Ever since November 8, 2016, people have been blaming other people on the outcome of the presidential election campaign. We have blamed white men. We have blamed African Americans. We have blamed white women. We have blamed pollsters. We have blamed the founding fathers for creating the Electoral College. We have blamed Russia. A few of us have even blamed ourselves.
Some people have gone so far as to blame Facebook. And by “people,” in this instance, I mean the stupidest people in America; actually, the stupidest life forms in the Milky Way (not the film by Luis Bunuel, but the galaxy.) That’s right. These people have blamed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for getting them to believe in fake news. People want him to apologize for their own stupidity, their own naïve madness. (They may want to sue the educational systems that nurtured their fragile minds, instead of running the risk of actually educating these people.)
These people claim that Zuckerberg made them victims of fake news. These fake stories that streamed on their newsfeeds victimized these people by seducing them into clicking on them, and then, after following the bait, they believed the news story. How could Zuckerberg or anyone else expect these people, who think news should be free (because they are entitled to everything being free), to think for themselves? How could they be expected to be critical thinkers?
These are the same people who click “like” on people’s relationship status when someone says their relationship status is “complicated.” Or that click “like” on photos of a couple performing their happiness for the voyeuristic gaze of a newsfeed, instead of quietly wearing a raspberry beret and loving each other in the privacy of their own lives, touching each other here and there and there and there again until one of them . . . , but I digress. So, of course these people believed these fake news stories were real stories. They probably think their Facebook friends are real people.
As a country, we have pointed our fingers here, there, and everywhere. And, still, we are not exhausted with blaming others for having created this catastrophic moment in history.
I personally would like to blame poets. I have friends who are poets. And I, myself, have been accused of being a poet. (I have been found wanting. I am sure you can imagine what that means.) Still, I find it important to blame us poets for our own invisibility, for our decision to remain aloof, to write poems only for other poets, or for workshops, or to read at open mic nights. Poetry has become such an insular act that it is, in truth, no longer an act.
So once upon a midnight dreary, in the middle of a cruel and lonely night (‘twas dark and stormy, as well as cruel and lonely), I decided that instead of blaming poets, I would like to encourage all of us to unleash the inner poet that is trapped inside us. We must all, once again, become poets, instead of becoming tenured professors or instead of falling down and becoming students seeking the approval of tenured poets, or instead of working in coffeehouses bemoaning our fate. (‘Tis not fate that has brought ye here, but a mistaken faith.)
The time has come for poetry.
Stop living prosaic lives of quiet desperation. Stop blaming others for your own victimizing of yourself. Take responsibility for breathing the breath that you were given as a gift to not just breathe, but to create.
I dare you to be a poet. All of you. And I mean a true poet, one who can pick a lock, one who can lift a shadow off a sidewalk and see what lies beneath that shadow and sing whatever is discovered lurking there into being. I want us all to become the kind of poet who wanders the streets, eyes aflame, voice stinking of yesterday and tomorrow, grabbing wedding guests by their collars and kissing them with none too subtle truths. I want to experience the hard-core poetic truth of living pressed against my lips. And I promise not to blink, but to carry such a truth unto others, and press my none to innocent lips against theirs until they too know this truth with their bodies and souls. A revolution in words.
(Years ago I assigned Werner Herzog’s A Guide to the Perplexed. The next week, every one of my students came back to class ready to discuss Herzog’s book. I asked my students if they had actually read A Guide to the Perplexed. They said, “yes,” and they claimed to be eager to discuss it, not use Herzog’s idea, not put them into motion, not act with them. They asked me what sections of the book would be on the final exam. I was never so disappointed by human beings in my life. I told them, gently, that they had all failed in the reading of Herzog’s book.)
Be poetic with your life.
Out of the classrooms, out of the malls. Off of Facebook. Off of Instagram. Even poets have bodies. Cultivate sensuality. Discover your body. Take it (your body, your desire, your voice, your passion, your beauty) to the streets. When the American philosopher, Bruce Springsteen, wrote: “The poets down here don’t say nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.” He was not suggesting that poets be passive. He was demanding that poets expose the truth that only poetry can know. They, the poets, must stay out of the way of poetry. (In all honesty, there are no such thing as poets; there are only poems. Bring out the poem in you.)
Why aren’t poets walking the streets, tweeting up a storm like angry birds? Why are poets, instead of tweeting, publishing in journals that no one reads? Tweet, poet, tweet. When someone sends a truly terrifying tweet, poet, get thee to a tweetery and tweet away. (I have heard of poets who do not have twitter accounts. Instead of twitter, they retire to the solitude of narrow chambers. I understand the need of emotion being recollected in tranquility. But now is not the time to go gentle into that good night. We must roar. The night’s bursting open. Poets, we have work to do.)
I want poets that are criminally insane like Ezra Pound, and I want dangerous poets, poets like Dante so divinely comical that politicians chase them out of the country. I want Santa Claus to create a special island for poets, like that island of misfit toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I want to listen to Burl Ives narrating the backstory of this island burdened by melancholic longing, but spirited by passionate poets who know, like those toys on the island of misfit toys, that even though they are broken, flawed in some fundamental way, they have a voice that can break on through to the other side, a voice that can burn light into the shadows, that can return meaning to words.
Over the years poets have sinned by turning their backs on spoken word, on rap, on hiphop, on tweeting, on snapchatting. I want to see naked poets snapchatting like foolish innocents. (Ok, I do not want to actually see naked poets, and I would want to protect the youth of America from experiencing the unseemly much ado about nothing sights of naked poets rhyming up a storm full of fury signifying nothing, so I mean this in only a figurative way.) But now that it is out there: therein lies the rub. Too much fury signifying nothing.
Being alone in a room with a poet should be a terrifying experience.
The first job of any poet is to defend language from corruption. W.H. Auden knew this. So, poets, get thee to the frontlines. Defend language from corrupt narcissists who want to celebrate Baudrilliardian silliness. When a narcissistic neutered newt of a manchild says that while he knows the facts say that the crime rates have gone down, he feels they haven’t, poets must rescue language. Such a tongue must not wag anymore untruths. Que Sera Sera, my ass. Call on Pierre Paolo Passolini. He knows what needs to be done to such a tongue. (If you do not understand this reference, perhaps it is better.)
As William S. Burroughs once said: “The only job of the writer is to write what is before his very eyes.” The only problem with writing what is before our very eyes is that what is directly in front of us is covered over by language. We must first battle this corruption of language.
Forget euphemisms. I mean when someone dies, they are dead. They have not passed away. They are dead. Yes, I know some people may be hurt by the truth, the reality, of someone dying, so we may soften it by saying: I am so sad that your wife has passed away. Passed away is, I have been told, less difficult to hear. It is a gentle way of saying: Your wife is dead. Some people insist on saying that the dead woman has gone on to a better place. Seriously? How can that make us, who are still alive, feel better? When my grandmother died, my mother told that me that she had gone to a better place. I was eleven. My first thought was: Why would Grandma want to escape being with me to go to a better place? And where was this better place? Hawaii? I mean, maybe there are better places than Pittsburgh (I seriously doubt this) that my grandmother wanted to go to, but, hell, she should have said something to me. I am still traumatized by my grandmother leaving me to go a better place without taking me with her.
Alt-Right. This is worse than a euphemism and it is the one, sole duty of poets to get to work on this, to prevent anyone from using this word to cover over blatant evil. If we do not control language, language will control us. Language will control the thinkable and the unthinkable. Language has the power of smoke and mirrors. Language can make us look the other way. We need poets. Alt-Right by any other name is evil. And we, all of us, poets and ne’er do wells, must fight this by any means necessary.
If you are a poet, do this experiment: Pick up a pot. Slam the pot down onto the counter in your kitchen or, better yet, take said pot out into the world (the world is the place outside your door, you will see it if you lift your gaze from your navel and look up and away from your self), once outside with this pot, strike it against the cold, hard concrete of the sidewalk. When you do this, does it make a sound? If it does, then forget metaphors, forget empty signifiers. Celebrate the pot.
Come on poets. Seriously! Come on poets everywhere. Oh my kingdom for a well-placed comma. Oh to hell with commas. Not just the oxford comma but all commas. Let come what may. And come it will. There but for the grace of a comma goes the end of civilized discourse.
No poets were harmed in doing research for this blog entry. No poems, aside from a few bowdlerized Shakespearean moments, were significantly harmed.
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