Review: Muhammad Ali, by Ken Burns

( photo by Neil Leifer)

In Part III of The Sea And The Mirror, his remaking of The Tempest, W. H Auden has Caliban break every single literary wall. In form and function, it is a departure for the poet and Shakespeare reader, as he makes Shakespere’s self-taught slave address the audience, author, or anyone set in their ways in regards to race and art; doing so in the Whitmanesque prose cadences he leaned into years after he went to America and moved away from the formal perfections that made him a literary icon. To this day, it remains controversial among scholars: despised by Philip Larkin, thought an abomination by an anxious and young Allen Ginsberg, and thought to be sacrilegious by (rolls eyes) Harold Bloom.

It is this Author’s opinion that they were all missing something. The author of “negroes” and a breathtaking blues ballad sequence, Auden held the liberal artist flag as high as anyone who put pen to paper in the first half of the 20th century. When he is asking Shakespeare “could you be guilty of unpardonable treachery” of “bringing him along” as a creature in his narrative, he is asking a meta question to both the author and the literary culture that made Thomas Dixon’s and Thomas Wolfe’s negro monsters pop art. Even as he goes back into the role, he is telling the reader and author that he “is the too solid flesh you must acknowledge as your own”. A bull in the china shop of Jacobean…



Robert Lashley

Writer. Author. Former Jack Straw and Artist Trust Fellow. The baddest ghetto nerd on the planet.