Whitman, South America and Nascar
In the December issue of Chicagopostmodernpoetry.com, the website that I edit with my wife Waltraud Haas we are profiling 7 Brazilian poets. One of the poets to be profiled is Regis Bonvicino- a magisterial poet- who I was first introduced to by Charles Bernstein in 1999. Regis is a poet in the way that French, Italian, Spanish and Latin American poets are poet- he is a public figure. Regis is a poet who matters in his nation.
I do not want to reveal his answers to the interview but one of the things that challenged me is the fact that he said and I am quoting in translation that many American poets view Politics and Public life and Poetry as separate things and that many poets in the USA view Political Poetry as something for the Developing World. I then had an experience on my own where a Chapbook of mine was rejected because it was 'too political'. Not that the poetry was not good- the editor liked it- but that it was too political I do not know what that means would Whitman be too personal?
Neruda too romantic?
Latin American poets, Neruda, Drummond de Andrade, Vallejo, Cardinal, and many more have always been political. Art and Politics are not seen as separate things. Unfortunately here in the USA we do not take life as a whole- we are "Feminist poets" "Working Class Poets" "Experimental Poets" and in the end we continue as poets to talk to ourselves, alone. I think that poets need to stand for Freedom. Our verse is not quoted by the average person and we are marginalized and ignored while billions is spent to promote Monday Night Football and Desparate Housewives. Poets should answer the lies.
If you go back to America's seminal poet Whitman, he wrote confessional verse, but he also wrote about the world as it was and he made a political statement by what he wrote. Alan Ginsberg did the same thing with Moloch, But this has not been normal in the USA. The most important Americans of the Modernist Period (1906-1945), were not overtly political in the way say a Neruda or Lorca were. Yes Pound was a Rightist, but he was not actively writing poetry for that reason, he did write some essays however, Williams and Stevens were not political. Eliot made a political statement with the Wasteland, and then proceeded through the rest of his life to become more conservative and almost repudiate his Avant Garde Credentials.
I do not think that we as Poets should be overtly Political but as poets we possess insights into Politics and Language that are disarming- especially to those who wish to silence us. I just finished reading a new translation of Akhmatova, fabulously put out by Yale University Press translated by Nancy Anderson and here we have a woman who is a Conservative, Christian and Traditional and Avant Garde at the same time. I only wish I read Russian to hear these words
"There was no one who smiled in those days
Except the Dead who Found Peace at Last"
A Akhmatova- Requiem
The issue here is not Red and Blue states. The issue is whether those who are Poets will offer an alternative to the vulgar world in which we now dwell. All is commodified, all is for sale. Wal Mart gives us lower prices- American Factories close because of Wal Mart's low prices and then
50 year olds are out on the street is that the America we want?
I do not fault the Evangelicals for believing in what they do- I am a Christian as well- but what I fault is the fact that we have become a nation of screamers. The fact that we are not interested in working for the Common Good- only for our own good. Petty political games and nastiness are the norm for our nation. I think that it is evil that politicans use people's sexual orientation to divide people, it is evil that people who want to reduce the amount of Abortions cannot sit down both sides and say"Lets work on this" lets try to make this situation ok? A president who uses Dred Scott to send 'messages'to his base; Frederick Douglass must have turned over in his grave.
We are one nation-Indivisable- at least we were.
I feel like America has become the set of the Godfather. Like a Mafia family winners win, losers die and no one questions anything. In the end I grieve not because my candidate lost the White House, I grieve because we as a culture are in decline. China and Asia in general are advancing; they will overtake us economically soon- and unlike past declining Empires like France, Russia and Britain we have demeaned our national culture- we need to create that culture and begin to
answer what we are as a people in our own enviable poetry. I dont think anywhere else is better- Europe has big problems- they more selfish than we are and less vibrant, when was the last time a British poet or Painter tore up the world? But I want so much for the US to live up to its creed.
" I celebrate myself.
And what I assume you shall assume,
Every atom belonging to me as good belongs
to you"... I stand on this spot with my soul"
Howard Zinn came out with a new collection of principal sources for his People's History of the United States. In this book he includes the speech to the Jury by Vanzetti. He challenges the court and says that he is on trial for being a "radical and an Italian" racism; yes in 1922 Italians were not White and are not now White- and hatred of Radical politics were on trial and both lost.
You read some of these people and I am just ashamed of myself- I should be doing more.
It has become time for Poets, Artists, and Writers to begin a Greek Choir to the world in which we live. A world where Middle Class people have less and less, a world where narrow provincalism is damaging our nation and removing our sense of optimism. A world where we are in reverse- Civil Rights, Evolution, Art and Culture are challenged for no good reason than the fact that it makes people uncomfortable- I yearn for the voices of dissenters smashing icons and ignoring feelings of the those who have not opened their minds.
I yearn for poets whose opinions and writings land them in jail not in small lit mags unread. It is our job to stand among the wreckage and yell STOP to the world in which we are now entering.
I yearn for a nation that is aware that more than being the nation of Bill Gates, JP Morgan and Henry Ford we are the Nation of Whitman, Dickinson, Stein, Vanzetti, Jackie Robinson, Dorothy Day, Jane Addams, and many others. The question is not Blue and Red states the question is for me are we the nation only of the Dow Jones, NASCAR, Suburban Sprawl and vulgar selfinterest or the Declaration of Independence and Leaves of Grass?