Search This Blog

Thursday, June 16, 2011


So I finished my first political poem the day before yesterday (minus one phrase that isn't all worked out yet). It's not that I was trying to write a political poem. And it's not that I've been avoiding writing a political poem until now either (and by political, I don't mean political in the sense that writing any poem is political, or in the sense that the personal is the political. I mean a poem espousing a point of view about how the world should be and fervently hoping others think so too.)

Here's how it happened. At first I was just writing about a personal anecdote, and when I got to the end of it, it didn't seem done. So I invented the next part of the story. Then I got stuck. So I remembered some advice I'd read once about what to try when you are stuck and here's what it is: say the opposite. Whatever it is you just said, say the opposite of it. Abut that opposite right up against the original and see what the tension does, or erase the original and replace it with the opposite and see what happens. Either of those strategies can be worth trying when stuck. And so I did. And what happened was that suddenly there was a point of view to this poem.

And I'm not sure how I feel about having written a political poem. I never thought I would simply because it didn't seem consistent with my...with my what? With my something....

And some people may read the poem and not know it is political. Lots of silly wordplay in it which helps take the edge off for one thing. And for another thing, it's not dogmatic, or I hope it's not. And it's religio-political, or politico-religious. I mean, it's about respect for the separation of religion and non-religion, and respect for the beliefs of others. It's actually anti-dogmatic.

Okay, enough said.

So just by chance I happened last night to also read a book, part-memoir part-rant, which dealt with politics and art and punctuation and more. What I'm talking about is Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005), which you really must read if you are a Vonnegut fan, and even if you are not.

To whet your appetite, I include a few random samplings from the book.

About science in art (a subject dear to me): "As an undergraduate at Cornell I was a chemistry major because my brother was a big-shot chemist. Critics feel that a person cannot be a serious artist and also have had a technical background, which I had. I know that customarily English departments in universities, without knowing what they're doing, teach dread of the engineering department, the physics department, and the chemistry department. And this fear, I think, is carried over into criticism. Most of our critics are products of the English departments and are very suspicious of anyone who takes an interest in technology. So, anyway, I was a chemistry major, but I'm always winding up as a teacher in English departments, so I've brought scientific thinking to literature. There's been very little gratitude for this."

About willfully uninformed political leadership: "Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long, for all of human experience so far, that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on. It is now their turn to guess and guess and be listened to. Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all  the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right. It isn't the gold standard that they want to put us back on. They want something even more basic. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard."

And Vonnegut quotes his friend, the graphic artist Saul Steinberg, whose answer to Vonnegut's query if he (Steinburg) was gifted was: "No, but what you respond to in any work of art is the artist's struggle against his or her limitations."

About semi-colons, Vonnegut has (by now) famously said: "They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

Thank goodness he didn't come down hard on my favorite punctuation mark, the colon, which I posted about here at Punk Punk-tuation.

Well, this is my third post today, and a long one, and one that dared mention the dreaded politics. So I am sure you've had enough of me and the way I use the word "so" far too often (which Vonnegut does too--yay, I'm in good company). I've had enough of me. So, farewell for now.


shayndel said...

Hi Jessica,
Congratulations on the poem!
Good luck with that last phrase.

It's easy to get bogged down in the politics of even using the word "politics" so I like your rambling on the subject. Maybe Poetry is about the opposite of politics, isn't it, so there seems to be a nice completion, like a cycle, to your musings.


Jessica Goodfellow said...


Thanks for your comments. Poetry and politics, it is a fraught relationship, isn't it, and therein (perhaps) lies the power.

Here's hoping so!

Looking forward to your Off-Line.....