Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The kitchen shink¹

The July 2 New Yorker has a poetry item in its "Talk of the Town": Rebecca Mead's account of Harold Bloom's response to Barack Obama's undergraduate poetry poems "Pop" and "Underground," published in 1981 in the Occidental College literary magazine Feast. Here is a curious excerpt:

Of the two Obama poems, Bloom said, "Pop" was "not bad — a good enough folk poem with some pathos and humor and affection." He went on, "It is not wholly unlike Langston Hughes, who tended to imitate Carl Sandburg." Bloom was fascinated by Obama's use of an unusual verb, "shink" ("He . . . Stands, shouts, and asks / For a hug, as I shink, my / Arms barely reaching around / His thick, oily neck"), a word that does not appear in any of the dictionaries that Bloom consulted but which is defined in an online slang dictionary as "an evasive sinking maneuver."²

"It undoubtedly was a word that was in common usage, having to do with feeling very strong emotion, in this case a very strong need for comfort," Bloom said.
I think that Bloom and Mead have missed a better and simpler explanation: shink, I would suggest, is very likely a typo for shrink, a word that fits the context, with the poet's arms "barely reaching around" Pop's neck. Twelve lines earlier, the poet laughs as Pop "grows small, / A spot in my brain": now, it's the poet's turn to shrink. (How could Bloom, immersed in Freud, overlook shrink?)

The poems, I'd say, lie somewhere between "not bad" and "pretty good." You can find them, and Bloom's encounter with them, by following the links:
Barack Obama: Two Poems (New Yorker)
Obama, Poet (New Yorker)

Related posts (Three excerpts from The Audacity of Hope)
On ideology v. values
On facts
On race
¹ Yes, the title of this post contains a typo.

² The online slang dictionary is Urban Dictionary, which hosts a variety of fanciful and vulgar definitions for shink and other words. The contributor who proferred the definition of shink cited in the New Yorker added a second definition: "aggressive facial expression of dwarf child stars."

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

I like dwarf stars, I don't think a shink can shake a tail at a dwarf star. Pretty sure shink mean "shifty little grasper that is too ignorant to know what/how/why better"

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, but in the poem it’s a verb.