Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is it all for This Poetry

Kenneth Rexroth

What is it all for, this poetry, This bundle of accomplishment Put together with so much pain? Do you remember the corpse in the basement? What are we doing at the turn of our years, Writers and readers of the liberal weeklies?

As a poet I have often straddled two worlds; one that is filled with those who care about art and what it means to be a creative soul. As a business person I have striven to bring poetry into the banality of life as it is lived. Poets normally live in one world and business people in another world. For me at the moments when my soul could be sucked out there is always one or the other to make a difference.

Poets and writers who once meant allot to me have been discarded. After enduring unemployment and watching others whom I love suffer I no longer have time for poets whose primary objective in life is to be clever. While I never liked their work my patience for Flarfists is at an end.

But during my time without work a few poet’s work really asked the right questions. Rexroth’s fictional biography is a work that speaks to those of us who are nearing middle age and who are asking “is this all there is” my old friend Thomas Merton always satisfies, Peter Gizzi’s poetry cools the soul and Robert Creeley gives me back my spine.

Having left the shadow of darkness that is poverty I still am listening to the quiet. I am listening to those who are ignored and forgotten and trying to understand what I am to do? I continue to read- real paper books- and understand something clean and clear.

Do poets have anything to say? To this generation? To help us understand what has happened?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hans Fallada and Our Moment

I have been reading through new translations of Hans Fallada's books. In many ways his work is about today and about the 1930's and 40's in Berlin. There has been allot of criticism of Fallada (See the Guardian Article Above) but I think that his work is being read now not because it is great literature but because it captures a certain moment that is very much like our own. Here we see the destruction of a class of people and their response to it, Nazism.

In the 1930's the Rich were horrified by the fact that the strivers, that is the lower middle class, were destroyed by the Depression. It was these strivers that largely supported Fascist Spain and Nazi Germany enabled by the rich. They chose to support Fascism because the Left ignored them.
The Left at that time was more interested in Internationalism, Stalin, Trotsky and Spanish Communism. The ordinary folks as Bill O'Reilly calls them were ignored and they gravitated to Franco and Hitler. In the USA they gravitated to Huey Long, and Fr Coughlin but eventually Franklin Roosevelt was able to corral them and their imagination. It is only because America had FDR that we did not move down the same road I think.

What Fallada does in his books is illucidate this world of strivers in Germany and shows us how in they resisted but also empowered Nazism. I am reading him in English but the text is clear and shows us the kind of people who live in small apartments or houses and are concerned with small things. Many on the Left completely ignore these people- and do not understand them. Fallada lets us know what they were thinking and this is the major effect of the work. If you want to know what those living in under water mortgages are feeling read Fallada it is the same feeling.

The closest that any of us have come to 1923 Berlin inflation or 1933 American Depression is 2008-2010. The result of this destruction has been Barack Obama and the Tea Party in the USA. These ripples are crossing the globe and challenging the social order. Since the fall of Communism there has been a Washington Consensus. That is now being destroyed in favor of a Beijing Consensus. What Fallada does in his books is illuminate the

Berlin Consensus that prevailed from 1933-1945. The Germans blamed other Races for their economic woes and stole from others to make their lives better.

It is still to be seen what happens today?
Is America Germany in 1923 or America in 1933?
It certainly is not America in 1945. That triumphant America is long gone and something else has taken its place.
As we go forth to ask questions Fallada's work gives us a context and a set of questions to ask. Since most of our intellectuals and poets are not interested in these topics and would rather concentrate on word games and 'innovation' someone else should ask the questions.
What will be the response of our society and others to the fact that we now dwell in a new a world as the Germans in 1923? Just think about the difference between 2005, 5 years ago and 2010? Then compare it to 1914 to 1919? The same kind of dislocation to be understood I think. We need to ask what will happen next?
What will happen? Fallada give us a chance to see what the dispair of the strivers means for a culture? Our strivers are in a similar position as those in Germany in 1923. Is Obama FDR? or a passing fancy?
Will be follow Fr Coughlin? A Hitler? or and FDR?

Read the books.... and see the echoes and scents of what we are experiencing today.