In 2003 amid the hysteria of the Bush war machine poet Sam Hamill created Poets Against the War. In a sea of jingoism and Goebbelssque hysteria Sam and many other poets were a voice of reason and sense. If they had been listened to so much of our current pain and suffering would not have happened; if they had listened to Sam there would be 100,000 more Iraqis alive and 6,000 live American soldiers and our economy would not have become bankrupt.
What Sam did mattered. While Dana Gioia and his Right Wing Cronies were trying to use poetry to legitimate the Bush/Cheney Regime, Sam Hamill was America's poet laureate. There have been other times in American literary history where Poetry and Prose was a mirror on the lives of people and where the poetry defined an era. Just think about the Leaves of Grass, The Wasteland, Grapes of Wrath, A Streetcar Names Desire, On the Road, The Ugly American, and many other books have defined eras and were penned within the epoch of the events that were occurring.
In Latin America this type of writing is central to the literary landscape. Writers like Eduardo Galleano (The Open Veins of Latin America), Ernesto Cardenal, Octavio Paz, Laura Solorzano, Mario Vargas Llosa and many others of all political colors bring the urgency of now and the urgency of telling the story to an audience with vigor and art. During great upheavals in American history there have been writers and poets who did what Sam Hamill did and tried to make sense of the turmoil and disaster befalling the Republic. Unfortunately those type of writers and poets are few and far between today.
Most poets that I know fall into one of three categories; Independently Wealthy, Academics, and Poets who Work In Full Time non-Academic jobs. By far the most dominant groups of these three in "experimental poetryland" are the Academics. They have the time and the resources to publish and to write. There are many non-academics of great influence, Ron Silliman comes to front of mind. But for the majority of poets who are influential the writing is an interior exploration or an artistic pursuit separated from politics and the everyday.
No poet has come forward the way Sam Hamill has to write about and mobilize people about the Great Recession that we are now mired in. I have seen a few blog posts from people like Maxine Chernoff lamenting the complete destruction of California's educational system but no poet has come out to write about the collapse of the American economy.
It makes me wonder is it the fact that most influential poets are academics and thus are not effected? Are just the education budget cuts important?
Is it that many poets live in urban enclaves or college towns and so the the pain and dislocation I see around me is not part of their lives? Why is it that I don't read or see anything about outrage that is the Global economic collapse on the many blogs I read? I think that it bears reflecting on this fact; if you read poetry blogs and poetry online journals it is business as usual and why that is?
I would like to ask poets and other writers who read my blog to email me stories, poems or essays on this Great Recession. Post them in comments or email them to me and I will try to set up something so that somewhere on the web the poets and writers who are enduring this period of destruction can give voice to this generation's collapse perhaps in the spirit of Grapes of Wrath or The Wasteland.