Hello? Is this thing on? It’s time to sing!
Beneath the Arch, let heartfelt praises ring!
Forsake us not, o mild and moderate goddess!
With fair and balanced rhymes we beg your largesse.
Help us narrate the story of your knights
and how they braved the un-forbidding heights.
We sing with measured tones, not high nor low,
our tolerance and fairness to extol.
So begins Centrism Games: A Modern Dunciad, an epic poem by University of Chicago assistant professor Rachel Brown and her “Dragon Common Room.” Centrism Games began as an academic project, but is now a small volume worth adding to any culture-watcher’s reading list. The puckish professorial provocateur and her merry outlaw band have created a bold, bawdy, trenchant, and surprisingly poignant work.
It’s a better composition than any group project has a right to be. This wasn’t just any group, however. Brown describes her “Dragon Common Room” as an “online classroom for training poets in the arts of the Christian imagination.”
Christian poets? In 21st century America, unfortunately, the juxtaposition of those words sets up expectations for saccharine sentimentality, suitable for greeting cards (and certainly free of any rude words). I’m happy to say those expectations are not fulfilled in this modern Dunciad.
Nor would anyone expect a project headed by Rachel Fulton Brown to eschew confrontation.
As an associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, this medievalist is a frequent target of the “woke.” She’s always met them with confident defiance.
Centrism Games goes beyond defiance. This poem is less like a group of archers shooting down from an ivory tower of a besieged castle and more like a band of raiders emerging from the sally port. With this poem, Brown’s disciples lay waste to social pretensions and return from their foray with laughter.
Brown, in her mild and affable manner, described the project as “a satire in heroic couplets inspired by Alexander Pope, the Gawain poet, and Edmund Spenser about the weaselly ways of today’s cuckcentrics.”
She began with a call to crusade: “Are you distressed at the mendacity of journalism in the year of Our Lord 2020? Are you bored with the tabloid chorus of ‘commentators’ chattering mindlessly day after day? Do you long for a time when people took writing seriously as an exercise in beauty—not to mention grammar, rhetoric, or logic?”
This Deus Vult! found willing hearts and capable fingers across the English-speaking world, and literary avengers assembled. They crafted a tribute to past greatness, and a satire of contemporary society.
Targets for critique and mockery were well-chosen. The poem’s eloquent outrage is directed, not at the radicals of the genuine Left but the shamelessly sold-out of the supposed mainstream. Thus the five “favored Knights” seeking a prize from the goddess “Fama” (fame) consist of a lady priest (supposedly Christian), a Hollywood celebrity, the Cuomo brothers, the rainbow boys, and a pregnant girl—representing, respectively, religion, the arts, Politics, tolerance, and “women’s health.” Challenging these champions to the quest is an ancient antagonist, the Green Knight—a virile, scornful puncture of pretensions, wholly unsuitable for polite company.
In Alexander Pope’s Dunciad, the goddess manipulating the mediocre elites is “Dullness.” Fama replaces her in centrism games, but the triteness and folly of pretentious elites remains and is effectively savaged by our poets. As for the “knights,” Brown explains, “Whether they pretend to serve the Constitution or Social Justice, Tradition or Transformation, the competition is as fake as the games Dullness proposed.”
Some of the “Knights” are anonymous; others are not. Just as Dante, in his Inferno, merrily placed still-living people from his own milieu into the depths of hell, the new Dunciad names some current dunces’ names.
The object of their quest is a Golden Mask, which will hide the winning knight and protect him from ever having to articulate a clear opinion—thus never risking the loss of Fama’s good graces. It’s a clever conceit, though the prize’s pursuers are far more conceited than clever. Each of the five quests was written by a pair of coauthors, and each poet under Brown’s tutelage stands to enrich our culture if his endeavors continue.
A renaissance from the Right is desperately needed in the arts. Culture warriors need a living and flourishing culture worth protecting. Centrism Games is a contribution to that and deserves our contemplation and support.
Read this short book for its highbrow insight and lowbrow mockery. Purchase and share it, to promote the needed renaissance on the Right. And by all means, revisit its roots in the classic works which inspired it.
It will do you good to spend some time with these poets of spirit and insight, capable of classical allusions and immunized against current delusions. Perhaps one will be an inaugural poet—and skillfully employ old verse forms, to herald a new and brighter age.