Sunday, November 2, 2008

Artists for Obama Present -- "Poetry" Night -- God Help Us!

I spent the early evening at a "poetry" night hosted at a local coffeeshop, listening to earnest, tone-deaf "poetasters" treat us to their heartfelt, Obamarrific dreck.

White people; forget Eminem -- he's a fluke. YOU CAN'T RAP! Don't you see the irony in assuming a phony Black accent (much like Mick Jagger does when he performs) while declaiming your witless, graceless, ineptly rhymed and very sincere PRObama "verse" . . . it's just . . . WRONG?

We know you want to help. Now please STOP!

And PLEASE learn that it is not a mark of your genius to approach the mike, spiral notebook in hand, brushing strands of hair out of your limpid eyes, to announce, "I just wrote this, like, five minutes ago. In five minutes." Gee. Did you have to tell us? Like we couldn't guess!

I know I'm "old:" I got my welcome letter from AARP long ago, I've had two colonoscopies already, and I now get happy when I see the police on the street. Accepted. But I don't think it's age that makes me so intolerant of this junk being paraded as poetry, unless my excessive time on earth has provided me with such prolonged exposure to REAL poetry that I have less and less tolerance for drivel (and it IS drivel, not DRIBBLE, as one of tonight's performers intoned).

OK, so the fact that these folks have the urge to write and perform what they call poetry is admirable, and should give me hope that real poetry, no longer taught in schools, still lives in the hopes and dreams of ordinary women and men. That they want to create it should touch my heart, not grate on my nerves.

Maybe I should be more tolerant. Maybe bad poetry is the "gateway drug" to good poetry. Maybe it will all come right. Maybe. But if I want a good, no, great, poem to express my fears, hopes, and aspirations on this eve of all election-eves, my go-to guy is still WH Auden. (Who, by the way, was such a consummate poet -- whatever else you can say about him -- that he banished the great September 1, 1939 from subsequent editions of his work after its initial printing, feeling, among other things, that it was too self-congratulatory. Authors are often bad judges of their own work.) I'm going to reproduce it here. Then off to bed.

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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