The Pangborn Defence

The Pangborn Defence

By Bert Almon

A review of The Pangborn Defence by Norm Sibum

Published on April 1, 2009

The Pangborn Defence
Norm Sibum


Norm Sibum’s work constantly suggests ancient Roman precedents: Tacitus, Sallustius, Propertius, Catullus, and Livy bob up in his text. The United States is conflated with Rome, so that the President and the Palatine Hill can be mentioned in the same sentence. He has ancient precedents for his distrust of empires and worries that the American Century will last a thousand years. Sibum assumes that the parallel between a decadent Rome and our age is clear: “I’ve always said, Crow, reach around for one’s bottom / And one will grab a Roman.” The search for such parallels is not new: some of the early eighteenth-century English poets called themselves Augustans, and Ezra Pound created a highly irregular translation, “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” to satirize the British Empire in its decline. Sibum’s chief target seems to be the Bush administration and its Neo-Cons, which makes the book teeter near obsolescence now that Bush has gone back to Texas. Sibum doesn’t have the stylistic resources of a Roman satirist: his favourite polemical term for the politicians he despises is “hosers,” which is not very eloquent. He speaks dismissively of talk-show hosts and other ephemera of our age, but dismissal is not satire. There are some striking phrases scattered through the poems: “Poetry is leeching out of the world; / Desire, once epiphany, is engineered.” But this is not comparable to the vivid satire of Juvenal or the sizzling political gossip of Tacitus. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.



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