Thursday, August 18, 2011

Congress should take up poetry!

It isn't my idea. Last Sunday, Bill Keller, editor of the NY Times, suggested just that in a wonderful editorial. Read "I Yield My Time to the Gentleman From Stratford-Upon-Avon."

Keller says, "Poetry is no substitute for courage or competence, but properly applied, it is a challenge to self-certainty, which we currently have in excess. Poetry serves as a spur to creative thinking, a rebuke to dogma and habit, an antidote to the current fashion for pledge signing."

I have known a few poets in my time, met quite a few more, and heard many read their work. I've never known a poet who wasn't both thoughtful and attentive. Unlike some other kinds of writers, poets tend to be good listeners. I'm sure there are among them some narcissists, but I'm guessing the percentage is far lower than among other kinds of artists; certainly lower than among that class of people who choose to enter politics. 

There is angry poetry, but humility is a far more common quality.

Keller quotes these familiar lines from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” by William Carlos Williams:

 It is difficult
to get the news from poems
                     yet men die miserably every day
                                           for lack
of what is found there.

Keller also asked David Orr, the poetry columnist for the Times Book Review, to provide a reading list for Congress. Here is that link: "Bedside Table Suggestions for Congress."

If you go to the Times website to read any of this and do a search of the topic you will find that lots of people have added their own suggestions for a Congressional reading list. Why not send a few suggestions to your representatives, hey? (Can you see Jim Sensenbrenner picking up a volume of poetry when he goes to bed tonight?) 

Here's mine, by Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton:

Like You

Like you I

Love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.

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