December 26, 2014KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsWriting

Poetry, Power, and Panache

“Me, we,” wrote Muhammad Ali, in what may be the shortest poem ever composed (or at least the shortest poem ever delivered as part of a Harvard commencement address). It’s a lovely, inclusive statement—very much in the “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” spirit.

Or maybe he wrote, “Me, wheee.” Opinion is divided. “Me, wheee” sounds Whitman-like, as well; it’s a pithier, more playful version of “I celebrate myself.” The good news: we don’t have to choose. Poems, like people, contain multitudes.

Here’s Ali when he was still Cassius Clay, before his 1964 fight (the first of two) with Sonny Liston:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGuL1mQKdR8

And here’s the most extraordinary of his poems from the 1970s. (Or one version of the poem, anyway. He liked to shuffle stanzas and would often repurpose his best lines.)

You think the world was shocked when Nixon resigned?
Wait till I whup George Foreman’s behind.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,
His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.
Now you see me, now you don’t,
George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.

I done wrassled with an alligator,
I done tussled with a whale.
Only last week I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean I make medicine sick.

Happy Boxing Day.