Monday, November 10, 2008

Poetry, Epochal Moments, and the New Writer-in-Chief

The last time I remember it happening was a much much much much much less pleasant epochal event--9/11. The inhabitants of the US were so stunned by what they were experiencing, so in need of verbalization by those who had experience with articulation, that they of the poet laureates, if I remember correctly.

So last week, as I read the poem printed on election day in the New York Times, watched the interview with poet Maya Angelou, and watched opinion columnists, pundits, and political bloggers waxing increasingly poetic in their prose, I was quite pleased that it was a happier event this time that called for out for articulation in poetic language and in words from poets.

The thing is, this event, though it also comes in difficult times for the country, comes out of a significantly different situation. Despite difficult economic times, this need for poetics comes out of an abundance of hopeful symbols and emotions to interpret, rather than a raging loss. Sure, many people who I respect voted for the other guy, and I myself don't agree with our new president-elect on several issues, but, politics aside, the choice is one rich in symbolism calling to be interpreted.

And the symbolism gets richer when you realize that the new president-elect himself is a gifted writer of poetic language who himself has been able to articulate poetic, memorable language that has inspired both America and the world in difficult times.

In a week when a glance at international news reminds us that poets and writers are often jailed in other countries for articulating their thoughts and that our election transitions move smoothly compared with those in other parts of the world, I feel particularly blessed to live in a country where we have this time chosen to elect a word-crafter, especially one who is able to perform the incredibly difficult task of articulating a politics of hope that may pull us away from the cynicism of the last decades.

Whether we'll all agree with all the content he articulates, I doubt. But I, for one, am hoping that at least the strategy of hope and of reconciliation will be strong enough to overcome the cynicism about rhetoric that's dogged our country since at least WWII. As WWII reminded us so terribly, of course well-chosen words can be used to persuade people to do terrible things. And, as Eliot reminded us, human words aren't perfect.

But that's no reason for us to denigrate the fact that a message of hope, well put and couched in a full awareness of the darkness that surrounds, is a beautiful thing, and I'm choosing to pause for a moment and be thankful we've chosen someone who, like other excellent poets and writers, can articulate when we the people needed an injection, certainly not of fear, but not only of articulacy--also of hope and a call to selflessness. Not to mention a reminder that poetry, and the type that we choose for ourselves to listen to, matters.

That said, I'm already tired of journalists' and pundits' overuse of the words "history in the making" and "an historic day" and "an historic presidency"--sheesh, we get it, already. Go interview some more poets and writers, would you?

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