The Versed Kind of Editorializing
March 01, 2004
Via Mike Snider's link to the preceding post, I was led to this article by self-professed Wall Street poet Michael Silverstein: A Call For More Political Poetry On America's Op Ed Pages. Urging Frost's view that poetry is "the best possible way of saying anything," Mr. Silverstein suggests that thought and argument through verse would contribute substantially to the topical debates of the day:
To make this possible, two sets of attitudes have to change: poets have to refocus their energies; and Op Ed editors have to view poetry in a different way. On the poets' side, we need a lot less of the post-modern, endlessly introspective, culture for the cognoscenti, self-consciously unstructured work that is geared to winning sinecures, juried prizes, and praise from a tight circle of learned professionals. What's needed, in other words, is less Percy Dovetonsils and more Percy Shelley. What's needed is a regular flow of poems about Social Security, the occupation of Iraq, changing tax laws, the current state of political parties, campaign finance reform, pay-to-play government contracting -- the gut issues that bring forth the institutional policies that order public life. We need poetry that enriches national debate, changes points of views, and provides better ways of understanding and altering contemporary political, economic and social realities.
On the Op Ed side of things, we need editors who recognize poetry as a real world way to look at the issues covered in their pages. Not something that belongs in what used to be patronizing termed 'the women's pages.' Not something that gets slotted in a little 'Poet's Corner' box that gives an occasional nod to the culturally elevated. But as a ongoing flow of pertinent, powerful, incisive, punchy, memorable, timely commentary in verse about nitty-gritty political, economic and social realities of interest to the widest possible audience.
The most prominent recent example of poets holding forth en masse on a public issue is the semi-notorious Poets Against the War project, which was roasted to a turn by Bruce Bawer in the current edition of The Hudson Review. [Bawer's article comes recommended by Our Girl in Chicago, who quoted some of the best bits in support of her link to it.] To the extent Bawer's examples are typical of the current state of socially engaged, politically vocal poetry, perhaps it is just as well that so little of it appears on the editorial page.
As certain presidential candidates seem regularly to suggest, everything was better during the War in Vietnam. Opposition to that conflict produced at least one sterling example of political poetry: George Starbuck's 1966 poem "Of Late." Since that poem is directed in part to Robert McNamara -- and since Mr. McNamara last night won the Oscar® for Best Performance by One Who Regrets Having Been a Supporting Cabinet Member -- I reproduce the first of its four stanzas here:
"Stephen Smith, University of Iowa sophomore, burned what he said was his draft card"
and Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland burned what he said was himself.
You, Robert McNamara, burned what you said was a concentration
of the Enemy Aggressor.
No news medium troubled to put it in quotes.
Update: Greg Perry (who gave Mike Snider the lead to the Silverstein article) offers further comments.
There's no chance of the Op-Editors changing their perspective until a significant number of poets change their attitude. So, get to it, poets!
Posted by: David Giacalone | March 01, 2004 at 12:52 PM