It turns out that Quincy T. Troupe, California’s first official poet laureate, is not a college graduate. He resigned his historic post last Friday after admitting that he had faked up his résumé.
As scandals in the Gray Davis administration go, this one is pretty minor. But let’s use it against Davis anyways.
We can generously concede that Davis didn’t know that Troupe had failed to complete his studies at Grambling University. But didn’t a few other red flags exist?
Perhaps not. To be fair, Davis was properly impressed by Troupe’s magisterial poem, “Take It To The Hoop, Magic Johnson.” And who could question the caliber of a poet who once wrote a French rhyme about Michael Jordan?
Troupe, a professor of Caribbean liteature at UC San Diego, had poet laureate written all over him. A quick glance at his impressive body of work would have made the dreadlocked scholar of Third World literature an obvious candidate. It includes, Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writing,, The Inside Story of T.V.’s Roots and the forthcoming Little Stevie, a children’s book chronicling the life and times of Stevie Wonder. Who needs a degree from Grambling with a list of work like this? As the Los Angeles Times declared authoritatively, despite “his latest resume flap, no one has questioned his literary chops.”
Moreover, could California taxpayers really object to something as obviously worthy as a state-financed poetry reader? Troupe had some innovative public works in mind, such as reciting poetry at professional sporting events so that men wouldn’t consider poetry an activity for “sissies.”
Troupe was only going to receive $10,000 a year for the required six poetry readings. What’s ten grand in a deficit of $24 billion?
And so what if Troupe once said that the English language isn’t worthy of much respect? It is not as if the educational level of California’s children could drop. Troupe wouldn’t have taught them the Queen’s English. But he would have been eager to teach them “American.” As he told a journalist: “We are speaking the American language. I know white people in the United States, especially the English people, are connected to the navel. A lot of people are not connected. The ones who came over from England are connected to the navel of England, the Queen and all that. I’m not connected to that.”
“I’m into what is going on over here,” he continued. “The cross-fertilization of Asians and Latin-Americans and people from the Middle East and everybody coming to this country, and the Native Americans, cross-fertilizing this language with different words and sound and cadences, ways of saying things, does not make it the English language anymore. It makes it the American language. Maybe in another twenty or fifty years, we’re going to need translators when we go to England. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Troupe had plenty of other bracing insights. Taxpayers probably would have appreciated this one: “Don’t tell me there aren’t diabolic people in the United States because there are, this government is full of them. Right wing zealots…I don’t want to be riding the New York subway with my friends, my son or my wife or anybody else and someone from the Middle East gets on, and I can understand why he is angry, and he blows everyone to bits because of our foreign policy. I can look down the road and see that kind of thing happening. Because it is true that for the last eighty years we having been doing a lot of things in our foreign policy we shouldn’t have been doing. It seems to me that anybody with any kind of sense can look at that and see it. And not only in the Middle East. In Africa and all over the world.”
What a seer he would have been for benighted Californians. His integrity has always been fierce: “I don’t want to be part of the status quo because the status quo has brought us to this place where we are at the brink of disaster. Anihilation. Closer to a world religious war. We were not brought to this brink by people like me or Tony Morrison, or the late Allen Ginsberg. The status quo is made of small thinkers, the mediocre people who make themselves into big persons. Then they get their poets, who are mediocre, to represent the American ideal and they put them in the Academy of Arts and Letters, stamping them on the head with a stamp of approval. ‘You are ok, come and have dinner with us, have wine, cheese.’ The status quo is boring. F— it. Can you think outside the box? That is what I tell my students. Can you think outside
the box? Can you improvise?”
But Davis’s male Maya Angelou is not to be. He has improvised himself out of office. Davis’s hopes of being the most pro-poetry governor in the union have been cruelly dashed.
And what a cruel reversal for Troupe. Asked a few months ago why he thought Davis had given him the position, he replied, “I think my résumé was pretty strong.”