Political poetry

Joseph Duemer has actually posted something I can largely agree with, and it’s about poetry and politics, even.

Politics and war are valid topics of poetry. If poets of the past were somehow prevented from covering such topics, we wouldn’t have Homer to read today. Of course, there’s probably been more bad poetry penned in the an effort to advance some political cause than any other subject, but that doesn’t mean that a true poet can’t touch the sublime nature of the human condition through mere words on paper. War, after all, is not that far removed from love. The depth of human emotion it engenders is as profound, soul stirring and revealing as any other subject a poet might touch.

I tried to find Laura Bush’s exact words about the subject, and can’t. But if she said politics has no place in American literature, she’s wrong. She’s obviously never read Twain, or Hemingway or Irving. In poetry, as has been noted, Whitman and Dickinson both touched on the political, especially so Whitman. Whitman was a man of profound political passion. So much so that he wrote one of the most famous poems about any president, a Republican president, ever written (though I’m not sure it really qualifies as an example of  great American literature).

Where I disagree with Duemer — and I can’t do a whole post agreeing with him, can I — is in this phrase: ” … their alienation is my alienation.”

I invite Mr. Duemer to counter me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. Their alienation (I’m speaking primarily of Whitman and Dickinson, as I’m too unfamiliar with Hughes to comment) was not an alienation against political America as they knew it. Whitman would love America today as much as he loved it 150 years ago — because we remain a vibrant land full of possibilities that gives each individual soul room to expand and celebrate itself — Whitman’s alienation had more to do with his own struggles with his homosexuality, and his general sense of not fitting in with proper society. For Dickinson, she just wasn’t comfortable around people. She had no quarrel with her government, nor with the social structure of her day. What I read of Mr. Duemer to date is an alienation against the government, against our values, and with our ambitions. Those are concepts, I would argue, that Mr. Whitman and Ms. Dickerson would find strange and hard to fathom. I’m not trying to speak for the dead, merely offer a counter viewpoint.

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