In his op-ed piece in the New York Times earlier this week, Nicholas Kristof admitted that he would likey a little poetry:
Please, Mr. Obama! The prose needn’t be as dry as the Harvard Law Review. And we wouldn’t mind being lifted by an occasional verse of poetry.
I love the fact that the de facto genre for lifting Americans is poetry. I couldn't agree more.
For the past few days, I've been thinking about what poems or snippets of poems the American public would like to hear. If I were chief poetry advisor to the President (and shouldn't such a post exist?), I'd run these by him:
- Walt Whitman's "To Thee Old Cause" ("To thee old cause / Thou peerless, passionate, good cause, / Thou stern, remorseless, sweet idea")
- Wislawa Szymborska, "The People on the Bridge" ("It's difficult at this point to keep from commenting. / This picture is by no means innocent. / Time has stopped here. / Its laws are no longer consulted" )
- Pablo Neruda, the final canto of "The Heights of Macchu Picchu" (Join together across the earth / all silent scattered lips / and speak to me from below, all this long night / as if I were anchored among you, / tell me everything" ) & ("Give me silence, water, hope")
- Czeslaw Milosz, "Hope" (Some people say we should not trust our eyes, / That there is nothing, just a seeming, / These are the ones who have no hope")
- Edward Hirsch, "Song" ("Listen, this song is for you even if / you can't listen to it or join it")
I also thought about some funny poems, poems about poverty, poems about love but settled, I think, on this William Matthews poem from Sleek for the Long Flight (itself perhaps a metaphor):
Gloom is the enemy, even to the end. The parodies of self-knowledge were embossed by Gloom inside our eyelids, and the abrasion makes us weep, for no reason, like a new bride disconsolate in the nightgown she had sewn so carefully. The dog comes back from the fields, lumpy with burrs. I put down my pen and pull them out; it is a care I have taught him to expect. I’ve always said it would be difficult.
I’m declaring a new regime. Its flag is woven loam. Its motto is: Love is worth even its own disasters. Its totem is the worm. We eat our way through grief and make it richer. We don’t blunt ourselves against stones—their borders go all the way through. We go around them. In my new regime Gloom dances by itself, like a sad poet.
Also I will be sending out some letters: Dear Friends, Please come to the party for my new life. The dog will meet you at the road, barking, running stiff-legged circles. Pluck one of his burrs and follow him here. I’ve got lots of good wine, I’m in love, my new poems are better than my old poems. It’s been too long since we started over.
The new regime will start when I lift my eyes from this page. Here it comes.