Monday, May 31, 2004

Kent Johnson solicited my thoughts on his now infamous poem, "Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, or 'Get the Hood Back On.'" Here they are:
Hi Kent,

I have read the poem. I guess I want to say I'm glad to see you doing that thing you do. But you know, the petty rivalries of American poets look like pretty venial sins compared with the acts at Abu Grahib. And I find your alignment of poets with the soldiers who committed that acts to be a dubious one, since I happen to agree with those who argue that these soldiers were not acting as individual agents but were carrying out an all-but-written mandate from the Defense Department. Poets are as guilty of living off the embers of a dying imperium as any other American, but very very few of us are agents of the state. Even an NEA grant or a job in a public school or university is hardly equivalent to being a soldier in an army. If I or any other poet feels personally indicted by that penultimate paragraph--and sure, I feel indicted, why not admit it?--that probably has more to do with my reflexive willingness to consider my own culpability, aka the much-maligned phenomenon of liberal guilt. But I'm not going to waste a lot time on this emotion; instead I'm going to do my small part in booting the hell out of office those people without any such reflex. That is, those with severe and arbitrary limits on their empathy, which is the real failure of all the personae you present in the poem. Which is not to say that I think a President Kerry is going to make everything hunky-dory or do much of anything to alter the fundamentals of U.S. foreign policy. I'm going to work after he's elected to move him to the leftward; I want to see Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader in his cabinet; in short, I want a better compromise than we've got now. Because what we've got now is fucked. And if I have anything to thank Geo. Bush and company for, it's for raising my awareness of my complicity in evil, and for stimulating my desire to do good. Which may or may not have anything to do with my practice as a poet. It probably does. It has already certainly impacted that other much-maligned phenomenon, the subject matter of my poems. What necessary alignment exists between the form of reproduction I choose for those poems and their form/content is something I'm still actively investigating. For now, I choose to build locality into my practice--to foster community. The geopolitical for now remains confined to that odious cellblock, subject matter. At least it's not longer wearing a hood.

Your friend,


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