Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Poetry and Politics


The talk on NPR today has been about how President Obama using a Super PAC in his reelection. From what I hear, he wasn't planning on doing this and it's more than likely that he said he wouldn't use a Super PAC, and there is plenty of talk about him being hypocritical on this. Maybe. I'm not much concerned with that. Still, I understand where people are upset by him not taking the high road he talked of taking. I'm upset by him not taking the high road on some other things. Politics used to be an exciting thing for me. I watched it like an SU-Georgetown game. It fascinated me and I enjoyed the ups and downs. Not so much any more.

New York State imposed a 2% cap on property tax increases. Sounds like a good idea except that it hurts schools and will likely be devastating to the BOCES that employs me. President Obama killed Reading is Fundamental (a program that provided my children with new books) and The National Writing Program (something that gave me hope to continue in teaching). And the list goes on. Politics has become so divisive, petty, impotent that I can't enjoy it much any more and find myself less and less interested in being involved. There was a time when I would go to work for a campaign and when I donated cash. That time seems to have passed. Maybe someone will come along and revive my interest.

Here's the funny thing: The person most responsible for sapping my political enthusiasm is President Obama. I voted for him, got excited, and now blame him, in part, for getting me out of the game.

I blame myself too.

Candidate Obama was a poet. I know a little bit about poetry. I love it. And when I heard some of his speeches, I was just carried away. I still think back to the speech he gave on election night. My wife and I couldn't sleep after that. We were too excited. It was soaring rhetoric. It was, for lack of a better word, poetic.

And then the poetry dried up. Compare the election night speech with the inauguration speech. You'll find your heart racing through the first and you'll have to have someone wake you from the second.

I've been thinking about this on and off all day and decided to believe in poetry. It doesn't sell many books (unless it's written by Billy Collins) and it's awfully difficult to find fellow readers of the stuff. It's strange to write and it is a stranger thing to identify yourself as a poet. There's no way that I can imagine making a future as a poet and yet that's about all I want to do.

So why not?

I believe in poetry. I know that most of you don't. Poetry was crammed down your throat by English teachers. You remember it as the impenetrable block of words followed by six to ten multiple choice questions and an essay. A locked box to which someone else has the key.

But I believe in it because it's the thing that makes the light behind my eyes.

I have written before that I can't imagine voting for Barack Obama again. Nor can I imagine voting for any of the Republican nincompoops. I'm waiting for a poet who can lift me up with words. I'm waiting for the person who can sell that poetry, turn it into law, and bring about real change.

You're thinking I'm a fool and will have to wait forever. But it has happened before. Listen: We hold these truths to be self-evident; With malice toward none, with charity for all; There is nothing to fear but fear itself; and Ask not what your country can do for you.

I heard some of that in 2008. I hear it in the thoughts I have as I look out at the world. And I hear it in some of the words I set down on the page every day as I write on.