Poetry and War

OK, so projects such as Poets Against the War and Voices in Wartime are pretty good ideas. They tout such noble themes, ponder such meaningful quiestions like “The terrible beauty of the poetry is our guide, leading us to the deeper questions of the origins of war is it innate in human beings? Do the warlike societies succeed? What is the human experience of war? Can art illuminate politics? And, in turn, can the grim realities of war teach us about the delicate and important role of poetry?”

But there is a different point to be made here. How many poets REALLY give a damn about anything but their poetry? How much attention to events that do not directly affect their me-o-centric, angst-driven, destined to die young-and-leave-a-good-looking-corpse fueled by the twin beacons of Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas lives do they really pay? Sure, there are specific poets that when called upon to address a certain political issue gladly push pen to paper and come up with something that can be used to further a campaign speech or lengthen lines at a booksigning.

But where, pray tell, were all these poets BEFORE 9/11? What were they using their sprawling notebooks of pseudo-verse to accomplish, other than blocking the landlord’s passkey by laying them against the door, or bartering a few odd lines in exchange for a double espresso? The question I’d like to ask, rather than the mawing query quoted above is this: do we have no sense of history because we have no poetry, or do we have no poetry because we have no sense of history? Or even, do we have no history because we have no sense of poetry, or do we have no sense of poetry because we have no history?

How many poets fill copious overpriced Moleskin notebooks with their innermost, dankest most feral intuition on the dangers of their own all-to-human failings, but reject as inapplicable the advice given to young guitarists — if you want to play like Eric Clapton, don’t listen to Eric Clapton, listen to who Eric learned from — BB, Otis Rush, Freddie King, Robert Johnson — and rather than seek for their pop icon poet’s sources, seek to emulate only the most recent iteration of over-hyped style and end up as poor, weak, undisciplined and sloppy hacks who don’t even have the imagination to imagine their own potential?

How many poets, I wonder, who channeled the inner turmoil of their apathy and the nation’s sleepwalking into projects like those mentioned above, have ever written, not about the War on Terror, but the War on The Things That Make Terrorism Seem Like The Only Option?

Where in this feeble, grasping, quip-throwing, cliche-burning circle of “Show, Don’t Tell” has anyone bothered to change their own reality?
There is a commercial on television lately that really makes me mad. If only because it is so truthful in the message in conveys about the current situation — ostensibly about politics, but ABSOLUTELY pertinent to the arts. To any artist — or to anyone who even thinks about themselves as an artist (or writer, or painter, or what have you, bearing in mind that the most true definition of a REAL POET is a writer with a day job). The commercial goes like this:

A bunch of people are in a communal lockerroom. A faucet is running. People look at it running, comment on how horrible it is, look askance at the flowing tap, shrug their shoulders. They do nothing. Then, in the midst of the milling crowd surrounding the offending faucet, a person enters, calmly, and in a quick motion turns off the tap, then goes about their business. The complaining, wondering, apathetic, bitching, kvetching, confused, and otherwise useless masses are amazed.

Of course, the commercial is about voting.

But it is really about ART. Like the grunge movement, which was obviously very able to acutely document the evil, dark, and wrongness that everyone with half a brain could begin to grok, but obviously unable to come to any kind of consensus (collectively or individually) on how to proceed to solve that wrongness, the arts are a self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, self-serving, self-absorbed pursuit of self-pleasure.

No wonder we have no FUCKING culture. We’ve been satisfied with canned tuna — Andy Warhol, Britney Spears, Thomas Kincaide, Jessica Simpson, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Wham, Madonna, wow the list goes on — for so long that not only can we not fish, but we don’t know anyone still alive whose willing to teach us how.

Bah. Enough ranting. Go to sleep now, John.

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