“Busts of the Mercantile” Wednesday: Joel Barlow

img_0415.JPGI’m sorry, I can’t help it. Well, actually, I’m not even sorry. I just can’t help snickering over Joel Barlow, one of the three poetic busts – or busts and head – decorating the poetry alcove here at the city’s best collection of alcoves and busts and a head. The deal with Barlow is that he went to Yale, which even two hundred years ago w as supposed to give you a leg up on the lads making do with cheaper colleges, but he wound up one of the country’s great failures. He’s the author of The Columbiad, the first epic poem in English about the New World. I know you haven’t read it because I’ve run into exactly one person in the past thirteen years who actually had – read it, that is. That guy was a Yalie, so he wasn’t willing to badmouth the poem. Not openly. But I could tell he was never going to read it again. And he wouldn’t be pushing it on his friends.

So, get this: Epic poetry wasn’t enough for Barlow’s ambitions. He got into real estate, allowing himself to be used as a front by London sharp guys in their scheme to sell off southeast Ohio to aristos fleeing the French revolution and had to spend the rest of his life paying off their down payments since the English crooks never had title to the land in the first place.

The Columbiad is here if you want to try it.

-Nemo Wolfe

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Published in: on October 12, 2006 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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