Imagining a renewed role for poetry in the national discourse, and a new canon.
by Tony Hoagland.
If anthologies were structured to represent the way that most of us actually learn, they would begin in the present and “progress” into the past. I read Lawrence Ferlinghetti before I read D. H. Lawrence before I read Thomas Wyatt. Once the literate appetite is whetted, it will keep turning to new tastes. A reader who first falls in love with Billy Collins or Mary Oliver is likely then to drift into an anthology that includes Emily Dickinson and Thomas Hardy.
The second part of the fix is rather more complicated: in addition to rebooting the American poetic canon as a whole, we must establish a kind of national core curriculum, a set of poems held in common by our students and so by our citizens. In the spirit of boosterism, I have selected twenty works I believe worthy of inclusion in this curriculum — works I believe could empower us with a common vocabulary of stories, values, points of reference. The brief explications and justifications I offer for nine of these poems are not meant to foreclose the interpretive possibilities that are part of a good poem’s life force. Rather, I hope they will point to areas worthy of cultivation in that mysterious inner space, the American mind. ...
I am only waiting for the president to give me the go ahead. Perhaps twenty other experienced readers of poetry might come up with twenty other lists of poems that might similarly serve, poems that could be smuggled into twenty-first-century life as amulets and beatitudes to guide, map, empower, and console.
(Well worth reading;
just click on the title to be magically whisked to the article's internet realm.)
What do you think? Can poetry save America? In a time when our elected representatives work against our best interests, our press is more interested in sensationalism than elucidation, and we turn on each other in our fear and frustration . . . can poetry save us?
Call it my Save America With Poetry Campaign!
If you happen by, take a moment and tell me what the poem says to you and if you think it could contribute changing society and saving America - or even the world. (There is also the argument to be made that America doesn't need saving, but everyone needs a little help now and then, right?)
I am also giving serious thought to which poems I think belong in such an anthology. If poetry could save America, which ones and why? And at the end of this little exercise I will post my own list. If you have any suggestions I will post yours as well (with due credit, of course). It would be so interesting find out which poems you all feel would be most influential.
First up is a poem by a poet who was no stranger to censorship, persecution, and grief: Anna Akhmatova, widely regarded as one of Russia's greatest poets. She pulls no punches.
Twenty-First. Night. Monday
Twenty-first. Night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capitol in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing -- who knows why--
made up the tale that love exists on earth.
People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings, fear parting,
and when they sing, they sing about love.
But the secret reveals itself to some,
and on them silence settles down...
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I'm sick all the time.
Here are TONY HOAGLAND’S twenty poems: Twenty-First. Night. Monday., by Anna Akhmatova God’s Justice, by Anne Carson memory, by Lucille Clifton A Man and a Woman, by Alan Feldman America, by Allen Ginsberg Bamboo and a Bird, by Linda Gregg A Sick Child, by Randall Jarrell Black People & White People Were Said, by Kerry Johannsen Topography, by Sharon Olds Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car, by Dan Pagis Merengue, by Mary Ruefle Ballad of Orange and Grape, by Muriel Rukeyser Waiting for Icarus, by Muriel Rukeyser American Classic, by Louis Simpson The Geraniums, by Genevieve Taggard Song of Speaks-Fluently, by Speaks-Fluently Traveling Through The Dark, by William Stafford When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, by Walt Whitman Our Dust, by C. D. Wright