Politics and Poetry
I will be saying more about "politics and poetry," but for now, here are a few miscellaneous items:
A piece about war poetry originally published in my law-related weblog:
"I have been watching the war map slammed up for advertising in front of the newspaper office. Buttons -- red and yellow buttons -- blue and black buttons -- are shoved back and forth across the map....." "Buttons," a poem about war in general and WWI in particular, by Carl Sandburg, from Chicago Poems (1916). I think the poem is rather timely. It's about how antiseptic and simple a war can seem from a distance -- just buttons on a map and "enemy 'body counts'" (if the number of "enemy" killed greatly exceeds the number of our boys killed, we must be doing something right). Minnesota's own Robert Bly wrote a bitterly ironic poem with an enemy body-count theme that he recited at "A Poetry Reading Against the Viet Nam War" at a packed Sanders Theater at Harvard University in the mid-'60's when I was a student there at the Law School. That poem was entitled "Counting Small-boned Bodies." It's under copyright but if you do a Google on it, you might be able to find it on the web at sites like this one. It's discussed at Modern American Poetry. Bly's poem and other poems recited by other prominent poets that night are collected in Bly, Robert, and David Ray, eds., A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War (1966). See excerpt from an interview with Bly, in which he discusses the role poets played in the anti-war movement. Bly opposed George H. W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in an opinion piece that appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 1991. He has also opposed George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Poetry About Vietnam by John Clark Pratt from Modern American Poetry.
JFK on the artist & politics:
The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as [Robert] Frost said, 'a lover's quarrel with the world.' In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored in his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet in retrospect, we see how the artist's fidelity has strengthened the fibre of our national life. If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.
Remarks at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, President John F. Kennedy on October 26, 1963, less than a month before his death.
"Politics and poetry are infrequently associated - to the detriment of both endeavors." John Nichols, in When Poetry Met Politics (profile of key supporter of poet-politician Eugene McCarthy's 1968 anti-war campaign for President (Madison Capital Times 12.06.2001).
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Nobel-prize-winning poet Czeslaw Milosz dies at 93 (08.12.2004).
Milosz was that rare figure, the politician who is also poet. He was born to a noble family in what is now Lithuania, was a lawyer by training, lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland, and served for a time as a so-called cultural attache in the United States and France as a member of Poland's diplomatic mission when Poland was a Russian communist puppet-state. He broke with the regime in 1951 and received asylum in France, eventually moving to California, where he taught and continued writing poetry, criticism, and memoirs. I've been acquainted with the English versions of his poetry, which he helped translate, and with some of his other works for 25 years.
Resources: Nobel laureate lecture - Biography - Four poems - Artificer - A Poem for the End of the Century - Conversation with Jeanne
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"Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance." Robert Frost.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are all poets and mystics."
War is the Health of the State, a 1991 poem by Robert Bly.
The Approaching War, by Robert Bly.
Copyright (c) 2004 by Burton Randall Hanson. Prepared & published by candidate on his own behalf and at his own expense. Candidate may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Candidate does not solicit or accept contributions or endorsements.