Thursday, January 22, 2009

To Everything Turn, Turn

Everything Good is Bad - JJ + Mofro (mp3)
Beulah the Good - James Jackson Toth (mp3)

Nothing about the Inauguration moved me more than the recitation of Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem. I found myself listening and trying to determine where her line breaks were, where the change in verses occurred (or if it was all one continuous verse). Either because it was easy, or because the poem hit me at the right moment, everything she read made sense to me and felt perfect for the moment.

Then I read David Ulin's commentary where he basically pisses on it. He pisses on it because he didn't get it. I don't say that in a snooty way. If (sigh) there are two types of people in the world, there's the people who could give a rat's ass about poetry, and there's the remaining five people in that coffee shop wearing black turtlenecks and trying to act interested in the other poets until it's their turn to read.

So, it's not Mr. Ulin's fault he didn't get it. Poetry isn't very get-able, which is why so many people detest or fear it. To make it worse, poets are snooty-ass mofo's, so even the people poets most need in their corner mostly think all other living poets suck. It's a pretty tough place to earn credit. And it pays for shit to boot.

For a solid decade of my young life, poetry was a mental sauna where I could close the door, escape the outside world, and pull out my emotional sweat from its pores.

Poetry for me was entirely about communication. (Ironic, no? That I would use the least popular form of modern written expression to attempt to communicate with people? No wonder why I was/am an odd bird.) It was my attempt to cram my entire emotional wardrobe into a tiny suitcase, jumping up and down on its overstuffed form like Daffy Duck, hoping that the compact size might make my plight more appealing. Poetry was the antithesis of my blogging. Without question, writing the newspaper column in college and after graduation was the beginning of the end of my obsession with poetry. It seemed people were more willing to read my babbling rants than my slanting rhymes.

My prose writing is more like how I actually think. Poorly-organized. Side turns and sub-references. Run-on sentences and fragments. A pathetic inability to self-edit. Poetry, on the other hand, required concentration, care, delicacy, and a certain finitude.

Poetry at its best is a nuclear power. Maximum energy in minimum words. Thus, for me, poems longer than two pages are tough cookies for me while sonnets are a food of the gods. (Haiku, while occasionally pithy, more often feel like a J*zz In My Pants moment: over too quickly to be any good.)

Alexander's poem isn't likely to go into the annals of poetry immortality. Still, the poem is worthy. Even without knowing the exact line breaks, we know it's about commonality amidst diversity. It's about all of us being individually busy, collectively self-absorbed, yet all striving for and yearning for so many similar things. Albeit in different ways, we all yearn to be creative. We all have moments of great anticipation and hope. We all encounter words. (Yes, this is insultingly obvious... yet it's also so completely taken for granted and important.) We all yearn to be safe, to boldly go where no one has gone before, to pursue noble causes and experience noble moments. We all hunger for love, a love that's like cotton candy because you can never get enough of it to feel full.

Mr. Ulin was upset because she begins her poem with the pedestrian line "Each day we go about our business." But even January 20, a day the likes of which we might never see again in our lifetimes, was ultimately a day of national routine, of national business, filled with individuals doing their own thing. And all of us, even the most cynical and conservative amongst us, can't help but feel that we are, as a country, in a moment of tremendous importance. A brink moment that will determine the fate of us as individuals, employees, citizens, parents, and children, and also one that might well determine our fate as a collective.

We're all anticipating what comes next.

Yup, the world would be a better place if we all sat around once in a while and masticated on a good poem.

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