or color coded trays.” Or with the discussion of Obama being “colorless.”
Steal - To secretly obtain a needed object—myth. Notice that from the first line, Dawes has already mentioned the “halo.”
Load - To secretly move an object to where it is needed—Obama’s place in American life.
Simulation- To give the impression that racism has disappeared from American life—the “promises” have been fulfilled.
Misdirection - To lead attention away from a secret move—By appearing to speak about music and being “cool,” Dawes personalizes Obama, but reinventing him as a new kind of “black” man.
Switch - To secretly exchange Lincoln for Obama. Again, he has set us up from the first part where he speaks about the “bed.”
Looks simple, doesn’t it?