Volume 74, Number 16 | August 18 - 24 , 2004

Talking Point

The politics and perils of poetry

By Andrei Codrescu

Poetry’s getting a bad rep lately and it won’t be long now before Homeland Security rounds up the poets. Recent headlines had Saddam Hussein writing poetry and eating muffins in his cell. The news stories went easy on the muffins, but they were quite hard on the poetry. The governor of New Jersey resigned because of a gay affair with an Israeli who allegedly writes poetry. The commentators stressed the poetry connection. Gay plus foreigner plus poetry equals bad.

I also have it from an unimpeachable source that John Kerry writes poetry, and if that ever gets out he’s done for. It won’t take a lot of digging to find that Mao, Stalin, Ho Chi Min, Eugene McCarthy and Che Guevara all wrote poetry. The people who run the world now speak in prose, but it isn’t just genre-bias that’s making them mad. At the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics, I was surprised to learn that some countries our media never talks about, like Mozambique, have nearly 20 million inhabitants, and that half of them write poetry. My native country, Romania, a land teeming with people just as handsome and smart as me and loaded with plenty of natural resources (such as gymnasts and poets), weighs in at over 21 million. All we ever hear about Romania when there are no Olympics is stories about orphans, male prostitutes, wild dogs and vampires. Yet every Romanian knows the folk saying, “A Romanian is born a poet on a trapeze.”

My son, who just came back from Brazil (pop. 165 million), tells me that Brazilians speak in poetry and that they wear poetry in the form of very sexy fashions. In short, from a security point of view, there are billions of foreigners who are practicing poetry and are subject to its seditious irrationality. For the record, George Bush tried his hand at poetry and came up with “Roses are red, something, something,” for his wife. That was an attack on poetry. The perceived danger of poetry may cause more of our authorities to try to subvert it by writing bad verses, shutting out the world beyond our borders even more than they already have. Personally, I think it’s more honest (and less damaging to our psychic health) to round up the poets from the git go.
Codrescu teaches poetry in Louisiana.


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