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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No, just no

The Connecticut poet Laureate writes like this:
This is the greatest mystery: why Death

Throws dark robes on the young and pure and innocent

While those corrupted, those who knowingly

Choose evil often live their whole lives out...
And I have to say no, just no. You cannot write poems like this. A tragedy requires you to rise to the seriousness of the event, have an aesthetic response that profoundly aesthetic, not write at this level of poetic incompetence, not spout fucking clichés. For the clichés, we have the media, with all their stupid-ass conventional narratives. Why should poetry be the secondary victim of an event like this? We need César Vallejo, not Rod McKuen. Dammit. This is not merely an aesthetic judgment, but an ethical one. The ethical responsibility of poetry is not to do this. Not to be a stupid, badly written cliché with Death in capital letters and no sense of rhythm.

I know you'll think I'm a jerk for writing this. Even if I am a jerk I am right in this case. I wanted to let it go but I just couldn't. Sorry! Someone has to be an asshole when the truth needs to be told.

No, just no.


Andrew Shields said...

"Rise to the seriousness of the event" but also respect your own distance from the event in your attempt to write about it. Unless you weren't distant from it, of course. Unless you were there, like Bob Hicok at Virginia Tech, which means his poem on the massacre there does not have to "respect his distance from the event."

Jonathan said...

Yes. I hate the "we are all xxxx" rhetoric. We aren't all xxxx. Some of us are, some aren't.

Thomas said...

I had a similar reaction to this dumb piece by Phil Plait, which explicitly uses the "We are all..." trope.

Though he doesn't realize it, he is treating the tragedy with the same disrespect that he treats those who believe that the world will end today. Both pieces are badly written in the exact same way. He's being sentimental: indulging in what Mailer called "the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment." He's not making our experience of the event more precise.

Anonymous said...

Well, our then resident poet had an even worse piece on 9-11. I guess they feel they must churn 'em out.

Great Mailer quotation, I now want to read more of him.

I am a quintessential meanie: not deeply affected by 9-11 or by this (and no, not "numb", either). More upset, for "local" things, about Katrina, BP, environmental racism in LA, and the destruction of the UC system. More upset, for death and destruction, about Afghanistan and Iraq.