Nationality?—ah, I see, Roman. Too bad.
You looked promising. You’ll have nothing to write about,
However, having been raised in what we’re calling “bourgeouis”
Circumstances—Suburban, even, I see. And the Porsche
Finishes it. My advice? Ha!—be born
In Illyria, bad Alba, Transalpine Gondwana, the barrens
Of Pictland, in the black gauntlet of tyranny.
Boot on the neck, barbed wire at the sealed frontiers
Of pain, if possible, that’s what a poet wants.
That’s the Tower. For you?—the corrugated Quonset
Hut of contempt, I’m afraid. Ac-centuate the trivial.
Show Rome for what she Really Is. Reveal
Silliness and shallowness. Irony and small anger,
These must be your tools. And of course the ingrown
Suppurations of your personal life. That does it. Any questions?
Good luck to you, then! Next—
That the governing notion of Roman don’t laugh virtue
Is at stake and changing? That the world is at several big verges
Of Roman devising? That we still have a plausible apocalypse
Under the prairie and steppe? That this might properly eclipse
Certain other grave geopolitical issues which,
In the balance of possible pain, amount to whinging?
That the world is a world of ideas, and the consequential
Ones these days are mostly Roman? Not just quenched
Revolution, the jewel of liberty darkening, the quaint
Constitution shelving, nor, elsewhere on campus, quantum
Cosmogony’s queer whirligigs and their friable backwash,
Or the goggle-eyed sorcerer’s apprenticeship swashbuckling
The genepool, nor Narcissus in silicon grinding a mirror
Of the human intelligence, nor elsewhere the grumble of armor
In the desert, the howl of the jetfire in the kids’ heads?—
What’s your point? Where’s the suffering? You heard what I said.
The poem is an attack. Trapped in prose between the poles of explanation and ducking, I’d lean to the latter and say something like: insofar as satire is Calliope’s cautering iron, here’s a hiss for all of us. Pressed toward the prolix pole, I’d change the subject and inquire: is there a compound word for anvil-envy among hammers? Would it derogate the great poetries of Latin America or Central Europe, say– our teachers in many things– to note pressing political and formal errands closer to home, where all roads lead, evidently, somethwere between the Imperial Dream and McStupid? Somewhere amidst the wet Kleenex of our guilts and grievances and the shrinking fluids of our irony, American poets will have to find ink for the record. Should this strike us as a smaller artistic problem than Whitman’s? Do we have the instruments? Just asking.
from the Spring-Summer 2006 (v1.n1) issue of Poetry Northwest