May 28, 2002


Do Poets Matter? (Robert Bové, 5/19/02, Texas Mercury)
Poets run into problems in the public sphere. Even the most lyrical among them sound off-key when pontificating on public issues. Take Osama Bin Laden's poetry, please. Or take U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins' now-infamous statement from his piece in USA Today (September 24, 2001): "A poem about mushrooms or about a walk with the dog is a more eloquent response to Sept. 11 than a poem that announces that wholesale murder is a bad thing."

Or try to keep your dander down making sense of Juliana Spahr, who actually took on Collins in an essay in the current readme, an online literary journal, when she says: "Somewhere around 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center while I watched from a street corner in Brooklyn. But that is nothing. Some 72,000 have died from AIDS in New York City since 1981."

She adds: "When that tower collapsed we all screamed or gasped and then we all just scattered back into our houses."

I don't know what street corner she was on, but from where I stood, on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, on 9/11 I saw a lot of tears, shed my own, and heard sobbing among the gasps and shouts-but nobody ran. If anything people expressed real frustration because they could no longer get into Lower Manhattan to help. A lot of them eventually did make it in, whether to work the Ground Zero cafeteria or give the laborers massages, whatever they could. I guess it was just poets who ran home, presumably to go to bed and "heal."

That's going to be hard to live down for a "community" that considers itself to be avant garde--how does one lead from the rear?

There's something inhuman in the statement : "that is nothing". Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2002 8:23 AM
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