𝓓𝓲𝓪𝓻𝔂 𝓸𝓯 𝓪 𝓟𝓸𝓭𝓬𝓪𝓼𝓽 𝓙𝓾𝓷𝓴𝓲𝓮
NPR/To the Best of our Knowledge celebrates National Poetry Month ⭐⭐️⭐️⭐️☆
Quon Barry woke up on Nov. 9 to "a world I never imagined," and she didn't like the changes. Could acclaimed poets, such as Quon, do anything to help? Say by writing poems that responded to current disasters? And so she launched Asphodel.info, taking the name from the William Carlos William poem with the famous lines about the difficult necessity of getting news from poetry.
Asphodel.info publishes one poem a week, by an acclaimed poet, on a topic in the news — news defined broadly to include stuff like the first robin in spring. She's optimistic about finding an audience because she says we live in an age of "the democratization of poetry" — poetry defined broadly as "compressed, charged" language, encompassing advertising and Twitter. And she succeeded in getting NPR's To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast (TTBOOK) to air the first 5 poems in April to celebrate National Poetry Month.
The 1st April poem called Inaugural, by Quon, focuses on one particular change to her strange new post-Nov 9. world: she now calls herself a refugee. She actually looks to the future with hope:
…Once, I got on a plane,
I left, it was done, I became me, I did not suffer in the way
of such suffering, but I am a refugee from a war
this country conducted. May this be the dawn
of an era in which we do not have to live a particular life
in order to respect it. …
The 2nd poem is Brush with Cymbals (WARNING: may contain symbols, and play with words) by Fady Joudah, MD. Like Barry Quon, Dr. Joudah is a refugee, a Palestinian exiled from Israel in 1948. The poem is a one way conversation with his adopted country, and to me has strong echoes of Allen Ginsberg's America. Brush with Cymbals begins with:
America, I’m downloading your heart,
your giga, and my CPU
is slow…I will have your corazòn
when I’m in the dirt
And of course America beings with the immortal lines:
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
The NPR podcast includes an 18 minute interview with Dr. Joudah, interesting enough to merit a replay or two. He tells us that being a doctor is like being poet, he manages uncertainty in both roles; that being ill is like being a refugee, because you're exiled from your body; that in classical Arabic poetry, the last letter in the rhyme word is the first letter of the next line; that the key to being a translator, as in his translation of the famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, is to place himself in delusional state where he can convey what cannot be measured. His thoughts on how the Palestinians are seen in America? He uses a medical metaphor, triage: there is a hierarchy of suffering, and exile matters less than holocaust.
Next up, Ode To the Dead of Bowling Green by Nick Lantz. As in the Bowling Green Massacre, the fiction invented by Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway to justify the fiction that the travel ban her boss proposed did not target Muslims. Poets and politician both play with words to pry them free them from their literal meanings. Nick's ode is a poet's meditation on the Trump team's playfulness:
… When I say clock tower,
I mean the problem of evil—to wit, a man in a suit
who says immigrants but means slaves, a man in a suit
who says choice but means your children will barely
know how to read …
…When I say hope, I’m asking
how a poem can hope to shame a man pressing
a torch into a pile of books in the town square.
Nick Lantz teaches college in Texas, and the "clock tower" references a real massacre, at the University of Texas in 1966.
A pedestrian almost gets killed by car, and walks away oblivious but unharmed. This is news? WTF!! And indeed, the next poem WTF by Laura Kasischke, is about a young lady, wearing air buds and a t-shirt sporting those 3 fateful letters, stepping into traffic in traffic without looking even one way. Kasischke braked in time to reinvent the t-shirt's meaning:
… I know what this stands for. I've
texted it to friends. I've
said it, outright, in public …
what I read, instead, seeing
her t-shirt's three
letters through my windshield
this afternoon is
What's to Fear?
Larger significance, if any? That the next generation, each and every one madly in love with their smart phones, is on a collision course with physical reality? That America stepped into bad traffic Nov. 8, and our luck could run out at any moment? Dear diary, you decide.
The last April poem is November Eyes on Main Street by Richard Blanco. He had a moment of fame on January 21, 2012, when he read his poem One Today at Obama's 2nd inauguration. That poem talked of weaving diverse strands of the American experience, and ended with us looking up together at "hope — a new constellation." He's in a different mood now. Of all these Asphodel poems, his is the one that says the divisions are stark, raw, and he offers no band-aids. Here he is, avoiding the eyes of the grocery checker on November 9:
…Paper or plastic she asks me,
but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this:
she’s been to my barbque’s, I’ve donated
to her son’s football league, we’ve shoveled
each other’s driveways, we send each other
Christmas cards. She knows I’m Latino and
gay, yet suddenly I don’t know who she is
as I read the button on her polyester vest:
Trump/Pence: Make America Great Again.
She doesn’t know me either. We manage
smiles as she hands me my change, but
our locked eyes say, nothing.…
It is what it is.