Thursday, November 6, 2008
Poets and Poetry in the Age of Obama
I have been thinking alot about poets and poetry in the face of what an Obama presidency means over the past couple of days. For most of the past forty years poets could default to the counter cultural because of the political realities of the United States. Poets could retreat into a corner with other poets and create complete poetry worlds insulated from the big bad world. Poetry has become almost like Kabbalah or Scrabble rather than a grand art form. Either a secret practice or a odd craft.
It has been an easy default for poets to exist as ironic cynics who live juxtaposed against the corporatism and conservatism of the past 40 years. In fact if you look at poets who have built much of their street cred around irony and cynicism (Charles Bernstein comes to mind) a sense that their work is dated and anachronistic in light of new realities becomes a real question. How do we read the Girly Man poems with Barack Obama in the White House? It almost seems as out of date as reading poems about Mc Carthyism.
It is not that we are entering the sacred Millennium with Obama but what we are entering is an age where many of our values as poets are embodied in our President. I go back to an earlier post where I talk about Obama being a member of Seminary Co-op here in Chicago. Obama is a serious reader and is more intelligent than most poets I know- this could not be said for Bush or Clinton. Where do we as poets position ourselves how can we be social critics when the President embodies much of what we desire for America? Where do we find our edge? Do we move into the kind of navel viewing that so many poets prefer? Do we retreat into the academy as so many poets are wont to do? How do we engage now with a new and better world where our irony and cynicism don't really compute?
One of the things that has embodied so much of contemporary poetry is a focus on irony and cynicism. You see this in so many poets today the irony of Flarf or the hip poet writing of many young women poets even the crypto marxism of Language poetry. The reality of this poetic sense is that you can live life as a kind of drive by shooting where you leave your slugs in society and drive off to your next kill. Since none of us have ever had a president with whom we believed (In the way Americans believed in JFK or FDR) how do we now relate? Do many of our poetic projects become redundant and in need of revision?
I think that it is important for poets and other creative people to ask themselves the question of what we do next? Do we as a creative community continue to dwell at the margins- doing work that is ironic and cynical but marginal? Or do we rethink our poetic project and begin to believe again that poetry can be trans formative? How do poets whose whole lives have been spent in irony and cynicism learn new ways of being poets?
In the end this is a dialogue for the poetry community to have with itself but lets just say that with the age of Obama the time when a poet can get away with the Girly Man poems is past and we need a new paradigm of poetic conversation.
Posted by Raymond Bianchi at 5:22 AM