Monday, August 20, 2007

"On Political Poetry" by Farideh Hassanzadeh–Mostafavi/Adrienne Rich and Sam Hamill Step Up to the Board, Billy Collins Takes the Zero

In a recent article, "On Political Poetry," Farideh Hassanzadeh–Mostafavi interviewed a handful of well-known poets and asked them some loaded questions about their poetry in light of the contemporary, um, "big stick policy" (code word for "imperialism") of the United States. Talk about putting Billy Collins into an awkward situation. He pleads the fifth, as is his constitutional right (and perhaps, as Halvard Johnson suggests, his economic imperative--doesn't want to lose any of his adoring fans). Two answers, by Andrienne Rich and Sam Hamill, are worth quoting here.

Adrienne Rich, answering the question, "You involve yourself in the disasters of the modern world and sympathize with victims of war and of Imperialism. Does it move you away from poetry as a form of art or does it take you closer to the true essence of poetry?":

I believe that for poets all over the world the human condition, not simply their own private griefs, has been a profound source of poetry. I think of Neruda, Roque Dalton, Nazim Hikmet, Mahmoud Darwish, Bertolt Brecht, Paul Celan, Kamau Brathwaite, Aimé Césaire, our Walt Whitman, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Thomas McGrath, June Jordan -- to name some whose work I turn to over and over. For me, the question is: Why should poetry not engage with the largest possible range of materials, and how can we live in a world such as this and draw a circle around our concerns?

And Sam Hamill, on Kafka's notion of war as the failure of the imagination:

War is childish -- infantile -- behavior. War is a country soiling its diapers and pitching a fit, a temper tantrum. Kafka's right: no imagination. Sappho's right: war is childish. I like to think of that splendid movie about Gandhi, and the image of him in his loincloth, walking stick in hand, standing up to the British military, absolutely fearless in his convictions about nonviolence. I think of Nazim Hikmet rising up out of the bilge where he'd been thrown, and he throws back his head and looks up at his oppressors, and he sings. The only way to achieve peace is to embody peace. By embodying peace within ourselves, we bring peace to the home. With peace in the home, we bring peace to our community. With peace in the community, we bring peace to the state. Peace comes from within, and it requires great imagination. It cannot be imposed from above, such imposition being, by definition, un-peaceful.

That is why the Saddams and Bushes and Osamas and other tyrants wage fear. Fear unsettles peaceful lives. Fear brought the Nazis to power. Fear allows us (Americans) to finance a huge military while our schools and our country's infrastructure are falling apart. Bush wants a fearful future. He's a heaven-or-damnation Christian and believes in an apocalypse. "Believe in me or burn in Hell!"

Scary stories keep the children in their beds.

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